Should You Work With a College Counselor?

Applying for college is hectic enough… and now your parents are asking you if you want to work with a college counselor? What does that even mean!?

If you’re confused, we’re here to set things straight—college counselors are professionals you pay who can help you choose the right college or major, edit your college applications and answer any questions you may have along the way. So how do you know if you should work with one? Read on for questions you should ask yourself if you’re considering hiring a college counselor.

1. Do I have someone to support me throughout the process?

Although your parents may be the ones nagging you about applying to college in the first place, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be helping you every step of the way. If they are, you’re in luck. But, if they aren’t, a college counselor may be exactly what you need to guide you and keep you on track.

Michelle Podbelsek, co-owner of College Counseling Associates, gives us her two cents on the issue. "The application process can be complicated and stressful, so having someone who is supportive and good to bounce ideas off of is very important," she says. "Applicants also need to be sure their expectations are realistic regarding a balanced college list. If the student doesn’t have a school counselor, friend or family member who can help with those aspects, a private college counselor is a great resource."

You may be the first person in your family going to college, or maybe your parents are simply less involved. Whatever the reason, a college counselor will be there for you to clear up any uncertainties.

2. Do I know what I want in a college?

If you’ve known you wanted to go to Penn State your entire life, you likely don’t need a college counselor to reassure you of your choice. However, if you have no idea what you’re looking for in a school (location, size, programs), then a college counselor will be of great help.

"Many students come in to our office with very little idea of what they are looking for in a college," Podbelsek says. "We help talk them through the various elements they need to begin learning about—such as locations, size, school spirit, academic programs offered, etc. We also share (anonymous) anecdotes about how other kids have gone through the process or how their interests evolved as time went on, and discuss our impressions of our visits to the campuses." This could be super beneficial for some students!

Jamie Kravitz, a senior at Emerson College, says, “I worked with a college counselor during my senior year of high school, and she was incredibly helpful. She was so knowledgeable! Because of her, I was able to choose the right college for me.” Jamie’s counselor helped her create a list of schools she was interested in applying to, which ended up being super helpful in the end.

Related: 6 Things to Think About When Choosing a College

3. Do I know what I want to major in?

Maybe you have your college list narrowed down, but have no idea what to major in. While going in undecided is perfectly okay, it may be reassuring to some people to narrow down your interests before starting. College counselors are extremely knowledgeable about different majors and can help guide you in the right direction.

"I have either a very brief career test—takes only 10-20 minutes—or a full blown administration of the Strong Interest Inventory," Podbelsek says. "I also show students how to learn more about majors by getting on the college websites and looking at the class requirements for majors they are potentially interested in. The more they learn through these tasks, the better idea they have of how all of that may come together in narrowing down a major."

This will put you a step closer to knowing what you want to study.

4. Am I organized and efficient?

Organization is key during the college application process. If you’re scatterbrained and always leave things to the last minute, it may be best to hire a college counselor who will help you stay ahead.

"Many organized and efficient students may come see us for only one-two appointments," Podbelsek says. "They just want to see if their college list is realistic and balanced, their applications are correctly filled out, and have someone with experience read their essays to see if they are on target."

Jamie mentions that her counselor helped keep her on track with her various applications and essays. If you have a counselor telling you to complete things by certain dates, you’re way more likely to actually do it. Although we may think our own minds are strong enough on their own, the lure of Netflix can sometimes be stronger.

5. Will a college counselor make me feel more comfortable?

Although you may have a support system on your side, that doesn’t always mean you feel secure in what you’re doing. “Even though my parents were supportive during the college application process, I felt like a college counselor would be more knowledgeable and could help make my applications the strongest they could be,” says Emily*, a junior at the University of South Carolina.

Having a professional to work with and edit your applications may make some people feel better about the entire process. If you feel comfortable on your own, there’s no reason to recruit someone to help you. It all depends on you!

6. Can I afford a college counselor?

Cost is an important factor to take into consideration. Podbelsek says costs will vary depending on where you live and how experienced the counselor is, but if you think they will be helpful, it's probably worth it!

"At our office we offer both hourly consulting and a comprehensive program that begins January of the junior year and helps the student through the entire process for a set amount," she says. "We also offer a summer intensive program to motivate kids to get going on their process early."

College counselors will likely start with an evaluation of you, which can cost about $150. Prices for a counselor to review your applications and help you edit them can range anywhere from $250 to $40,000, so it's important to do your research beforehand! It's probably a good idea to talk to someone who's used a specific counselor to see if their price tag is worth it.

When it all comes down to it, working with a college counselor (or not) is entirely your choice. If you’re feeling lost and uncertain, a counselor may be the perfect person to help you step in the right direction. If you like to do things on your own, a counselor likely isn’t going to help you. If you ask yourself these questions, you should have a better idea of whether or not a college counselor is for you!