In addition to writing the "Ask the Dean" column, I also work as a private counselor, so you have to consider the source as you read my response. :-)
Hiring a good college counselor is not a waste of money, but it's not a necessity either. The vast majority of high school seniors--including those who are admitted to the most hyper-selective colleges--survive the college admission process without assistance from outside of their high schools.
However, all of us have different "comfort zones" when it comes to accomplishing various tasks, and thus we each have personal views on what we can truly "need" and "afford." For instance, my husband and I always pay for a professional to prepare our income tax returns, but we change the oil in our cars and do other minor mechanical repairs. In many households, the reverse is true. Some folks think that paying for tax help is a waste; others (like me) think it's worth every penny.
Similarly, if you feel especially flummoxed by the admissions maze ahead, you might consider investing in a LITTLE BIT of assistance but not necessarily an entire counseling package. For instance, check out our College Confidential's College Counseling services,
We have services that start at $89, and you'll get a lot of bang for your buck.
On the other hand, don't feel that you are at a big disadvantage, just because many of your friends or classmates are hiring private counselors. Some independent counselors are really helpful, but others are far less so. You can definitely get through this on your own--especially if you try to stay organized and also take advantage of whatever help your high school can provide ... as well as free assistance like "Ask the Dean." :-)
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