Using a College Admissions Advisor

Parent Q&A

College Admissions Advisor for a High School Senior Sep 5, 2020 (3 responses below)
College counselor - is it really expensive? Nov 1, 2016 (3 responses below)
  • Hello all.  I am looking for recommendations and advice on finding a college admissions counselor who can also act as a coach/mentor.  My son (senior in a public school) loves math & science and is pretty advanced in those subjects (completed all APs and is taking community college high-level math courses).  But he has no interest in any extracurricular activity and is pretty deficient in that. On top, there are some issues with so-called executive functioning, organization skills, etc. We would like to maximize his chances of getting to a good STEM program and trying to figure out the best strategy. I was reading around on the internet that a lack of executive functions is common for teenagers; but also, it is very important for success beyond getting good grades.  I also saw some executive skills coaching services for teens on the internet but didnot see any in the local area. I was also reading about the philosophies of different college advising services - e.g. "packaging students" vs helping students discover themselves, and inspire them to make the right choices.  It seems to me that we would rather take the coaching route than the packaging route.  Wondering if any of you can relate to my thoughts, or have had similar issues, and know of college advisors/coaches/mentors that you recommend.  We live in south bay, but open to working online with anyone from the greater Bay area.  Thanks. 


    Hi, there. It is so excellent that you are looking at your whole child here - not just thinking about finding an admissions counselor, but thinking about your son's executive function needs. In my opinion, it sounds like your kid is doing really well in classes; I wouldn't lose sleep over his lack of interest in extracurricular activities. I'm sure he'll get into a STEM program which will be a good fit for him, given your description. But to succeed in it once he's there - to be happy and healthy and reveling in his learning experiences - that is the key, and that is why you are right to focus on executive function. So many students build up really unhealthy study and sleep habits during high school, and take them off to college with them; working on those now is crucial! Classroom Matters offers executive function family workshops, as well as one-on-one counseling, and I know many folks who swear by their services, including adults who recognize that their executive function isn't well-developed. I have attended a number of their workshops, and I think they are excellent.They are Berkeley-based, but that's not a barrier to anyone right now, given that it's all online right now. (FYI, our child attended public school, and we did not hire an admissions counselor. We had a 1/2 hour session with the high school's college counselor, and that was enough for us. Of course, our high school also offers volunteers who help with essay-writing.)  Best wishes to you!

    I highly recommend San Francisco Admissions Advisors. Great women and they know their stuff.

    We have similar concerns! I would add to the request that kids like ours probably need support/coaching to learn how to survive college life once they are accepted and enroll...

    My son has ASD and I found a group in Mass that does asperger/ASD focused college counseling — they might know of resources for kids solely with executive function/organizational challenges:

    they do a free phone consult to start. 
    best wishes to you. 

  • Hi All,

    Am thinking of going with a higher end college counselor for my son. He is in 11th grade. I would like to know how much the counseling might cost?  Is it really expensive?  If anyone of you give me rough idea that will be really great. Thanks.

    Hi, I am also explored this option of hiring a college counselor for my son who is also in high school. I received two names and I found that both counselors I spoke with had similar packages that were a few thousand dollars - ranging from about $1000-$3900 depending on what was included. The packages seemed to both offer quite comprehensive assistance. After talking with both counselors, they each also offered an option for a few individual sessions, rather than the package, that would focus on very specific needs of my son for about $200 for about an hour, hour and a half of their time. Overall, they had very similar pricing. I'm still looking into this, but this is my experience so far. Hope this helps.

    I can't tell from your post of what you're looking for in a college counselor, but as another person answered around the topic, I'm going to venture to let you know that your local public libraries might be offering some great programs for free that might be of interest to your 11th grader. 

    At Berkeley Public Library North Branch this week, we have the YMCA Teen Center coming to lead a workshop on how to fill out college applications and writing the personal statement/essay parts of the application. This is such a great topic, and knowing in advance about how to fill out these applications could be really helpful. That's this Wednesday, November 9th, 630-730pm at 1170 the Alameda @Hopkins Street, Berkeley. It's a hands on workshop, so your son will get some essay writing time and some great instruction on how to fill out college applications. (I wish I'd had instruction like this before I applied to colleges!). 

    Berkeley Public Library has had some college and career related programs in the past few months that were about community college, how to set career and college goals, how to prepare for college, and more. I know other libraries put on similar programs - be sure to check them out. It's a great way to explore topics and find out what your son is interested in and needs, and then if you do want a college counselor for more specific help, you can then focus on what you most need. I'd recommend checking any libraries in your area and search for teen events to find related programs. And be sure to request programs if you want something specific or have a general idea that might be of interest! We would love to know what patrons want to see at the library. 

