What IS College Counseling?

I get asked this quite often. And I always think of this quote:

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost

Even though a student’s high school may have an arsenal of on-site counselors or advisors, many juniors benefit from an off-site strategist and coach to help navigate the often not-so-straightforward path to college.

Just as a hiker can be equipped with a map, compass and maybe even GPS, he or she can still get lost. Similarly, a student, armed with the perfect college-search supplies, GPA and test scores, can still feel disoriented, anxious or uncertain about which “road” to take.

Small liberal arts? Big public university? Art school? Conservatory? Engineering program? PLME? Rural setting? Urban setting? West Coast? Midwest? Maine? Financial Aid? Merit scholarship? Sports recruit?

Unlike the poet Robert Frost, students aren’t just selecting one out of two options; they have many choices to make. And, to keep a teen focused during high school, that college selection process shouldn’t begin until Junior Year. Preferably not until spring Junior Year! Aka Now.

So, what is College Counseling? The Three Tees sum it up.


Communication comfort is the first sign to a good student/college counselor relationship. Does a student feel at ease with their advisor? Can they confide and seek advice from them without sensing judgment?

  • “My advisor isn’t on my side.”
  • “My counselor at school thinks I’m dumb.”
  • “It’s obvious at my school who the counselor is pushing to apply to Ivy League colleges. And I’m not one of them.”

If your student is dawdling in making an appointment with their counselor or, if he or she frankly says they don’t like their counselor, that’s the time to a) make a meeting with the counselor b) suggest your student try and change counselors and/or c) retain outside counsel.

On behalf of my students, I act as a quarterback to school counselors, supporting students and offering tips on how to leverage a family’s relationship with the counseling office. In other words, we’re all on the same team, the student’s, with a common goal of attaining admission at a college that best fits your student.

Tools & Tactics

There’re a number of books I make “required reading” for families I work with: The Fiske Guide, Insider’s Guide to Colleges, 40 Colleges That Change Lives and The Gatekeepers. While I act as both a sounding board and suggestion-maker to students, I also ask that they get their hands dirty and engage in the process. In addition to reading up on schools, I urge students to find alums from their high school who are currently at a coveted college. This gives a student on-the-ground intel from a known source. Another helpful exercise is to scope the websites of five small colleges and five large universities to determine which might be the better fit. And a wonderful 21st Century tool that also shouldn’t be overlooked is Naviance. Data, however, doesn’t always tell the human story. I had a student, who, according to Naviance had a next-to-none chance of getting into a certain school, but he wanted to reach and I encouraged him to. He’s matriculating there this coming fall. A balanced college list of Reach, Target and Likely schools allows for students to “go for it” with dream colleges.


If funds permit, hit the road and see as many campuses as you can. Nothing beats a real-time visit to a college or university in session. Remember to book a tour AND an information session, as each gives you a slightly different perspective on a school. And if possible, try and arrange an interview. It’s costly and inconvenient to arrange a return trip during a busy senior fall – which is probably when your student will decide that X school is their first choice. Also, sit in on a class, eat in the cafeteria, meet the coach, stop by the art studio. If traveling to schools is impossible, websites are a wonderfully transporting way to get the feel of a campus and its community without the price tag or time of a trip. And alumni interviews are excellent ways to show a school your interest while asking questions of someone who experienced the school in the same way you will – as a student!

A good rapport with a student and their family is probably the most important ingredient to my work as a college consultant, but providing tools, tips, itineraries for trips and insights from the campus visits I make play a significant role, too. In this way, it’s a package deal!

Give me a holler at 917-863-2424 or drop me a line at Elizabeth@eecollegecoach.com to talk about College Counseling for your student.