Up until I worked as a VP in Enrollment Management (a fancy way to say admissions and financial aid) at a university, I would have agreed with you. The old adage, ‘you only know what you know, and you don’t know what you don’t know,’ may ring more true in the college admissions world than most others. Higher education is a $85 billion industry run in part by the federal government because of the financial support given. As you can imagine with this large of an industry, the regulations and bureaucracy are complex. Unfortunately, many times the bureaucracy unintentionally trickles down to students and they are the ones trying to figure out how to navigate the college search process alone. College admissions and financial aid teams are wonderful, they are there to help you understand – but they are dealing with thousands of students at once and are tasked with hitting enrollment goals and revenue benchmarks. Their intentions are good, but they work for the college not you.
High school counselors are a tremendous asset and many times well versed in the college admissions world – but they only see the process from the outside looking in. Speaking from eight years of executive level leadership, the inside looking out is much different and unknown to most. The ASCA recommends the school counselor to student ratio be 250:1, however it is 464:1. This means school counselors are working with almost twice as many students as recommended by their professional organization. According to the same organization, the average amount of time a school counselor spends with each student discussing college admissions is a meager 38 minutes over their 4-year high school career.
Many parents feel this unfortunate under-serving when it comes to college counseling, so they take it upon themselves to figure it out. There is good information out there, there are best practices to find, and some tricks and tips can be learned – however, the process is daunting and much more complex than one could ever be expected to learn, let alone master and leverage to the advantage of his/her child. As a result of this, many parents unknowingly create a stressful and anxiety-ridden last year at home for their child. It is realistic to imagine arguments at the dinner table over whether or not an application has been submitted, a scholarship has been applied for, or an email sent to a college admissions representative. To no fault of their own, not only are most parents unequipped to give counsel in this complex world of college admissions, rarely do they have the time to commit to appropriately counseling their child. This is why more than 260,000 high school graduates in 2020 hired a college counselor to serve as an advocate for them.