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I was having coffee today with a colleague who does college counseling at a high school not too far away. She’s a new-ish friend, new at her school, and with only intermittent turns into “getting to know you” subject matter, our conversation was largely a debrief on everything that’s been happening over the past few months in the world of work.

What a relief. I hadn’t realized the extent of everything I had pent up! For all the time we spend working with people, the job can feel so isolating sometimes—unless, perhaps, you happen to work in a big office with several other counselors.

We discussed a workshop we have coming up next month, ideas for late spring and early fall events, the overall “character” of the junior class versus the senior class at her school, learning the ropes, the excitement that comes with learning about a new school or program.

Then we got to venting. Her highlight story of the fall was about a mother who stalked her through an entire school day, after lodging complaints of having reached out to the college office multiple times since summer (about which attempts my friend, a very responsible correspondent, knew absolutely nothing).

I had a couple of little stories—more of an overall gripe about a particularly dysfunctional mother-son relationship rearing its ugly head over applications this year. My friend and I laughed about how much energy that goes into this job is directed toward either setting boundaries and/or managing families’ expectations. We marveled at how little understanding there is out there of what it is that we college counselors actually do.

When I got home, I remembered a little situation that played out a couple of weeks ago—one that really hits the nail on the head, as far as IECs go.

Context: this Dad—we’ll call him Jack—met me at a local event. He was interested in having me work with his daughter. We went back and forth by email, and because he wanted to rush things along, we arranged an intake meeting within about a week. He couldn’t make it, but the mother and daughter did.

Afterward, he requested that I (re-)send pricing information (because he hadn’t seen/read the attachment on the first email). I offer both a comprehensive package and a la carte services. In the a la carte section, it’s noted that because researching colleges can be as nuanced as that individual student, parents should anticipate the months-long process to take around four hours of billed time. Here’s the meat of the response I got:

“The full package is way out of our reach financially, so we’ll just have to do a la carte.

Both my wife and I are highly dubious about paying for lots of work done without us, i.e. researching colleges and the like, a la a lawyer’s billable hours – way too ripe for creative rounding. It seems like most of that will either be information you should already know, as a professional advisor, or to be able to find in way less than four hours.”

Well…I didn’t have the sunniest response. I can’t wait to get out of doing hourly work with students.

(PS: As a fun little experiment, since I have NO idea who actually reads this blog, I’d love to hear what you think—feel free to comment. And if you want to see my response, just drop me a line; you’ll find all my contact info on the Creative College Prep website.)

By Nick Soper