What to Look for in a College Counseling Department

GPS Blog
College may seem worlds away when your daughter is in late elementary and middle school, but everything your child pursues—the bonds she builds with classmates, the activities and classes she enjoys, and the teachers who support her—can have an influence on where she goes after graduation. 

College admissions can be a highly competitive and confusing process for families. Consider a school with a dedicated, comprehensive college counseling program, with counselors to guide students and families through this complex process to help each girl find the right fit for her. 

Consider the following building blocks of a strong program:

1. A team focused specifically on college counseling

Consider the school’s college counseling program and whether it has an experienced, dedicated team to give your student the one-on-one help she will need. As GPS Director of College Counseling Andrew Reich says the school’s program is focused on the issues that surround a student’s enrollment in higher education.

“In many cases, a counseling office is designed to fulfill various needs—academic, social-emotional, and college admissions. Our school offers these services independent of each other, which means our office is able to focus solely on college admissions, college counseling, and post-secondary planning,” he says. “We help students navigate questions surrounding college admission, such as how to develop an admissions strategy, how to write stellar essays, if a school is the right fit, if a school is affordable, and various other nuanced aspects of the college admissions experience.”

With a department dedicated to college counseling, the GPS college counseling office provides students and their parents the guidance and resources necessary to navigate the process of application and enrollment to higher education.

2. Experienced college counselors who understand the ins and outs of admission 

Consider the background of the college counseling teams. Some counselors have experience working on the other side of the desk and can offer firsthand knowledge of the admission process from the college perspective. Others can offer varied backgrounds in teaching, coaching, and more. At GPS, both Reich and Associate Director Anders Swanson have experience in independent schools and higher education and can offer various perspectives. 
Prior to joining the GPS team, Reich worked in admissions at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, New York University in New York City, and in college counseling at Episcopal School of Baton Rouge, and Collegiate School in Richmond, Virginia. 

Anders Swanson, a McCallie alum, brings experience as a teacher, as well as a rowing coach, during his earlier tenure at GPS, as well as at Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut and most recently at Baylor School as the Assistant Director of College Counseling. 

As a team, the Office of College Counseling stays up to date with trends in admission, higher education, and with industry leaders. With a collective 20-plus years of experience in admissions and college counseling, both Reich and Swanson hope to inspire students to reach their goals after graduation.

3. A student-centric team committed to relationships

Families and students at independent schools shouldn’t need to look elsewhere for guidance on finding and applying to the best schools for their daughter. Counselors guide students on so much more than transcripts and letters of recommendations—they build a roadmap for each student to understand the search experience, navigate financial aid and scholarships, and assess their own strengths and preferences to drive the best college decision.
Ideally, the college application journey is student driven. Self-advocacy and seeking out advisers are a big part of being successful in higher education. The College Counseling Office at GPS reflects the same level of independence teachers promote in the classroom—when students step up and take charge in the college application process, they’re more likely to do so in college.

4. A long term strategy for preparing your girl

Finding the right fit for college begins well before senior year and a forward-thinking school has a program that begins years prior to commencement. Beginning in the sophomore year, GPS students have individual meetings with a college counselor. They will get to know each girl and their story. They will also spend time devising a personalized standardized testing plan and course planning for the duration of their high school experience.
“As college counselors, we strive to know each student and have the right conversations to understand what they like and what they want to do,” Reich says. “This student-centric approach enables us to build relationships with students and empowers them to articulate what they want in their college experience.”

Throughout sophomore and junior year, counselors guide students through questions that might get overlooked. Why do students want to go to college? What do they like about their current experience and how might that shape where they want to end up for college? What has worked in the classroom, and what did a girl value about the relationships she built during high school? 

“A lot of our questions try to understand what they loved about their Upper School experience. If we understand what worked for a girl at GPS and during her time in Chattanooga, we can help launch them into what will suit them best for college,” Reich says. “We’re ready and focused on engaging each student to understand what she’s looking for, what the landscape of college admissions might look like, and how realistic her ambitions are.”
At GPS, our goal is to help families strategize and ask important questions for their future. Reich says, “We want to help them make the best choice for themselves.”