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College Search Strategies
Portola Valley, CA
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College Search Strategies Blog

Confluence of Students, Parents, School Counselor, applications, and me, the Independent Counselor

This was a talk I gave recently with my colleague, Wendie Lubic "the College Lady", at the annual conference for HECA, our national organization for independent counselors. We thought it would be interesting, since we were meeting in Portland, Oregon, to think about all the parties involved in the college search process in terms of confluence. Ideally, all parties get along and work together to guide the student toward choosing and matriculating to the college of his/her choice. But it doesn't always go that way, does it? 

Each party has a different stake, and different goals and roles, along the way--and the student can just get carried along and mixed up in the process without feeling a sense of control. So, how does my role as an independent college counselor, or independent educational consultant (IEC) play out? 

First it is important to look at the roles of each stakeholder: 

The STUDENT: gain confidence, build autonomy, feel capable, know how to present oneself to the best advantage, and prepare for the next stage of life. On the surface, it looks to students like everyone is thinking only about the test scores, grades, GPA, etc., but beneath there are deeper goals, which are personal and unique to each student.

The PARENTS: step back and let go, have confidence in their teen's ability to lead, trust that their teen is prepared, give the transfer of power from being a manager to being a mentor or advisor (not a helicopter parent). Hopefully the presence and support of the independent counselor will help to relieve some of the parents' stress and anxiety and let them understand the importance of these higher goals.

The HIGH SCHOOL COLLEGE COUNSELOR: Keep the process on schedule, accomodate all students, manage the process for all, meet administrator numbers and school success ratios, write counselor letters of recommendation with as much information about each student as possible. A local school counselor sums up her most important role in contrast to the Independent Counselor as "knowing and understanding our school and its policies and procedures, and knowing and understanding our school’s relationship with each college."

The Common APPLICATION (and Universal College Application, and UCs app, TX app, etc):  streamline the application process for all (schools, colleges, students), allow students to apply to multiple colleges without having to fill out each application individually, allow schools to upload recommendations and grades easily, allow colleges to download applications in a consistent format. 

The INDEPENDENT COLLEGE COUNSELOR: To support each of my students as they navigate the process and learn to market themselves appropriately, to guide parents in stepping back and learning to let students lead, to support school counselors in their efforts, to facilitate the application process... in short, navigating the confluence of all parties involved!  Independent Counselor means advocating for the independence  of the student.

Wendie likes to summarize the roles of the stakeholders like this: In a football game there are many stakeholders. To blend the two together, we could say, The student is the Quarterback. The parents are the Cheerleaders. The school counselor is the Referee. The college application is the Game Plan...and the Independent Educational Consultant is the Coach. Even if a parent thinks of him/herself as the General Manager, the GM does not go onto the field to help call plays, but to to remain on the sidelines (in the skybox)--cheering!! 

Independent Counselors are the current, under the surface, taking students where they need to go. We assess who the audience is. We are the reassuring presence in the flow. Parents often don't realize the power of their words and behavior on their teens. But teens, by the time they're 16, 17 years old, know what their parents expectations are and whether or not they are on track. Parents think the teenagers don't know, so it is our job to reassure parents of what is happening right in front of them, and how their behavior can sabotage the final results with power struggles, overinvolvement, etc. When parents seem to care more about the process than the student, they are effectively sucking the air out of the room and suffocating their teen's efforts. We want to help parents avoid that. 

It is our job to help break down the college search and application process into smaller steps, to stay organized, to communicate with everyone involved as needed, to provide guidance, and to offer encouragement and support. Because we don't have personal stake in the results, we are able to stay calm, be more impartial, relieve stress by being a mediator and good listener, and be a voice of reason and hope.

By staying up-to-date on current trends and the college climate, we, as Independent College Counselors,  can be a resource for information. We can set limits and encourage pushing those limits in an effective way. We can navigate the emotional ups and downs of the process from beginning to new beginning (college!). We help students and parents handle disappointments and learning to move on. --Someone has said that a student isn't rejected, just redirected!--

Confluence is a place where things merge or flow together, and as an Indendent College Counselor, that is exactly what my job is!--and I love it!