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Class Action: Getting a Jump on Going to College

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    Many high school students turn to private college counselors for help in their junior year. But a growing number of kids are working with college counselors earlier. Some start as early as middle school. Jessica Aguirre reports. (Published Thursday, May 7, 2015)

    Elizabeth Romero is finishing up eighth grade but she’s already focused on high school and beyond. She is working with a college advisor to lay the groundwork for her college dreams.

    “It’s going to be a process,” she says. “But I know starting this early is really going to help me with it.”

    College advisor Stacy Kadesh says a growing number of students are arriving at her office earlier than ever before.

    “When I meet with students as early as eighth grade, what they are asking me to help them with is, ‘based on my interests, based on my skills and my abilities, what classes should I be taking?’” Kadesh says.

    Kadesh sees students once or twice per year until they are juniors, and then a lot more often after that.

    The Romeros want to start working with a college advisor early so they can prevent headaches in the eleventh grade, at what they see as the eleventh hour.

    “The junior-senior year is such a stressful year,” says Molly Romero, Elizabeth’s mother. “Being able to start work earlier is so beneficial.”

    College admissions consulting is a booming business fueled by stressed out parents, complex college applications and fewer spots at top universities.

    “The outlook especially for kids in California is rough if they want to stay here,” Kadesh says. “It’s very competitive.”

    Speaking about the growth in the industry of college counseling, Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, says, “It is big business and you have to really be careful.”

    “Do you need a college counselor to have a successful college outcome? Absolutely not,” Pope says. “Can it be helpful at some point? Yes.”

    Pope cofounded the “Challenge Success” initiative at Stanford to reduce stress on school kids.

    “Many schools have college counselors already there and college centers with all this information – free,” Pope says. “Make sure you’re taking advantage of all of those options first before you make the decision, and make sure you go through someone who is accredited.”

    As for Stacy Kadesh, she helps her students stay on track through the college application process and identifies colleges that are a good fit. She also helps students understand what they look like “on a piece of paper.”

    “Most college admissions are done from a piece of paper - we’re talking a virtual piece of paper, it’s online,” Kadesh says. “Most college admissions are not done from an interview.”

    For her part, Elizabeth Romero seems comfortable with her decision to start working on college in eighth grade.

    When asked if she is overwhelmed by the process, she says, “No, I’m not.”

    A private college counselor can spend up to 30 hours with a student over the course of several years, costing up to $5,000 on the higher end.

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