The best independent counselors know that the only way to be an expert is to commit to learning everything they can about admissions and counseling. But that learning isn’t limited to books, blogs, and conferences. In fact, one of the best ways to become a better counselor is to regularly put yourself in your students’ shoes.
Are there colleges within an hour of your home? Schedule tours and visit all of them. You won’t just learn more about the schools. You’ll learn what college tours are like for the tourists. You’ll figure out how to get the most out of them. And you’ll pass that information along to your students.
Want to learn about colleges? Pick 25 of the most popular schools for your student population and research them, just like your students will need to, using websites and college guidebooks. You’ll learn a lot about those 25 colleges, but you’ll also learn how to navigate each of the websites and what kind of information is most helpful. You’ll start deciphering marketing-speak from real information. Yes, your students still need to go through this process themselves. But doing it yourself first will make you a savvy college shopper, and you can then teach that skill to your students.
Want to get really good at guiding kids through applications? Complete your own application for each of the schools your students are applying to. You’ll learn how to decipher confusing directions, how to adjust when no more than five activities will fit into the space provided, and how to navigate through the most confusing sections. Don’t complete the applications for your kids (and obviously, don’t submit them). But the only way to give expert advice is to actually do the work yourself—for yourself—until you actually understand it well enough to teach it.
When you can successfully navigate your own way through the college admissions process, you’ll feel that much more confident in your ability to help your students do the same.
Here’s a past post on how to get started as a private counselor, another about the pros and cons of online college counseling certification programs, and a final one encouraging you to just get out there and help kids.