Female student in a Richmond shirt working from her laptop in a library

How to Navigate the College Search Without a Counselor

September 8, 2023
A post by Beth Anne Spacht, Associate Director of Admission

“Ask your college counselor! They’re an awesome resource in the college process.” 

I’m guilty of using this statement all the time. And it’s true. For schools with college counselors, assigned college resource centers, or community-based organizations dedicated to helping students navigate the college search, there are often trained professionals ready and willing to assist you with understanding the massive landscape of college admission. But I need to remind myself that for every student who has a college counseling office at their school, there are likely twice as many who do not have access to a dedicated college counselor. 

If you find yourself in this camp, you’re not alone. You may have a social/emotional guidance counselor at your school with a massive caseload, making extra meetings about the college process unrealistic to manage. Perhaps there’s a staff member assigned to send transcripts, but not advise on the search. Or – particularly internationally – you may find that you’re the first to pursue education abroad and there’s no model of a U.S. college application resource center at all.

If you’re in the position of navigating the college process without an assigned college counselor, you might need to put in a little extra elbow grease to get your bearings. But the good news: there are so many free and reputable resources out there to help. Here are a few of our favorites!


College Admission Offices: Go directly to the source! As admission professionals, we love to talk about the college application and search process – and we genuinely try to give you honest insight on dos and don’ts, what/when to send materials, and guidance on admission and financial aid review. At Richmond, we operate on a geographic model where our admission counselors recruit in assigned regions of the country and the world. That means we get to know the schools and the context of your home region. Consider your admission officer one more tool in your college admission toolkit, and don’t be afraid to reach out. You can also check out our Spinning Your Web webinar/video series on hot topics, from essay writing to how to apply for aid.

College Essay Guy: This is one of the more longstanding and reputable resources out there for advice on the college process – and it goes beyond just the essay. There’s a blog, podcast, and even online courses that you can take to get helpful information. We recommend checking out their “Free Resources” tab and book suggestions for some extra reading. If this one caught your eye because you’re looking for essay specifics, we also really enjoy John’s Hopkins University’s annually updated website: Essays that Worked. 

Khan Academy: While so many universities have moved to test-optional or test-blind admission policies since the pandemic, we also know that students frequently want to try their hand at standardized tests like the SAT/ACT. Khan Academy is a free resource for test prep that students report to truly help them understand the exam and prepare for the test.

Financial Aid and Scholarship Search: Concerned about finances? Use federal and non-profit search engines, like studentaid.gov and Big Future to search for scholarships based on personal interests and background. Stick with known and trusted sources. And check out college cost estimators like MyIntuition and the NetPrice Calculator (though read through the caveats first!) to get an estimate of whether or not the school on your list may be a realistic financial option.  

International? Try EducationUSA: For those applying from outside the United States, I cannot overstate the value of EducationUSA. Run in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State, EducationUSA offers a network of over 430 international student advising centers in more than 175 countries and territories. It’s free. They step into the role of college counselor in locations that do not offer a robust model of U.S. college counseling. Find your local center to get started!


We get that this process is tough, and it’s difficult to feel alone in the search. But trust us – we are here to help! Send us an email at admission@richmond.edu if you have any questions you can’t answer on your own. We promise we’ll do our best to point you in the right direction.