    Your mileage may vary. We didn't use one -- relied on the BHS college counselor and some help from a friend. Our student was accepted by various UCs and other highly competitive schools. Ended up at an Ivy. You can use one of those books to get an idea of match/reach schools.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Are college application coaches the norm?

Aug 2015

My kids aren't at the college application years yet, but I'm curious about all the questions on this BPN list from folks looking for tutors/coaches for their kids' college application essays etc. Do all kids or most kids or just a few kids get professional help with this?

When I was in high school, there was no such thing. So everyone did their forms and essays as best as they could. My parents didn't even proofread mine. The quality of a kid's forms & essays decided how hard of a college they got into -- therefore most kids got into a college where they could successfully do the academics on their own.

What's different now? Are there still high school students who successfully do their own college essays? Or did the system not work like I thought it did/should back then? Curious non-helicopter parent

I can't say if it is the norm although it does seem increasingly prevalent. But it is definitely not necessary. Two of my children (so far) have handled the college application process pretty much on their own. We took them to see a few schools they wanted to see, talked to them about choices, and then stood back. One asked for us to read his essay; the other one showed us after he submitted. Both got in to their first choices. Disclaimer - both are pretty self-motivated and good students, i.e., they bought into the whole college thing. Not every kid does. But it is most definitely possible to do it with no outside consultant. Mom of 3

We tried one for two visits, end of Sophmore year, beginning of Junior year. It seemed like a complete waste of money, as the counselor seemed to have some kind of generic student in mind. In our case the BHS college counselor was much more able to understand what would work for our kid. The English teacher had them write essay drafts and our student came up with one after that with some editing help from us and one of my friends, but she did all the writing on her own. It is helpful to stress out with someone besides your parent, but BHS at least has volunteers for that. The process is time-consuming, but your child doesn't need a coach. Don't plan to go away during Winter Break senior year unless your student is incredibly well organized, or only applying to UCs because most of the private applications are due then. Our student didn't take an SAT prep class either, though she did try a couple of the practice tests in one of the books. It worked out for us with acceptances at several UCs and some highly selective colleges. anon

I think it depends on your child. Have he/she done well in advanced placement classes where they have to do a lot of essay writing and are good at it? Did he/she get a high score on the SAT writing test?

For what it's worth, we didn't get coaches for our kids and they got into UCLA & UCSC. But they had taken AP European History, AP U.S. History, and AP Comparative Government / Econ and done well on the writing assignments in those classes and in English (they both took Honors English and one took AP English). They also scored very well on the SAT writing test.

The essay is important, but we got the impression throughout the UC application process that showing leadership in extracurricular activities was very important. So many students applying to UC have 4+ GPA's and high SAT scores, that it seemed you needed to have something that was above and beyond that.

If your child applies to a Cal State University, there is no essay required. -parent of twins

In our family our different children have had different levels of support, but none has had a professional college application coach. We have a blended family resulting in four kids now in the 17-25 range. Here's how college apps occurred for each (ages are their currently age):

25yo daughter: did own apps with almost no involvement from me because I was pregnant/having a baby/working full time. Got into only one UC, but it was her goal UC. Was a B/A student in HS, reliable at doing own homework, not one to put in any special effort. Got her BA, enjoyed her UC.

25yo son: did all his own apps with zero help, got into multiple UCs including UC Berkeley. Outstanding student and writer. Chose a different UC, enjoyed it.

21yo daughter: needed emotional support and proofreading review of her UC essays, only got into 1 UC, chose a CSU. HS grades were poor; we expected she wouldn't get into UCs. Finishing at a CSU, happy with her choice.

17yo son: has learning disabilities and emotional challenges; hired a nice young woman who usually does math tutoring to sit with him for emotional/practical support while he did his essays, looked up schools online, and did the online applications. Also poor HS grades (some concern about if he'd graduate HS) but he really wanted to apply to UCs and we let him. Didn't get into UCs, got into four CSUs and is happy with his final choice. He starts this month.

So...a range even within our own family, and success for each child that is frankly right in line with their own abilities. And no one had to be massively stressed or go into major debt. hope that's helpful

We live in Walnut Creek and hired an admissions coach for one session early in the process bc I could see my daughter was getting anxious that she wouldn't get in anywhere. The goal of the session was for the coach to look at my daughter's good but not amazing grades/scores/extra curriculars and provide a list of possible schools to apply to (and a reality check re the schools on her list). This was a good use of money in my mind.

After that, she did it pretty much on her own--to the point that she didn't even let us read her essay till after it was submitted! (and then I had to bite my tongue cause there was a typo). All the English teachers at her school (Las Lomas) did give an assignment of a college application essay and gave feedback on that, so she got one round of feedback from someone.

