Both public and private high schools should have college counseling services available to their students. The reality, however, is that budget cuts have stretched counselors thin. In many school districts, it’s not uncommon for one counselor to be in charge of hundreds, even thousands of students–a ratio that makes it challenging (to say the least) for everyone involved. Given the impossible workload facing many in-school counselors, more and more students and their families are turning to outside guidance counselors in order to get the help they need navigating the complex college admissions process. But not all college counselors are created equal. If you’re considering getting a private counselor, here are four questions you should ask:

  1. What’s the student-to-counselor ratio?

You don’t want to run into the same problem plaguing many high schools across the country. If your counselor is in charge of helping too many students at once, you might not get the personalized attention you want. Ideally, your private guidance counselor only works with a handful of students at a time–be sure to ask for specifics to make sure this is the case.

  1. What range of services does the counselor offer?

Does your guidance counselor help you craft a college list? Narrow down your choices? Complete the Common App? Edit your essays? The more comprehensive the better, and you certainly don’t want any surprises. Make sure to ask what is and is not included before you begin working with a private counselor.

  1. What type of background does the counselor have?

The college admissions landscape has changed a lot in recent years, so critically examine the background and life experiences of any prospective counselor. How old are they? Did they attend an elite university themselves? Have they been directly involved in admissions somehow? Someone who is up-to-date on current trends in higher education and has direct experience with elite colleges and universities will better assist you in reaching your goals.

  1. Do they have a track record of success?

If you have your sights set on an elite college or university, make sure that your prospective counselor has plenty of experience coaching students to admission at top-tier schools. Don’t be afraid to ask for specifics. What percentage of the counselor’s students have gotten into one or more of their top choice schools? Be sure to find a counselor who understands what it takes to get into an elite school and has had success in the past.

Students seek the help of a private college admissions counselor in order to receive the attention and guidance that in-school counselors simply cannot give to everyone under their purview. In light of this, it’s important to make sure that your private college counselor can respond to your needs adequately and has the experience to effectively support your endeavors as you begin the road to college.

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