FAQ #1: How do you choose which colleges to visit? I haven't even heard of many of these colleges.
Answer: Because I'm in quest of the best college for you, and that might not be one you've heard of, I need to consider colleges that offer unique programs. Many of these are very well known and respected in the academic world but are not well known by the general public. Much of my job is to ferret out these gems for you, and specifically those that fit you.
Some statistics: total # of accredited four year colleges in the US = 2774
Total # of places in the 2010 freshman class (acknowledged to be the worst year ever to apply)=c.3.3 million
# of “most selective” (admitting 5.69-33%) colleges= 57
(25 of which have less than 2500 students)= c. 8,800 places
(12 of which have 2500-4999 students) = c.11,500 "
(17 of whichhave 5000-9999 students) = c.25,500 "
(1 of which has 10,000-16,999 students) = c. 3,500 "
(2 of which have 17,000-25,000 students)= c. 9,900 "
(0 of which have 25,000+ students) = 0 "
total # of places = c.59,900
# of “highly selective”(admitting 34-50%)colleges= 177
(90 of which have less than 2500 students)= c. 33,600 places
(35 of which have 2500-4999 students) = c. 30,300 “
(18 of which have 5000-9999 students) = c. 28,900 “
(15 of which have 10,000-16,999students) = c. 52,200 “
(8 of which have 17,000-24,999 students)= c. 41,600 “
(11 of which have 25,000+) = c. 87,300 “
total # of places = c.273,900
In other words: 234 colleges comprising 8.5% of the total number of colleges in the US and offering about 10% of the total freshman places qualify as "most" or "highly" selective. Pease note that 115 of these colleges, almost half, are small (<2500 student) schools: how many small schools do you know?
Additionally there are at least 500 more colleges, most of them under 2500-student colleges, that are only "moderately selective" with admit rates of 50% to 75%, many of which are truly fine schools that, for one reason or another, not many students know about... even if the other colleges (and graduate schools!) do.
And there are gems in the group called "not selective."
Did you know that tiny 1192-student Earlham, with a 74.9% admit rate last year, has long been known as the college of choice of Ivy League professors for their own children?
Did you know that even more tiny (487) St John's (NM), with an 86.3% admit rate, had a SAT verbal median higher than every UC?
Did you know that Juniata (1468), with a 66.4% admit rate, has placed well over 90% of its med school applicants for the last 5 years? And that she often places 100% of those who apply to veterinary school, a much harder admit?
Did you know that all Coe (1295, with a 67% admit rate) physics majors that have attended graduate school since 1983 have done so on fullride felowships? Last year 16 did so... .
And I could go on...
FAQ #2 What can you offer that my high school counselor can't?
Answer: I view my job as supplementary to theirs; I'm not here to supplant or contradict: I'm here to augment and help both them and you find, and get you into, a great school.
The operative word in your question is "can't", not "don't want to". Because I am a retired college professor, I get to do for you what they wish they could. California public high-school counselors are massively overtasked. With 450-850 students they are each assigned, they simply don't have the time to help you in all of the ways they would like to. ( Actually the state average is far worse: at 1 to 1016, California has the worst counselor to student ratio in the US! 850 is the local public HS average. ) I have a luxury they don't: I can limit the number of students I chose to take on to the number for whom I am sure I can do a good job: 16 new full service students per year.
Also, unlike public high school counselors who must provide necessary high school academic counseling, disciplinary counseling and psychological counseling for all the students they are assigned before they even think about college counseling for a relative few juniors and seniors, I provide only college counseling.
And finally, I have time to travel and do on site inspections for you that they don't.
FAQ#3 How much do your services cost?
Answer: Fees vary for services provided and the particulars are best discussed in person. I offer various packages of services, and this academic year the costs range from $150/180 ( an "individual session" vs "12 session package" price difference) per 75-90 min. session to $3300/3600 for the "full service" unlimited package ( there are two ways of calculating this number hence the two figures).
FAQ #4 Why shouldn't I just use a College Guide or a College Rankings list?
Answer: Because while both can be helpful they aren't very flexible and are hard to read intellegently.
