Mar 19, 2019

Independent Educational Consultants who are ethical, qualified and a credit to the profession

Recent controversies involving colleges, coaches and admissions are painful reminders of how important it is for families to vet individuals and services before agreeing to hire anyone to support the process of applying to college—including independent educational consultants (IECs).

It’s no secret that college advising is a rapidly-growing industry. With school counseling workloads reaching the breaking point and the application process becoming a hopeless tangle of shifting policies, middle class parents and students are increasingly reaching out for support. And as colleges have worked to “tilt” the playing field to their advantage, IECs have stepped in to level the field by providing information and demystifying the process.

According to IBISWorld, a business information and market research firm, over the past five years, the education consultants industry has grown by 4.1%. In the same timeframe, the number of businesses has grown by 8.0% and the number of employees has grown by 6.8%.

The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), a nonprofit representing independent educational consultants, estimates there are about 8000 individuals in the profession full time, as well as thousands more who “dabble”  or work part time. In fact, the IECA currently has about 2000 members—double the number from just five years ago.

Not only has membership in the organization grown exponentially, but IECA can point to the significant impact independent educational consultants have had on college search, accessibility and admission. For example, students working with an IECA member are more likely to attend private and out-of-state colleges/universities. But more importantly, IECs are active volunteers in their communities quietly assisting low-income families and schools—creating programs, helping individual students and supporting school counselors, to make college accessible to all. And working with professional organizations like IECA or the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), they make their voices heard when it comes to shaping programs and policies affecting college-bound students.

Basic facts speak loudly. The US Department of Education reports that public school counselors (including elementary and secondary) have responsibility for an average of 482 students—a caseload well above recommended levels. And NACAC finds that on average public school counselors spend only 21 percent of their time on postsecondary counseling.

In other words, there is a clear and compelling need for professional college advising services. But like any service-oriented industry, price and quality vary. It’s up to individual families to research and ask the hard questions to find an ethical and professional service that meets their needs. And at the end of the day, families should engage IECs who are

  1. Credentialed. Reputable consultants maintain memberships in organizations such as IECA, the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), National College Advocacy Group (NCAG), 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.
  2. Ethical. As members of the above-mentioned organizations, IECs must adhere to NACAC’s Statement of Principles of Good Practice (SPGP), which governs the actions of consultants in their relationships with students and families, schools and colleges, and with colleagues.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 15 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.
  5. 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 devote as much as 20 percent of their time being the eyes and ears of the families they serve.
  6. Focused. One size seldom fits all, and IECs work hard to provide personal services tailored to meet the individual needs of students and their families. In fact, an increasing number of consulting practices are venturing into areas of specialization that include working with learning differences (LD), athletes, artistically talented students, or international families. There’s not a computer program or algorithm in the universe that could ever hope to successfully sort out the very human personalities, interests and needs IECs routinely encounter. And it’s often the personal interaction and specialized knowledge that succeed where Scattergrams fail.
  7. Up-to-date. Coalition. SlideRoom. Enrollment management. Predictive analytics. IECs work overtime keeping current on trends in the admissions industry.  As the industry moves toward greater reliance on technology to track students and make admissions decisions, it’s increasingly important for families to have professional guidance that can translate terminology and is dedicated to staying on top of technology as it relates to college admissions.
  8. Unbiased. Because they voluntarily agree to decline any and all offers of compensation from schools, programs or companies in exchange for placement or referral, IECs are able to maintain independence and offer truly unbiased opinions and recommendations. They are free to compare and contrast various educational opportunities and programs, so as to offer their families the best possible professional advice.
  9. Community-based. Most consultants 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 school 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 face-to-face mentoring services offered by IECs are often the most valued by students and their families.
  10. Objective. The best IECs work with a wide range of colleges offering a variety of opportunities. They aren’t impressed by rankings, and they aren’t in the business of “packaging” students to fit a particular rubric or standard. They objectively consider a student’s interests, skills, dreams and ambitions, while looking for colleges and programs that represent best “fit” for those students—academically, culturally and financially.
  11. Supportive. IECs provide the buffer between an increasingly stressful process and families trying to sort out the shifting sands of college admissions. Changes in policies and procedures together with unpredictable outcomes inevitably produce anxiety. IECs are sensitive to their role in the process and commit to helping reduce stress for students and their families. There are no “best” colleges—only “best fit” colleges.
  12. Connected. IECs 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.
  13. 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.
  14. Cost-effective. Mistakes in this business can be costly.  They can result in lost opportunities, wrong placements, wasted time or painful transfers. A quick cost/benefit analysis suggests that investing in a knowledgeable consultant at the front end of the admissions process can be a cost-effective means of increasing the likelihood of positive outcomes for the applicant, including overall satisfaction with college choice, greater possibility of on-time graduation and more viable financial aid options.
  15. Parent-recommended. Anyone in the consulting business will tell you no amount of marketing ever brings in as many clients as simple word-of-mouth. Informal surveys of IECs 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 respected for the services they provide. It’s as simple as that.

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