So You're Using an Independent Counselor...

By: Jeff Schiffman, Tulane University Director of Admission

Thinking of hiring an independent college counselor to help you navigate the often tricky college application process? Sage advice from Tulane’s Director of Admissions Jeff Schiffman.

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If you are a junior right now, you might be thinking of hiring an independent college counselor to assist and guide you through the college application process. And by you, I mean your parents.

Here at Tulane, we very much value the role that independent counselors can play as you generate your college list and navigate the somewhat complex application process. Independent counselors and consultants can provide valuable guidance and support as well as a wealth of knowledge of the application and financial aid processes. That said, there are a few things to remember if you are thinking of working with an independent counselor.

Ensure that they are members of the National Association for College Admission Counseling or a regional affiliate. Whenever you hire someone to do a service for you (like a contractor or dentist) you always want to make sure they are accredited and certified. Same goes with hiring an independent counselor. Being a part of NACAC means they'll abide by the Statement of Principles of Good Practices. I do not recommend working with a counselor who is not a NACAC member.

Ensure that they are affiliated with IECA or HECA. These are two incredible organizations comprised of all higher education consultation and independent education counselors. They share great ideas, best practices and are a great professional networking group.

Tell your school counselor you are working with an independent counselor. It will do you no good to have to two competing forces. If you opt for an independent counselor, let your school counselor know. Remember, your school counselor is the person writing your recommendation letters and advocating for you in the application process. It's vital that you develop a meaningful and honest relationship with them, first and foremost.

Think you can't afford one? Think again! While many independent counselors might come with a hefty price tag, keep in mind that many of them do work for low-income students pro-bono. Head over to those IECA and HECA pages and run a search of a counselor near you. If you know you can't afford one, you've got nothing to lose by reaching out to a few to see if they have the ability to take on probono clients.

Consider any after-school support programs or CBOs. Working with an independent counselor isn't all that different from spending time at a Community Based Organization. I'm fully aware that in some cases, working with an independent counselor can give an already advantaged student an even greater advantage in this process. If you are the first in your family to go to college or are coming from a disadvantaged background, research local programs you can connect with to get support. NACAC has a great list.

Make sure your application remains authentically you. If you remember nothing else from this blog, remember this tip. We expect your application to sound like a high school student has written it. We want to hear your authentic voice. The voice of a 17-year-old guy sounds a lot different than the voice of a 45-year-old woman. Independent counselors can help formulate your college list, provide knowledge about best practices in applying and proofreading your essays, but if your voice starts to fade from your application, well...we can tell.

Remember, you sign your application stating everything in there is accurate and honest. Over the last month, I have been made aware of an independent consultant group out of California that fills out students' applications for them. When we noticed some inconsistencies with an applicant, a call to the student's school ended up exposing that the independent counselor had put false information into the student's application. This resulted in the student being denied admission, something I really hated to have to do. Do not work with consultants like these. You can avoid consultants like this by following steps 1 and 2 above.

We at Tulane have great deal of respect for the work that independent counselors do. If you are considering going this route, following my tips above will ensure that you are working with the best in the business.