College Coach or College Counselor?

College counselor Suzie Wynne works with a student on her college essays.

This article in the industry publication Inside Higher Education really struck a chord with me.  People ask us all the time, “When do we start working with an independent college counselor?”

The answer – as with everything related to your child’s college search and application experience – is, “It depends.”  It depends on whether you’re looking for a college counselor, or a college coach.  Both are here to help you, but in different ways.

Do you want someone who will guide your child through exploring their learning style, their ideal college environment, career options and possible majors?  To help them learn how to research colleges, with the goal of building a balanced college list that fits them academically, socially and emotionally?  Do you want someone to advise your child on where to spend their limited time out of school – volunteering, extra-curricular activities, sports, music, theatre?  Do you want someone to help them brainstorm their essays and articulate their best qualities to the colleges on their list?  Do you want someone to partner with your entire family over the course of a year or two, starting in 9th or 10th grade, as you all approach this sometimes intimidating, frustrating and stressful experience?

If so, you want a college counselor.  This is a long-term relationship.  In the article linked above, Jim Jump (a long-time private high school counselor) referred to college counseling as “developmental, educational, relational and process oriented,” and that’s how we approach it, when our clients start working with us early.

Alternatively, are you starting late, and you’re pretty happy with your college list, and you just want someone to help with applications, or maybe you think your list could use a few more options because you think your list is a little bit “reach-heavy?” (this is typical for people who start a little bit later!)  Then you’re looking for a college coach.  Jump referred to college coaching as “transactional and results oriented,” and we couldn’t agree more.  This is a short-term relationship – someone who will work through the steps of the college application process with you, maybe help you decide where to apply early, maybe create a quick to-do list to help your teenager organize the application process.

Most high schools have college counselors, but most public high school counselors have multiple responsibilities, and do not have specialized training in college advising.  The average public high school counselor has a caseload of over 400 students – in California, that average is over 700.   In fact, 60% of high school seniors never receive any college counseling (here are a few more statistics about college counseling and students who work with IECs, from the respected professional organization Independent Educational Consultants Assn.). 

The average amount of time a high school student spends with his/her school counselor is 38 minutes.

At Magellan, our independent educational consultants – all of whom have earned a Certificate in College Counseling – can be either your college counselor, or your college coach, depending on what you need and when you start working with us.  For longer-term clients, we spend the first part of our time together doing what we call “Phase 1: College Search.”  After they finalize their list, usually around Labor Day, we transition to “Phase 2: College Applications.”  Those students get college acceptances throughout November and December – and sometimes scholarships!

college coach
Ciarra was thrilled with her choice to attend the University of San Francisco.

Some private high schools discourage their students and their parents from bringing in an outside counselor or independent educational consultant.  To that we say, you decide what you need.  If you feel like you want someone to partner with you throughout this experience, you should be able to bring in outside guidance.  Just like you hired a batting coach, private ballet teacher, piano or violin teacher, math tutor, and so many other experts to help your child – this is no different.

What you may not realize is that everyone in your house has been holding their breath about this college stuff for awhile.  When the first acceptance letter arrives – whether or not it’s a college your child prefers or will actually attend – everyone starts to breathe again.  So starting early is the best way to reduce everyone’s stress.  This is the result of a well thought-out process, guided by some type of college counseling.

Students who start very late in the process with us – summer before senior year, or into fall – often have lists that are very reach-heavy, and therefore stress-inducing.  You can see how it would be stressful to apply to a list of 10 colleges that admit 10% or fewer of their wildly talented applicant pool!  We coach these students to spread out the work, to write stronger essays, to submit applications early or at least on time – but as we like to say, the magic is in the list.  And those who allow us to work with them longer seem to have more magical lists.

If you have any questions about what you want or need, please feel free to give us a call.  We spend lots of time on the phone with 8th, 9th and 10th grade parents who are figuring out how to navigate this experience.  Our phone consultations are free.  We’re here to help!  And to be either a counselor, or a coach – whatever you feel you need.

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