Though the college application process was vastly different for the Class of 2021, one thing remained the same as any other year: many Cal High students hired private college counselors to help with the admissions process.
Senior Evelyn Lee was among this group, and started meeting with her counselor in the summer before her senior year.
“I needed someone to take my experiences and the ideas I had and set up a portfolio with a certain theme,” Lee said. “That was something that I was super unaware of and I needed help to navigate that portfolio.”
Private college counselors offer a variety of services, catered to each student.
“As the point person for your applications, college counselors keep you on top of deadlines and graduation requirements and ultimately send your official transcript to colleges,” reported The Princeton Review. “They can also help you find schools that fit you, identify dream/match/safety schools, complete your FAFSA, craft strong school-specific application essays, and help manage anxiety and stress.”
For senior Victoria Chen, the latter was a large factor in hiring her counselor.
“[My college counselor] checked over [the applications] which was really helpful,” Chen said. “It was way less stressful, I didn’t need to worry about if I missed anything or not.”
For many students, this stress came from their feeling of unpreparedness in transitioning their school style of writing into college essay writing. They believe that while the papers they wrote in class earned them good grades, that’s where the benefits ended.
“Essays in class were book reports. I got a 5 on my AP Lang exam, and that helped nowhere,” Lee said. “I used none of those skills.”
In an attempt to give students experience with this type of writing style, some teachers made time for their students to work on applications, with varied success.
“My English teacher let us do college app writing, but that was after I already did my college essays, so it wasn’t that helpful for me,” Chen said.
Cal’s counseling department has also been trying to remedy the lack of preparedness for seniors, especially during COVID-19. The Senior Survival Guide was posted on a new Class of 2021 Google Classroom, which includes information on a plethora of important topics, from important dates and events, to essay help and course requirements.
“We completely digitized the senior survival guide and it has a page on the counseling webpage,” counselor Rebecca Bellini wrote in an email. “This is great because as things change, which they do regularly, we can update.”
Bellini said the necessity to be virtual this year has other benefits.
“Instead of the in-person presentations we would normally do, we recorded them and emailed them out which is also good in the way that if a student missed it for whatever reason, it still lives digitally and we can send it along,” Bellini said.
The College and Career Center is also a resource available for students, and was available this year for scheduling meetings to discuss applications with the college and career coordinator, Easton Plummer. However the Center, which has rebranded and expanded over the past couple years, has had trouble gaining traction for some.
“I dont think it’s that the school lacks resources, it’s more that I didn’t take advantage of the resources,” Chen, who didn’t use the Senior Survival Guide, admitted. “But I’m sure if you really pushed and needed the help you would be able to find it.”
While Bellini does not believe hiring a private counselor is needed, she is supportive of all students’ decisions.
“Our goal is always to support all students in whatever way they need,” Bellini wrote in an email. “It is absolutely true that students do not need to hire outside college counselors, but it is a family choice/preference thing.”
Despite this availability, Chen does not regret her choice to hire a counselor, and recommends that others do the same.
“Not only do they help you with your essay writing and your application and everything, I feel like just having that person that’s been through it so many times to be able to talk to you and offer you advice, or tell you that it’s ok to not get into a college is really nice,” Chen said.
However, the prices of counselors can also be a deterrent for some. Costs vary, with some counselors offering a flat fee, and others charging per college or offering multi-college packages.
“According to IECA data, the average hourly fee for a consultant in 2017 was $200,” reported US News. “Comprehensive package fees can range from a low of $850 up to a high of $10,000.”
Lee said that she knew her college counselor beforehand, which helped with this issue.
“Since we had already built a good relationship, [my counselor] significantly reduced her cost,” Lee said.
Lee, whose parents did not go through the application process, recommends hiring a counselor for those in a similar situation to her own.
“The purpose of a college counselor is to guide you, not to write your essays for you,” Lee said. “If you have someone who can be a guide you don’t need one, but if you’re in a position like me where this is all new and no one can help you, I 100 percent recommend getting one.”