Is the field of independent educational consulting growing?

Yes, growing and growing rapidly. Back in 2010 we estimated that there were about 1,500 full-time independent educational consultants (IECs) nationwide. There were about 150 international IECs and another 4,000 part-timers who moonlight, doing consulting in addition to counseling or admissions work for an institution during the day. By 2015, there were about 3,500 full-time IECs nationwide, 350 international, and 5,000 part-timers. In 2024, we estimate there will be 8,500–10,000 full-time IECs nationwide, 1,500 international, and another 10,000–15,000 part-timers.

What accounts for this growth?

There are a number of reasons. Among them:
Increased confusion over who is admitted to college. A generation ago most people felt that they could guess who got in, based on test scores and GPAs. Today so much else goes into the decision; it has led to confusion–and anxiety–among students and parents.
Increased cost of education. The price for private secondary school, special schools and all colleges–public and private–have never been higher, with costs growing at twice the rate of inflation. Some private colleges can cost a family more than $250,000 over four years and some residential secondary schools can cost more than $60,000 a year. If a family is going to invest that much, additional help to assure a good match makes financial sense as the time and tuition money lost in transfers can be enormous.
Overworked school counselors. In parts of the United States, public school counselors struggle with caseloads of 600 to 1,000 students! Many handle behavior, academic, and social issues, as well as college counseling. Such numbers are three to four times the recommended ratios, limiting the impact and effectiveness of hard-working, but over-burdened counselors. IECs have the extra time to explore career interest, learning styles, and much more.
Students with unique needs. Students who are considered “gifted” or have learning differences have a unique experience in their educational search. This is even true for gifted artists and athletes. Many IECs specialize in specific types of placements.

What does an independent educational consultant do that a school-based counselor can’t?

IECs can give families individual attention that many school-based counselors don’t have time for because of the large number of students they advise and the numerous roles they have to play. IECA members also visit scores of campuses each year, and are able to offer firsthand information on schools that a student may not be aware of. After all, students must be a good fit based not only on academics, but on social and community criteria as well. IECA members are knowledgeable in the latest trends and changes to admission policies, financial aid, and more.

How are IECA members different than other independent educational consultants?

Those who wish to join IECA submit to an extensive vetting process: checking references, extensive campus visits, demonstrating experience and education that includes an advanced degree, even a review of their marketing materials and website. Because IECA consultants are committed to the highest ethical standards of practice, families will find that our members have the student’s best interest as their sole focus. IECA members sign an annual pledge that governs their interactions with colleges, students, and parents. They agree to avoid any action that distorts or misrepresents a student’s record or interferes with a university’s ability to accurately evaluate a student. (10 Ways IECA Members are Distinctive)

How do admission staff react to applicants when they know an IEC was involved?

In a college search, the admission staff rarely knows that a consultant was involved. Because a consultant’s primary role is exploring great choices for the student’s particular needs and preferences, the application comes directly from the student. In many schools, colleges, and programs, an increasing number of admission representatives want to know if a candidate worked with an IECA member as this assures them that care and thought were given in consideration of their institution as a good match. When it comes to a secondary or special needs placement, a consultant is almost certain to be in direct contact with a school; schools welcome this contact, while some residential care programs require it.

How many families use independent educational consultants? Are these mainly wealthy families?

A nationwide independent study undertaken by the research firm Lipman Hearne, aided by the National Research Council on College and University Admissions, found that 26% of high achieving high school students (those seeking a four-year college) used an IEC. Other recent studies have found similar results. More than 10 years earlier, a similar study found the number at 3%, reflecting the dramatic growth of the field. Among boarding schools and special purpose schools for students with emotional or behavioral needs, it is not uncommon for 25-75% of the student body to come from IECA-member referrals.

An oft-repeated misperception is that independent educational consulting primarily serves the needs of wealthy families. A recent survey conducted by IECA shows the typical client to be attending a public school in the suburbs of a big city with family income between $75,000 and $100,000. Far from wealthy, such families are generally identified as professional class. As the field has grown, IECs often distinguish themselves by charging hourly, rather than in one inclusive package, and at varying costs, allowing more families to make use of them.

Do IECs only work with ‘top-performing’ students?

IECA members work with all levels of students, regardless of their GPA. Their goal is to find the right school for each individual student’s needs, whether it’s a large, state university, small liberal arts college, Ivy League college, gap year program, wilderness therapy program, emotional growth boarding school, or LD school.

Do some IECs work with students experiencing behavioral and emotional problems?

There is a specialty designation in IECA for IECs who assist in placing students who act out behaviorally, abuse drugs or the Internet, or experience significant emotional impairment. Such IECs often work with mental health professionals in securing a safe, therapeutic environment, including wilderness therapy programs, residential treatment centers, and emotional growth boarding schools.

How do we know using an IEC works?

“Works” can be a tough term to demonstrate. A successful placement is one in which the student succeeds and thrives once enrolled. It is all about the “right fit” between student and school. We do know there are ‘differences:’ Students who work with independent educational consultants are more likely to attend private and out-of-state colleges/universities. According to a survey of IECs, an average of 65% of their clients chose a private college, compared to the national average of just over 20%. There is much anecdotal evidence that students who worked with an IEC were far more likely to stay at a school through graduation (the national figure among four-year colleges is under 50%!)

Can IECs guarantee admission?

No one can guarantee admission. IECA consultants work with students, and when appropriate, admissions staff, to find the most appropriate schools for that individual- the best fit academically, socially, and financially.

Do IECs package students? Do they write student essays?

No! IECA members believe that the student is in charge of the application process, and all materials should be the result of the student’s own work. IECA members work with students to help them develop a realistic list of schools to apply to and guide them during the process. IECA members are expressly forbidden from writing or heavily editing a student’s essay (editing lightly–the way a school English teacher might review a student’s work–is acceptable and expected). What is key for a great match is that the application mirrors the student and reflects who they really are.

I hear IECs charge over $40,000. Are they worth it?

The number of consultants in the world charging that much can be counted on one hand. Most consultants charge (for a multi-year package of services) about 1/9th of that kind of fee, with many charging just under $140/hour–about the same as a family therapist. Moreover, hiring an independent educational consultant may be the best investment a family can make. Using the knowledge and experience of an IEC who has extensive experience to guide families in making this important decision can make the difference between a really good match and a less than successful experience.

Are there qualifications or licensing to become an independent educational consultant?

Licensure does not exist in any state and anyone can hang up a shingle claiming to be an independent educational consultant. Potential IECA members go through an extensive application process. They must have a master’s degree (or equivalent), at least three years of admissions counseling experience, experience working with scores of students, and have visited 50 campuses before they can be considered for professional membership. In addition, all members must agree to abide by our Principles of Good Practice and submit their marketing materials for review to ensure they accurately reflect the IEC’s role.