College counseling

Seniors Isabella Limper and Logan Cheriff work on college application essays (Photo: Evan Jackson, The Puma Prensa)

By Evan Jackson, staff writer

As we head into fall, many Maria Carrillo seniors feel the pressure to finalize college applications, often turning to college counselors, either private or at the school, for further guidance. Counselors can provide valuable assistance, but to some seniors school counselors often seem busy or insufficient, turning them towards private guidance instead despite the substantial costs.

Private college counselors work to give tailored advice to students, advising students on which schools to apply to, how to write application essays, and guiding students through the application process. The Independent Educational Consultants Association (a non-profit professional association for private counselors) describes private college counselors as being able to “broaden the potential choices, and provide vital help in weighing factors such as cost, location and curriculum.” 

Many students use private college counselors to provide assistance that school counselors may be unable to provide. “[The College and Career Center] is not helpful at all for the college essays,” senior Sean Nash said. “I will send in a request and it will take about a week to talk to them,” Nash said. This may be due to the high number of students each school counselor needs to manage. The average student to counselor ratio nationally is 482 students per counselor, and Carrillo has a ratio of approximately 440 to one according to Teresa Barrera Caldera, Maria Carrillo Counseling Secretary. The American School Counselor Association recommends a school counselor ratio of 250 to 1. 

Private counselors are able to respond quickly due to much lower caseloads, and they can meet with students on demand.

However, the College and Career Center says that many of their resources are underused. “At this point, there has been a relatively small number of students reaching out with college related questions,” said College and Career Center Counselor Kimberly Handel. “I’m a little surprised to hear that students don’t feel they’re getting enough personal attention,” she continued. The College and Career Center provides a variety of resources for selecting universities to apply to and navigating other elements of the process. “It has been a helpful tool in the application process,” Nash said.

But despite their overlap for higher education advising, school counselors and private counselors have fairly different roles. “I think that comparing the role of a public school college and career counselor to that of a private college consultant or counselor is a bit like comparing apples and oranges,” said Handel. Private college counselors are much more focused on applications, while school counselors provide a wide range of services, such as organizing visits from college representatives and assisting students in finding extracurricular activities.

For students, private college counselors can provide many useful services. My own parents hired a counselor to help me with my applications and essays. For example, they assisted me in picking a topic for my Common Application essay and walked me through a series of smaller steps to make the process more manageable. They also advised me on what my essay topic should be and what I should try to communicate. In this regard my counselor has been extremely helpful, and those I surveyed agreed. I had a survey posted on the College and Career Center Google Classroom that asked students what they thought of their private college counselors; of the 18 people who responded, three said they have worked with a private counselor. One respondent said that their private counselor has “helped with FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid], [and] choosing colleges best for me” among other services. 

Senior Ellie Acosta’s parents hired a private college counselor for her the summer before sophomore year. She found that her counselor was able to answer her specific questions, but she also states that she could have gotten much of the same information though the College and Career Center. She said that although she could have done the same quality of work without the counselor, the counselor kept her on track.

The major limitation to private college counselors is the cost. The exact pricing of a private counselor varies depending on services and the counselor, but the range extends from a charge of a few hundred dollars for hourly work to thousands of dollars for a packaged deal.

Although private college counselors come with a major price tag, Carrillo students who can afford them can benefit greatly from their support and guidance.

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