The Value of an Independent Educational Consultant

Are you considering hiring an independent consultant to help your child through the college admission process? Here are the questions you need to ask--and the red flags to watch for.

Few decisions in life carry greater importance—or cause greater anxiety—than where to apply to and attend college. Hiring an independent educational consultant (IEC) can give families objective advice, access to reliable information, and the individual attention necessary to make informed decisions. There is much more to the college search than where a student can "get in." Learning style, student/faculty connectedness, student life, and much more should be part of the decision making process. For students, lack of clarity on the role of the essay, early applications, academic record, and many other factors just adds to the frustration and concern.

Every member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) understands the emotional roller coaster that students and their families are on. They specialize in helping students find colleges where they can fit in and thrive. They visit hundreds of campuses, examine career direction, attend trainings, and meet with admission directors to ensure they have the most accurate information. And because they work directly for the family, they have the scheduling flexibility and time necessary to give them the support they require.

Here is some of our advice for families considering hiring an independent educational consultant.

12 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Independent Educational Consultant

  1. Do you guarantee admission to a school, one of my top choices, or a certain minimum dollar value in scholarships? (Do not trust any offer of guarantees.)
  2. How do you keep up with new trends, academic changes, and evolving campus cultures? How often do you get out and visit college, school, and program campuses and meet with admission representatives? (The only way to know about the best matches for your child is to be out visiting schools regularly—we suggest IECs visit a minimum of 20 campuses per year.)
  3. Do you belong to any professional associations? (NACAC and IECA are the two associations for independent educational consultants with the most rigorous standards for membership. Each has been around for nearly 40 years.)
  4. Do you attend professional conferences or training workshops on a regular basis to keep up with regional and national trends and changes in the law?
  5. Do you ever accept any form of compensation from a school, program, or company in exchange for placement or a referral? (They absolutely should not!)
  6. Are all fees involved stated in writing, up front, indicating exactly what services I will receive for those fees?
  7. Will you complete the application for admission, re-write essays, or fill out the financial aid forms on my child's behalf? (No, they should not; it is essential that the student be in charge of the process and all materials should be a product of the student’s own, best work.)
  8. How long have you been in business as an independent educational consultant?
  9. What was your background prior to going into independent educational consulting? What was your training and education?
  10. Will you use personal connections to get my child into one of his or her top choices? (The answer should be no. An IEC doesn’t get students admitted—they help them demonstrate why they deserve to be admitted.)
  11. What specialized training do you have (LD, gifted, athletics, arts, etc.)?
  12. Do you adhere to the ethical guidelines for private counseling established by IECA?

12 Warning Signs that an Independent Consultant is Not Worth Hiring

  1. They promise to use their "pull" or "connections" to secure admission to a particular school or college.
  2. They guarantee your child will be accepted into one of his or her top choices.
  3. They guarantee a certain dollar value in scholarships that are just waiting for your child.
  4. They have no formal training and don’t attend workshops or conferences, but they “helped their own child” so they can help yours too.
  5. They promise to “package” your child as a way to secure admission. (Students should strive to be admitted based on who they are. Admission directors can see through a slick package.)
  6. They tell you not to worry about all the details on the application forms . . . they’ll take care of those for you.
  7. They tell you that, while they accept "finder's fees" from certain schools and colleges, they would never let that influence their suggestions.
  8. They don’t spell out exactly what services you get in exchange for their fee.
  9. They indicate that their background, training, and years of experience are unimportant details not worth going into.
  10. They do not visit college campuses, but admission representatives sometimes visit them and that’s just as good (or they do not visit campuses but review their catalogs and websites, which they falsely claim is just as effective).
  11. They indicate that they will significantly edit the essay to make sure it’s perfect, as if admission directors can be fooled.
  12. They haven't gone through a national vetting process of their background, education, experience, references, campus visits, and marketing materials.

Thanks to Mark Sklarow and Sarah Brachman for allowing us to share this information, which can also be found in the For Parents and Students section of the IECA website. 

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