Almost 50% of private schools in the US employ a person whose sole responsibility is college counseling.
This number drops to 28% for public schools, because of limited resources.
There are also many external college counseling services offered by private companies. And that’s for a good reason.
A skilled counselor will help you to:
- Select the best possible college for you
- Pick the perfect courses you should attend once you get in
- Go through the labyrinth of the college admissions process
- Increase your chances of going to a top school in the US
- Review your application and your personal statement
- Manage deadlines so you won’t miss any opportunity
- Find the best opportunities for financial aid and scholarships
And the best part, especially with professional counseling like the one from Princeton Review is that over 90% of students who use the service get into one of their top three schools. Your regular high-school counseling may be helpful as well.
But what are the specific questions you should ask to get the biggest benefit from the interaction?
1. What is the success rate of the students who use the counseling services? How many of them ultimately get admitted to one of their top three college choices?
College counseling services are quite expensive and may cost up to $10,000, depending on the school you’re trying to get into and the range of services provided. Make sure to always ask about the success rate in advance, so you get what you pay for.
2. Is it possible to get in touch with the counselor online and through phone, or only an in-person interaction comes into play?
It’s great to establish proper means of communication before signing up for the service. Are you going to attend regular in-person meetings? Or will you be able to get in touch through email and phone as well?
This is important because sometimes you need the info quickly so adding digital communication channels to the mix is always a good idea.
3. Who would be the best candidate to write letters of recommendation for you?
Recommendation letters can play a big role in your college admissions process. Let your college counselor help you figure out who would be the best person to write such a letter for you.
Remember, these letters are brief and formal and should highlight your positive qualities. But they should also come from a person with high authority and credibility.
4. What are your chances of receiving financial aid or getting access to scholarships?
Before you start applying for financial aid, ask the counselor to assess your situation and chances of success. This will give you a better idea of what you need to do as well as which opportunities to pursue.
5. How will my family’s financial situation impact the search for scholarships or financial aid?
Applying for scholarships and financial aid is the best way to take some of the financial burden related to education off your shoulders.
That’s why you should do everything in your power to apply for any financial aid opportunities that come your way. This may also include tax breaks, tuition waivers, and loans.
But this may depend on the financial situation of the family. For example, there are different opportunities for middle-class families than there are for higher-income families. Make sure to get good advice on which options are available for you.
6. Is it possible for me to waive some of my college application fees?
Once you start using the guidance services you will realize that counselors recommend applying to 5 to 8 colleges. But each application comes with a fee ($43 on average). This can quickly add up to almost $500 in fees.
But if you meet certain criteria, you can waive this fee. You will need to fill out a waiver request form and the counselor will be happy to help you out with that.
7. How to get the most out of the campus visits?
Once you start looking for your dream college, you will soon start attending campus visits to get a feel for your future school. Make sure to ask how to get the most out of these visits, and when is the best time to visit.
A few colleges also offer virtual tours so you can explore the campus on your computer or mobile device like with Google Street View. Ask if this is possible for the colleges on your list. But all in all, it’s always great to walk the grounds on your own.
8. Can I receive a free consultation call before deciding on going through with the college counseling service?
College counseling fees can be extremely high so before signing up, make sure to attend a consultation call or meeting. Make sure you understand every single detail of the service so you get the most value out of the money invested.
9. What is the final price you will have to pay for the services? Are there any additional fees or is it an all-inclusive package?
The average hourly cost of a private college counselor is approximately $200 an hour. Many companies create a bundle package of services that can cost from $4,000 to even $25,000 and more for a full service.
That’s a big investment, so before signing up, ask if there are any other costs associated with the service or this is the full and final price.
10. What’s the experience of the counselor you’ll work with, and what is their success rate?
Be upfront about it and ask what is the success rate of the counselor or the organization you are going to work with. You are paying a lot, so you have the right to know.
Ask for the average acceptance rate of specific colleges and is it different from the rate achieved with counseling. This will give you a good estimation of what you can count on by using the service. Hint: the acceptance rate for the top 3 colleges when using counseling should be 90% or more.
11. When should you start your college prep and what materials are recommended to score high on the standardized tests such as the ACT or SAT?
Both your GPA and standardized test scores are going to play a huge role in your college application process. Start thinking about these things as early in high school as possible and make sure to receive some guidance from your counselor.
He or she will give you specific tips about how to prepare for the SAT or ACT, which one to take, and when to take it.
12. Will applying to college early give you an advantage in your specific situation?
Pursuing the early decision (ED) and early action (EA) plans can be beneficial for students and give them a leg up in the college application process. ED’s are binding, and EA’s are nonbinding.
