With school out for summer (for most students anyway) and newly-minted seniors basking in the glow of their well-earned status at the top of their school’s food chain (for lack of a better term), many parents often begin to ask themselves if they’re on the right track in the college search process. (After all, the Common Application becomes available for this year’s seniors on August 1 – and that’s less than two months away – yikes!)
To complicate matters, some new seniors have already spent their junior years researching various colleges and going on campus visits to help begin their selection and application process, while others haven’t even picked up a college brochure to thumb through it (despite a growing stack of them on the kitchen table). As parents begin to confer amongst one another at open houses, summer camps, and other summer activities and the college talk begins to increase in its intensity, the talks in recent years often turn to which families are using educational consultants to help in the process and which ones aren’t. Parents who have never considered using an educational consultant before (or have never heard the term uttered in the first place!) sometimes begin to question whether or not they need to hire one too.
Unfortunately, there is really no easy answer to that question, because each family’s individual needs are as unique as their senior students. There are, however, general guidelines that can help you assess whether or not an independent educational consultant (IEC) might be a good addition to your student’s group of college preparatory supporters:
- Does your student have special requirements for his or her college years? Special requirements can vary widely and what’s of vital importance to one student may not be of the same importance to another; simply put for the sake of this discussion, however, special requirements include needs like extra support available for learning disabilities, a very specific major or program (e.g. video game animation with business, a competitive conservatory program in music or theatre arts, etc.), or another crucial part of your student’s college search equation that falls outside of the usual list items of location, programming (academic, athletic, social), scholarships, and admission statistics.
- Is your student the first one in your family to attend college? Whether a student is truly the first generation of his or her family to seek higher education or if he or she is simply the first child of college-educated parents to make the transition, the whole process can overwhelm even the most savvy of parents and students. The college marketing game continues to get more complex and competitive each year and students and parents have more conflicting messages thrown at them each day; IECs have the fortune of going through the process with multiple students each academic year and it is their job to be mindful of shifting trends in higher education, as well as the best route to help a student easily navigate the transition out of high school.
- Is your student’s high school guidance office too overwhelmed to assist? Thanks to budget cuts and the shifting responsibilities that are often heaped onto guidance counselors in both public and private school settings – as well as inflated caseloads for high school counselors – the college counseling aspects of their jobs often make up ten percent or less of the time they spend working with students each day. In addition, many counselors lack the time and resources to visit college campuses and stay current with those college trends that are at the forefront of the work that IECs do. (Most IECs visit upwards of 25 campuses annually to stay abreast of changes and new programs available for students – and many visit twice that number!)
Determining if an educational consultant can assist in your son or daughter’s college search only addresses half of the situation, however – in particular if your family is on a tight budget and can’t afford some of the prices (both real and rumored) that some IECs charge for their services. But not all IECs charge Ivy League prices for their work – and not every student needs to be on a full comprehensive package with a counselor who will evaluate and support their every move during the admission process.
If, therefore, you’ve decided that you’d like to consider working with an IEC for your son or daughter – either now or in the future – but you fear you can’t afford it, examine the following:
- Assess what services your son or daughter will truly need. Some students require only essay writing support; others will be able to navigate the process with your help and that of their high school counselors if they can just purchase a list of schools that are custom-selected for their goals and needs. Still other students may need a few meetings to get their search on track, then can meet once or twice more with a consultant during their senior year to ask last-minute questions and finalize everything. Most consultants are willing to create or adjust a package so that your student’s needs are met but you aren’t paying a lot of extra fees for services you don’t need.
- Research! If you happen to live in an area that’s populated with a lot of IECs, you may well find that each one charges a different amount for his or her services so feel free to do a little comparison shopping before you commit. To broaden your search horizons, refer to web sites like the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) or Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), both of which maintain rosters of their membership online to help aid you in the search for the right consultant for your family.
- Inquire at the high school or at a local community organization if they have any college planning presentations scheduled. IECs often give talks about the college search and application process and about financial aid planning to local groups at public and private high schools, through rotary clubs, with the Girls and Boys Scouts, at 4-H meetings, and other similar organizations. These talks are usually free to attendees and can offer a lot of useful information to you in a short period of time.
At the end of the day, using an educational consultant is a personal decision that is unique to each family situation; for many families, the consultant is an indispensable tool in the college search process and for others, a consultant would add no value to the steps they’ve already taken or the work that the student is doing in tandem with his or her teachers, guidance counselors, and other educational supporters.
(Looking to hire an educational consultant or still curious about the process? Contact me.)