By Paula Ebben

BOSTON (CBS) – On average, high school students spend about 38 minutes with a guidance counselor discussing college in four years.

The college application process has completely changed since most current parents applied for college. WBZ went to a Cambridge company that says they can spend more time with students helping them navigate a complex and expensive process.

Lisa D’Angelo of Weymouth was nervous about beginning the college search with her only daughter:

“I had heard just nightmare stories from other parents about the process and how overwhelming it is,” D’Angelo said.

Jack Tsai’s son is now a freshman at Brandeis University, but looking back, he too realized that as a recent immigrant he and his son did not want to go it alone during his son’s senior year at Winchester High.

“There’s a lot of anxiety from me and from him and we just felt like wow we need some help,” Tsai said.

“It’s not for a parent,” says Chris Arnold who lives in Cohasset. “The parent-child is not an effective interaction especially during this period of time.”

College applications, fall of senior year, are not typically a time when happy memories are made.

“It really helps to have somebody else take the pressure off in terms of a mentor right?” WBZ’s Paula Ebben asked.

Lisa D’Angelo agreed that parents can run the risk of constantly nagging a high school student starting in junior year.

“My teenage daughter doesn’t always want to hear things from me,” D’Angelo said. “So hearing it from her mentor takes on a whole different tone. And that’s been fantastic”
For help, these parents turned to College Vine. The Cambridge company has recent college graduates advise seniors about the process.

CEO Jon Carson says, “What’s changed is that there is a large population of advisers and they are generally oriented toward the art of college advising and we are actually coming at it a little bit differently which is more of the science.”

He and co-founder Johan Zhang connected at the Harvard Innovation Lab and five years ago – College Vine was born. The company gives students information in three crucial areas starting with:

The College List

Carson stresses that a realistic and comprehensive list is essential.

“When a list is not good, that’s when you hear about people getting wait-listed everywhere and not getting in,” he says.

Data-Driven Inside Information

Again, Carson points out that the colleges and universities seem to hold all the cards in an often one-sided process, but well-informed parents and students can change that equation by gathering the best information.

“Our role in life is to sort of level out the playing field so that the parent has as much information as the college does,” Carson said.

Finances

“If you apply to a certain school,” Zhang points out, “letting them know that there’s another school that’s accepted you, you can sometimes ask for a little more merit aid and that can help significantly ease the burden of attending college.”

They also look at future income – based on school and major, as well as how much monthly student loans payments will be. Those numbers can make potential student loan debt real for high schoolers only thinking about their dream campus.

Paula Ebben asked the pair: “What’s the biggest misconception parents have about the college application process now?”

Carson says it’s just how much the process has changed and that a college degree is no longer an automatic ticket to lifetime economic security. “There are escalators that go up, there are escalators that go sideways, and there are escalators that go down, that’s called the student loan debt crisis – and that’s what’s changed is there’s downsides to this now, before – it was all upside,” Carson said.

College Vine also calls itself more affordable. Many college counselors can cost up to four and five thousand dollars and College Vine generally charges around $1,500.

And – one last word to the wise from Jack Tsai who wishes his family had turned to College Vine sooner: “I wish we would’ve started the process earlier, probably in his junior year,” Tsai said.

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