The Role of the Educational Consultant Explored

I’ve touched briefly in previous blog entries about what the role of an educational consultant is when working with families, as well as how I see myself evolving in my career, but a recent blog entry by fellow independent educational consultant (IEC) Parke Muth has spurred much conversation and idea-sharing within the IEC community.  As such, I feel like it’s a good time to address the topic again.

What’s different now? The difference is in the type and tone of the current conversation.  Muth’s blog provided new perspective on the role of the educational consultant – not examining what IECs do specifically and not a discussion of when to hire IECs, but instead explored of what the role of an IEC should be in working with clients.  It’s an idea that resonated with me – especially as my colleagues and I continue to see our industry boom with new consulting practices cropping up not only here in the U.S., but worldwide.  (Students, it’s no joke – Pitbull, might think he’s “Mr. Worldwide,” but he has nothing on educational consultants.  We’re everywhere these days!)

So if more and more families are turning to educational consultants to work with their students in the college search and application process (and for test preparation, financial aid advising, and even career exploration and time management!), I think the very best question to ask is the one that Muth posed:

What should the role of the educational consultant be?

Every consultant is different, of course, and we all bring different backgrounds and areas of expertise to our practices.  In my case, that means experience in college admissions and athletic recruitment, plus my near decade of work within a college equestrian program.  So when I look at what my role is with families, it’s automatically going to be different from my colleagues who came to consulting from careers as college counselors in high school settings or who have worked extensively as SAT tutors and recently added college advising to their services. Still, when you put our differences aside and look at our commonalities, it’s my belief that the role of the educational consultant should be:

  • …to meet our students where they are and figure out how to help them transition to the next level.  By this, I mean that we must first gain an understanding of our students’ backgrounds, their strengths and weaknesses, goals, and the type of cultural environment they come from.  For example, the needs and expectations of a West Coast student from a small, private high school with an IB curriculum will be different than those of an East Coast student at a large public high school with both an AP and Honors track.  The college search for a student who shows in the junior jumpers and aspires to make the NAJYRC team during college is different than that of a student who really wants to participate in IHSA team life and volunteer with horse-related organizations.  There are a lot of variables in place when clients come to an educational consultant and it’s our job to grasp the pieces and figure out how to work with the student to form a complete picture in the end.
  • …to give our students the tools and information to choose their own path, not forge the path for them.  I tell my students on Day One (and I’m not joking!) that I’ve already been to college (twice) and have no intention to go back, so the college search and decision process must be theirs alone.  To facilitate this, however, I make myself and my arsenal of college search and evaluation tools readily available to students so that they are able to explore their opportunities with the full support of someone (me) who knows how all of the pieces fit together.  For some students, it’s simply enough for me to get them started and then touch base with them on a regular basis to give encouragement and provide reminders or suggestions.  For others, I need to take every step with them so that they feel empowered to make decisions but can refer to me for guidance at a moment’s notice.  Still, no matter what level of support a student needs from me, I’m never the one in the driver’s seat; I’m just an educated passenger.
  • …to let our students’ voices be heard.  I really meant it in the bullet point above when I said that I’m not going back to college again.  As such, I don’t write essays, compose emails, or compile student resumes for my clients.  I don’t call admissions officers to leverage a student’s chances of admission and I don’t wheedle with equestrian team coaches to secure riders a place in the roster.  Instead, I read draft upon draft of essays and resumes and make suggestions for improvement.  I help talk students through inevitable moments of writer’s block and recommend rearranging paragraphs or removing terms that are repetitive, but at no point do I allow my own voice to creep into the student’s words.  (I also edit out the voices of parents and teachers when they appear – after all, if I can tell they’re present, you can rest assured that the admissions officers also see it.)  I’ll also happily sit on the phone or Skype for hours with a student who wants to practice admission interviews or what they’ll say to a coach in order to get their questions answered and make a good impression.  Whatever it takes for a student to find the right words to share a piece of him or herself with a college official, I’ll support it – I just won’t do it for them.
  • …to be honest.  Always.  The college search process is nerve-wracking for everyone in a family – for the student who wants to achieve his or her dreams and for the parents who want said student to achieve those dreams, no matter what.  But it’s always been my opinion that the best way to keep at least some of the nerves in check is to be realistic and honest from the start about a student’s options and the way that the college admissions process really works (as opposed to the ways people hear about through rumors and by watching films like Admission and Accepted).To what type of honesty do I refer?  I’m talking about the fact that if you have a really solid 3.5 GPA and an equally solid 27 ACT, there are a lot of really tremendous schools out there that will be excited to accept you into their freshman class; however, Harvard University and its Ivy League brethren (Yale, Princeton – you get the idea) probably aren’t going to be among that number and I’m doing you a disservice if I tell you that they will.  I’m also talking about the conversation I have with students about how the approach that they take to their college education is a much bigger component of their future success than the name of the school that confers their diploma.  (See my recent bumper sticker blog entry for more.)  But I’ll be likewise honest with students and parents if I think that a student is under-selling him or herself and should apply to some more challenging programs or if a student isn’t working hard enough towards the goal of college and needs to kick it into gear.

There are probably another 14 or 15 things that an educational consultant could or should be to the client families with whom we work, but in the spirit of brevity, I’ve condensed it to the main four listed above – the “big four,” as I like to think of them.  But beyond that list, I think the main question that every family needs to ask themselves when they’re either considering hiring an educational consultant or are already working with one, is do you feel that the consultant is meeting your family’s needs?  Do you feel that your student is growing through his or her experiences in working with that person?

If the answer is yes, then everything I’ve listed above is superfluous. If the answer is no (or you have more questions about IECs), contact me or pick up a copy of my book.

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