We all realize how busy school counselors are — and that trend doesn’t seem to be changing. With growing class sizes and diminishing budgets, counselors are expected to do more with less. And, that includes college prep.
But, what if your school has too many daily demands and not enough support? College prep may become a luxury that gets pushed to the bottom of the list of priorities.
Enter independent counselors. This new breed of college admissions experts has been welcomed into the college planning world with mixed reviews. Some traditional counselors appreciate the extra support, while others might question the credentials of the counselors or if they are necessary for college-bound teens. We spoke with two independent counselors to get the real scoop on what it means to work in this field.
After years working as a college admissions counselor in the high school and college setting, Dawn Blanchard entered the world of independent counseling through the encouragement of her colleagues. She founded Early Light Educational Consulting in 2001 after twenty years in the college counseling business. “I work with about 35 students per year helping them with the college admissions process,” says Blanchard. “Most of the time they are high school students or college students looking to transfer. I guide them for one to three years depending on their needs.”
What started as a small word-of-mouth counseling service has grown to a global venture. Dawn’s students have come from 18 states and four foreign countries. “I travel between 35-40 colleges per year, and have visited upwards of 250 colleges in the U.S.”
While Blanchard focuses exclusively on college planning, other independent counselors may provide different services. Jolyn Brand, owner of Brand College Consulting in Texas, helps students with everything from college and career prep to SAT/ACT prep and financial aid. “I also assist students with special circumstances, such as student-athletes, special education students, foreign students and military academy applicants.”
A former high school teacher, Brand founded her business when she discovered a passion for counseling. “I taught at a low-income school where most students didn’t expect to go to college. Because I had been a teenage mom and a first-generation college student, I started encouraging them to attend college.” Despite the pressures of running a business, Brand also donates her time to a local school district at their teen pregnancy center. Blanchard also looks at her work with a caring heart, offering pro-bono counseling services to qualified families.
Both women carry counseling credentials, Blanchard is a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling and the Higher Education Consultants Association. While Brand is newer to the counseling business, she is a member of the Texas Association for College Admission Counseling.
One thing the independent counselors want to share is the reason why they do what they do. “My job compliments, not competes with the jobs of high school counselors,” says Brand. “Counselors at public school are usually overworked and under paid. When students and parents ask for extra guidance or personalized assistance, when students want to apply to 10 colleges or the family has special circumstances, we are there to help.” Blanchard focuses on personalized attention in her job. “I help my students discover their goals and dreams. I support them through this fun (but challenging) process,” she says.
Michelle Inclema is a freelance writer in Rochester, N.Y.