Counselors can prevent college fears from graduating

Oct. 31, 2008, midnight | By Julia Wynn | 12 years, 4 months ago

Two Blair resources are here to help

A fresh start. Slack rules. Less parental pressure. These are terms high school students associate with the college lifestyle. But the application process is a bit more of a fiasco, filled with seemingly never-ending deadlines and concerns. Many wonder how they will balance their parents' wish that they remain close to home with their own need for privacy and solitude. Others are worried about the cost of college and the possibility of rejection.

These concerns are common among upperclassmen, especially those less informed about the college selection process, according to Catherine Henderson, a part-time private educational consultant and parent volunteer in Blair's Career Center. Henderson has worked in the Career Center for nine years, but resigned last year for health reasons and is now a part-time volunteer. College consultants like Henderson can help students tackle their concerns about college at any stage in the selection process.

Photo: Cathy Henderson is a ready ear for college-bound students in the Career Center.

The number of high school seniors using a private college counselor has more than doubled in the last five years, rising to over 120,000 students, according to the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), a nonprofit international organization that represents private consultants and provides school selection information to families. The IECA predicts this amount will double again in approximately four years.

Fortunately, college resources are abundant for Blazers. The Career Center receives about 200 college representatives each fall, according to Henderson, and also offers a variety of informative brochures on applying for college. "The Career Center is what I call a fluid situation," Henderson explains. "[Students] can come in any time of day."

Private consultants unaffiliated with the Career Center but still widely available to the Blair community, such as Dr. Lori Potts-Dupre, are also a valuable resource. Potts-Dupre is currently a counselor to about 60 students throughout Montgomery County, several of them Blazers. "My job is to work with families and students through the entire college search and application process," Potts-Dupre says. Students can visit for just one session, or choose to begin a years-long relationship. "It's totally up to them," she says.

A Family Connections account is just one of the many useful college resources Henderson emphasizes that are available to students. "We're trying to empower students and their parents to make informed decisions," Henderson reveals. With a Connections account, students can compare their standardized test scores to those of Blair alumni who have been accepted, waitlisted or rejected from a particular school. The service also notifies students when college representatives are coming to the Career Center.

The flame of demand for college counselors has been fanned into a blaze by the U.S.'s current catastrophic economy. Because of the increasing price sticker placed on college, families need more assistance approaching the college process, according to Henderson. "People are trying to make good academic as well as economic decisions," she states.

The barren economy is also one of Potts-Dupre's main concerns. "Clearly it's going to affect the choices parents and students make and it's going to affect the ways colleges run," she says. Yet Blazers need not be overwhelmed by this negative development. Informed college counselors like Potts-Dupre and Henderson can facilitate a smooth college selection process despite factors like the deteriorating economy. "My goal now is to really focus on that, to really help families make informed choices and really afford college," Potts-Dupre declares.

Photo: Blair's Career Center currently collects some information from alumni in college.

Potts-Dupre first thought about being a college counselor while employed in the administration of University of Maryland's Honors Program. "I became interested in the selection process and why students would choose one college over another," she recalls. With mounting enthusiasm, she began researching small liberal arts colleges, visiting numerous campuses all over the country. She has since wandered the lawns and observed the buildings of an astounding 300 liberal arts campuses and continues to travel to various college grounds today. Personally viewing the campuses enables Potts-Dupre to give students a better picture of each individual school, while also saving them the trip. "That's in a way being the best resource I can be for my families - to come back and really tell them what it's like," she says.

Henderson, who also worked in higher education before becoming a college counselor, has roamed the grounds of 140 campuses over a period of ten years. "I try to visit as many as I can," she comments. "You can get a lot from the Internet, but there's no substitute to seeing it for yourself."

Even before Henderson and Potts-Dupre started working in higher education, they were influenced to help students with the college process. "Honestly, one reason I do what I do now is my college search process was awful," Potts-Dupre remembers. She ended up stuck in a college she had never visited and found out too late that the place was not for her. Through her consulting, she hopes she can help students avoid these college blunders.

Although Henderson's high school counselor was also useless in furthering her college selection process, it was Henderson's 12-year position as a researcher for the American Counsel on Education, acquired when she was just out of college, that ultimately drew her to educational counseling. "I found it just fascinating," she recalls.

Parents are welcome to participate in the college selection process, Henderson says, but applying for college is different for the newer generation of high school students. "The college process has changed dramatically since the time their parents went," she reveals, citing educational consultants as the most up-to-date resource for students.

For disabled students or those hoping to receive financial aid, educational consultants are key in finding colleges tailored to these students' needs. But students who pack their weeks with activity after activity in hopes that their long list of extracurriculars will bring a thick acceptance envelope may be especially reliant on a counselor's guidance. "It's kind of overwhelming with all the other things high school students have going on," Potts-Dupre declares. "It's helpful to have someone guiding them in the process."

Julia Wynn. Hello, my name is Julia Wynn and I am looking forward to my senior year as a member of the Silver Chips Online staff. I love to dance (especially poms), listen to music and play piano. My two main food necessities are any kind of … More »

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