Every subscriber to the MONEY College Planner receives a credit for a half-hour, free personal telephone consultation with a participating member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association.
Of course, half an hour isn’t enough time for a consultant to fully evaluate your student and explain all of the ins and outs of college admissions and funding. But it is enough for some practical answers to a handful of specific questions.
To make sure you get the most out of your consultation, MONEY has developed this tip sheet.
- Choose an appropriate consultant. Families with specific concerns, such as athletic recruiting, learning differences, or financial aid, can screen for consultants with special expertise in those areas.
- Gather pertinent information. Consultants can give more tailored and practical advice if you provide them with some basic information in advance. That includes:
- High school transcript. It doesn’t have to be an official one, but the consultant will want to see the classes your student has taken and his or her grades. Report cards are not as useful because the consultant would rather see what the colleges will see.
- Test scores. Provide any test scores on college-related tests such as the PSAT, SAT, ACT, AP tests, or even estimated scores from practice tests. You don’t need the official paperwork with the results. A list is fine.
- A list of the student’s activities and accomplishments. Besides clubs and hobbies, be sure to mention any volunteer work and leadership roles.
- Any information about diagnosed learning differences. Let the adviser know if the student has a formal diagnosis of ADHD, for example, and what strategies or type of counseling have been most helpful in school. (Telling your adviser doesn’t mean you’re telling the college. It just allows the adviser to recommend colleges that could fit your student’s learning style.)
- A general sense of your financial aid needs. That might include an estimated Expected Family Contribution from the federal government’s FAFSA Forecaster or the College Board’s EFC estimator.
- Write down your questions. They will most likely depend on your student’s grade level and how familiar you are with the college application process. Here are some questions that consultants should be able to answer.
When you’re early in the process and just looking for general advice:
- What books, websites, or other resources can you recommend?
- What should we look for when visiting colleges?
- What deadlines do we need to be aware of? Can you help us with a general timeline of the actions we need to take, and by when?
- What general kinds of colleges should my student be considering?
- How do we tell whether a college is a good “fit”?
- What is our general outlook for financial aid?
- What kind of net price ranges should we consider in budgeting for college?
- Are there any types of schools you can recommend that we visit or consider?
When your student is a high school freshman, sophomore, or junior:
- What courses should my student take next semester or next year to strengthen his or her chances of being accepted at the kinds of schools we are considering?
- What advice can you give us about student activities that might help improve the admission odds?
- What summer activities can you recommend to improve the odds?
- My student has a dream college of X. Are there ways he or she can demonstrate interest in that college and improve the odds of being accepted there?
When your student is a rising senior or first-semester senior:
- My child is considering colleges X, Y, and Z. Is there anything you can tell us about the appropriateness of these colleges for my student, based on what you know about him or her?
- How many colleges should my student apply to?
- How can we tell whether to apply early or during the regular admission season?
- My child isn’t very invested in the admissions process. How do I motivate him or her?
- My student did not perform well on the SATs or ACTs. What are his or her college options?
- How do we choose which teachers to ask to write letters of recommendation?
- Can you help my student with some essay advice? What are colleges looking for in the essay?
- My student would benefit from counseling or tutoring in college. How can we find colleges that will provide that support?
When your student is a second-semester senior:
- How can we choose among the colleges that have accepted my student?
- My student has been waitlisted for his or her dream college. Is there anything we can do to turn that into an acceptance?
- How can we compare the financial aid offers we have received?
- What steps can we take to get this college to raise its financial aid offer? How likely is it that we’ll be successful?
- My student’s college options don’t seem like a good fit. What colleges can he or she still apply to that might be better?