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Do You Need a College Admissions Counselor?

03/27/2015 11:22 am ET | Updated May 26, 2015

Every year we hear dizzying statistics about the college admissions process. Thousands of students apply to colleges with single digit acceptance rates, and often it feels like a lottery ticket to get accepted. Amidst this madness, many parents find resources to help their child: academic tutors and college admissions counselors. The value proposition for tutoring is fairly straightforward: if the tutor has historically produced higher SAT or ACT scores, then they should be able to do the same for your son or daughter. The proposition for a college admissions counselor, however, is not so simple. As the founder of a college admissions consultancy, I will provide you with a framework for identifying the need (if any) for a college counselor.

The Process

The college admissions process is tailored to each individual and is intended to be highly personal. In fact, in my opinion, it is a discovery process for each applicant: why did they participate in those school clubs, and why exactly are they trying to apply to each college on their list? Moreover, the writing we are taught in Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses is unlike the style needed for college admissions essays.

The College Admissions Essay

Great college admissions essays are clear, evidence-based, and yet emotional in nature. These essays find the core of a student's thoughts and feelings, and often their beliefs. The best college admissions essays inherently show a student's perspective to the admissions committee. Admissions readers are professionals at discerning intent and extent of an activity, but clear writing makes it easier for everyone involved.

A significant amount of time we spend with students is focused on this essay writing process.

• How do you actually find what you like to do outside of the classroom?
• How do you articulate your passion in an essay, and show it rather than tell?
• How do you keep it simple, tell a story, and be different than other candidates at the same time?

These are the types of questions we tackle on a student-by-student basis, and it often takes time.

Diving into college admissions essays right away leads to flowery essays with little substance and an often desperate tone. Countless times, we have seen perfect SAT scorers write essays about why they want to go into medicine to help the world without actually thinking about how they will do this, or why medicine is the right path for that goal. Being specific is important, but being specific takes deliberate and mature thought.

How College Counselors Help Students

College applicants often benefit from a direct mentor who has recently gone through the college application process because these mentors can offer a third-person perspective on college admissions essays. In addition, college counselors can back up these insights with data from universities and years of experience.

At Synocate, we also help students in two other areas:

• Understanding college profiles - who are the acclaimed professors, what is the personality of the college, what are the chances at admission
• Keeping track of deadlines - identifying teachers for letters of recommendation, explaining early action vs. early decision vs. regular decision, and keeping track of all the Common Application supplemental essays

Ultimately, college counselors are good for an additional introspective push, a mentor, and a time tracker. Our goal is to help students find themselves rather than force them into some mold, which seems to be a trend in college admissions today. This approach has worked wonders for us, with admits to all the Top 40 colleges and Ivy Leagues each year. It is a patient and simple approach. College counselors are coaches for students applying to college, much like tennis coaches or speech coaches.

Determining the Quality of an Admissions Counselor

There is also a variety of college admissions counselors. Most are single-person companies or even sole proprietorships that are founded by older individuals who graduated from college several years ago. These often fit the needs of those looking for any help on the applications, and who want someone local, with a bit more knowledge, and experienced.

But for those looking for robust support from multiple perspectives, choosing a team of college counselors is a better approach. We did not find this in the market, so we developed the Nexus Approach. Two counselors are assigned to each student, and report on each student's progress at a weekly meeting. Similarly, when searching for a college admissions counselor, listen carefully to the depth of the counseling and assistance you will receive.

On the other hand, large tutoring companies have started to move into college admissions counseling as a natural ancillary service. These tutors are not specially trained in many of the skills needed for college counseling, and the organizational focus on tutoring often makes these services an amalgamation of knowledge that can be easily found on the Internet.

The approach we take is a hybrid, offering a primary counselor that tailors content to each student, and a secondary counselor who listens in and reports back to the broader team. This gives the primary counselor indirect feedback and allows each applicant to have multiple perspectives, heard from a single source, the primary counselor.

Sometimes testing a prospective admissions counselor on sample subjects can also be a litmus test.

Conclusion

A college admissions counselor is a useful resource. Beyond grammar edits, we hope to give students a toolkit for determining what they actually enjoy. Writing is an instrument of critical self-examination, and the college admissions essays are designed to make applicants think. Instead of sighing at these essays, we try to help students embrace the process.

Thinking through deadlines and specific essays can be overwhelming, and college counselors are great at handling this as well. Be sure to vet a prospective counselor closely, however, as there is a lot of variance in the quality and seriousness of college admissions counselors in the market.

Good luck, and feel free to visit us at www.synocate.com for more articles on college admissions.