Craig Plummer is an independent educational consultant and the owner of The College Connection. He has been working as a college counselor and consultant for 17 years. Craig holds a B.A. in psychology and an M.S. in counseling and human development from the University of Rochester. He is a member of the New England Association for College Admission Counseling (NECAC).
Insights and advice
What inspired you to become a college consultant?
I have always been drawn to the field of college admission, which originally led me to high school guidance and eventually to be an independent consultant. Working with students to help them find this next step on their journey is most inspiring to me.
What do you enjoy most about your position?
The opportunity to help students clear away misconceptions about the process and about how they fit into it. The joy of seeing them make connections and, of course, the exuberance of that first acceptance letter.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your position?
In the area of admission, as in so many areas of education, there are so many misconceptions and urban legends. Convincing students and parents that some of these ideas are misleading or even outright false is a major challenge.
What are some of the steps you take to cultivate a college-bound culture among your students?
All of the students who come to me are already well ensconced in this culture. The trick is to help them navigate the bumpy road that they are on.
What are your top goals for the students with whom you work?
Without a doubt to help them to know themselves well enough to project that genuine image throughout the entire college process.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to college counselors and consultants who are new to the profession?
Make as many connections as you can outside your school or firm. The wealth of knowledge available through admission counselors and others in the field is an invaluable resource.
What are some common misconceptions that students have going into the college admission process?
Most recently I have found that students think that if they have heard of a school then it must be difficult to get into. Also, many students think they have to know exactly what they want to study when they are applying.
Do you ever encounter situations in which students and their parents have different goals in mind? If so, what is your advice for helping them work together?
This happens so often that I address it in my initial consultation with families who are thinking about hiring me. It is always my policy to discuss all points of view as they arise in order to maintain a healthy and open dialogue and eventually a compromise that works for everyone.
Have you seen students successfully use social media as a tool in the college admission process? How do you advise students to edit their online presence?
The social media presence certainly adds a complicated wrinkle to the admission process. The first piece of advice is to guard your profile and keep it closed to outside sources. I have often suggested that students create accounts that are solely used for the admission process, which can offer much great information and a clean and efficient way to communicate with colleges.
What can/should a college counselor or consultant do to help students prepare for the SAT or ACT?
I offer general advice regarding test-taking, like when to take the test and how to gain more exposure to the questions, but I always outsource actual test prep to trusted and reliable sources.
What is your strategy for helping students find financial aid?
Mostly I am helping students to build schools into their list that provide merit-based aid that they can and will qualify for based on their academic- and talent-based profile. In the case of real need, understanding how each school approaches the awarding of financial aid and how likely families are to receive a package that that makes the school accessible is key.
In your experience, what makes a counselor or consultant successful in his or her role as an editor of college application essays?
This is hands-down my favorite part of the process. The trick is to allow the students to find their own voice while suggesting different and creative ways to tell their story. Oftentimes it comes down to "giving them permission" to think outside the box and be creative in telling their story.
What is your process for helping students narrow down the list of schools to which they will apply?
This is so dependent on the student. For some it is as simple as finding a balance of "reach," "realistic," and "safety" schools, while for others there is a need to help them be realistic about their options. But with all students, there is one mantra I always use: "You can only go to one school."
In your opinion, what are some of the best ways that students can make themselves stand out beyond their applications?
I tell students to never underestimate the power of personal contact. I encourage them to go beyond the standard tour and information session experience and make a point to meet professors, coaches, and current students.
Finish this sentence: On my first day of work as a consultant, I wish I had known . . .
. . . that the application process for each student is as unique as snowflakes or fingerprints.
What would you consider your biggest accomplishment or your proudest moment as a college consultant?
The impact I have made on students and families is not always directly obvious, but every time I receive an e-mail or phone call from a family stating how pleased they are with either where they are going or how smoothly the process has gone, it reminds me why I do what I do.
Favorite book: Harry Potter (all of them)
Favorite musician or band: Billy Joel
Favorite hero of fiction: Ron Burgundy
Favorite movie: When Harry Met Sally
McAllister: "Show me the heart unfettered by foolish dreams and I'll show you a happy man."
Keating: "But only in their dreams can men be truly free. 'Twas always thus, and always thus will be."
- Dead Poets Society
Favorite place you've traveled to: Sonoma and Napa, California
Favorite meal: Traditional New England clambake
One super power you wish you had: Flight
Favorite college memory: Singing in my college a cappella group, The Yellowjackets
Five people you would invite to a dinner party: Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Billy Joel, Barack Obama, Douglas Adams
Personal motto: Carpe Diem