When I moved from Los Angeles to New Jersey in 2004, my oldest was in 5th grade, far removed from the college application process. However, it seemed that anyone I met whose kids were in high school, were extremely stressed and confused and felt, at times overwhelmed by the whole process. I had been teaching marketing and management full time at Whittier College, a small liberal arts college in Southern California, before we moved to New Jersey. I saw an opportunity to create a systematic approach to the college application process that focused on the needs and strengths of the student to help them gain some control over the process. In the last six years I have worked with hundreds of families to help them through the process and delved deeply into the wonderful world of Independent Educational Consulting. Below are some frequently asked questions and answers to help you decide if an independent educational consultant is right for you.
What is an Independent Educational Consultant for college?
An independent educational consultant (IEC) works exclusively for students and families to help them through the college application process. IECs typically offer a wide range of personalized services in the following area.
Pre-College Planning IECs will help students get ready for college by helping them select classes for high school and determine the best activities and summer programs based on the students strengths. Some will also help prepare for the standardized tests such as the ACT or the SAT. IECs will put together a timeline to help the students and their families know what to expect at each stage of the process and keep them on track. The ideal time to meet with an IEC is during sophomore year.
Personalized College List An educational consultant focuses on finding the best fit for the student in terms of academics, social life, extracurricular activities, location, personality of the students, and financial feasibility. Most IECs will do some sort of needs assessment to understand the students needs and strengths and develop a personalized list that satisfies those needs. Often they will also help the families plan their college visits and give them information on the fit of a given college for that student.
Application Preparation. IEC’s give personalized attention to the students by getting to know them in-depth and helping them through the process. They will give them timelines on deadlines; familiarize them with the Common Application, Universal Application, and other applications. Help them identify who should write their letters of recommendation and tips on how that works.
Essay Writing Assistance. IECs will brainstorm with students on writing their essays and help develop a strategy for all of the essays including the main “personal statement” and all the supplemental essays. The key for this critical phase of the application process is helping the student find her voice and facilitating the writing of the essay. A good IEC will never write the essay for the students, but instead help bring out the students strengths through probing and asking the right questions.
Financial Aid/Merit Aid. Some IECs help with the entire financial aid process and others identify which school may offer merit aid. Many have relationships with individuals who can help with this piece.
Mock Interviews. IECs often perform a mock interview to help students feel comfortable with their interviews.
Learning Differences. Some IECs specialize in helping students with learning differences through the process. They also know the level of support available at the various schools and can match the student’s needs to the college in terms of support as well as the other factors. These specialists should also be able to provide guidance on how to get the necessary accommodations throughout the process.
How do I find a good Independent Educational Consultant?
The first step is to indentify your needs. Do you need help through the whole process? Do you just need help in on area such as just a list of schools, or just essay writing assistance? Do you have any learning differences? Will you work with someone remotely or do you want someone who is local? How much money do you have to invest in this process?
Some consultants will break it up into services, but many charge a flat fee for the entire process, so it’s important to know what you need when you interview potential consultants. Most consultants allow for an initial consultation (for a fee) to get to know the family.
Below are the most common ways to find a consultant.
Word of Mouth. Ask your friends if they know someone that has a good reputation.
IECA www.iecaonlin.org You can search consultants by geography and specialty. All IECA members go through a rigorous application process, have an advanced degree, and spend at least 20% of their time visiting colleges.
The Internet. Many consultants have blogs, so check out a few and see who resonates with you.
Some questions to ask before making a decision.
- How long have you been in practice?
- What is your approach to working with students?
- What is your background?
- How successful have you been at helping student find a good match?
- What services do you offer?
- How much are your fees?
- Do you limit the number of times you meet with a student or respond to inquiries?
- How many colleges do you visit each year?
- When do you start working with students?