College Coaches Need Not Apply
Hiring professionals to help rich kids get into desired schools could backfire; plus it’s unfair to low-income candidates. Pro or con?
Pro: Stick to In-House Expertise
In many high schools, the counseling load is high and there are inadequate resources to train counselors. This holds particularly true in urban and rural public high schools. But most private college coaches (BusinessWeek, 10/22/07) do not provide services to low- and middle-income students at such schools. The majority of services go to students in wealthy suburban public and private schools and urban private schools. These are the same districts with the benefits of low counseling loads and highly trained in-school counselors.
In addition to its lack of egalitarianism, college coaching has some other deficiencies. Counseling should not occur in a vacuum. Independent coaches usually don’t begin working with students until midway through the junior year. They have no history with the student or the family. They rarely have a perspective on the long-term academic progress of the students, how they relate to their teachers, how they approach their studies, and whether psychological factors exist that may affect a student’s post-high school options.
In-house high school counselors have relationships with all those who influence the students: teachers, athletic coaches, friends, and parents. They see students act in school plays, play team sports, provide community service, and lead the student government. They know how the students relate to their peers and whether they are respected by their teachers. College counseling is a process that should come at the end of a long-term relationship.
Furthermore, consider that in-house high school counselors are the student advocates the college community respects for their independence and honesty. Independent coaches advocate only for the students who employ them.
Sure, there are those who have very high needs, who stretch the resources in-house counselors offer. But these are students who rarely utilize the services of independent coaches: those who are learning English as a second language, who are severely learning disabled or physically disabled, students with psychological disorders such as depression or anxiety, homeless or undocumented students, and students whose parents did not attend college. Those making a living providing independent coaching offer services mostly to students of means who rarely need the extra support.
Con: Extra Help Can’t Hurt
With the heavy workload of most high school counselors, few know their students well or have the time to provide the attention needed in this vital process. The school system burdens counselors with many duties unrelated to college counseling.
They are generally responsible for testing, scheduling, academic monitoring, crisis counseling, a huge load of paperwork from child-study team referrals, responding to family-services referrals, requests for homework for absent students, progress reports, etc. There are no required courses in college counseling to get a counseling degree. Most counselors remain unfamiliar with the trends in college counseling and the variety of colleges available.
College counseling makes for a highly complex process that calls for the skills of a specialist trained and competent in all the nuances of the task. Skilled independent coaches know about financial aid, athletic recruiting, arts admissions, writing the college essay, the college selection process, and how the schools view extracurricular activities, teacher recommendations, interviews, transcripts, and test scores.
These independent professionals are also aware of the various college options, including women’s colleges, historically black colleges, community colleges, colleges for learning disabled students, military academies, and so on. They know about colleges that offer unusual majors such as acoustical engineering, air traffic control, women’s studies, and even video game design.
Independent coaches possess the means to attend state and national conferences on college admissions, visit college campuses, and develop relationships with college admissions personnel. They get to know students well and fill them in on their best options. They can advise kids on whether they would be better served by a small or large school, whether they have the credentials to be admitted to a selective college, and whether they should consider taking a year off before attending college. And since independent coaches often work with students looking at boarding schools, they can assist students in finding an appropriate postgraduate high school program.