Frequently Asked Questions

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Q. Do you guarantee that if my teen works with you, they will get into their first-choice college?

A. No. It is not professionally responsible to guarantee admission to any college or university. However, care is taken to understand each student’s strengths and challenges so that the final college list is suitable for your teen.

During the past twenty years of personalized college counseling, all of our students have gained admission to one of their top three school choices.

Q. What kind of information can you provide about colleges, that we couldn’t get on our own or online?

A. "Colleges, interestingly enough, are like onions – they have lots of layers to consider to get the fullest picture. Guidebooks address the “outer layers” by providing statistical and anecdotal information of a general nature. Both guidebooks and college websites are designed with an agenda in mind."


Julia travels extensively each year, visiting colleges in order to provide current insights about their academic and social environments. This enables her to assist students in more accurately selecting colleges that best fit their individual academic, social and financial needs.


In Julia's own words:


"At College Ahead, I believe that the best judge of a college’s suitability is the student. So, in addition to providing college recommendations, I support our students in investigating and evaluating their options. I provide a framework for researching colleges, as well as a wide range of resources for students to use."

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Q. Do you help with financial aid and scholarships?

 A. Explaining financial aid basics and affordability is an integral part of services at College Ahead. Understanding each family’s financial situation and developing a strategic list of colleges are critical to achieving successful results – students' gaining admission to several colleges that meet their academic, social and financial needs. Scholarship resources and referrals to educational financial planning experts are available.

Q. Is my child more likely to be awarded scholarships if we work with College Ahead?

A. There are two main types of college financial aid: Need-Based and Merit Aid. Need-based aid is awarded solely on the basis of information provided on financial aid application forms, and therefore, is independent of College Ahead services. However, College Ahead can be instrumental in helping your student secure merit aid.  Because the vast majority of merit aid comes directly from the schools to which students apply, having a strategic college list is fundamental to securing this type of aid. As a result, all of Julia's student clients have been able to attend one of their top choice schools.


Q. When should we begin working with an independent college consultant?

A. Most families start the college counseling process during their teen’s sophomore or junior years. This enables you to take fullest advantage of Julia's professional expertise – whether it is suggesting high school coursework, helping to plan appropriate summer activities, or formulating a standardized testing schedule that meets your teen’s needs. It also gives students plenty of time to consider a wide variety of options before they need to determine a final college list.


Q. What should we look for when hiring an independent college counselor?

A. When speaking with IECs, consider asking some of these questions:

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  • What is your process like?  Make sure their approach is compatible with your working style. From the very first contact with families, Julia explains her four-step process so that families can evaluate how comfortable they area with this approach.
  • Do you edit the essays yourself?  Some counselors send essays to other companies or professionals for editing. At College Ahead, Julia is the only person who works with families and students. The most effective essays are those that are "organic" to the rest of the application portfolio and reflect the student's tone and voice. It's impossible to properly guide a student without knowing their personality traits and background, so work is never "farmed out" to others.
  • What are your priorities when editing essays?  Essays must reflect both the voice and the writing skill of the applicant. Overly edited essays are clearly identifiable and suspect. Julia works with students to make sure their essays present their best possible writing.
  • What is your availability?  Julia limits the size of her practice so that she can be available to families and have flexibility in scheduling.
  • How long have you been doing this?  Julia has devoted her entire professional career to working with college and college-bound students. She started Surtshin College Counseling in 1995 and opened College Ahead in 2016.
  • Are you a member of NACAC, HECA, or IECA?  Yes, Julia has been a member of both the National Association for College Admission Counseling and the Higher Education Consultants Association for several years. She is currently a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association. Furthermore, in 2010 Julia earned recognition from the American Institute of Certified Educational Planners. Membership in these organizations affords Julia access to news about higher education and college admissions, an extensive network of colleagues, and numerous avenues for professional development.
  • What do you feel contributes to your expertise?  Julia's graduate coursework in college student development provides the foundation for her approach and professional decisions. Because she has worked in a wide range of post-secondary institutions, Julia is familiar with the options that students have. College visits, continuing education, and active involvement in professional organizations all expand her expertise.
  • What are your outcomes?  During the past 20+ years, all of Julia's students have been admitted to one of their top three choices of schools. See the list of colleges that Julia's students have been accepted to on the Results page.
  • What type of students do you typically work with?  Julia works with a wide range of students and families, including "academic high-flyers," students with average high school records, and students who are the first in their family to attend college.
  • The Independent Educational Consultants Association provides a list of questions at