The algorithms that The Rankings (e.g.USN&WR) use to develop their lists are complex and while not arbitrary, of dubious value to someone who doesn't understand the various ways they weight the raw data they provide and use.
What does this mean to you?
If you are willing to spend the time on understanding all of the numbers 'to the right' of the Ranking lists and their relations and the Rankers explanation of how they derived and used those numbers, the lists can be quite informative. If not, they are, taken by themselves, basically popularity contests and about as one dimensional in the information they provide as a list of who won the class offices at your high school.
Similarly, The College Guides provide raw data but provide usually even less help in interpretation or are idiosyncratic in that
interpretation. Collectively they can be quite useful, but you will need to read at least 4 of them... . I have read many more and developed an interactive spreed sheet that places the data
from 192 (and counting) colleges in a flexible format that can be taylored to your individual preferences in a way that no single Rankings List or College Guide can. And
finally, after reading those guides I have been to many more colleges than you can hope to visit to verify and give background to what they say... and don't say.
FAQ # 5 But most of these colleges are private colleges! I can't afford a private college!
Think again! If you can afford a UC, then you, and your parents, probably can afford a private college. Most private colleges have never charged 'full ticket price' to most students and do so by offering many scholarships.
Since October 28th, 2011 all colleges in the US have been required to have a “net price calculator” on their websites to enable students and their parents to obtain quickly ( in aprox. 15 min) a rough idea of how much debt they are likely to accumulate while in pursuit of a degree at that institution. Take a look. You will be surprised; the cost of a private is often less than that of a public...and with no TA's and much smaller classes.
When comparing public universities to private colleges remember a few issues:
1) Most private colleges offer a lot of scholarships, both need and merit based, to reduce costs. The monies to fund those scholarships come out of their endowments and 'full payers'. The better endowed can, and do, offer more. Thus their cost reductions are "back loaded." Most public universities try to reduce costs too, but their sorce of cost reduction is "taxes and fees" and therefore their cost reductions are "front loaded." Public universities, therefore, look as cheap as they ever will on first inspection, whereas privates will appear as expensive as they ever will on first inspection. Look deeper. For example:
2) How many years will it take, on average, to finish the BA at a particular school? The UC's are now averaging well over 5 years; many privates guarantee graduation to students in good standing in 4 years, some even guarantee 'no cost increases' over those years (the UC's went up 17.6% each of the last two years ), and 2 that I know of, and there are probably more, have some form of free 5th year for students in good standing pursuing a Masters or unable to finish in 4 years.
3) There are a few privates that are "tuition free." (Check out, for example, Berea College in Kentucky.) Most of these are 'work study' intitutions in which the students must be poor ( "0 FAFSA EFC", or "free-or-reduced lunch" students) and must work apoximately 10-15 hours on campus a week on campus, and they do charge for room and board, but some (check out, as an extreme example, Deep Springs College in CA) are truely and completely free, albeit usually to only a very few (DS has 29) very very good (DS has the highest combined average SAT's of any institution of higher education in the nation... sorry Cal Tech and Yale) students. But there are others: Antioch College (not to be confused with Antioch University) is trying to come back from the dead (i.e. abandoment by Antioch University and subsequent loss of accreditation) and for those willing to take a little risk is offering, for a limited time, a tuition-free education at one of America's most storied institutions of higher education. And there are others.
4) "Colleges that have eliminated loans from the financial aid packages of all undergraduate students include Princeton University, Davidson College, Amherst College, Harvard University, Pomona College, Swarthmore College, Haverford College, University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, Bowdoin College, Stanford University, Wellesley College, Columbia University, Claremont McKenna College and Vanderbilt University."
"Colleges that previously eliminated loans from the financial aid packages of all undergraduate students, but subsequently restored loans in the financial aid packages of wealthier students include Dartmouth College and Williams College. Yale University also scaled back the generosity of its program for wealthier students."... "To date 74 colleges have adopted (some version of )no-loan policies (for some students) and 1 college has adopted a significant reduction in loans for low income students."
(sorce for #4: http://www.finaid.org/questions/noloansforlowincome.phtml )