A study done a few years ago show that 26% of high achieving students hire an independent educational consultant to work with them on the college admissions process. I strongly suspect that this number is even higher today.
But why do this many students feel the need to have help beyond what is provided by their high school counselors? Inside Higher Ed recently discussed a report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling(NACAC). I will note that I am a member of NACAC.
The report asked high school counselors about how they spent their time and the report found that the majority of counselors spent less than 20% of their time on college readiness, selection and applications. And by college readiness they typically mean providing general presentations to the students about colleges.
I certainly don’t fault these counselors for not spending more time but the reality is that in most high schools, the counselors just have too many duties to spend quality time with students discussing the various aspects of the college admissions process. They just don’t have the time to discuss each students options for which colleges to apply to. They don’t have the time to review all of the application essays that are needed.
So what often happens is that those students that want a more personalized approach to college hire an independent college counselor. Given the funding cutbacks that are happening at many high schools, it is likely that this trend will continue.
What does this mean for you? It means that if you want personalized help with the college admissions process you have two basic choices. You do it yourself or you hire someone to work with who knows the process. It is possible to do much of this yourself if you have the time to devote to learning about different colleges and the admissions process in general. But if you hire someone to help you, you need to make sure that this person is qualified.
How do you determine if someone is qualified? First, look at their background and experience. Have they worked with students like you? Ask them lots of questions up front. Second, do they belong to appropriate professional organizations? Not all qualified independent college counselors belong to organizations but if you are talking with someone who does not you need to be much more cautious in reviewing their qualifications.
What are appropriate organizations? Their are three major ones. The first is the Independent Education Consultants Association or IECA. This organization requires the most stringent qualifications to become a member. Those members with the most verified experience are professional members of IECA. I am a professional member of IECA and there are more than 600 of us around the country.
The second professional organization is the Higher Education Consultants Association or HECA. Qualifications required to join HECA are a little less than with IECA but member of HECA only do college counseling. Some member of IECA only do college counseling while others work with school placement, students with behavioral issues and other types of educational counseling. I am also a member of HECA.
The third major professional organization is the National Association for College Admission Counseling or NACAC that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Most college admissions officers and many high school counselors belong to this group as do some independent college counselors. This group is the one that puts on the national college fairs around the country that many of you are familiar with.
Finally, if you are thinking about hiring an independent college counselor don’t hesitate to ask for references. If the person doesn’t want to give you references that should be a red flag that the person either doesn’t have enough experience or no one has good things to say about them.
Do you need to hire an independent college counselor? As I have often said, the answer may be no. But many students that do not use an independent counseling end up costing themselves more in the long run than if they had hired qualified help to begin with. I will discuss why in one of my future posts.