Navigating the College Search Process with Kate Neiss, Best Fit College Consulting

Choosing a college can be an overwhelming process. Fortunately, our high schools provide college resource centers – a place to go for post-secondary guidance and career planning. But what if this isn’t enough, or you have unique search criteria? When you’re 17 or 18-years old and making your biggest financial decision, having access to a college consultant is a wonderful tool. I reached out to Kate Neiss, owner of Best Fit College Consulting, to share how she takes care of her students, and some tips for college application and scholarship success. Kate is a resident of Eden Prairie. Read on to see if her services might be a good fit for your family.

University of Texas – Austin

eplife: How do your services compare to what is offered at the high school?
The benefit of working with a college consultant is access and personalized attention. While some high school counselors may have hundreds of students in their caseload, I commit to working with a maximum of 20 students in an academic year. This allows me to give them a personalized experience. My students can also text me any time of the day. I also visit at least ten campuses a year, whereas school counselors don’t always get that opportunity within their job description.

eplife: How do you stay current on topics such as higher education and college search and application processes?
I am a member of MACAC (Minnesota Association for College Admission Counseling) and participate in professional development alongside high school counselors from around the state.  I am also a member of IECA (Independent Educational Consultants Association) and HECA (Higher Education Consultants Association). My counseling background allows me to guide a student’s decision-making process, and really help access the true wants and needs of a student.

eplife: When should families start working with you?
Most families start working with me during their student’s junior year. The second half of a student’s sophomore year is a great time to start talking about this process.

eplife: Guide me through a typical college search process with you.
Some students just need to flush out their career/major decision, or get help editing their essay or building a list of colleges to apply to. These meetings can be accomplished in 2-3 sessions. Students who purchase one of my packages meet with me throughout the academic year. They can meet with me as many times as needed, most meeting with me once a month. We can meet in person at their house or coffee shop, FaceTime, or via Zoom.

eplife: How much do you charge for your services?
: My hourly rate is $125/hour, and my highest package right now is $3,500 for the Junior/Senior combo. (*rate subject to change)

eplife: With campus visits and travel discouraged because of COVID-19, what do you suggest families do?
Many schools have put in lots of time and resources making online virtual visit experiences interactive and worthwhile. Until we’re allowed to visit in person again, participating in these programs is a great way to show interest and learn about colleges a student may not have been able to travel to due to geographical or financial challenges. 

University of Southern California

eplife: What’s one piece of advice you would give students about college applications and scholarships?
For college applications; be organized. Know what pieces are required. Many applications “go live” August 1st, and it’s definitely possible to get your portion of the application complete before school has even started. For scholarships; students don’t apply to enough. There are hundreds and thousands of scholarships out there but it’s a tedious process that turns off many students. However, it pays off and is good practice to apply often to local, regional and national scholarships senior year and during college. Having a general scholarship letter/essay prepared and ready to adapt is a great way to apply to multiple.

eplife: What type of college transition challenges have you come across with your students?
Many students aren’t prepared to advocate for themselves or speak their true feelings. When conflicts arise with a roommate or a professor challenges their ideas, they can shut down instead of working through the discomfort and awkwardness, asking questions and having confidence in speaking their truth. My advice to parents; instead of taking the lead through high school challenges, coach and encourage your student to work through their own issues first before stepping in. 

I’ve also heard a lot of college student life staff say, “students are so book smart but not street smart”. Parents can help his issue by having your student do household chores, hold at least a summer job, run errands for you, etc. Diversify your student’s life experiences and expose them to different people and places. Don’t forget skills like cooking, laundry, and managing money.

eplife: What is some reassuring advice you can give to those navigating amid the uncertainty of COVID-19?
Kate: Colleges need students now more than ever with enrollment numbers for the upcoming academic year looking low for most schools – so that puts the next few years of students at an advantage in their application process. They may very well have more options. 

*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Kate Neiss can be reached at: 
Best Fit College Consulting

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Carolyn Wieland

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