If you do hire someone, be really clear about what you want and don't want. My friend was upset that the coach they hired wrote her daughter's essay for her! (which they threw away bc aside from the ethics, they didn't think it was a good essay!) best wishes

In answer to your question: our children (BHS 2005, 2006) did not have a college advisor, other than the BHS college counselor. They wrote their own essays and I don't recall reading them. They applied to UCs, private schools and out-state public universities. They met the deadlines for tests and managed their own applications. They were accepted at most of the places they applied. As the child of a non-helicopter parent, your child is probably independent, accountable, and similarly responsible. Maybe things have changed in the last 10 years, but your child will indicate whether they need help, from you or a paid assistant. I subscribed to the college counselor's e-mail updates and asked questions just as a prompt. Also non-helicopter parental

Sometimes I feel like there's an ''arms race'' with regard to our kids. Somebody starts doing something to give their kid a leg up, then everybody thinks they have to compete, and pretty soon that action becomes the norm. No, not all teens need or want college application coaches, but some do (and sometimes it's really just for the parents). My kids are both in college now and didn't have help with their applications other than me reminding them of deadlines. I didn't even read their application essays. (I was really curious, but they wouldn't let me because they wanted it to be their own.) - Empty Nester

I am a teacher at a highly regarded high school in the East Bay. I am also the parent of two kids in college (one at UC, one private). Many parents of my students do use college counselors throughout some or all of the process, and many do not. When they do, they often say they do it in an attempt to NOT hover and nag. I guess it's a way to outsource the nagging. My children absolutely did NOT use college app counselors, nor did we hover over each step of the application process.

First of all, we discussed the nagging issue-- which they obviously did not prefer; they agreed ''do something to progress'' each week on the application, no matter how small. No, they are not super self-starters, they just spent at least 20 minutes a week, sometimes filling out forms, sometimes working on essays, sometimes getting materials together for the teacher recs- whatever. This is what you would pay a counselor to do.

Second of all, their school actually has the resources that paid counselors provide for, FOR FREE- from a college center (which offers one-on-one counseling sessions as well as group ''how to write an essay'' sessions'') to school counselors to Naviance to teachers (As an English teacher, I read student college essays ALL the time). Honestly, though, neither of my kids spent much time with these services, and did most everything on their own-- including the essays.

Both of them got into great schools (which obviously is not going to be defined the same by everyone. By a ''great school'', I mean they got into ones that were a great match for their grades and test scores, and great matches for them in terms of campus social and physical environment). A counselor wouldn't have changed this or gotten them in somewhere ''better.'' The schools they did not get into were extreme reaches anyway, and believe me, I see zillion of my students with college counselors who are supremely qualified still don't get into their extreme reaches either. (This is why you and your child should do his/her research; Naivance will help you see what is ''reasonable'', what is a ''reach'' and what is an ''extreme reach.'')

Yes, the college process is much more sophisticated and complex than it used to be, but truly a look on Naviance will help you understand what is a sensible match for your child. I just think there's a lot of unnecessary anxiety about the whole thing. It's hard not to be anxious... and you all should take the process seriously, of course, but also recognize how capable your kid is, as well learn about the resources that exist already in your community. (I might add, though, that it is much appreciated if you can acknowledge the people who do these things for your child for free- like teachers--their help is truly above and beyond what is already a very challenging and underappreciated job:)). Good luck! - parent and teacher

What does a college advisor provide that you can't do on your own?

Feb 2014

Considering whether or not it would be beneficial to see a college advisor for my high school child and would love to hear feedback from someone who has used on and their perspective whether it was was beneficial or not. If so, what did they provide that would have been difficult for your child to get on his/her own? And what year would it be best to start (Fresh? Soph?) If not, why did you not feel it was helpful? Also, any recommendations of someone you thought was fantastic? Does anyone have any feedback to share on BK Crocker, in Walnut Creek?

Just Trying to Figure Out This College Thing

Does a college advisor have information you and your child can't find on your own? Probably not -- though I think ours did unearth some schools for my B-average student that we might not have considered on our own. Mostly, she took on the role of chief organizer/reminder/nag about the application process. If your child can take care of keeping all the deadlines straight completely on their own or if they are the type to accept help from you, then you might be able to skip it. But my daughter didn't not want me or my husband involved, merely asking if she had started her essay was enough to enrage her, and she is a notorious procrastinator, so having someone else available to give her goals, remind her of deadlines and read her essays was really valuable. And the person we used was very reasonable, so don't think you have to spend a fortune. I also don't think there is much purpose to starting before 11th grade, as long as your child has an eye on taking the appropriate classes, etc. in 9th and 10th. glad it's almost over

