Though it was more than a decade ago, I clearly remember the day when a story on National Public Radio about independent educational consulting and membership in a group called IECA piqued my interest.

At that point in my career, I had been an admissions counselor at two universities and always wondered if I’d like to do what my friends on “the other side of the desk” did daily.

“They have a summer training program at Swarthmore, you know,” a colleague said when I asked him about IECA. Dreams of staying on campus for a week to learn about college counseling filled my head. But at that time, the reality was always: two young kids at home, little allotted summer vacation from work, and the inability to justify the cost (let alone on something for five days for just me!).

Years passed, and while I did eventually transition to the “other side of the desk” to become a college counselor at a boarding school, the dream of joining IECA persisted. But so did that nagging internal voice that said, “You can’t do this; you can’t go out on your own.” I knew that attending the Summer Institute would be the first step I needed to take. Though unsatisfied and feeling burned-out, I was too afraid to take the risk. 

Like many, COVID-19 and the quarantine to follow changed how I viewed my current lifestyle. Since I was able to work remotely, I found that counseling virtually was a much more efficient use of my—and my students’—time. Long days didn’t drag; they flew by. I finally felt like I had hit my stride doing what I loved. Going back to my old ways didn’t make much sense for me; I knew I had to make a change.

Fifteen years after I’d first heard of IECA, I decided it’s now or never. With the registration deadline looming, I signed up to attend the virtual 2021 IECA Summer Institute. Admittedly, though, the doubt persisted: “A whole week in front of a computer when I could be at the beach? I have been doing this for 25 years! What am I going to learn anyway?”

I am happy to say those thoughts proved to be what they always were: just excuses. From the day I received my trusty notebook until I had to say goodbye to the members of the Institute, it was the single best investment of my time and money. I was reminded that, in this profession, we always have new things to learn. And I did learn a lot—about different ways to view topics I thought I already knew, how I can do things better, the resources available to me, and the supportive community of colleagues and network of independent educational consultants out there.

But most of all, I discovered my professional worth again. I took to heart what IECA CEO Mark Sklarow told us on the last day of the Institute: “Your knowledge is your inventory.” 

I am so grateful for the experience of the IECA Summer Institute. It made me remember why I do what I do and why I love being part of this profession. I can now confidently say, “Yes, I can do this! And I can do it well.” I am proud to now be an Associate member of IECA. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.

By Melanie Hawley Litzinger, MA, IECA Associate (NJ) 

Learn more about the IECA Summer Training Institute