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The college admissions landscape is constantly changing. Even the best intentioned parents, students, and guidance counselors struggle to navigate it successfully. And the college application process doesn’t begin senior fall; setting yourself up for success starts early in your high school career. AP or IB? Honor Society or Computer Science club, or both? Play sports to get recruited, or let them be a fun way to stay healthy and have a community? 

Outside of classes, clubs, and sports sports, navigating standardized testing is a challenge of its own. Again, students face a myriad of questions: Is it better to take the SAT or the ACT? When should I take them and how should I study for them? Is it okay to get a 720 on an SAT II or should I aim for a 760? Should you take SAT IIs before you take the SAT? 

The effort to stand out amongst your peers doesn’t stop when school is out. You have to decide how to spend your summer break in a meaningful way. Does that mean you keep attending the summer camp you’ve been attending since you were 6 to connect with your friends and mentor younger students? Or do you break out of your comfort zone and attend a pre-college program? If so, should you take Engineering classes or Comparative Literature classes? Is a summer at UCLA really worth its $5k+ price tag? Or should you instead spend the summer making money by working at a local restaurant?

It’s only years of answering these not so simple questions that you finally embark on the last chapter of your journey: applying to college. The questions now are more specific, but still far from black and white. How do you build a college list? Which schools are worth visiting? Is it worth applying to Ivy League schools without a perfect GPA? How do you write a college essay? How do you answer a supplement? Why does Yale admissions want to know the title of the Yale course you are hypothetically teaching when you haven’t even finished high school yet? 

Assuming best practices, you would set yourself up for success by carefully selecting extracurricular activities and courses that help establish your hook, excelling on standardized tests, and creating a passion project that sets you apart in college admissions. Come senior year, you would put together a well-researched and balanced college list, then start on your essays well in advance of the deadline to ensure you have enough time to write insightful college essays.

At any stage in this process, something could go wrong and decrease your chances of getting into your dream school.

How do you know if and when to ask for help? And what does that help look like? 

It’s possible you can turn to your older friends, siblings and cousins for help. They’ve been through the process, and they can probably help you through it. But maybe you’re the first in your family to go to college. Your best friend’s older brother is studying engineering at MIT, but you want to study History at UC Berkeley, so he won’t actually be much help. Not to mention— he’s studying engineering. He won’t have the time. Your guidance counselor at school is supportive, but doesn’t have much experience helping students apply to competitive west coast colleges. 

Deciding whether or not to hire a college consultant can be a difficult choice, but knowing when to ask for help is one of the most useful skills one can develop in life. The main benefit of having a college consultant is having someone who will help you through each step of the process; from picking classes to choosing where to attend college, we’ll be there through each step of the way. Your college consultant will get to know YOU, and tailor your mentorship to your strengths and interests to help you succeed. Your success and happiness will be their top priority.

If you are a DIYer, you may not benefit as much from the help of a college consultant. Here are some of the traits self-sufficient students possess: 

  • You’re self motivated: it would be easier to take Honors History, but you’re going to challenge yourself to take the AP US History instead.
  • You’re resourceful: so far, you’ve found the answers to all of your questions on your own.
  • You’re organized: you tend to plan ahead and don’t let things fall through the cracks. You rarely forget assignments or misplace your notes. These skills will help you with college applications, because there are so many moving pieces. You won’t have trouble keeping track of which schools you’ve already researched and which ones you need to learn more about. 
  • Your time management skills are stellar: you’ll finish all 12 of your college applications by Thanksgiving, no problem. 

You would benefit from a college consultant if: 

  • You’re externally motivated: It’s difficult for you to stay on track and to stay organized on your own. You typically count on other people to hold you accountable in group projects or on teams.
  • You don’t know much about the different aspect of the process, and you want an experienced mentor walk you through it
  • You’re not a “traditional” candidate, but you want to attend a top school (e.g. your test scores or GPA are not as high as your peers, but you stand out in other ways and want to make that clear to colleges).

Not every student will benefit from the help of a college consultant, but most will in one way or another. Generally, the earlier you start working with a college consultant, the better. Our students who work with us as early as 8th grade build the confidence, independence, writing skills, and self awareness they need to succeed in the college application process and thrive in college. You can learn more about the role of a private college counselor here.

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