Marcia Hunt, Pine Crest School

Marcia Hunt, Director of College Counseling at Florida's Pine Crest School, joins us this month to share her advice and insight on everything from her favorite resources for students and parents to some do's and don'ts that will help them get the most from the relationship with their counselors.

Hunt has been counseling students for twenty-nine years at Pine Crest School, which has about 2,600 students, pre-K through 12th grade, on campuses in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton. A graduate of Syracuse University, where she was a political science major, she also holds a masters in counseling from Canisius College.

Married to an attorney and mother to two children, now grown, at one point, Ms. Hunt was also ranked in women's doubles tennis in Florida. We think she should write a book on time management!

Because in addition to her duties at Pine Crest, she is a past president of the National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC) and immediate past chair of the Board of Trustees for the nationwide Association of College Counselors at Independent Schools (ACCIS).  She has gotten up close and personal with the scholarship process, participating in the selection of Coca-Cola Scholars, the George Soros Foundation Open Society Institute Scholarship, the Morehead-Cain Scholarship, and the United States Presidential Scholars Program.  And she serves on the advisory boards of Northwestern University, Miami of Ohio, the University of Chicago, and the University of Michigan. Wait, we're not done, she is also co-founder of the Skaneateles Institute—a conference for seasoned independent school counselors.

So no surprise we can all learn a lot from her. One of our favorite pieces of advice from Ms. Hunt? Don’t ignore your counselor’s advice—this is their life’s work and they know the terrain. No doubt. Read on for more...

How did you become a college counselor? 

I graduated from college and was considering law school because my dad was a judge. But I kept thinking I was only doing that because it what I was expected to do. During that time, I visited a friend in New Jersey who was a guidance counselor.  He loved what he did and it was catching. I went to grad school for counseling and my first job heavily emphasized college advising. That was it. I was hooked!

Why do you do what you do?

Because I love working with kids and feel that I can make a difference in their lives.

What is your motto?

What goes around comes around.

What do you consider the most overrated character trait?


What are some good ways for students to help their counselors to get to know them, particularly if they are at schools with a high student/counselor ratio?

Be very detailed in the written materials that you prepare for your counselor. Tell stories/ anecdotes that give your counselor a glimpse into your personality and life. Many high schools also ask parents for a letter to the counselor about their child which should be detailed ONLY about the high school years. Also, if you have copies of comments that are anecdotal in nature that coaches or teachers have written about you, provide those copies to the counselor. Resumes are also helpful.  Be proactive-- make an appointment with your guidance counselor and try to see them regularly.

Is freshman or sophomore year too early for students to start working with their college counselor? 

Early on, students should organize a game plan with their school counselor so they are optimally prepared for college.  You can plan your curriculum for four years, decide on a testing schedule, talk about summer options, discuss extra-curricular activities and investigate colleges and majors.

What advice do you have for students contemplating going to an independent counselor?

First of all, check the services that your school offers and remember that your school counselor will be the one that the college admission office will contact about you. The school counselor is also the person who will write the school recommendation for you, so start there.  If you are receiving good services at your high school, then more is not better and there is no reason to contact an independent counselor. If your counselor has hundreds of students in their caseload and it is necessary to seek the advice of an outside counselor, then carefully check out their credentials. Ideally, the counselor has worked as a high school college counselor or has worked in a college admission office. If not, check their credentials through the association, IECA (Independent Educational Consultants Association).

What should a student do if she thinks a counselor does not like her or doesn't fully appreciate her gifts?

Make an appointment and tell the counselor how you feel. Often the counselor is the first person you will encounter who will confront you with the bare facts of reality in this very competitive college admission world. Do not dislike them because they are being honest. The counselor is just trying to help you to become an educated consumer.

What are some of the “don’ts” for students as they work with their counselor?

  • Don’t make your failure to plan your counselor’s emergency.
  • Don’t ignore your counselor’s advice—this is their life’s work and they know the terrain.
  • Don’t miss deadlines.
  • Don’t have unrealistic expectations.

What advice do you have for parents who are concerned about their student’s college application process in some way? 

As we say at our school, Be in the back seat-and not the driver-of the college search process. Remain in the car, however.

What are some of the do's and don’ts for parents?


  • Be open to new suggestions even if “you have never heard” of that school.
  • Be realistic.
  • Be honest about any financial limitations with your child.
  • Take your child to visit colleges before the senior year.
  • Help the student to get organized.-
  • Bite your tongue.
  • Meet at least once during junior year and once during senior year with the college counselor.


  • Talk to everyone who will listen about where your child is applying and what their standardized tests scores are. This is a private matter and your chatter will be embarrassing to your child.
  • Over-react to any bad news your child receives from a college.
  • Encourage your child to apply to a list of unrealistic schools.
  • Complete their applications. This is their process!
  • Ghostwrite e-mails to colleges or the school counselor pretending to be your child. I have seen these before—kids do not sign emails “Very truly yours”.

What is the one thing a high school counselor should never do?

Promise a student that you can get them into a selective college—if the student gets in, it will be because the student deserves to!

What is the most important thing a high school counselor can do?

There are many important things a counselor can do but at the top of my list is: Help a student find the most appropriate fit for him or her, not because a college has a high ranking or because parents want the students to go there. To quote my friend Frank Sachs from the Blake School, “College admission is a match to be made, not a prize to be won.”

How do you manage to stay up to date with the rapidly changing world of college admission? 

I attend several national and regional college admission conferences a year. As well, I visit at least twenty colleges yearly and meet with dozens of college representatives who visit Pine Crest. I read everything I can get my hands on about the field!

What are the favorite books on your college-counseling shelf?

Well, of course, College Admission From Application to Acceptance, Step By Step (Mamlet and Vandevelde)


What web sites do you find most valuable for students and families?

I also really like the Fiske Guide’s iPad application

What is the biggest mistake you see a student make in applying to college?


What is your single best piece of advice for applicants?

Do not procrastinate. :)

What is your best advice for families on the subject of financial aid?

After you determine what you are able to pay for college (use the College Board Calculator), be honest with your child about what you can afford. Don’t send them on a wild goose chase applying to colleges you cannot afford.

When you think of deans of admission you admire, without naming any names, what are the qualities you admire in them?

I really like deans of admission who are accessible, honest and not full of themselves.

Which Common Application prompt would you choose if you were writing the Common App essay?

Topic of Choice!!!!




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