Navigating Higher Ed


Navigating Higher Ed: When to Hire an Private College Consultant

Applying to college can be a daunting process: which schools to apply to…what major to choose… how to write all those essays and communicate your story effectively… how to apply for financial aid… the list goes on. We can agree that applying for college is a long and time consuming process, but then add other variables unique to certain families and individuals that can further complicate the process:

  • The higher education industry has drastically changed in the last 10 years.
  • High school guidance counselors as well as college advisors carry caseloads of 200+ students (the national average is 231 and the range is 100 to 500).
  • Most high schools operate using a credit system in order to graduate which is sometimes loosely communicated and often times discovered too late in the game. Understanding each high school’s credit and academic track system is crucial to being where you want to be by senior year.
  • An estimated 50 percent of the college population is comprised of people whose parents never attended college according to a 2010 study by the Department of Education. 

These are some of the issues and questions that can be addressed by a private College Consultant (sometimes Higher Education Consultant). Sometimes we think of College Consultants as being for the people targeting the most affluent, prestigious, and privileged schools with the most selective admissions rates and criteria. However, a good College Consultant is mostly for anyone thinking about going to any type of higher education institution and anyone interested in getting the greatest value for their investment. Additionally, the amount of money invested in a private consultant can mean money and time saved in the long run without having to extend a student’s college career because of mistakes or indecisiveness. Of course, plans change, and clarity can come later in life, but helping students think through the process of beyond high school, early, can relieve pressure to "just pick something."

The College Consultant can provide guidance, mentoring, soul-searching and structure; furthermore, to take the burden off the student’s parents and provide an objective third party lens to navigate the process. The consultant will work with the student and parents in communicating expectations and crafting realistic goals to complete the college application process, fund higher education, transition to college from other settings, and plan a proper academic course to get the most out of the years spent in the higher ed setting.

Here are some clues you may want to seek help from a private College Consultant:

1)      You don’t know which schools to apply to- A good consultant will take a very personalized approach and go through a selection process based on objective and subjective criteria to match you with the right schools for you. This will save money in the long run in that the average application cost for college is $60.

2)      You need assistance through the writing and gathering of application materials- High school can be very busy and seems to get more complicated as the student progresses from freshman to senior year. If applying for college seems like it could become a part-time job among the other demands of a high school student, it may make sense to hire an expert. Someone who already understands the process and can assist in efficiently putting together* the application packet that tells the student’s story most accurately.

*This does not mean doing the work for the student. Be wary of anyone who guarantees admission (especially to the “dream school”) or who is offering to write application materials.

3)      You need assistance with financial aid options and applications- Help in knowing where to start, how to research the myriad of available financial aid, as well as which applications to fill out is crucial in getting the most support to fund your education.

4)      You need help understanding the world of higher education- The best College Consultants will also be top-notch educators, researchers, mentors, advisors, and advocates for students. There is so much information to sift through; university vs. college; liberal arts school vs. research institution; college curriculum; general education requirements; graduation rates, etc. It can become mind numbing. The best independent College Consultants straddle the world between getting into college and how to succeed once you get there.

Whatever the next steps are for you or your loved one, know that there is help available in navigating this complicated process. Entering into college and taking the next steps beyond high school can be an empowering experience rather than daunting. This can make all the difference in meeting some lifetime goals.

Melissa is the Administrative Director and College Consultant for ZimZum Consulting Collaboration. She has extensive experience advising in Higher Education and has degrees in Psychology and International Peace & Conflict Transformation.