We found a college advisor very helpful. Ours was knowledgable about what sort of colleges our kids had a chance at and where they might be happy. It was great to have an objective opinion on that. Our kids went to berkeley high --the advisors there were fantastic, but could not possibly provide that level of individual help. Our advisor was also great at getting balky and terrified teenagers to do what they needed to do. She set deadlines and revised essays. We used Wendy walker, who was great, but I think anyone who can make the application process more the kid's process and less the parent's is very helpful. Soon to be parent of two college grads

We used a college adviser and it was a complete waste of time and money. Perhaps it depends on what kind of student your child is - my son is mediocre at best in traditional school settings and I thought a college adviser might be able to ferret out some interesting, off the beaten path opportunities. No. In the course of 6 months, she failed to identify even a single college that matched my son's interests and credentials. The information that she provided about CSUs was incomplete and in some cases, incorrect. Once, when I asked a specific question about whether a course met A-G requirements for CSUs, she told me I'd have to ask my student's guidance counselor - but when I started looking into it myself (late at night when I couldn't call the guidance counselor), I found the information on the high school website! Honestly, if I can find the information with 5 minutes of internet searching, then why am I paying an expert $100 an hour? Eventually I did all the work myself, researching schools and calling admissions offices, and found some great opportunities. However, I deeply regret that I didn't to it earlier because I thought I had outsourced the job. If you do feel the need to hire someone, I would ask up-front for a list of deliverables and a schedule, e.g. by X date she/he will provide a list of 6-10 appropriate colleges and relevant information about each (requirements, cost, etc.) - invest some time at the beginning really thinking about what you need the counselor to do. And even then, I would strongly suggest doing some fact-checking along the way to make sure you are getting accurate information. Best of luck anon

Thankfully we chose to hire a college advisor for our Senior. As first time college parents, we were overwhelmed with the process. Our daughter is a pretty easy going kid and still she resisted most conversations on the topic. What a relief to have someone else do the hard work of reminding (nagging), questioning(interrogating) and organizing (controlling) our daughter's choices, essays and applications.(parenthesis her interpretation of our actions:)) We worked with Nicole Morello nikkimo [at] I wrote a previous recommendation for Nicole and since then several friends have used her. Now when folks ask us how the college process is going, we can honestly say, it's exciting and wonderful. This is exactly how it should be for the whole family. Working with someone as capable as Nicole allowed us to sit back and enjoy this milestone with our daughter and not experience stress. YES! Relaxed mom

We're working with an advisor (Irena Smith, Palo Alto) for one of our kids and found questions about what he wanted/imagined for his college experience to be excellent - some hadn't occurred to my husband or me (some cluelessness on our part, I admit). We left with ''homework'' to complete before summer begins, feeling both excited and set straight. Our guy is artsy (musician) but not much of a writer, and he's neither organized nor a self-starter, so we were pointed in the direction of Lesley Quinn, who coaches only the essay part of the application along with what we imagine will be much needed deadline management. We were anxious (this is the first of three kids going through this), but feeling like it's pretty do-able now. (On the phone, Lesley said, ''Anxiety is enemy number one.'') So my advice? Spend the money to get expert help as early as possible, and monitor the process from afar. Everybody will be happier. ANON

Do we need a college counselor for high performing student?

Sept 2013

First, an advice question -- do we need a college counselor for a student with high SATs and good grades, some activities, and a learning difference. The student attends a large, public school. Second, if we do need a counselor, do you have recommendations for a counselor that would get the needs of a very intellectual, not very competitive, and not interested in leadership kind of a student. When we've gone to a number of college presentations there's been lots of talk about leadership which our student isn't interested in. We saw one private counselor who seemed to be providing generic advice. Since it is the fall of senior year, we'd need someone who could work quickly with our child, and help them with some of the decision making. We'd be particularly interested in counselors familiar with the needs of high-achieving students with learning differences. anon

I think the answer to your question is really: what does your child want to do? I have a high achieving senior with great SATs, tons of activities, and perfect grades (I'm not exaggerating) so thought we don't need to do this (oh yeah - also at a private school with counselors and a college prep system), but she felt extremely stressed about the process and wanted someone other than her parents to be her partner in the application process. So... she has a counselor, and though I think it is giving her a great deal of comfort in the process I'm not thrilled with either the cost or the advice. In terms of the person we are using - I like him better than the vast majority I spoke to in the interview process - he is much more relaxed and not making her more stressed out, unlike some of the people out there. But, I also think we would have been fine without him... go with what your kid wants to do, I don't think there is any particular value add to having a counselor if you don't really want one. resigned to the process

How to choose a private college counselor?

