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Why You May Want to Hire an Independent College Consultant

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This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

Think you might want to hire an independent consultant for college? It’s probably come across your thoughts, particularly if your friends’ parents have been hiring one to guide them through the college search process.

Here’s what you may want to consider.

Why Hire an Independent College Consultant?

Why should you hire an independent consultant when you have access to an internet and a bunch of college websites on your own? Great question.

Reason 1: An independent consultant can give you and your family objective advice.

When you work only with an admissions counselor from a specific college, you end up hearing one side of the story—the point of view from that college. An independent college consultant’s perspective, on the other hand, gives you the opportunity to hear from someone who remains objective about all schools and can offer accurate information about a number of schools all at once.

Reason 2: Things have changed since “back in the day.”

Your parents may feel like fish out of water because nothing remains the same from when they were college students.

When I was an admission counselor, I remember one dad saying, “Back then, we chose between two colleges and that was it.”

Yeah, things have changed. Nowadays, you may apply to up to 10 colleges all over the country. 

Reason 3: A good independent college consultant can offer transparency about many things.

College counselors should offer guidance about the college search, including information about: 

  • SAT/ACT scores 
  • Senior year courses
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Teacher recommendation letters
  • Early decision or early action applications
  • Application and essay review
  • College interview preparations
  • Financial aid advice
  • FAFSA and CSS Profile advice
  • Final college decisions

Reason 3: You may listen better to an independent consultant. 

Let’s face it, kids, you might not think your parents know it all. And to some extent, you’re right. (Sorry, Mom and Dad — don’t get mad if you’re reading this.)

Again, parents may feel like a fish out of water, and you may respect an independent consultant’s advice more than your parents’.

However, remember that Mom and Dad know you super well, maybe even better than yourself. They still have important nuggets to contribute. Listen to them, too.

Reason 4: An independent college consultant can steer you toward a good fit.

Independent college consultants know which schools make sense for you.

Truthfully, the right fit may not even include where your parents or older siblings went to school. The best fit makes the most sense for your unique personality, interests and academic goals.

Your college counselor should want to get to know you really well so he or she can hone in on the absolute best type of school for you.

Reason 5: An independent consultant might expose you to a college idea you’ve never considered. 

Did you think you’d always go to a gigantic university but you never considered other options, like a liberal arts college?

Your independent college consultant may recognize characteristics in you that you might recognize in yourself and open you up to ideas.

You never know, you might just uncover a gem where you never would have thought to look before!

Why You May Not Want an Independent Consultant

On the flip side, you might think you can go it alone. Learn more about what you should consider before you take action. 

Reason 1: They’re pricey. 

Costs can range from roughly $250 for a one-hour meeting to several thousand dollars for a package that offers unlimited assistance for 11th and 12th graders.

The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) reported that the mean college advising package fee in 2018 ranged from $850 to $10,000 and average packages ranged from $4,000 to $6,000.

Reason 2: You might not need one. 

Do you have high grades and even higher test scores? Do you have lots of financial leverage when it comes to paying for college? Do you have a pretty good idea of what college you want to attend and have your own game plan for getting in? 

You might only need to tap into admissions counselors at colleges, college websites and your counselor.

Free help might fit the situation just fine.

Reason 3: You might not mesh well with the independent consultant you choose. 

What happens if you (or rather, your parents) make a bad hire? You don’t want to waste money or make a bad decision here. 

We’ve all read about the “educational consultants” posing as experts in the media and how their unethical practices end up creating a nasty situation for all involved.

In contrast, ethical educational consultants should guide you toward your best college match, help you identify and demonstrate your best qualities and steer you away from colleges that don’t fit your academic profile and personality and could cause you and your parents to take a larger financial hit than necessary. 

How to Find the Right Independent Consultant for You 

If you’ve decided you want a guide you through the weedy jungle that is the college search process, you need to answer one massive question: Whom should you hire?

Here’s how to find the right independent consultant for you. 

Step 1: Find a counselor in your area. 

With the advent of Zoom meetings happening all over the world, you possibly could get a college consultant from Puerto Rico or Japan. But often, the best consultant knows what’s going on in colleges right in your backyard.   

Look into the IECA and verify that the independent college consultant you want to consider working with has these qualifications: 

  • Must have visited at least 50 colleges
  • Must work with at least 50 clients
  • Earned a master’s degree in a related discipline
  • Worked in counseling or admissions for three years
  • Submitted three professional recommendations

You want to hire someone who has an IECA membership (all IECA counselors apply and pay membership dues), National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) membership and other accolades. For example, check out how Jason Vallozzi of Campus to Career Crossroads lays out his qualifications on his website.  

Step 2: Seek word-of-mouth recommendations. 

Ask around! If you hear that your neighbor used an independent college counselor, ask about it!

Also ask professionals in college-related services, such as admissions counselors at colleges. Asking people you know can get you far.

Step 3: Schedule an appointment.

Select three or four college consultants you might want to hire and ask the following questions:

  • How do you work with students?
  • How often do you meet with students? How available are you?
  • Do you edit essays yourself? 
  • How long have you been an independent consultant? Are you a member of NACAC?
  • What are your outcomes? Which colleges have students you’ve worked with been accepted to? 
  • Can you give me contact information for a few of your clients?
  • How much do you charge? 

Consider Whether an Independent College Consultant is a Good Hire for You

Your next steps: Do some sleuthing.

Confirm the counselor’s IECA or NACAC membership and other credentials.

Steer yourself away from individuals who don’t have a website. (This means that either she hasn’t been in business for long enough or isn’t very techy, which you don’t want if that person plans to help you through online applications.)

Finally, you want to watch it if the individual you may want to team up with can’t point with certainty to specific results, doesn’t edit essays for substance and style and/or doesn’t respond quickly to your questions.

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Author: Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock is the founder of College Money Tips and Money editor at Benzinga. She loves helping families navigate their finances and the college search process. Check out her essential timeline and checklist for the college search!