The college application process can be confusing for many. Hildie Steiner was a guest on the College Talks & More podcast to discuss with Hanna and Cari about how her company, High Five College Prep, goes above and beyond to help clients navigate the college landscape and application process. She is very dedicated to all her students. Her encouragement and enthusiastic nature allow students to embrace their self-worth and propels them to be engaged in the application process.
She has experience helping kids with anxiety, depression, and ADHD, and finding the best-fit college for them. She helps students find an environment where they can grow, thrive, and, ultimately, be happy. I love High Five College Prep’s “out of the box” and “glass half full” attitude towards students applying to college. They have a team of therapists, lawyers, and financial aid personnel helping them through the entire process. Hildie, why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us a little more about your professional and educational background?
I am a member of the IECA, which stands for Independent Educational Consultants Association, so I’m an independent educational consultant. I’m also a member of the New Jersey Association of College Advising Counselors here in the state of New Jersey, however, I’m able to work around the country with students and families. I have been a marketing and advertising salesperson for over 25 years, and I have an entrepreneurial background. In addition, I have a degree from George Washington University in business as well as psychology.
Why would a student need High Five College Prep’s help when applying to college?
The process for some families and students can be overwhelming. My goal is to help eliminate the stress and confusion for students and families, and to keep the family relationships intact. I think a lot of parents and students don’t understand that the college list itself is really important in determining affordability and a good fit for students. It’s really important to be educated and to do a lot of research. I help families navigate that process.
How did you come up with the name High Five College Prep?
I love the term high five, because it’s a happy, positive affirmation. When you give someone a high five, they smile, they feel accomplished. It’s a phrase that I’ve also used for so many years, and people know me for being a high-fiving kind of person, sort of like a cheerleader for them. When someone’s worked really hard to attain a goal and accomplishes that goal, what’s better than, “Hey, high five, great job.”
How much does it cost to hire High Five College Prep to help a student through the application process?
I offer a variety of services, from an hourly a la carte rate, to a comprehensive package. It depends on the needs of the student, and at what point during their high school career, or the process, they’re coming to me. I try to be accommodating to families the best that I can.
At what age do you start working with students?
Ideally in 10th grade, or the end of 10th grade, is the best time to start. I also work with Juniors anytime during their Junior year. I think if a student has specific goals, or even if they do not have specific goals, starting the process early allows for changes to be made in their high school class schedule or activities. I help educate students on how to make the most of their high school years, so when they are ready for the application process, they are really ready to rock and roll. I think it also decreases the stress when you start earlier and you’re a bit more organized.
What is the most important year for a high school student? What year do most colleges look at for applications?
That really depends on the college. I think what colleges overall want to see is what we call an upward trajectory. If your freshman year grades weren’t so great, but they improved as you grew through high school, that shows the colleges that you were working hard to change your outcome. It really is specific to the colleges, but I really think the most important years are 10th and 11th grade, as well as the beginning of the senior year. Colleges don’t want to see that you were an A or B student, and then you became a C or D student and got senioritis. I think that all years matter. I think that freshman year, though, is the more forgiving, and 10th, 11th, and 12th grades are the important years.
Why is it important that your child wants to be at the college they choose?
I think it’s really important for a student to fit into the college that they choose. Factors include not just academic fit, but social fit, geographical, and financial fit. You have to be able to afford to go to the college you ultimately choose. I think the college list, which is something you do a lot of research about, is really important. If a student gets into college, they can’t be like, “Ooh, I’m going to an Ivy League school,” they need to be able to do the work at that school. I think students should look at if they can handle the academics at the college, or if other students are similar to them in their beliefs or personality. It also relies on the emotional stability of a student. I think when a student ultimately chooses a college, all these factors should be part of their decision-making process.
What’s involved with having a consultation with High Five College Prep?
What are some of the challenges that kids with ADD and ADHD face when they are applying to college?
Some challenges that students face are staying organized, learning how to research colleges correctly, and also understanding that they may need academic services in college. I work with a lot of different students, and many of them have IEP accommodations in high school. I think it’s important for families and students to understand that what is offered in college is different than in high school. I guide families through this process as well.
How do colleges accommodate students with special needs?