Sept 2013

Hi -- We are seeking advice on how to select a private college counselor to work with our high school student. We have read the recommendations for specific counselors, and everyone raves about the person they worked with. But what helped you select one over the other? What types of questions helped you tease out which one would be a better fit for your particular child? It seems like a lot of it might be related to how the student feels about the that connection plays out? But if there are other objective criteria or specialty areas to look for (do they specialize in different types of colleges?), we'd appreciate any input or suggestions on what has worked for you to sort this out. Is a college essay counselor different from the counselor who helps with the process? Thank you for your insight. Just starting the college process

I'm a school-based college advisor myself, and have done a lot of research on the different types of admission counselors out there. I can see why it's a tough decision!

I believe the best strategy is to first determine what type of support your child will need most. Does he/she have a clear direction and know what he/she wants in a college? In this case, an advisor who is very knowledgeable about colleges and admission requirements and can help you find matching schools. (Most people I know don't specialize in any certain types of colleges - a good counselor should be well-rounded.) Or maybe your child isn't sure yet, and would benefit from working with someone who helps them figure out their strengths, goals and path for the future. This is a time of self-discovery for teens, and I think the advisors who tap into that are the best to work with, because the admissions process becomes a self-learning experience and helps them build confidence.

Does your teen need someone who will be a task master and really keep them on track? Or someone who is more hands-off and expects the student to take ownership of the process? Maybe someone who views college applications as a growth experience, and uses it as a way to teach your child things like time-management, research skills and deadline tracking?

Do you want someone who promises acceptance to one of your top 3 schools, and will strategically ''package'' your child in the application? Or someone who is more focused on identifying the schools where your child is most likely to be successful? Personally, I think that promises of acceptance are suspicious, and recommend looking for a counselor that will help you find colleges that are the best match for you teen.

I suggest that both you and your child make separate list about your desired outcomes for the process and qualities you'd like in a counselor, then compare lists. This should make it easy to come up with questions you can ask a potential counselor.

On your last question - an essay counselor will only help with the personal statement/essay. A full admissions counselor will help with the entire process, from researching schools to making the final decision. Services and areas of expertise vary, so decide ahead of time what type of help you'll need and make sure the person you chose does that.

Hope this helps. I'm relatively new to admissions consulting, but I've been in education for over 10 years and I know teens well. Nicole

Yes, ''just starting the college process,'' an essay coach is different from a ''full service'' college counselor. A writing coach focuses on helping students build and strengthen their college application essays. If you want to go that route, I would recommend Carla Castillo. She has been coaching Berkeley High students as they work on their college application essays. She offers one-on-one, thoughtful and responsive coaching at very reasonable rates. She also is flexible in her approach to the writing process and connects with students in person, over the phone or Skype, or through email. You can contact her at simplycarla [at] I have so many positive comments about Carla's work with her students that I intend to have my son work with her next year when he embarks on the college application process. Good luck! Happy Mom of St.Paul's and BHS Student

Applying to college -- do we really need to hire a counselor?

June 2013

HELP! My daughter is finishing her junior year in high school. Everyone I know has hired a private tutor/counselor to prepare for college applications, personal statement, SAT and ACT tests, lists of colleges, and so on. Does everyone actually do this? Can she apply and get into college without this assistance?

Worried that I am completely doing my daughter a disservice by not doing the same, I called a well-known college counselor in the area and was soooo turned off. First, I was scolded for waiting so long! ''It's too late!'' Then, I was told that despite the fact that my daughter has a 4.3 GPA, she will not get into any tier 1 schools because she does not have high enough SAT scores (they are high, but not perfect). My daughter has played varsity sports since freshman year, has created a new school club, and studied abroad for one year (and learned a foreign language fluently in the process). Still, I felt almost mocked at how woefully unprepared my daughter is for college. Basically, by the end of the conversation, I was so disillusioned and dismayed that I cannot fathom actually taking my child to see someone who is filled with so much doom and dread and negative comments.

So, families, is the whole college application process so out of our league that we need a hired professional to guide us? What do all the kids who cannot afford this service do? If you have found help out there, what does it look like? What is worth the price and what isn't? Out of my league

Gosh, I must be completely out of it. My daughter, now 22, graduated from UC Santa Cruz last summer. At the time of her application process, I had very few resources in terms of time and money (and had a newborn, too). A friend's mom took her daughter to New York to look at colleges. That was completely out of my realm of experience! My daughter did most of her paperwork herself.

We didn't do any of the paid prep. Just went with my daughter's GPA and SAT scores, which were acceptable. Everyone survived. College is now over. My daughter enjoyed her time at UCSC and is now out working and living her life.

You don't need anyone's help to do college applications, essays, etc. The panic I've seen over this at BPN and another forum I'm on just blows my mind. Your daughter has great grades, high SAT scores, and lots of extra curriculars. If you have the money and interest to pay people to help with these things, that's fine. But if you don't, then go online and read articles about how to approach college essays, support your daughter while she works on them (this summer is a good time), and help her by reviewing her applications for completeness and accuracy. I'm sure she'll do fine. This does not have to be a big, complicated, expensive deal.

