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Career Story: Independent College Counselor

Independent College Counselor

Job Title: Independent College Counselor

Type of Company: I am self-employed, working with families all over Massachusetts and occasionally farther afield.

Education: BA, French, University of Massachusetts •• MBA, Simmons College (Boston, MA)

Previous Experience: I began work in the health care industry as a director of a start-up and began building ongoing education into the company along with numerous other management duties. I continued my career for 25 years with one foot in health care and the other in education, designing training and education for the health care industry and building networks with both health care providers and colleges. My current practice, for the last 15 years, has built on these networks and on my long-time involvement in public education.

Job Tasks: I have been fortunate in being able to follow my own philosophy (and my advice to my students): find what you love to do first, then figure out how to get paid for it -- not the reverse!

Throughout my life, dating back to stints of volunteer work in high school, I've been strongly committed to education and efforts to enable others. I have chosen both paid and volunteer positions that were consistent with my own values, one of which has always been autonomy. I recognize that I like to be in the position of doing things very thoroughly, and often according to my own lights. Self-employment has permitted all of the above.

As a counselor, I work one-on-one with high school students (and their families) as they navigate the shoals of the educational process. I help them choose their courses, find interesting extracurricular activities, plan what tests to take and when, and, finally, choose suitable colleges and prepare effective applications (and essays!) to them.

College counseling has many rewards for me, most of them intangible. Unlike many people, I love working with teenagers, and am especially gratified by the blossoming of a shy student or the hidden passion discovered by a student who had not yet found a focus. Many of the kids I've worked with remain in touch for years, and seeing their evolution is fascinating.

While it supports a modest lifestyle, college counseling is definitely not a way to get rich quick! It is, however, highly interactive, endlessly challenging, and always rewarding.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of counseling is the sustained relationship with students and families that it provides; the best part of college counseling is the challenge of an ever-changing, dynamic field.

The worst part of the job is its long hours! And the most demanding season is autumn, my favorite season that affords the least free time!

Self-employment has pros and cons -- lots of flexibility in scheduling, lots of autonomy (important to me), and the ability to work at home in sweat pants if I want. On the other hand, there's no-one to delegate to -- all the responsibilities are mine -- and there are no benefits like paid vacations, health insurance, or pensions.

Job Tips:
1. Love what you do. 2. Love what you do. 3. Love what you do.

At the moment, there is no formal preparation required for this career. There is training available, but no underlying degree or certification required to enter the field. On the other hand, you will need a willingness to do a great deal of research, work with a wide variety of people, learn continuously, listen well, and be open-minded and enormously patient. If you're a college student, work or volunteer in the admissions office at your school; if you're a high school student, volunteering with teenagers is a good start!

Additional Thoughts: This field requires enormous dedication. You need to develop encyclopedic knowledge of colleges, majors, social environments, campus personalities, trends in admissions, changes in financial aid, testing policies, etc. You need to develop an equally encyclopedic knowledge of your student. Each one is a unique bundle of interests, needs, abilities, and preferences. One student may be a D II football player who wants to study Chinese; the next may be a ballet dancer with a passion for marine science! The possible permutations are endless... which makes my role ever-challenging!

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