What Does a Private College Counselor Do?

woman in white dress shirt and black skirt sitting on gray couch

Private college admissions counselors and tutors have become ubiquitous with the college admissions process. We will explore the reasons for this in the college admissions process, if you should hire a private college counselor, and some resources you can use to navigate the process yourself.

College Admissions Landscape

A recent report from the NACAC shows that the average school college counselor to student ratio is 478. We see that over 75% of attendees answer the question, “Is your school college counselor helpful?” as “No”. School college counselors are getting overwhelmed due to a lack of funding, the increasing number of students, and a dynamic college admissions landscape.

Private school college counselors often have fewer students, but sometimes they are young and inexperienced. Many students approach us because they are taking a hedged approach – using two or three tutors and counselors to help them through the admissions process. Please see our article here for more on private schools versus public schools.

On the tutoring side, while the mean SAT score has stayed constant and slightly decreased since 1972, the high-end of students are increasingly getting higher scores, more preparation, and in turn, higher scores. Statistically if we look at the mean SAT scores for the Ivy League schools, the means tend to fall within the top 2%. That means that this top 2% of students compete for schools with acceptance rates that fall below 5%.

These types of students compete on par in a global economy. But international students of all economic backgrounds are competing to also get into US colleges. In essence, the Top 100 US colleges have found a way to become an attractive asset to the top 2% of US students and a probably equivalent percentage of students worldwide. But because seats do not expand as quickly as applicants, acceptance rates fall dramatically.

Because of all of these changes, private college counselors and tutors have become incredibly popular. Many parents who lead their children through the process or family friends start their own college counseling businesses in the hopes of helping others, or sometimes, with ulterior motives. Choosing the right college counselors is critical. Having started organically and worked with many college counselors, we will share our story at Empowerly and tips we have learned through the years.

Do You Need a Private College Counselor?

College counselors come in many varieties and many do it as a part-time occupation as they want to help others, are good at writing and organizing, and have experience with the complicated process themselves. Some profess to help with the college essay process only, others work with students to find their interests throughout high school, and still others also offer tutoring and other services. We will go through these three types of college counselors and when each can be helpful.

Type 1: The Parent

Many parents have approached us at Empowerly to become college counselors. They recently helped their own child through the admissions process and want to help others with the knowledge they have acquired. There are many 1-5 person college and tutoring companies that exist and serve a hyperlocal market. In fact, we estimate that 60% of the market fits this from our internal analysis of applicants for positions at Empowerly.

Strengths: These parents can be helpful when their child had similar experiences to your child. They often genuinely want to help students through the process but have not committed themselves to this as a career – it is either a part-time opportunity or something they do after they retire.

Weaknesses: Many show a genuine interest in helping others but are also not institutionalized. This means that judging quality can be difficult and there is a limited track record. Sometimes, these types of college counselors also are not as organized.

Type 2: The Specialist

We estimate that 20% of US based college counselors fit into this category – they help students consistently and focus specifically on 11th and 12th grade students or transfers and graduate students. These types of students often have a definitive and direct need – SAT I/ACT, SAT II, or college essay help – and these college counselors want to serve that need. These types of college counselors often tend to be more dedicated than Type 1 counselors, although sometimes there is an overlap in the commitment and qualities.

Strengths: These college counselors often know their strengths and are self-aware. They often are very good writers and focus just on that process. They will have developed some internal working pattern or curriculum to us with students.

Weaknesses: These college counselors will refer out for services they do not offer, which can cause an inconsistency in the experience. Sometimes, the quality of the referral is lower than their own quality. Other times, they do not have any people to refer to.

Type 3: The Full-Service College Counselors

We estimate that the remaining 20% of US based college counselors fit into this third category – they are usually full-time and have several centers with counselors and tutors. They usually have a long track record of experience and established processes in place. They sometimes are regional, but often times they serve students across geographies. At Empowerly, we are almost exclusively online, so we help students around the world.

Strengths: These college counselors and tutors have established and repeatable patterns of success. They often hire former admissions officers or have access to proprietary insights that even private school counselors do not have.

Weaknesses: Sometimes the experience can feel impersonal as the college counselor has many students. Other times, these firms revolve around one person and getting their attention is difficult.

Resources To Navigate the Admissions Process

We have developing a series of free resources for students and parents to navigate the admissions process. Our friends at Magoosh and others have developed many free SAT resources for students to try.   

One tool that we are building is a crowd-sourced graph where students can see where they stand versus other applicants, with their chances of admissions, an automatically generated school list, and more. We will soon  be releasing this tool to the public after testing it internally. The goal is to create a data-driven set of tools to help students and college find and match with each other – it is not to replace the college admissions process but instead to supplement it.

 Feel free to reach out to us any time.

Questions? Let us know!