Help your daughter stay focused on what matters to her. Are there particular schools, degrees or geographic areas she's interested in? Reassure her that there are many, many good schools out there, and wherever she goes she's going to have good and bad times, make friends and learn things. And then she'll move on through life and those college memories will fade in the distance. The best gift you can give her is a good dose of perspective. Let everyone else have their freakouts and spend a ton of money on prep. You do not need to. a realist with a happy, relaxed daughter

Well, I have a junior, so we are also in the middle of it. If your student is at BHS, the college counselors are very helpful. 826 Valencia in the city has classes and programs to help students in the college application process. Go to the college readiness page --

The Berkeley YMCA teen center also has various college readiness/SAT prep programs.

We did see a private counselor a couple of times, but the one at school seemed much more on top of things for students like my daughter, and for families at a moderate (by college standards) income. The private counselors don't seem like a good value unless you have an unusual situation like a child with bad grades/good SATs and you have money for tuition at private universities without relying on scholarships.

My daughter did well on the PSATs and really didn't have time to study for the SATs. So our plan was to see what the score was, and sign her up for a class/find a tutor if the score wasn't high enough for the schools she'd like to attend. We did find out from the school counselor that what you need for some of those very competitive private universities is an extremely high score. The Fiske Guide is a good place to start because you can see the 25th-75th percentile range of scores for the colleges she'd like.

I also teach, and students with grades like your daughter's (I'm assuming around a 3.8 unweighted) and some activities pretty much all end up in UCs or other good universities. anon

My son just finished his freshman year of college and had a fabulous year. My daughter just finished 11th grade at a local high school. Their SAT/ACT/AP test preparation consisted of reading a few test prep books that I checked out for free from the Oakland Public Library. There's no way I'm paying a private college counselor or tutor. Sometimes it feels like I'm alone in not wanting to buy into the insanity, but trust me, my kids are happier and more relaxed because of it. They are empowered and very engaged in college and the college process. Have you seen ''The Race to Nowhere''?! Can we stop putting even more pressure on our kids just because ''everybody else is doing it''? - Don't want to play that game

My son just got into his first-choice college without hiring anyone as a guide. He didn't play any sports, and never studied abroad. His grades were good, but your daughter's grades are better. I think you have nothing to worry about.

As far as getting through the process: the essays were the part that my son really sweated over. I worried endlessly that the pressure would be too much for him, and certainly thought about hiring a coach -- but he did well. Actually, I think he surprised himself at the end; after weeks of agonizing, everything was done and it was wonderful.

As a matter of fact, his counselor at school was one of his biggest obstacles. She spent all their time together telling him that he couldn't realistically expect to succeed, that every place he liked was ''a long shot'', and so on. She annoyed me, and infuriated him, with her attitude; it was a lot like the experience you described in your post. The whole process would have been a lot more pleasant without her as a part of it. If that's the sort of person that you're finding when you think about hiring someone, just skip it. Your daughter doesn't need it, and things are stressful enough for both of you. She'll find her perfect place, and they'll be so grateful to have her. Really. Kathleen

No, you absolutely do not need to hire someone to help you. Save your money. With that GPA she will get into a good school. Unless she had 500s on her SATs don't worry. Schools want well rounded kids, not drones. If by a top tier you mean the Ivy League, there are a lot if other schools out there that are equally good. My child got into an excellent college with a much lower GPA and so so SATs but had other things, like a sport he did for 12 years and a few other things.

If she needs someone to prepare all that stuff to get into college, what will she do when she is in college? It should be up to her entirely, parents need to stay out if except when it comes to affordability. Third child off to college

We did not use an advisor for either of my daughters--this was about 10 years ago so I may really be outdated--but I didn't want to get caught up in the 'must do' just because others were using one. We were just fine. Both girls got into fabulous schools (UCSD and Brown) with no professional help. We worked with them some in doing their essays but it was primarily them--one girl was pretty academic, the other not so much. Your daughter sounds like a wonderful candidate for many schools. Don't beat yourself up over this. I'm no expert but I would think she has excellent chances of getting into lots of different places on her own merits with the help of a caring parent. on our own!

You do not need a college counselor to help your daughter through the college application process, but you do need to take advantage of all the information and services offered by your daughter's high school AND go to the bookstore and pick out a couple of books to help guide you through the application process. Get involved to help her and learn what needs to be done.