I don’t put everybody under the same umbrella, because you just said the word, “special needs.” There are different levels of what students need and different diagnoses. Depending on the student’s needs, when they’re doing the research for college, a lot of families will look at the college campus. They will ask, “Is it pretty, are there people throwing footballs?” They don’t spend the time looking at the accessibility and disability center of that college. That’s where accommodations for students that need it are met. Then there’s research involved by the family and the student with professionals. The professionals can be psychologists, psychiatrists, and other doctors in the field that would help the family navigate what accommodations that particular student needs. I’m not a psychologist, but I help families navigate that process through research, and by giving them some recommendations.
Do you find that there are more kids with anxiety and depression coming to you for help?
Most kids have some form of anxiety. I think it depends on the level of anxiety. Some students have undiagnosed anxiety, and then there are students that have diagnosed anxiety by healthcare professionals. Their anxiety is heightened when they leave high school and matriculate to college. It’s important for kids to ask for help while they’re in high school. What’s happening is that kids are leaving high school, going to college, and they’re not prepared. They’re not prepared, because they can’t handle what lies ahead. Some of that anxiety bleeds into college and then gets worse when they’re in college. When I’m working with a student early on, I try to help them gain confidence and coping skills. If I see something that is heightened within the student, I will recommend to the parents the child get assistance and professional help before they go to college
How do you help students gain self-confidence to continue that education beyond high school?
My strength lies in being a cheerleader for my students. I believe in focusing on a student’s positives, not their negatives. When I work with the student, we focus on solutions, not the problems. They might say, “Well, I can’t do that,” or “I’m in this club, but I don’t really like it.” We’re not gonna spend a lot of time on the “I can’t” or “I don’t.” I help students identify their unique qualities. As I’m working with a student, we build on those unique qualities: the things they like to do and the strengths they have that are authentic to themselves. The process of applying to college is a great learning and growth experience.
How do you help students that are less motivated get accepted into their school of choice?
Motivation is the key to managing the college application process, because there are so many variables involved, from researching colleges, to writing essays, and to demonstrating interest. If they’re not motivated, then that’s okay. As I said, “Not everybody blossoms in high school, and not everybody is ready for a four-year college experience.” I think going to a community college and learning certain skillsets, such as time management, organization, and responsibility, is a great avenue for some students. It gives them the chance to answer the questions, “Hey, do I like school?”, “Can I handle these responsibilities of homework, deadlines, and studying?” There are many different skillsets that a student needs in order to be successful at a four-year institution. Again, it’s a case by case basis. As far as empowering somebody, I work with someone’s strengths. Sometimes students need a little more help, and they’re not ready to leave the nest, so to speak. They need some more time at home to work on their skillsets.
What steps do you recommend a student take that is looking to be accepted into a certain school?
You need to answer a few questions relating to that certain school: Are you being realistic with your goals, do you fall into the freshmen profile of the college that you’re looking at, what are the GPA and the test scores, what is that college looking for, does your academic background and experiences meet the incoming freshmen profile from the year before? You want to talk to your high school guidance counselor to identify schools that make sense for you. Most colleges in the United States accept more than 50% of the kids that apply.
I may want you to be there. The admissions officers want to want to accept you into their college. It is just the highly selective institutions that are much harder. It’s important for students to have a balanced list of schools when they go to apply to college. The list would include their likely schools, their target schools, and then a reach school. But it needs to make sense.
What are the major qualities in a student that a college looks for?
Colleges are going to look at what’s called the high school rigor. They are going to look at the classes you took in high school, if you challenged yourself, or if you took the easy way out. They will examine if your high school classes, rigor, activities, your clubs, and your organizations represent what your goals are. They will look at if you are a leader or a follower. They want to see what have you done while you were in high school, besides your GPA. I think students get lost when they try to impress the college versus doing what makes them happy. I help students with identifying all of this.
I think everyone has been affected by the pandemic, including the people at colleges that are making decisions. And because of that, everyone is empathetic. As far as SAT and ACT testing, there are a lot of colleges doing away with testing this coming application cycle. I think that colleges are empathetic to students. They’re going to be looking at students’ applications without those test scores and making decisions differently this year.
To learn more about Hildie Steiner and her company, visit her website HighFiveCollegePrep.com.
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