Seniors: Get a head start on your college apps this summer!
IvyWise Resources

How to Choose an Independent Counselor

By Victoria, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor

The college admissions process has long been a rite of passage but has arguably become more stressful in recent years as admission rates at selective institutions continue to drop. Plus, more students are continuing on to college, and each student, on average, is applying to more colleges than ever before. There are thousands of wonderful colleges and universities for students to consider, but many applicants are drawn toward a smaller number of schools considered “top schools” based on various rankings, adding to the already competitive nature of college admissions. It’s no wonder students and parents are worried about navigating the best way through the process.

While most high schools offer a college counseling team, many counselors are spread thin — in public schools, it is normal for a counselor to have 300-400 students per year. This adds to the anxiety some students and parents feel about getting the support they need. And while other schools might have more robust college counseling programs with the ability to support students one-on-one, some students or parents might still feel a bit lost and want more individualized mentoring. This is when families most often turn toward an independent college counselor, like the ones at IvyWise.

What Is an Independent College Counselor? 

An independent college counselor, also known as an independent educational consultant (IEC for short), is an individual who specializes in assisting students through the college application process. A quick search online will likely turn up hundreds of options — yet another overwhelming aspect for a family already stressed out about the process.

So, how does a family choose an independent counselor? What companies should they look into? Or should they pick an individual? The needs of each family will vary greatly, so there is no one right answer for every student.

What to Look for in an Independent College Counselor 

Counseling students and families through the college admissions process requires not only confidentiality but also an understanding of how to guide students through the application process ethically — from presenting information in an unbiased way to assisting a student just enough in their essay writing to enhance their voice.

As someone who has worked as an Assistant Director in admissions, a college counselor at an independent high school, and as an independent college counselor — I know families have much to consider when it comes to choosing a counselor. Here are my top suggestions on what to look for in an independent college counselor to guide you through the admissions process.

NACAC Affiliation 

NACAC is the National Association for College Admissions Counseling — nearly every admissions officer and school counselor will be a member. The association’s mission centers around serving and advocating for students’ best interests. Members are kept up to date on the latest best practices through yearly conferences and professional development resources, and NACAC maintains a guide to ethical practices in the field.

A NACAC member is much more likely — though not guaranteed — to adhere to the ethical guidelines for college admissions counseling and stay up to date on changes in the field. Every IvyWise college admissions counselor is a member of NACAC and we strictly follow the NACAC code of ethics. We also really value the resources such a community offers!

Admissions Experience 

There are certainly some great counselors who have received training through accredited counseling programs or years of advising students through the process. That said, I would be wary of working with independent counselors who have zero college admissions experience. Selective college admissions is a very unique field, and those who have worked in it firsthand know what colleges are looking for in applicants.

This is not to say a person can’t learn how to advise students through many years of counseling or strong accredited counseling programs. But it is not the same as having experience on the other side of the desk, reading and evaluating applicants on a daily basis each winter. There are many college counselors and tutors who offer services to help students get into college with the cited background that they “got into all the top schools” or “know what a good college essay looks like.” But they often lack the context of what it truly takes to get into a selective college or university.

Getting into college is just one aspect of the process. High school should also be about exploring your interests in a meaningful way and finding a school that’s a good fit for your academic pursuits. At IvyWise, all our college admissions counselors have years of admissions experience and work with students to figure out who they are, what they want to do, and how to do it — in addition to assisting them with the application process.

Your Needs and Goals 

Before choosing a best-fit counselor, you need to be honest about the type of student you are and your needs as a student and family. The two main options for independent counselors these days are online and in-person. Many counselors are available on virtual platforms — not all are available in person. If a student has a hard time working over Zoom, then your family might need an in-person counselor. At IvyWise, for instance, most of our counselors work online with students, but there are some who work in person.

Then, think about your short-term and long-term goals, as well as where you are in this process — is it the beginning of ninth grade, or are you starting senior year? Are you the type of student who needs help building your extracurriculars and academic interests or do you want help only with college applications? Do you want help researching schools and building a college list?

Compare these needs with the services a counselor or a company offers and see if they align. We recommend starting with a counselor as soon as possible to guide you in exploring your interests (so you have even more to talk about in your college apps!) but we can help students at any point in the process.

Personality and Workflow Fit 

Having a great rapport with your counselor is of utmost importance. Applying to college can be a reflective and therefore vulnerable process for students and a stressful time for families. Therefore, it’s very important that students feel a good connection with their counselor, so they feel free to open up. With the right counselor, it doesn’t have to feel so daunting!

Students and families should consider what type of teacher or mentor would work best with your preferences. Do you prefer someone upfront and honest, sharing the positives and negatives? Or do you prefer someone who will be a cheerleader and stay positive no matter what? Also, consider the way you work — are you self-sufficient when it comes to deadlines and organization, or do you need someone who is going to help you get organized and stay on track? Pay attention to personality as well — there is nothing wrong with preferring a different energy level. At IvyWise, we have different counselors to choose from for this very reason! Our enrollment team will offer counselor suggestions based on your needs.

Interview the Counselor or Agency 

Once you’ve identified the type of counseling program you’ll need and the types of counselors that fit you best, begin your search for accredited counselors or counseling services. Look for reviews or results that the company or person can share as well. A good counselor or company cannot guarantee admission anywhere — that is not how selective college admissions works — but they can showcase strong data points like positive reviews or a majority of their students getting into some of their top choices. At IvyWise, for example, we are proud to say that 91% of our students get into one or more of their top three schools.

When speaking with a counselor or a company for the first time, ask them questions about their programs, how they work, and how they advise students. Ask about their affiliations. Ask about their personality or style. Any reasonable college counselor or service should be happy to answer your questions before you sign on with them for a longer-term service, and you’ll be much happier and successful teaming up with a counselor and/or company that shares your values.

If you want to work with IvyWise, I recommend signing up for our Initial Consultation with one of our knowledgeable counselors who will do an in-depth look at your profile and offer a strategic individualized action plan for your academic and extracurricular goals.

 简体中文 »
close wechat qr code