Six Ways to Pick an Independent College Counselor

Last Updated May 25, 2009 10:59 PM EDT

The independent college counselors, who charge as much for their services as a Mercedes Benz before its driven off the lot, give the rest of the profession a bad name.

How could any college counselor's advice possibly be worth $30,000 or $40,000?


While celebrity counselors attract the most attention and press interviews, there are many private college advisers scattered across the country who can help stressed-out parents find wonderful academic fits for their teenagers. And even better, some of these college experts know how to steer families to well-matched schools that will slash their prices for the right teenagers.

Not everyone who aims to make a buck in this field, however, is worth your time or money. When hunting for a counselor, here are six things to keep in mind:

1. It's typically the ultra expensive independent college counselors who brag about getting kids into the snootiest of schools. These pricey counselors, however, are harboring a secret: They only accept the most promising students as clients. And folks, these kids could get into selective schools without anybody's help!

2. Look for counselors who work with all kinds of students whether they are underachievers or future Rhodes Scholars.

3. The best kind of counselor will spend time learning about your teenager and finding out what kind of institution would be best academically, socially, geographically and financially. You don't want a counselor whose aim is to get a child into the most prestigious school possible without regard to whether it's a real match.

4. Avoid any counselor who is interested in shaping your teenager into a Stepford applicant. As I mention in my book, The College Solution, there are counselors out there who peddle prestige and try to Botox every blemish off a kid's record. Producing a perfect teen all too often requires children to surrender much of their high school lives. They are pressured to take classes or assume extracurricular activities that don't interest them or will consume far too much time and provoke too much anxiety.

5. College counselors know how to evaluate schools, but not all of them understand how parents can shrink college costs. Unless you don't mind paying $200,000 or more for a bachelor's degree, look for a counselor who understands college financing strategies.

6. You can find college counselor prospects through online directories at these two professional organizations:

Higher Education Consultants Association
Independent Educational Consultants Association