Admission to the most competitive colleges has definitely become much more difficult, and despite a high GPA there is no guarantee for any student. So make sure your daughter applies to a number of colleges (10? 12?), including some with easier admission standards (see what percentage of applicants are admitted and that will give you an idea of the school's ''selectivity''). Then have her work hard on putting together her essay and application so they reflect her strengths, and have her take advantage of whatever help her high school has with readers who can review her college essays. Help her to be realistic about her chances but willing to show her best side. Good luck! Anonymous

I strongly recommend Wendy Morrison She is so positive and uplifting and students love working with her. You can read lots of comments about her in the archives. She is knowledgeable, reasonably priced and full of energy. She has good values. Working with her doesn't feel like trying to pull off a fraud. Unfortunately, it took our family a while to find her. We had some bad experiences. One made us feel discouraged and gloomy. Having worked with Wendy, we know we did our best for our child. Parent of College Graduate

Oh, your post brought up why I dislike the hype around applying for college. No, you do not need a college counselor working with your child, to package her, for two to three years. That is ridiculous. My daughter went to Wendy Morrison twice, once to talk about ideas for schools and a second time to focus on her applications. She sent in her college essays to Wendy for feedback. Wendy is amazing; see has a way of drawing teens out to discuss their dreams, ideas and plans in a way that is remarkable. So, with a high school junior, you are fine. See if Wendy can meet with your daughter over the summer.

My niece applied to college without a counselor and was admitted to Princeton. At graduation, she was not sure if the experience matched all the hype. BTW, she graduated with highest honors in Astro Physics. So tier one schools are not always the best match. My nephew, who did get a perfect score on the SAT, went to Harvard, the wrong school for this brilliant individual who was also shy and very intellectual. He would have enjoyed Reed much more than Harvard. So, breathe about the idea of ''tier one'' schools. Look for a school that is a match for your daughter. anonymous

Hello, I'm sorry the person you asked for help treated you so poorly. Contrary to what she told you, your daughter has plenty of time, and in my experience as an essay coach, all the students who I have worked with, regardless of their GPAs, have something that makes them unique. Recognizing what it is can be difficult, and successfully getting it down on paper can be even harder. Parents are hiring essay coaches because with so many qualified students competing for few coveted spots, something has to make a student pop in the eyes of the reader. A compelling, original, well-written essay often makes a difference.

Also, for parents who can't afford to hire consultants, I don't know about other schools, but Berkeley High has numerous essay readers, including myself, who volunteer every year to help students with their essays. Additionally, school college counselors are great sources of information for students. Jamie

Applying for college is not what it used to be. It is insanely more competitive these days and if you can afford the help of a professional, get it. For me there was also tremendous value in out-sourcing the nagging and I honestly believe it saved my relationship with my already super-stressed out senior daughter. What neither of us needed was me nagging her to meet deadlines, write essays, etc. Somehow when an outsider gives deadlines it is helpful, but when a parent does it, it is nagging!

I needed different things for my daughter than I do for my soon-to-be-senior son so I am hiring a different counselor. Do some quick research (check the archives here) and send out some inquiries. Both times I was able to find people who were/are relatively affordable, helpful and not at all scolding about the entering the process late (which I did also). I found rates that vary from $100-250 an hour so check around.

Kids and families who cannot afford this must rely on college counselors at school if they have them, and it is an incredibly unfair system that is just one more way the privileged stay that way and pass on privilege to our children. That said, if you are so privileged as to be able to afford it, you put your kid at a disadvantage by not buying into this system (similar to SAT tutoring).

The way to get out of the rat race is to be open and flexible about a range of colleges. If you and your student and are fine with the Cal States or less prestigious small privates, all this is probably not necessary, presuming s/he has decent grades and test scores. --Trying to remain calm amid the craziness

I totally understand your panic. But being a year down the line from you, I can tell you that you do NOT need a college counselor to help your daughter get in to college. We didn't use one partly because of the cost and partly because my son wasn't that enthusiastic about the idea. In the end, he was accepted to some very good schools and got into his top choice, and he was nowhere near the stellar student your daughter is.

Here are some tips and advice:
-- I know a handful of people who use the services of Scholar Station. They offer the comprehensive college-admissions advising that you mentioned in your post, but what's nice about them is that they also offer a la carte services, such as just essay editing, workshops, test prep, etc.
-- Dedicate this summer to narrowing her choices and starting a rough draft on some of her college essays.
-- A book we found helpful was ''On Writing the College Application Essay,'' by Harry Bauld. It is short, written in a very friendly & easy-to-read style, and has wonderful examples of good and not-so-good essays in the back -- including critiques by admissions counselors.
-- If your daughter wants to apply to any rolling-acceptance schools such as University of Oregon, do it as soon as they are accepting applications. I only suggest this because it is nice to have one acceptance under her belt when she's doing her other applications.
-- Attend any workshops or lectures offered by your daughter's school or district. I found a few of them to be really helpful, esp in figuring out FAFSA. And I also discovered a little on the late side that my son's high school career and college counselor was amazing. Wish we had known about that resource sooner. She was on top of every deadline at every school and knew a ton about who gets in where.

