Last week was my birthday, readers. (My 29th birthday. Again. Thanks for asking.)

Amongst the birthday cards (and bills!) I received in the mail that day was a letter from the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), the largest professional organization for educational consultants in the world and an organization of which I have been a member since I started my practice in 2011. The IECA and its principles of good practice are at the core of the work I do with students, as the organization and its extensive membership are the people who support my professional development and provide ongoing learning opportunities for myself (and my colleagues), as well as providing a sort of “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” to my practice. (Membership in the organization is contingent upon each member meeting stringent ethical and professional obligations, so anytime you hire an IECA member consultant, you know you’re working with the best in the business.)

This particular letter from the IECA was the official notification that, after six years in private practice, nearly 100 campus visits (!), a series of professional accomplishments, and glowing recommendations from colleagues and former clients, I was accepted for professional membership in the organization, the highest designation they offer. (Since 2011, I’ve been an associate member – their version of training wheels for new educational consultants as we gain experience and expertise in the field.) And while I was fairly confident in my application for professional membership when I submitted it, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to a few nerves when I clicked “submit.”

What’s more, I realized something very important the moment I opened that envelope: Achieving professional member status was very important to me.

Now, essentially, professional member status is just a new label for me to use on my web site and business cards and doesn’t necessarily mean anything special to the public at large. But never mind that – I wanted that label, readers. I wanted it badly. The title, the logo for my web site, the access to organizational opportunities that are only available to professional members, the status.

I. Wanted. It. All!

Achieving said status – as I read the letter that congratulated and welcomed me into the fold – was really meaningful in the end on a couple of different levels. In the week that’s followed, I’ve come to understand that, on one hand, it carried that degree of weight because of what it means for me as a professional educational consultant. I’m a goal-oriented person (which long-term readers of this blog have long-since figured out and short-term readers understand once they find out I’m a Type A-plus FEI dressage rider); once I accomplish something, I immediately look for the next thing to challenge myself with. I’ve worked hard at building my practice and helping my students and the professional membership designation is a vote of confidence from my organization – an acknowledgement that I’ve done good work for those clients.

But here’s the thing, students: Much like each of you getting accepted to (or denied by) a highly-selective college or university, the designation alone doesn’t define me.

What if the IECA had turned down my application to transition from associate to professional member?

What would have changed for me on a daily basis? Would it have affected the way I worked with my students?

Would I have canceled this week’s trip to a symposium on college access in Virginia? (My flights are already booked!)

Short answer: No.

I would have been disappointed in the outcome, certainly, but I think I can honestly say that it wouldn’t have been the end of anything. Instead, it might have been the beginning of my attempt to prove the association wrong, to prove that I absolutely am worthy of being a professional member by engaging in still more professional development opportunities, by visiting more campuses, and by continuing to go over and above to make sure my students are supported in their college search process. In summary, I would have kept doing everything it is that I do right now – and then some!

And I think that’s important for students – and parents! – to hear at this time of year when tensions run high and families attempt to decide between the college options available to them. It’s human nature to get bogged down in things like labels and status and want to one-up the kid next door who’s committed to Yale by seizing your own opportunity to commit to Harvard. (Take that, kid next door!)

But in the end, the most important thing isn’t the label affixed to something; instead, it’s the experience you get out of it. Do I get some fancy new stuff out of my professional member status? Sure! But the majority of what I get from my membership in the IECA is a reflection of what I put into my work as an educational consultant: the more campus visits I sign up for, the more connections I make to find out about other upcoming tours. The more IECA conferences I attend, the more people I connect with who help me become a better counselor for my students. And all of those things were already available to me at the associate level – in fact, it was because of the opportunities I seized that I achieved this new status.

So in the end do you have to attend Big Prestigious University and put their fancy label on the back of your mom’s minivan in order to have a truly fulfilling college-going experience?

Short answer: No.

Instead, you need to attend the school that stirs your heart and inspires you to reach your goals – whatever that school’s name happens to be – and the good work you put in will be reflected back to you. Trust me. I speak from professional experience.

(Need assistance in the college search and application process? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book.)


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