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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 02/ 4/2010

Finding and using a private higher ed consultant

By Valerie Strauss

After talking to some private educational consultants--some who charge tens of thousands of dollars and some who cost a fraction of that--I began wondering how many students actually use their services.

The answer surprised me. A recent study shows that among high-achieving high school seniors, 26 percent hire an independent educational consultant.

What is the definition of a high-achieving senior?

For the purposes of this national study, released late last year, such a student was described as being in the 70th percentile or above in SAT and ACT scores.

I expected the percentage of families using consultants to be lower because of the cost involved.

To be sure, you don’t have to pay the $30,000 or $40,000 that some elite consultants charge--sometimes with a promise that the student will get into his/her first choice.

There are plenty who provide excellent services, charging a few thousand dollars for taking a student through the entire process. And it is possible to pay out a few hundred dollars for a single meeting at which you can get valuable information to help guide you.

Consultants help families who need guidance make a list of colleges that a student can reasonably hope will accept him. Then they take him through the months-long admissions process.

Some families send their kids to high schools with extraordinarily helpful college counselors, but in many schools even the most knowledgeable counselors are overwhelmed by the number of students on their guidance lists.

It's important to remember that most families go through the admissions process on their own, and send their kids to college without putting a dime toward consultant fees. But families that go the consultant route can benefit.

There are a few associations of higher education consultants, each with its own hints for hiring someone to help you.

The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) maintains an international directory of its members, listed by region and specialty. You can call 703-591-4850, e-mail or use the online directory by clicking here.

The Higher Education Consultants Association has its own directory here.

And here are some tips from the IECA on questions to ask a consultant before hiring one:

1. Do you guarantee admission to a school, one of my top choices, or a certain minimum dollar value in scholarships? (Do NOT trust any offer of guarantees.)

2. How do you keep up with new trends, academic changes and evolving campus cultures? How often do you get out and visit college, school, and program campuses and meet with admissions representatives? (The ONLY way to know about the best matches for you is to be out visiting schools regularly—we suggest a minimum of 20 campuses per year.)

3. Do you belong to any professional associations? (The National Association for College Admissions Counseling and the Independent Education Consultants Association are the only two associations for private educational consultants with established and rigorous standards for membership.)

4. Do you attend professional conferences or training workshops on a regular basis to keep up with regional and national trends and changes in the law?

5. Do you ever accept any form of compensation from a school, program or company in exchange for placement or a referral? (They absolutely should not!)

6. Are all fees listed in writing, up front, indicating exactly what services I will receive for those fees?

7. Will you complete the application for admission, re-write applicant essays or fill out the financial aid forms on the student's behalf? (No, they should NOT; it is essential that the student be in charge of the process and all materials should be a product of the student’s own, best work.)

8. How long have you been in business as an educational consultant?

9. What was your background prior to going into educational consulting? What was your training and education?

10. Will you use personal connections to get me in to one of my top choices? (The answer should be NO. A consultant doesn’t get you admitted—they help you to demonstrate why you deserve to be admitted.)

11. What specialized training do you have (learning disabled, gifted, athletics, arts, etc.)?

12. Do you adhere to the ethical guidelines for private counseling established by Independent Educational Consultants Association?


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By Valerie Strauss  | February 4, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  College Admissions  | Tags:  college admissions  
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Your readers should also know about Marilee Jones, who recently opened an educational consulting business after resigning from MIT. She had been a highly respected dean of admissions there, who left when it was learned that she had lied about her educational achievements on her original resume, 28 years earlier.

She now sometimes offers her services at no or low cost. Her focus is on “advising parents on how to support their children in their college application processes.” She says, “I am not an independent counselor…I don’t help kids get into college, but I show parents how to behave around their children … I support parents so they don’t screw up their kids.”

Perhaps when Chancellor Rhee’s unsupported but frequently repeated claims of incredible teaching success become well known, she’ll leave her post and find an equally beneficial way to use her skills in the best interests of children.

Posted by: efavorite | February 4, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

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