Here in Northern Virginia, Fairfax County Public Schools have instituted a couple of recent-ish changes that have made life a little more difficult for us here at DC College Counseling. This is not to say that I personally disagree with them (I can see pros and cons) but boy do they present a logistical challenge.
The school board made the decision to shift start times about an hour later during the 2015-2016 school year. I appreciate the rationale (more sleep!) and can identify with the need for it, but it's made an already-short window of time to meet with students after school even shorter. I get home way later each night than most people I know (I try to cut off meetings at 8), but at the same time we're still talking about a pretty limited amount of time in which my team can actually meet with clients.
Because of less time after school, this scenario pushed everyone to feel even more insistent about finishing their applications before senior year. I think this is best anyway, so i’m on board - but it definitely made things a little more hectic for us in August. Remember, the new versions of the applications are not released until 8/1. We do as much as humanly possible beforehand but there’s still some tasks that can’t be completed until that date.
This has been the real doozy!! FCPS was granted a waiver to begin before Labor Day, and our already-short window of time became even more compressed. In 2015-2016, school began on September 8. This year it's August 26. Suddenly, five weeks of sixty-hour work weeks became three weeks of … well, you do the math. Then you add the Coalition, which didn’t exist a few years ago, and it’s a perfect storm!
Fortunately, we have great systems in place to make things as streamlined as possible, but it’s still quite a month!
I share all of this for a few reasons:
1. To apologize that we can’t be as flexible during this time of year as we’d like. Last week I was in the office most days from 9 am until about 10-11 pm, and then came home and worked for a few more hours each night. So brutal. I’m a pleaser by nature and HATE having to tell someone that I can’t squeeze them in, but it’s truly out of my control at this time of year. I’m sorry!!
2. To beg prospective clients to book the right package from the start. Parents grossly underestimate the amount of time this process takes, and while we do make sure that we have at least some wiggle room at the end for families hoping to add extra hours, we realistically can’t leave half our calendar empty in our busiest month. That would not be a very good move from a business standpoint :) We have to plan based on the packages that have already been purchased, so please take our advice if we recommend more hours from the start. We have plenty of business and are absolutely not trying to up-sell anyone. It’s just that we know what’s ahead and it will be difficult to accommodate last-minute adjustments in our busiest time of year.
3. To explain some changes in our offerings. I recently changed the names of our packages (not the pricing or included services - names only!). I initially chose our former package names a decade ago in a very different landscape, and I realized recently that that are not representative of the services we provide today. When I started this business, we had three packages representing 10, 25, and 35 hours. 25 hours was plenty to get a typical student through the process and 10 could definitely make a substantial dent. Now, 75% of clients choose the 35-hour package and it’s often a struggle on our end to finish in that amount of time. 25 hours makes a substantial dent for a motivated student and 10 will cover a very small component of the total work.
We added a 55-hour plan a couple of years ago to provide a realistic option for students needing more help than others (recruited athlete, an artist with portfolios, etc.), but we never really adjusted the others accordingly. I realized that it made no sense to call our current 25-hour package the standard plan, because it’s far from standard. I was thinking about making the 35-hour package the standard plan, but realized that could get pretty confusing. We ultimately just chose new names (except for the 55-hour plan, which will not change).
Next, we also dropped our 10-hour package after we filled up for the 2019-2020 season. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and just felt like it was the right thing to do. The truth is that I can’t provide meaningful help to an applicant in such a small period of time when I don’t have full control over how each minute is allocated.
Instead, we created an option that I believe to be a much better package for clients who want to stay at the same price point - it’s about the same amount of time, but in a standardized manner that gives families what they actually need, not what they think they need.
You can read the offering updates here.
It’s fun for me to reminisce about how far we have come over the years and all the kids we’ve helped. Actually, as I was writing this post, I received an email from a past client requesting help for her son’s graduate school admissions process. It is so hard for me to picture him as an adult when most of our work together took place during the summer of 2014 or 2015. 2013? The years all blend together! I was still in my K Street office and my second-grader was a baby.
I can truly say that I LOVE what I do, and I know how fortunate I am to be spending my life this way - even if my schedule is a little crazy. Sometimes I really feel sorry for people who have “real jobs.” Honestly, for 11 months out of the year, mine doesn’t feel like work.
And then August comes :)
One week to go!