How to Set Boundaries and Value Your Work as an Independent College Counselor

“Educators often forget that they have a right to be compensated for their expertise and should not be made to feel badly about that.”

In all the years that I have taught and mentored both new consultants and school-based counselors, the one issue that has not changed is their perception that we are somehow not allowed to value our own time or experience. This is probably a result of education having been a primarily female occupation for so many years. We are taught that we must be nurturers and that what we do is more ministry than work. Hogwash!! What we must do is value ourselves and what we offer to others. It all comes down to boundaries.

When a new consultant is returning to the workforce after years of keeping a home, raising children, volunteering in a myriad of capacities without which our educational systems would fold, she naturally feels that she has “not been working.” In fact, she has been the CFO, COO, and often, CEO of her family and is the one to whom all questions are directed.

The days of Barbara Billingsley in her pearls and shirt-waist dresses pushing the vacuum in high heels have passed! Women are a driving force in the economy. We just don’t recognize our worth. According to Forbes (2019) women make up more than half the U. S. population and control 85% of consumer spending. The U. S. Board of Labor Statistics reports that about 40% of women earn more than their husbands. So why are we so hesitant to take the economic reins in our own businesses?

The issue is a simple one: Confidence.

We need to remember who we are and what we have accomplished so that we can understand what we offer to others. We need to set boundaries for clients, family members, friends, and anyone else who thinks our time is theirs to waste. In the past, I was one of those people who found it very difficult to say no to anyone, particularly when the request was for the good of an organization or person in whom I believed.

As businesspeople, we try to keep the needs of the client (our students) at the forefront of our minds. Unfortunately, these students come with parents for whom the perception of what is good for the student may be somewhat warped by their own needs and ambitions. Since the parents are the ones paying our fees, it makes it a bit difficult to tell them that they are delusional, and to continue doing what is best for the student. This difficulty is part of why they hire us. On some level, they know that they are not the best judge of the student’s accomplishments and that the process is not what it was when life and college admissions were simpler.

How do we set boundaries in our practices? What are the benchmarks?

  1. Don’t allow anyone to abuse you! There is no “unlimited” access to you. You have working hours and procedures that you maintain. If you don’t work on Sunday, for example, don’t return emails or answer the phone on Sunday!
  2. Have a healthy respect for yourself. If you are being asked to do more than that which is included in your contract, smile and point out that the request is out of the scope of your services. You can also mention that they can add the task to the contract if you offer it as an option.
  3. Your boundaries extend to your family. Because so many of us work from a home office, our families and friends think that we can drop everything to attend to their needs. You must ensure that your spouse and children understand that you are working and while doing so their needs must be put on hold unless someone is bleeding.
  4. Have a clear contract for your services including both what you will and will not provide. This is crucial to the success of your business. Clear delineation in simple language that describes each of your service offerings coupled with disclaimers. For example, from my contract: “Dr. Klaar’s responsibility to this agreement DOES NOT include completing or filing of applications, or financial forms.”
  5. Make time for yourself! As James Sama says in 10 Signs You Have Healthy Emotional Boundaries: Setting Boundaries for Self-Love, “Your mental and emotional needs are just as important as everyone else’s – and what’s more – if you don’t maintain your own well-being, you’ll never be able to support anyone else’s.”
  6. Don’t give up what isn’t asked for. When a prospective client family says, “That’s a lot of money!” Smile and point out that the process is a lot of work and that the benefits of having someone knowledgeable about the process is very valuable.
  7. Go with your gut. If you truly suspect that the family in front of you cannot afford but really needs your help, ask them what elements of the contract they can do on their own and what parts do they need you for. Price accordingly. Give them the dignity to pay you something even if it is a pittance. Don’t go outside the scope of what you have agreed.
  8. End toxic relationships. This includes relationships with clients, parents, family members, colleagues, or anyone else who does not recognize that you are not a doormat. Finally, if you need the courage to get these things done. Feel free to call me and whine. I will stop answering when I feel that you are taking advantage of me!

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