My high school guidance counselor told me that applying to Yale wasn’t just a waste of my time — it was a waste of his. There were already several other students at my high school applying to Yale, and they all had better grades and test scores than I did. Even for them, guidance counselor said, it was a long shot — nobody at my high school had gotten into Yale in recent memory.
It would have been easy to trust my guidance counselor and not apply to any of the competitive schools he encouraged me to forget. After all, he was the expert — hired by my school to know precisely this sort of thing. But something didn’t sit right with me. If all Yale cared about was perfect grades and test scores, why hadn’t any my school’s past valedictorians gotten in? The average GPA of students accepted to Yale is a 3.8 or so — meaning GPA must not be the only thing that matters… right?
I’ve always prioritized what I’m passionate about over what I felt (or was explicitly told) that I ‘should’ be doing. I didn’t start a nonprofit organization because anyone told me it would look good to colleges — I started it because I wanted to do something about bullying and couldn’t get approval to start a school club. The nonprofit definitely contributed to my less-than-perfect academic record: I missed a few days of school and refused to let my mom sign me up to study for the SAT at the local learning center. I just couldn’t justify spending hours studying when my scores were decent, and I could be spending that time on something that really mattered.
This came as a shock not only to me and my guidance counselor but to the larger community of parents and students at my public New Jersey magnet school. My freshman year in college, a few seniors from my high school reached out for advice about their applications and essays. Sure, their applications were polished — but they were also really boring.
I got them to rewrite their essays to be more interesting, and when they got into Yale and Harvard, more people reached out — a lot more. By the time I graduated, I had gone from almost trusting my guidance counselor’s opinion over my own to running a full-scale private college consulting business.
The national average ratio of students to high school guidance counselors is 482:1, almost double the American School Counselor Association’s recommended ratio of 250:1, and 60 times larger than the ratio at my company, 8:1. With so many students relying on each counselor, a lack of understanding about the college process can be devastating.
One of my employees was told by her guidance counselor not to apply to any private or out-of-state schools, despite the fact that—due to generous need-based aid at those institutions—most students would pay less to go to an elite or Ivy League school than a state school. In fact, Harvard estimates that 90% of U.S. high school students would pay the same or less to go to Harvard as they would to go to an in-state public school.
My guidance counselor didn’t seem to understand that Ivy League schools look for more than grades and test scores — or maybe she just didn’t have the time or capacity to take my extracurriculars and essays into consideration. Whatever the reason, it’s my goal to make sure that all of my students believe in themselves and their accomplishments and know that how they’ve spent their high school careers has been valuable — no matter what school they get into.