College Placement Consulting helps high school students search for best options.
By Amelia Blades Steward | photos by Maire Mcardle and Stephen Walker
College Placement Counseling students heading off to college, from left to right: Charlie Shifrin of Gunston who will study Aeronautical Engineering through ROTC; Tyler Redman, who will study global studies at Verto Change The World International Honors Program; Lexi Schwarz of Cambridge South Dorchester High School, who will study nursing at the University of South Carolina; and Lucy Morris of Easton High School who will study psychology at Miami University.
Betsy Greaney studies the multicolored boxes filling the schedule on her computer screen, each denoting a 30-minute chat session with a student looking for help in the search for the right college.
“I love the fast pace,” says Greaney, owner of College Placement Consulting in Easton. “The purple boxes are the kids who didn’t show up or canceled, which is always going to be just part of being a teenager. Very few students don’t ‘get there’, though as we are always recruiting our lost lambs—shepherding them on Sundays for the next week. It’s what I love about my job.”
This past year, Greaney and her team of six instructors and planners assisted 95 high school seniors from across the Eastern Shore and the U.S. with college planning and test preparation. Sixty-five percent of the firm’s clientele live in the Mid-Shore region. The number of students served has more than tripled since Greaney took over the firm from founders Susan and Larry Patterson in 2017, she says.
Like many other businesses, the consulting firm moved its services mostly online during the pandemic, morphing from meeting with students and their parents in its offices to mostly virtual meetings. “Even before the pandemic, we found that students appreciated the flexibility of instruction on their terms and virtually — during study halls at school, lunchtime, or in the car on the way to athletic practice,” Greaney says. “Students’ lives are busy, and our ability to connect one to one by lifting a screen and working interactively is vital to their success. Doing our sessions virtually is much more efficient and we can keep the product affordable and accommodating — doing more with less.”
Unlike Greaney’s own college search years ago, which included looking at printed college guidebooks and talking to visiting college representatives, students now have access to videos, student interviews and virtual tours online for an inside view of colleges long before visiting a campus.
“Most students have great ambitions, and then life gets in the way. I am a firm believer in using the college planning process to help students build life skills that will aid them once they leave home,” Greaney says. “Through our online portal, we help students learn to use calendars, keep a schedule, book and reschedule appointments, and take large projects and break them into small manageable pieces.”
Greaney and her staff also teach students how to overcome obstacles that keep them from moving to the next stage of the process. “We break down the barriers,” she says. “By and large, I think they realize their life is easier when I meet with them and they do what they’re supposed to do because the task is not going away. It also takes away the strain on the relationship between a parent and a child when a parent is constantly having to nag his or her child about college tasks. I can teach students accountability and I think that’s a huge benefit to parents.”
The firm can provide text notifications to remind students of meetings and important to-do items; research links to simplify the college research process; images that compare a student’s GPA and test scores to admission requirements of preferred colleges; self-assessments to help students identify their passions; and online test preparation to boost SAT scores and provide instructors with information to customize face-to-face study sessions. There also are worksheets, checklists and calendar alerts to keep everyone on track and flexible online schedules so that students can self-advocate and select meeting times that synch with their busy lives. Counselors offer students actionable feedback in 30-minute chats and a learning management system designed to provide instruction and student accountability.
Gina Ellis, who attended Indian River High School in Dagsboro, Delaware, says that hiring the firm was the “best decision” she made during her college search. “I was provided with helpful tools that I wouldn’t have access to anywhere else and the counselors made the process so easy. They pushed me to start the college search and application process early so I wouldn’t be stressed later on,” she says. “CPC helped me figure out what I was looking for in a college, which led me to compose a list of schools that were the right fit for me.”
“Our online portal keeps everyone sane because parents can log in at three in the morning when worrying about whether a student is completing college tasks and [don’t] have to ask their children questions that they won’t answer anyway,” Greaney says. “Secondly, it helps the students stay organized since doing work in the portal is highly visual. It is a great tool for visual and tactile learners. As I often tell families, like in sports, we call the audibles during coaching sessions as the students organize content, research schools, and actively drive the bus through our student portal.”
Greaney says she talks frankly with parents about their financial situation, taking into account their retirement plans, future family vacations, and how they expect to pay for college for their other children if they have any. She uses these discussions to determine what families can afford to pay and an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) calculator to see if students are eligible for grants. That helps students know whether they can afford their preferred colleges, she says. Greaney says she also has “extensive” knowledge of the “academic common market,” which allows students who can’t find a specific program of study in their home state to attend an out-of-state college for the cost of in-state tuition, potentially saving thousands of dollars.
Although the majority of the firm’s customers are from the Eastern Shore, CPC employs a referral program that has attracted students from other areas of the country. Its digital program sends personalized texts to the phones of students’ parents so they can easily refer the consulting services to friends and family members. “And that’s how we get a pocket in one high school somewhere across the country,” Greaney says. “We pay parents and students $50 for every referral that comes through.”
Gail Easterling of Easton says Greaney’s help was “invaluable” as her son navigated the college application process. “She is a wealth of knowledge about hundreds of schools, financial aid, scholarships, application essays and deadlines, and SAT/ACT prep,” Easterling says. “She is working hard to help my son meet his academic and college-interest goals, while also sticking to our budget.”
Greaney says the Eastern Shore is the firm’s “primary passion,” but counselors also try to get students to consider other regions of the country when searching for colleges. “One of my biggest rewards this year is we had a record number of our students traveling more than one hour from home for college. That is exciting to me,” she says.
“I love puzzles and to me, every kid is a puzzle. Everybody’s missing some corner piece and I have got to figure out how to find that corner piece—whether it is resources or finding that hidden gem on a college list.”
CPC offers packaged programs so that students have access to all of the firm’s services.