May 6, 2013

9 key ways independent educational consultants support college-bound students

According to a study by Lipman Hearne, conducted in cooperation with the National Research Center for College and University Admissions (NRCCUA), 26 percent of “high achieving” seniors are using independent educational or college consultants to support college search.


If so, you’re not alone. Even the leadership of the Independent Educational Consultants Association didn’t expect these results, despite evidence of growth in membership and the number of students annually served by member consultants.

Nevertheless, based on a survey of 1,264 students achieving 1150 or higher on the SAT (1600 point scale) and/or an ACT composite of 25 or higher, it seems that educational consultants are now very much “mainstream” and may work with as many as 160,000 college applicants each year.

Not so long ago, college consulting was considered a “Park Avenue” kind of luxury, which only the wealthiest of families could afford. But with in-school counseling workloads reaching the breaking point, middleclass parents and students are increasingly reaching out for additional support and information on colleges and the admission process. 

But the real reasons behind this trend may be because independent educational consultants (IEC’s) are

1.  Available. Consultants aren’t tied to a school, a school district, or a school calendar. They work with students in the immediate neighborhood or across the world thanks to readily available technology. Not surprisingly, consultants do much of their most important work over the summer months getting seniors ready for the admissions process, and many work long weekend and evening hours—after team practice or between dinner and homework.

2.  Responsive. It’s part of the business model. Consultants have to respond promptly to emails, phone calls and other forms of inquiry or they’re quickly out of business (see 9 below). Deadlines are everything in the world of college admissions and no one is more aware of time constraints and the need for immediacy than independent educational consultants.

3.  Knowledgeable. Consultants spend significant time visiting college campuses and attending professional workshops, conferences, or college fairs. It’s no secret that colleges have different personalities and management practices. But it’s virtually impossible to get a feel for these personalities or keep up with changes in programs and facilities without visiting on a regular basis. Yes, it’s expensive and time-consuming, but the best consultants travel as much as 20 percent of the workweek to be the eyes and ears of the families they serve.

4.  Credentialed. Reputable IEC’s  maintain memberships in organizations such as the IECA, the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) or local NACAC affiliates—each of which sets individual membership requirements demanding years of specialized experience, education and training, and a firm commitment to continuing education.

5.  Local.  Most independents work locally with students in their surrounding communities.  They are familiar with individual school district policies and the administrative quirks of local high schools. They know course sequences (which vary from district to district) and how to find classes or programs that may not be available within a student’s high school.  Sometimes they know teachers and guidance counselors and can help students make course selections based on experience with a particular high school.  While the internet is fine for some kinds of advising, the local, hands-on mentoring services offered by IEC’s are often the most valued by students and their families.

6.  Ethical. As members of the above-mentioned organizations, consultants subscribe to specific Principles of Good Practice governing the actions of consultants in their relationships with students and families, schools and colleges, and with colleagues.

7.  Connected.  IEC’s seek out businesses and colleagues who provide additional services needed by college-bound high schools students and their families.  They often know the best tutors in the hardest subjects and can recommend test prep companies with solid track records of success.

8.  Committed.  The best consultants are committed to the idea of college access for all—regardless of background, race, or income.  And most provide pro bono services to low-income families or they serve in volunteer programs designed to raise awareness of college and financial aid opportunities.  Educational consultants support their communities and provide behind-the-scenes services most of which you’ll never read about in the popular press.

9.  Parent-recommended. Anyone in the consulting business will tell you no amount of marketing will ever bring in as many clients as simple word-of-mouth. Informal surveys of IEC’s suggest that as many as 90 percent of families seeking college consulting services are referred by other families. The best consultants are well-known in the community and are respected for the service they provide. It’s as simple as that.

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