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The Coat of Arms

The Student News Site of Menlo School

The Coat of Arms

The Student News Site of Menlo School

The Coat of Arms

Menlo Community Weighs in on Private vs. School College Counseling

Menlo Community Weighs in on Private vs. School College Counseling
Amber More

At the start of their spring semester, Menlo juniors undergo the process of familiarizing themselves with the college process. The first step: meeting their Menlo-appointed college counselors. Though these counselors provide countless services to help upperclassmen navigate the strenuous application process, some students choose to pursue an alternative route: hiring an independent counselor.

While Menlo doesn’t have a policy against independent counseling, Menlo college counselor David Melena has reservations. Private counseling poses questions about equity, as independent counselors require an additional fee, paid for by the student’s family. “[Independent counselors are] there to make money based on your usage of them,” Melena said. “We’re not going to charge you.”

At AJ Tutoring, comprehensive college counseling packages — which give a student support throughout the application process — cost $6,800, while college advising sessions cost $215 an hour.

Melena said that Menlo counselors are readily available during school hours to assist students with any questions they may have. They are also familiar with Menlo’s school context and have access to transcripts and school trends. “[We] know the ebbs and flows of Menlo that just can’t get replicated by an independent counselor,” he said.

Melena adds that communicating with counselors and family puts additional stress on the student. “I honestly think that’s a little bit too much for the student,” he said. “It’s totally on the student [to coordinate]. It’s not gonna be on the counselor.”

Even if private counselors have a full understanding of the school context, disagreements between counselors can still arise. Melena said that, in the past, independent counselors have promoted aspirational college lists. “We’re going to be more transparent,” he said.

Melena thinks that while it can be beneficial to hire a private college counselor for students attending large public schools, counselors at Menlo have smaller caseloads and can provide more individual support. “[Having a private counselor] totally makes sense when a public school has large student-to-counselor ratios,” he said.

Senior Dorothy Zhang didn’t choose to hire an independent counselor, but her older sister, who attended public school, did. “The public school counselors [were] working with, like, 100 students per counselor,” Zhang said. “Here at Menlo, it’s a […] much more individualized experience.”

Zhang is satisfied with her experience with her Menlo counselor. While her family looked into hiring an independent counselor earlier in the process, they ultimately decided against it after familiarizing themselves with the Menlo counseling process.

“My counselor was Ms. [Elena] Wong, and I know she put a lot of effort into [my] recommendation,” Zhang said. “They’re very available and willing to help.”

Menlo counselors are the ones who write student recommendation letters, making it crucial for students to get to know their counselors well. “Getting to know the student […] helps the college counselor write an accurate […] and effective college counselor recommendation letter,” Melena said.

However, while the comments on her college essays were supportive and provided good guidance, Zhang wishes that the advice had been more critical and notes that the college counseling process wasn’t entirely personalized. “I felt like [advice] wasn’t very “College admissions as a whole kind of needs a rewrite because [it considers] a very marginal view of a person.” Senior Amory Healy Menlo Community Weighs in on Private vs. School College Counseling Staff illustration: Amber More March 15, 2024 March 15, 2024 11 Examining the Evolving College Process Students Discuss Affirmative Action and Legacy Admissions by Miki Kimura tailored to me specifically,” she said. Zhang didn’t apply to most of the colleges on her counselor’s suggested college list and didn’t find the list to be particularly helpful in her college search.

A junior who prefers to remain anonymous has had an independent counselor who used to work at Menlo since the beginning of the 2023-24 school year. Their counselor offers valuable support beyond managing the application process. “What we’ve been doing is working on my work habits,” they said. “She helps me with whatever I need help with. If I tell her I have really bad writer’s block, she’ll help with that.”

Despite reservations, Melena isn’t completely opposed to independent counseling. “If you are a student that needs support [between] 5-9 p.m. or on weekends, then by all means, go get an outside counselor,” Melena said. “They can help you meet certain deadlines [and] craft an idea of college.”

An anonymous parent of an alumnus found the Menlo college counselors to be unreliable and had difficulty sending information and transcripts to colleges. “One college had emailed saying they had to remove [my child] from consideration due to not receiving [their] transcript, which the college counselor failed to submit even after [my child] reminded them,” they said. The parent also noted that setting up appointments with the Menlo counselor was difficult since their counselor missed multiple meetings.

The parent and student chose to get an independent counselor to improve time management and to ensure that all the necessary information was submitted to colleges. “It was helpful to have the independent college counselor available to answer any questions regarding the application process,” the parent said.

Overall, Melena encourages families to share if they have an independent counselor. “We just appreciate the transparency,” he said.

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About the Contributors
Miki Kimura
Miki Kimura, Head Copy Editor

Number of years in The Coat of Arms: 2

Favorite aspect of journalism: Learning new things about the Menlo community through interviews

Interests outside of school: art, music, anime, reading, writing, spending time with friends and family

Class of 2025

Amber More
Amber More, Creative Director

Number of years in The Coat of Arms: 1

Favorite aspect of journalism: watching everything come together from the first draft to print

Interests outside of school: rock climbing, Pop Culture, and Formula 1

Class of 2025

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