Make sure to ask your counselor to explain this difference to you and show you if using these plans would be a good idea. Again, this will mean that you’ll have to meet certain criteria, so make sure what they are.
13. Which AP courses should you consider taking during your high school years?
Passing AP exams can be beneficial because it will improve your chances of getting into college and save on tuition by getting college credit while still in high school.
Preparing for these tests will also give you a better idea of what kind of classes you’d want to pursue in college. So ask your counselor which AP courses would she recommend and how can they help you to further your education.
14. Can you recommend a resource that will give me an overview of the top colleges I can apply to?
Before making a final decision on your college wish-list, ask for a resource that will give you an overview of the top options available in the US (or in your state).
Counselors often have access to such resources and they would be happy to share them with you. It’s great to look at colleges from another vantage point and check their statistics, average tuitions, and acceptance rates.
You may also check a resource like this on your own. I recommend the Complete Book of Colleges: The Mega-Guide to 1,366 Colleges and Universities.
15. How to improve your personal statement to make it more effective in the eyes of admissions officers?
Most experienced counselors worked in the past, as college admissions officers. They know exactly how a well-structured personal essay looks like and what should it include to maximize the chances of success.
They’ve seen hundreds of these essays so ask how long it should be, what to include in it, and how to make an emotional impact that will impress the college admissions committee.
16. Are there any pitfalls and common mistakes you should definitely avoid during the admissions process?
Applying to college can get tricky fast. For example, you should never leave out personal details out of your statement or show a gross unfamiliarity with the school you are applying to.
There are many small things like this that can undermine your chances of getting in. So ask what are the mistakes most often made by students.
17. How to make the most out of your college interview?
While your grades, test scores, and college essays play the most important role in the application process, the college interview is significant as well.
The admissions officer will consider the interview when evaluating your candidacy. So be prepared, bring specific questions and prepare for the most common interview questions. Ask your counselor how to best prepare for such an event and what to expect.
18. What kind of role of extracurricular activities would play in the college application process?
Colleges are always looking for pupils with meaningful extracurricular achievements and not only club memberships. You definitely don’t want to leave a blank space in the “extracurricular activities” rubric on your college application.
Here quality is more important than quantity. Your achievements may include competition awards, getting elected for leadership positions, and performing community service. Ask your counselor which types of activities will be most beneficial in your particular situation.
19. Can you put me in touch with students who successfully applied to my colleges of choice, so I can ask them how they enjoy their time there?
You should be able to talk to current students during your campus visit. But your college counselor may also facilitate this type of communication and share contacts of students who are currently attending your college of choice.
Talking to these students is extremely important. They will give you a much better idea of how things are at the campus and which professors are worth paying attention to.
20. What kind of GPA and SAT, PSAT or ACT scores do you need to achieve to improve my chances of success? Which test will be best for me?
Each college has a certain score threshold you have to pass to get admitted. These thresholds are different for each and every school.
For example, if you want to apply to one of the Ivy League schools your SAT score would need to be way above 1500. In fact, the average Ivy League acceptance sat score is 1569.
On the other hand, if you apply to a mid-range college, a score of 1400 should be just fine. So make sure to ask your counselor and understand the expectations and stats of the colleges you want to apply to.
21. Are there any college fairs happening in the nearby future that you could attend?
Attending a college fair is one of the best ways to get useful information from college admissions representatives who will come to a local school or a community gathering place.
This will give you an opportunity to ask all you want about the admissions process, offered classes, life on campus, and the application process. Counselors usually keep tabs on these kinds of events. They will gladly provide you with information about when what, and why.
22. Which kind of classes should I take in my high school to maximize my chances of getting into college later on?
Crafting a perfect high school schedule is something that students often overlook. The recommended option is to take 5 academic subjects a year to set a solid foundation. Continue with AP classes, honors, and extracurriculars to boost your transcript even more.
But the planning process can get overwhelming. It’s always better to ask a counselor to provide you with a smart study schedule you can follow to alleviate some of the college planning stress.
23. What can I do during the summertime to improve my chances of getting into college?
There’s a range of summer activities that can help you to boost your college application. This includes participating in specialized high school programs, getting involved with research, creating your own study project, taking an online class, are getting a part-time job.
In fact, there are over a dozen different things you could do during the summertime that you can later show-off in your college application. Ask your counselor what would she recommend and why.
Working with a college counselor will be much easier if you know which questions to ask. The counseling services can be quite pricey so it’s great to prepare as much information as you can beforehand to get the best value for your money.
In the final analysis, receiving extensive coaching and hand-holding by a skilled counselor, who previously worked as a college admissions officer, is one of the best things you can do to guarantee your spot in the college of your dreams. Just make sure you are well prepared before you start the process.