Jul 8, 2009

Who Are They Talking About?

Periodically, independent college counselors take a beating in the press. We are sometimes portrayed as "high rollers" looking for an edge in a market with endless opportunities to make big bucks. A recent New York Times article described an independent college admissions counselor whose practice evidently includes fashion advice in a package priced at levels beyond the means of most. And the advice wasn't even particularly good. Seersucker shorts? Ruffles cut down to the navel? Please.

But what really gets me are the negative advice columns claiming to give students the inside scoop on college counseling services. In a posting entitled, "The College Consultant," Mike Dang provides free publicity to Michele Hernandez, who if we are to believe her fees, needs no such promotion and does not represent the typical college counselor. The column drew instant fire from the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), of which I am a member. I too tried to respond but found the comment box much too small to contain all of my thoughts which follow:

I wish you had done a little more research into the field of independent college counseling before posting such an inflammatory and nonsensical article on your blog. Using Dr. Hernandez as the poster child for our industry is like using Bernard Madoff as an example of successful investors. They both made oodles of money, but neither represents the standards and ethics of others in their respective fields. One email or phone call to the IECA would have given you a much truer understanding of what “independents” bring to the table and might have suggested that not all of us are in the income brackets cited in your article. In fact, most of us charge at about the rate of a good tutor. And, many put in considerable hours beyond those for which they are compensated. Oh, and lots of us volunteer and work pro bono in situations where fees are out of the question.

But money isn’t the real issue here. What you miss in your assessment of independent college counselors is the “value added” we bring to college search and application processes. I don’t “package” students, and I don’t market students to colleges. I do, however, work to help students discover schools that represent a strong fit in terms of interests, qualifications, and other commonsense attributes. To support my work, I spend hours and hours of every day reading professional materials (and a few blogs such as yours), going through the most up-to-date information on colleges I can find, and visiting campuses throughout the country. I also attend professional conferences and keep in regular contact with colleagues across the US as well as in other parts of the world. While I don’t have the background and qualifications you seem to believe essential, I do have an MPA from Harvard, a professional certificate in secondary English from Penn, a College Counseling Certificate from UCLA, and Associate membership status with the IECA. I have spent many years working with high school students in both professional and volunteer capacities. And, I happen to be pretty good at what I do.

So instead of leaving a bad impression about independent college counselors, I suggest you take the time to attend an IECA, HECA, or NACAC conference or professional training session. You might learn something about who we are and what we do.


  1. I hope you left a link to your blog on his comments page!

  2. Amen, Nancy! You hit the nail right on the head. Glad to see that IECA also responded.