How To Make An Educated Decision When Hiring A College Consultant?

By Dr. Erin Croddick Avery

“Independent Educational Consultants are the linchpin between parents, students and institutions.”–Dr. George Hagerty, President, Beacon College January 15, 2019

            At an intimate dinner last week with a number of college presidents and top educational consultants in the field, a college president addressed us all with the previous quotation. But when I began my college and boarding school consulting organization in 2003, many families were unfamiliar with IECs and for years, people introduced me as that “test prep” person.

            What exactly is an Independent Educational Consultant and why did a poll in 2018 reveal that over 30% of applicants to highly selective colleges and universities report procuring an IEC’s services? With the national average of the public-school guidance counselor-to-student ratio at an all-time high (450 students per counselor is the national average according to NACAC), families in droves are seeking individualized assistance from experts to sift through the mire of hype, jargon and a prolonged high stakes search and application process to narrow the over 3000 four-year colleges in this country to a handful that meet the needs of their child. Then, there’s the applications, essays, teacher recommendations, ED/EA, standardized tests, course selection, etc. 

            In researching IECs, be certain that they have a professional organizational affiliation such as the IECA (Independent Educational Consultants Association iecaonline.com) which holds highly vetted members to standards of ethical practice and annual campus visits. The highest certification for IECs is the CEP or Certified Educational Planner title which follows an extensive application process and a lengthy board-certified examination. (My exam lasted three hours and I hold the distinction of being the youngest member to ever achieve this status back in 2010.) There are many rogue “consultants” offering essay “help” and college lists, but be wary. Low prices may yield uncredentialed, compromised misguidance.

            When researching and hiring a consultant, here are some pertinent questions wise consumers may ask: how long have you been in practice? What degrees do you hold and in what relevant fields? Did you enter the field from a test prep background or education/counseling? How many college campuses do you visit per year? What professional organizations do you belong to? What conferences do you attend annually? How many clients do you work with each year? How many of those are seniors? Do you have any associates or will my child be working with you solely? Do you carry Errors and Omissions Insurance?

If the consultant works out of their home, inquire why they have chosen not to pursue professional office space. If a consultant offers to come to your home, inquire if they are finger printed and background checked and request an official copy of this documentation. Also, be certain they carry professional insurance. You may ask, “How much editing is too much editing in the college essay?” “What instruments do you use to calculate and assemble each college list?” “Do you recycle lists or is each list unique to each student?” “Will you outsource my child’s essay editing to a third party?”

            The only way to create a strong network of professional college admissions relationships is through a track record of consistent, ethical practice over a number of years. Volunteering at the NACAC national college fair, serving first generation or low income students pro bono or volunteering time on committees within their organizations are ways to tell if an IEC is business first or has a heart for community endeavors. Be sure to ask him or her what he or she does for the greater good.

            Continuing education is a MUST for those who would guide young people on their college search. Because I have taught now for the past six years in the only certification program for IECs offered by University of California, Irvine’s Center Continuing Education, I see how many people are drawn to the field of Independent Educational Consulting because they see it as an entrepreneurial opportunity. But just desiring to start a potentially lucrative business does not constitute a valid choice for your child. If someone has taken this 18-month long curriculum covering courses such as Financial Aid, Counseling Students With Learning Differences, and Gap Year Options, as well as a Practicum and Supervision, that person has demonstrated a commitment to building a consulting business ethically and responsibly.

Lastly, nothing trumps experience as we all know. So, be sure to ask when a consultant filed their articles of incorporation. Ask for references or referrals of prior clients. And do your research early on in the child’s high school career. Many reputable consultants fill up quickly so if you are seeking the expertise and guidance of a professional IEC, no later than fall of the student’s Sophomore year should you be engaging the comprehensive services of a seasoned, credentialed consultant to benefit most from their guidance.

Dr. Avery is a life-long resident of Monmouth County and is the founder of Avery Educational Resources, LLC, a comprehensive one-stop consulting organization specializing in college, career, transfer, boarding and graduate school as well as test prep and exam simulation serving a domestic and international clientele.

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