why-i-belong-laura-blanceFull disclosure: I worked in the public school system as a school counselor for 22 years. I jumped at every chance to attend a college fly-in program over the span of my career because I was tired of taking virtual tours of the campuses that I was recommending to my students. My favorite time of year was February because that was when we started our individual planning conferences with juniors and their families. It really started bothering me that I had to wait until February for that exciting process and couldn’t veer off the department’s timeline.

During the winter of 2013, I was “stuck in gear” in my career and knew I wanted a change. I needed to recharge my battery and reevaluate my future as a high school counselor. I applied for a sabbatical through my district, proposing to visit as many college campuses as I could over that next year while marketing my high school to the colleges. The school board and parents loved it! I figured it would ultimately play into my master plan of one day getting out of the school setting. I started applying for any and all college tours and reaching out to my regional reps, who were instrumental in putting me in touch with tour directors and nominating me for tours.

That year I visited more than 70 colleges on eight tours, three fly-ins, and a couple of road trips!

Later that spring, my local Penn State rep told me about a great organization called IECA and its upcoming Summer Training Institute (STI) at Swarthmore. I had been moonlighting over the years as a college consultant and after researching IECA’s membership qualifications, I decided to apply for Associate membership and register for STI that summer. My experience there was a game changer! I felt empowered and energized to make things happen. I admit, at the time, I felt a little out of place being a high school counselor, but once I spent a few days with Mark, Joan, Carolyn, Steve, and Kristina (like rock stars, no last names needed), I knew IECA was where I belonged.

I set a personal goal to become a Professional member within the next two years and retire early from my school district to launch my new career as an IEC. It’s amazing what can happen when you set your mind to it and have the support of such a powerful organization and network of people. I would not change anything about my journey over the past two decades. Working in a public school has really provided a diverse and rich foundation of the inner workings of a high school as it relates to the whole student in the areas of personal, academic, and career counseling.

I take great pride in telling anyone who will listen why I left the public school system and joined IECA—to have the ability to follow my passion and focus solely on the college admissions process with families with no distractions! I used to imagine what it would be like to actually have time to soak up as much knowledge as possible about specific colleges and the admission process as a whole. I was amazed by the expertise and insight of the IECs that I had met over the past few years. Participating in tours and webinars, creating meaningful college lists, serving on committees and boards, collaborating with colleagues, writing a column, updating my blog, and even reading the Member Network are all things I fill my days with now.

And I am open to collaboration with high school counselors any chance I get. I see us as members of the student team. I do miss the camaraderie that being a member of a department or a faculty provides, but IECA is my home now and the regional IECA groups are a great way to develop new professional relationships. Becoming an IEC has renewed my enthusiasm for the profession as a whole and allowed me to create a career that is tailored to my specific strengths, interests, and goals!

I belong because IECA welcomed me with open arms and offered a strong support system of encouragement, engagement, and education, which has empowered me to follow my heart, take a risk, and do what I love everyday. I was once a high school counselor, but I am now an IEC.

Laura Blanche, MEd, IECA (PA)