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Frequently Asked Questions

We have tried to anticipate your questions about CollegeLab.

If you don't find your question, or a good enough answer, here email us at


Is an independent counselor really necessary?


YES, for most students, it's vital. 

The ratio of students to counselors has grown to over 300:1 in most of the large high schools in Colorado.  In  Boston, Massachusetts the city budget has recently fixed the student/counselor ratio at 980:1.  For most students, that means their counselor will have very little chance to get involved in their selection of courses or extracurricular activities. 

There are, therefore, a great many students who don't get any focused advice in these areas until late in their junior years, when they see PSAT scores, their first glimpse of how competitive their college applications will be in a context larger than their high school.  In addition, their counselors can't possibly write college recommendations with the same level of insight or advocacy that counselors once could.

Many private schools now highlight their counselor:student ratios.  One Denver private school pledges a 10:1 ratio; a number of leading boarding schools in New England maintain a ratio of 6-8 boarding students to one counselor, who is often also a full-time resident.  The recommendations in those students' folders tell compelling stories, address the issues that may appear elsewhere in their students' applications and reflect strong, honest advocacy for their students.

For students:

  • whose parents didn't go to college in the US (or didn't go to college),
  • whose counselor turns over during their high school years,
  • whose parents assume the schools are on top of the issues and timetables for each student applying to college; or
  • who are being homeschooled

the effects can vary from disheartening to disastrous.  If students are capable of handling the demanding coursework of a challenging school, they may not be working and learning to their full potential in college.  Is there proof of that?  Well, the current rate of transfers for all college students who complete a degree in five years or less is 30%.  So, roughly 3 in 10 students actually pack up and change colleges once they know what a given college is like.  For transfer students who lose course credits, friends, the chance to build solid mentor relationships with faculty or just self-confidence, the cost of good independent counseling in high school is quickly repaid.

Will hiring an independent counselor reduce the resources that the school makes available to our child?


Strictly speaking, no. 

Your child will have access to counselor appointment times and all of the same library resources to which they are entitled under the school's guidelines.  Many parents who engage an independent counselor, however, choose carefully when they tell their school's counselor about an independent counselor.  They fear an overworked counseling staff, being human, will invest their time with other children.  CollegeLab's clients are the families we serve; we will bring all the resources to bear we can and coordinate with the child's school counselor whenever our client families ask us to do so.

One happy side-effect clients point out to us is the confidence parents gain from working with us.  With the facts, insights and a confidence that they're making a difference in their children's education, they get more involved in advocating for their children throughout their high school careers.  And there are many contexts in which there's no substitute for a parent.

Why does CollegeLab place so great an emphasis on advocacy?  Many other counselors work only in the background.


Because most high schoolers need an informed, honest advocate in pulling together the teachers, courses, coaches and sports that make up their high school careers.  And when the time comes to synthesize all that they've accomplished in high school to make the best possible case for their application to a college that will really stimulate them, an advocate is irreplaceable. 

The very best students and average students both need to make the case that (a)they've grown in high school and (b) they will keep growing in definable ways through four years of college.  It's a very rare student who can make that case themselves.  And, unfortunately, it's increasingly rare that school counselors have the time to make that case well.  Armed with our knowledge of:

  • the student and his or her family,
  • the insights available from first-rate assessments,
  • the story of personal development that their Portfolio tells,
  • our knowledge of various Colleges' needs and historical profiles
  • more than 20 years of alumni interviewing and applicant discussions

CollegeLab can make compelling cases for students we know well, advocate for them and be honest, effective advocates.

How does a family know that college admissions staffs will listen to you?


Because they tell us they do.  Recently, the President of a highly selective New York college told us that independent counselors generally have become a factor because they are playing the same role year in and year out  And, he said, they turn over less often than their school counterparts.

But there are limits to advocacy.  Ivy League admissions people generally will not consider an independent counselor's letter unless it in some way levels the playing field for a disadvantaged applicant.  In the applicant pools of the most selective colleges, an independent counselor's open role may be a disadvantage if another equally qualified candidate seems to have built their high school record without the help of a coach.  CollegeLab, therefore, will not write recommendations for Ivy League applicants.