The prospect of the college admission process daunts many high school students because there are so many decisions involved, decisions that are perceived to affect students’ lives significantly. The role of a counselor is to help students and their families make good decisions. Decisions about college financing can be especially overwhelming because they involve more than students’ abilities, interests and desires; they involve a more finite consideration, the family’s ability to pay.
The role of the counselor in this decision-making process is one of resource provider and guide. As counselors we have more information at our disposal than do most college bound students and their families. It is our duty and pleasure to provide families with our information resources and to anticipate the kinds of information they will need to make reasoned decisions.
Our role as counselors in the college financing process begins early on with making parents and students of the options they have in financing the college education. Counselors should let students know about college saving vehicles and financial aid options and allow students and parents to make informed decisions about the best ways for them to finance the students’ college education. Likewise, counselors should help students and parents determine all of the variables regarding cost of attendance for each of the students’ choices.
While the student develops the college list, the counselor provides information about affordability. The counselor may reveal the fallacy of a family’s assumptions about the types of colleges it can afford, pointing out that different institutions calculate need differently and have differing amounts of aid available. The counselor should advise students to make sure they have included on their lists schools that their families can afford even without generous aid packages so that all of their bases are covered. Counselors should also be creative and flexible and provide information about gap year or other programs that may be resources for paying for college.
Counselors should provide students with materials that help them keep track of financial aid deadlines at the various schools to which they have applied. They should encourage students and parents to keep in contact with the colleges on their lists to make sure that they have provided everything financial aid offices need to make their decisions within the designated time frame.
When the award decisions arrive, counselors are there to help families evaluate their options, to take into consideration all aspects of the decision, including the financial aid package. The counselor may also provide guidance about the kinds of aid offered and help students decide what constitutes a reasonable amount of debt or work study to take on given their circumstances and aspirations.
Throughout the process, a very important role for the counselor would be to act as a sounding board for students and parents and serve as a wise mediators between students and their parents, if necessary.
If you’d like more information about the kinds of services you can receive from an independent college counselor, visit my services page.