L.N. of Manhasset, NY writes:

My son will be a junior in high school this year, and we are considering enrolling him in an online college planning course. The price seems right ($299), and a set of CDs is also available for an additional sum. Any thoughts?

The College Whispererresponds:

Good for you for wanting to start college planning early. Too many high school students, waiting until the start of their senior year, wish they had gotten a head start in their junior year!

With respect to the online fare, it seems that nowadays almost anything can be done online, including college itself. [When online dentistry arrives, count me in!]

Call me old-fashioned, but when it comes to college counseling, there's absolutely nothing like face-to-face, mano-a-mano, up close and personal.

Give and take between student and counselor is an integral part of the process through which the student truly achieves college admission success. Yes, online lectures, guides and tutorials can point both students and parents in the right direction, and online resources, such as scholarship search engines and virtual campus tours, can be invaluable, but beyond the online interface, most of the online programs (and their CD/DVD counterparts) tend to leave you on your own in the critical steps involved during the application and admissions process.

"How-to" sessions are, indeed, helpful tools, as are comprehensive essential links and resources, compiled to be in one place and always at hand. A good college counselor can easily -- and painlessly -- direct students to those links and resources, eliminating the guesswork.

Beyond the rote and the mundane (in other words, the stuff most students and parents already know), online counseling sessions, while often a good source (among many) of resource material and a great supplement to having a personal guide through the process, rarely fill the gap between application and admission, leaving most users wanting, if not needing, more.

True, the price is right, but like those "how to get rich" DVDs of infomercial fame, you typically get just about what you pay for, at best, or taken for that $299 (plus shipping and handling), at worst.

Can you find solace, comfort, and, ultimately, admission to the college of choice through online and/or CD/DVD counseling sessions? To be sure, so long as you understand that what you are getting cannot possibly be custom tailored to the needs of the individual student, any more than a suit bought online is likely to be that perfect fit.

College is, to put it lightly, a huge investment -- in time, in life choices, and, of course, in money. When considering college counseling, choose wisely, and always remember, while you don't always get what you pay for, as a general rule, when you buy cheap, you get cheap.

Besides, when it comes to getting into college, up close and personal trumps the dull glare of the computer monitor every time!

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