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College Planning Advice From Your School Guidance Counselor? – Diversity Leadership Project


College Planning Advice From Your School Guidance Counselor?

Not so fast. Parents need to understand what guidance counselors can and cannot provide.

While I have great respect for any fellow educator, depending on your high school guidance counselor for college admissions strategies is tantamount to taking legal advice about an important court case from a paralegal. While paralegals understand the mechanics of how the legal system works, they do not have the depth, training, or experience to represent you in a court of law.

Such is the case with many (but not all) but not all Guidance Counselors.

Last week, I suffered through a high school “College Night” led by a high school’s senior guidance counselor. Parents attempted to follow a poorly reproduced Powerpoint handout about college admissions while hurriedly penning copious notes about deadlines, scholarships, and financial aid.

This counselors ignorance about critical college issues (which, for many families, a bachelor’s degree is the second biggest expense they will ever face, after their home) was simply scandalous.

Public high school guidance counselors (by and large) are not authorities on college planning and should not be considered experts in the field. Relying on critical information, particularly about the financial aspects of college, is ill-advised and downright foolish.

I caught three glaring errors in the presentation… errors that could cost families thousands of dollars and set promising students on the wrong college path.

First, scholarships do not change the EFC (Estimated Family Contribution) on your FAFSA. The amount of aid is adjusted by the college and has no impact on the family contribution. Google “College Frontloading” (a term we use for many “bait and switch” schemes colleges use around financial aid) and see how colleges really behave.

Secondly, private colleges may not be as expensive as the “sticker price” suggests. This particular counselor essentially discouraged applying to any private college, suggesting that Pell Grants and other aid would not cover college costs. So wrong. Private colleges almost always provide scholarships, grants, and other incentives to cover the difference between public universities with whom they compete for promising students.

Thirdly, (here in Tennessee) while Tennessee Promise boasts “free tuition” (it is a “last dollar” scholarship that averages only around $1.200), community college should not be the starting point for smart and aspiring students. Just because community college was good enough for this counselor, studies indicate (see my website for research on “undermatching”) that, statistically speaking, bright students are likely to not finish or graduate when they attend non-selective colleges.

According to Steven Antonoff, author of College Match: A Blueprint for Choosing the Best School for You….“It’s a very difficult situation that has created a gap between the needs of a student looking at schools today and the level of expertise available to them.”

Bright students can have even brighter academic futures when they receive professional advice from professional college planners. We help families and students find the right college that meets their academic, social, and financial needs and reduce the stress and worry around the college admission process.

Call or email me today if you would like to know more.

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Diversity Leadership Project - Williamson County Student Initiative