Spring is that wonderful time of year when the temperatures climb, the outdoor arenas become usable once more, and the high school seniors prepare to take wing and graduate.
If you’re a high school junior (or the parent of one), it can be a bit of an unsettling time in your life, however; you’re taking standardized tests that are fraught with pressure because they’ll be a factor in your college applications later this fall, you’re touring campuses in such a whirlwind that all of the dining halls have begun to look the same, and you’re quickly beginning to realize that those graduating seniors will be you at this time next year – a very short time from now!
Yet the old saying goes, “Fortune favors the prepared mind” (thanks, Dr. Pasteur) and nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes to preparing yourself to face the college search and admissions process. I’ve faced it with hundreds of students, both as an admissions counselor trying to help students get into my college and later as an educational consultant trying to help my clients get into a variety of different schools. But spring is is the magical time of year when I hear from a lot of families who aren’t certain how they will face the coming tasks that accompany the transition into the final year of high school. Do they need to work with an educational consultant in order to help them navigate the process? If everyone at school has hired one, is that a good reason to follow suit? Or will the student’s guidance counselor be able to do everything necessary to ensure a proper placement next fall?
On the topic of educational consultants, I’d wager that the majority of families don’t really know all that much about educational consultants (also known as “IECs”), save for what they read online in higher education feature pieces from the major newspapers or see on television whenever the morning news programs turn their attentions to the topic of college admissions and bring in a panel of experts. Most families also know that IECs charge for their services and many fear that it could potentially cost as much to hire one as it will to send their student to college and graduate school.
Do you fall into this category? Are you overwhelmed by the approach of the college journey but also skeptical about what an educational consultant might be able to do for you?
Because knowledge is power and you can’t make an educated decision without information, allow me to break down a little more clearly who educational consultants are and what it is that we do. Because I majored in English during my undergraduate career, the best way I know to do that is by definition of the terminology involved, so let’s begin with the job title itself:
Call us what you will (and you might hear us referred to by many different terms) – career advisors, college and career advisors, higher ed consultants, college counselors, college consultants, IECs – at the end of the day, we prefer to be recognized as independent educational consultants. That’s because no single term better defines our job.
We are independent because we are affiliated with no individual college, university, or high school. None. Instead, we work directly for the families who request our services. The colleges and universities often invite us to campus to introduce us to their unique and most prominent programs, allow us to experience their campus life, and enlighten us as to their application and financial aid awarding processes. (In fact, your average independent educational consultant tours anywhere from 30 to 50 campuses annually – more on that in a moment.)
What does our independence mean for you? It means that the interests of the student and the family are first and foremost in our minds, not the quotas that some schools want and need to fill each year. Sure, we may have favorite programs and campuses (we’re human, after all), but you’re far more likely to receive unbiased information from us than you are from the college representative who wants to recruit you or the high school counselor who hasn’t had the opportunity to visit many campuses in the last few years.
The next term is fairly self-explanatory: IECs work within the field of education. More than that, we’re experts in education and those of us who work with college-bound high school students have most likely worked in school counseling or (as in my case) worked in a college admissions office prior to becoming an educational consultant. That means that we understand what students and their parents go through each year – and we know how the college admissison process works from our experiences on the inside.
To maintain (and enhance) our expertise, we also continue to build upon our education and experience through our attendance at 30 to 50 campus tours annually (as previously mentioned), through courses and seminars aimed specifically at us (online classes, networking conferences, masters-level coursework, etc.), and through our own personal research and experiences working with our students each day. (What’s more, my subscription to The Chronicle of Higher Education keeps me up-to-date on current and developing trends within all segments of higher education and my Twitter account informs me of changes as they occur in real time.)
The final piece of the definition takes a bit more explaining; we are known as consultants. This is not the “counselor” term that many families are familiar with from high school and nothing in our title suggests that we offer “guidance counseling.” Yet the guidance counselor term is too narrow for what we do. Yes, consultants do counsel and advise the families who hire them, but the dictionary definition of a consultant is “a person who provides expert advice professionally,” a slightly wider-reaching term than just guidance counseling.
Remember the previous definitions above? We who work as IECs are experts in the field of education and we’re professionals who work independently of colleges, universities, and high schools. What’s more, we consult to families, but we don’t make decisions for them – an idea that is at the heart of everything we do. We can suggest schools for you to research and visit, give tips and guidance when it comes to polishing the essay that will accompany the application, will happily outline typical financial aid awarding practices, and can put you in contact with our colleagues or former students who are currently at those schools that are under consideration – but the final decision is yours and yours alone. We were the experts that you consulted and – if we did our jobs right – we have provided enough helpful information that you’re comfortable reaching that final decision on your own.
So should you hire an educational consultant to be your go-to expert this spring, summer, and fall as you embark on that nerve-wracking college journey?
As with the selection of a college, the final decision is up to you. Pasteur told us that “Fortune favors the prepared mind,” but only you know how prepared you will be thanks to the services that are available to you through your school, church, or even through a parent’s employer. Will you have the support and information that you will need to ease the burden or should you consider bringing in your own expert? Even though you’ll have to pay them, the reward is often a student who not only saves money by not needing to transfer colleges midyear, but also gets on track and is able to graduate successfully in four years with the right skills and experiences to brave the unease of the current job market.
(Could I be the right independent educational consultant to help your family? Feel free to contact me.)