Why Use A Consultant

A consultant can help your family with:

  • High School curriculum planning. A consultant can help students make smart choices about their high school courses so that they stay on track for college admissions.
  • College admissions profile assessment. Although no consultant can guarantee admission to any individual college, a consultant can help your child identify their strengths as an applicant.
  • College selection. A consultant can assist your child in finding the colleges and universities which best match their interests, personality, needs and admissions profile.
  • College entrance exams. A professional consultant can answer questions about which college entrance exams are most appropriate for your child and when to schedule testing. Some consultants also provide assistance with test preparation.
  • College applications and essays. A consultant works with each student to establish a realistic schedule for staying on top of application details and deadlines.  Consultants may also review application elements, including essays.
  • Majors and Careers. Students often benefit from guidance in choosing majors and careers that are a good fit, as well as information about which colleges offer strong programs in areas of interest.
  • Help from a non-biased third party so that you and your child can focus on enjoying this time together, rather than arguing about completing college applications.

If your family is considering working with an educational consultant, choosing the right consultant is important. To help, HECA has put together a guide that explains how to choose an educational consultant.

In choosing a consultant, remember that the member consultants of the Higher Education Consultants Association are experienced professionals, committed to providing quality service to students and parents. 

Choosing an Independent Educational Consultant

What should you look for when choosing a professional educational consultant? Here are some tips from the Higher Education Consultants Association on how to find the right consultant for your family:

Start with your child. Every student is unique, and so are their college planning needs. In selecting an educational consultant, consider your child’s personality, academic background, and college dreams. The educational consultant you choose should be a good match for your child’s personality, have experience with students with similar admissions profiles, and be supportive of your child’s college aspirations.

The consultant should focus on minimizing stress and anxiety, not increasing it. Professional educational consultants understand that college planning can be stressful at times, and they should strive to reduce that anxiety for both students and parents. They should not belittle a student’s academic and extracurricular accomplishments, and should also be sensitive to family dynamics. You and your child should both feel comfortable when interacting with the consultant. The consultant should respect everyone involved in the college admissions process. Professional consultants strive to work as a team with families, high school counselors, and college admissions staff. They respectfully and skillfully guide students through the application process, offering feedback on essays and application review.

The consultant should demonstrate college admissions-related knowledge, experience and training. A professional educational consultant should be knowledgeable about a wide range of colleges and universities as well as current admissions trends. They should also have experience helping students through the college search and application process. Effective consultants will also be committed to on-going professional development, including participation in professional organizations such as the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), or a NACAC regional affiliate. Upon request, consultants should provide referrals to other families that have worked with them in the past.

The consultant should clearly explain their services and associated costs. The services to be provided and the fees the consultant will charge should be clearly established up front. Fees may be structured on an hourly rate, as an inclusive package, or by session.

The consultant should be committed to maintaining high ethical standards in their practice. Ethical consultants do not guarantee admission into specific colleges or promise financial awards. They do not suggest that they have “special pull” with certain college admissions professionals. They also do not write essays or other application materials for students. Member consultants of the Higher Education Consultants Association have pledged to abide by HECA's Professional Standards and Ethics Statement for educational consultants.

Why Use An IEC?

12 Key Ways Independent Educational Consultants Support College-Bound Students

Twelve Key Ways Independent Educational Consultants Support College (PDF)

May 20, 2015 Nancy Griesemer DC College Admissions Examiner

Hiring an independent educational consultant (IEC) to help navigate the college admissions process is a growing trend, especially among “high achievers,” according to Lipman Hearne, a marketing and communications firm that closely tracks college recruitment strategies.

In the only nationwide survey conducted to-date on the use of IECs, Lipman Hearne discovered that out of 1,264 high school students who scored in the 70th percentile or higher on the SAT (at least 1150 out of 1600) or ACT (a composite score of at least 25), 26 percent hired an IEC to support them in their college search.

And although numbers are still relatively small, the CIRP (Cooperative Institutional Research Program) 2015 Freshman Survey reports that for four consecutive years, the percentage of students describing the role of private college consultants in their college search as “very important” has increased.

In the meantime, the US Department of education reports that public school counselors (including elementary and secondary) have responsibility for an average of 475 students—a caseload well above recommended levels. And the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) finds that on average public school counselors spent only 24 percent of their time on postsecondary counseling.

And so a clear and compelling niche in the market for college advising services is clearly widening. Not so long ago, college consulting was considered a “Park Avenue” kind of luxury, which only the wealthiest families could afford. But with counseling workloads reaching the breaking point and the process becoming a hopeless tangle of shifting policies, middle class parents and students are increasingly reaching out for support.

But beyond the numbers, families engage independent educational consultants because they 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 12 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 devote as much as 20 percent of their time being the eyes and ears of the families they serve.

4. Credentialed. Reputable IECs maintain memberships in organizations such as the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), the Higher Education Consultants Association, (HECA), 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. Specialized. 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.

6. 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.

7. Local. Most IECs 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.

8. 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.

9. 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 in the world of highly-skilled and knowledgeable IECs.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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 IECs are well-known in the community and respected for the services they provide. It’s as simple as that.


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Mrs. Samples afforded me unwavering support. Through her expertise, a world of opportunity opened. She is well acquainted with schools across the nation, which was immeasurably helpful in my search for schools on the East Coast. Her vast knowledge assisted me in finding my new home – a decision that will affect me for the rest of my life. Under her guidance, my applications flourished, and I ha...