This is a stressful time, and so many parents absolutely lose their freakin' minds!!!! I had to figure out which moms i could ask for advice and which moms would freak me the hell out. Use this as an opportunity to work WITH your daughter. We made to-do lists, with deadlines for starting apps & essays, completing them, and so on. We checked in every so often. Breathe mama, breathe

I just want to mention that it never hurts to apply to a couple of safe schools where your student definitely will be admitted and where you can afford to send them. It turned out for us that only quarter-system schools worked; the wonderful private college simply didn't offer enough aid; and my student didn't get into the state school that she was fully qualified for; so she ended up (ironically) at a competitive state school she didn't plan on, where she's getting a great education. Have faith that it will work out!

It feels daunting until you begin, I found. Each kid is different, of course, but ours needed only essay help, some of which was centered around his unimpressive writing skills and some was help organizing himself around various deadlines. He was willing to accept help on neither from me or his dad, which is why we went in search of a writing coach. You can find a bunch ''out there'' (and here on BPN) but we were really happy with Lesley Quinn, who insisted that he (not us) needed to own the process. This was just fine with us! Good luck to you, and try not to fret. Get the help you need and then try to relax. Anon


Finding the best fit - at $3,700 ??

March 2013

I am in a process of finding the right person to guide my daughter to find the best fit for her in Colleges. I had one interview so far - the person is very knowable and inspiring but her fee is $3.700.00 - to guide and oriente my daughter from now to the moment she goes to college - including helping with essays and extra activities to improve her profile. I am not from this country and I find myself lost and of course want the best for my daughter. Any suggestions are appreciated. Thank you!

I suggest calling more college advisers. Many charge by the hour or in various packages that are more affordable. We found that for our son we didn't need an end to end package. He already had a writing coach we used to get him through the common app essay. We hired someone who charged $400 for 5 hours of help, then hourly, and she was perfect. She created a detailed plan of action he could follow on his own, then she met with him several times to keep him on track, also emailed and called him as needed. She also was happy to keep in touch with me and talk when I had questions or concerns. So there are many approaches. Find the best fit for you and your daughter. Now is the time to look too! Good luck. Berkeley mom

We loved working with Wendy Morrison You can find glowing recommendations on the Berkeley Parents of Teens archives. She is wonderful, positive, well-informed and reasonably priced. Happy college parent

We just went through this ourselves and elected NOT to sign up with a college advisor for our son. His high school counselor was wonderful about helping us come up with a solid list of colleges (and part of the hefty tuition fees we were already paying!), so we didn't need help there. Where he did need support was with the essays and there were a lot of them. My husband and I felt capable of helping him but he definitely did NOT want our help. After speaking with several application essay coaches (several in Berkeley, one in San Francisco) we settled on Lesley Quinn. She led our son through a step-by-step deadline-driven process he quite enjoyed, and the results were amazing (his main essay made me cry). We ended up spending more than we expected, but he ended up getting into all but one of the colleges on his list, so he couldn't be happier. (I just sent my niece to Lesley, who is getting ready to apply to graduate school.) Hope this helps. Good luck. Class of 2012 Mom

College counselors, what to expect?

Sept 2009

I'm trying to choose/hire a college counselor. I need someone to work w/my dtr on essays, to help her find the best scholarships, and to keep her on schedule/deadlines. She's already compiled a list of schools. Seems the ones with whom I've spoken want to help compile the list. And, I feel the first consultation should be free, to determine the efficiency of the match, but most seem to want to charge quite a bit for first meeting, without any promises about what services they will provide, etc. I guess I don't know much about this as a field. Comments, ideas, help? Alison

Many college counselors like for parents to sign up for packages that are put together to guide the student from Soph/Junior year through college acceptance. These packages are a bit pricey, but many parents choose to purchase them so that all their bases are covered.

On the other hand, there are many many college admissions advisors (I being one of them) that simply charge a flat hourly rate and will cater their services to the particular needs of the parents. It sounds like that is what you are looking for.

I think the factors to consider in choosing a college counselor are: 1. Reputation 2. Area(s)of expertise 3. Price and most importantly 4. Chemistry I think that it is super important for both parent and student to feel completely comfortable and open with their advisor.

Since their are a lot of independent counselors located the bay area, the best thing to do is shop around. Let the counselor know what your needs are and see you both can work from the same page.

As with anything, clear and constant communication (and a good vibe) are key.

I hope this helps. Robin