The President's Blog

College Counseling in the News
Jim Hansen

College Counseling In The News...
And On The Minds Of Students & Parents

November is the deadline for early applications at many colleges. As you might expect, there has been a flurry of student activity the past few weeks as they make decisions about what schools will make their preferred list, asking for transcript uploads, requesting letters of recommendation from faculty and answering the question EVERYONE asks: "What are you going to do next year?"

News programs have been filled with stories about parents who paid people to take tests for their children or paying “advisors” to illegitimately get their child into their chosen institution. 

In a recent report, the Independent Educational Consultants Association stated that the total cost of fees charged by college counseling advisory services averaged $4,600 with a top quartile of over $10,000. In some cases, celebrities have paid over $500,000. The report also stated that most consultants that are hired are only used for high school course selection, ACT/SAT preparation, assistance with evaluating students interests and capabilities, essay writing and financial modeling.

Research, and our experience at Hill-Murray, suggests that students look past college rankings to find the best fit for them and their college goals. This might mean looking for the right program or major, the best economic fit, the right location or even extra-curricular offerings. A Washington Post article on November 14th titled “Is College Worth It?” emphasized the importance of considering value when choosing what matriculation plan is right for your student.

At Hill-Murray, we integrate the college counseling process into a comprehensive and developmental Guidance and Counseling Curriculum starting in 9th grade, by utilizing our college matriculation system called Naviance.  

During freshman year, using Naviance, students begin the process by taking a Career Interest Inventory, starting a high school Activities Resume and selecting courses to insure they are on a path toward the college of their choice or possible careers. 

As sophomores, students participate in a career fair, complete the Naviance Gallup Strengths Explorer and they update their resume. 

Juniors complete a personality assessment called "Do What You Are" and take part in a job shadow experience. Then students and their parents meet with the Hill-Murray college counselor to discuss college choices and add those colleges to their list. 

As seniors, students embark on the application process early to maximize their admittance chances, as well as potential scholarships. Our English classes have a college focus during senior year, helping students prepare and polish essays and counselors provide direction toward schools that are the right fit for each student. Then families pull out their lists and begin college campus visits.

The schools surrounding Hill-Murray have a student to counselor ratio of 650 to 1. Our ratio is approximately 125 to 1. In addition to our licensed school counselors, Hill-Murray has a full-time college counselor, Ms. Carrie Egan, whose sole responsibility is to help our students with the college process and to be their advocate.

Ms. Egan has shared this with students and parents but it's worth emphasizing:

  1. Consider starting the process early. Freshman year is not too soon to begin talking about goals and to attend college fairs. You should also attend the College Information Night at Hill-Murray, which is geared toward freshmen, sophomores and their parents. Students should also meet with their counselors to make sure their course selection is not limiting their options for matriculation.
  2. Pay close attention to grades in the core courses. Grades in core courses: English, Math, Science, Social Studies and World Language are important, so keep a close eye on those, as well as the overall GPA.
  3. Take the ACT prep class and college entrance exams during junior year. Hill-Murray students are encouraged to take the ACT or SAT during their junior year. And to repeat those tests again during senior year. This could help boost scores by several points and that can mean thousands of dollars in scholarships.
  4. Apply to colleges at the beginning of senior year. Seniors should narrow down their lists and complete all applications by November 1.
  5. Complete the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) should be completed in the fall of senior year. Ms. Egan holds a FAFSA Workshop for families in October to help navigate this process, answer questions and fill out the FAFSA.
  6. Find outside scholarships. Families should be prepared to look for - and apply for -outside scholarships throughout senior year.

Brent Johnson, our Director of Learning, has shared changes to the ACT process for next year's seniors with the faculty. Students will be allowed to retake portions of the ACT and then submit a Super Score to their chosen colleges. This change will make preparation and persistence even more important to the matriculation process.

To further prepare Hill-Murray students for the ACT, four Hill-Murray staff members have become ACT Certified Teachers in Math and Science. This certification has provided our staff the necessary background knowledge to best prepare our students for testing. 

In the 1960’s, colleges committed to bringing affirmative action policies into their enrollment processes through the use of “unbiased” exams. These exams would allow students to enter competitive colleges by showing their proficiency, no matter what high school they attended.  In the past few years, a few colleges - most notably the University of Chicago - have been dropping their standardized test score requirements. It is not clear if the new processes to measure activities, personal characteristics and character will be less biased but there is a trend emerging. 

At Hill-Murray, have begun planning for the creation of a “Student Profile” filled with the relevant data (testing, grades, activities, writing samples, etc.) that an H-M student would need to develop a portfolio for schools where ACT/SAT scores are not the deciding factor. In the meantime, we encourage all of our students and parents to follow the protocols and processes we have in place. This will assure that when senior year rolls around, each child is positioned for matriculation to whatever program is right for them.