IECA Urges Colleges to Adjust Deadlines Due to FAFSA Delays

The US Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office released an update this week announcing that the earliest the Department will begin transmitting FAFSA applicant information to schools and state agencies is the first half of March.

We are deeply concerned by the impact this further delay will have on students and families who are depending on financial aid offers in order to pursue their higher education goals. This disruption to the typical enrollment timeline is certain to create increased anxiety for all students depending on some sort of financial aid, especially low-income students navigating this already stressful and complex process.

We appreciate that some colleges and universities are already delaying their May 1 decision deadlines and urge that all follow suit in order to allow adequate time for students to weigh their offers.

IECA will continue to bring our members the latest information on changes to the FAFSA rollout, and how students and families will be impacted. Members can access our recorded webinar on the new FAFSA, join and follow discussions on the Member Network, and bring their questions to upcoming monthly member roundtables. We encourage you to continue to stay informed and patient during this challenging process, and to advise your client-families to do the same.

In early March, IECA leadership will meet with legislators on Capitol Hill for our second annual advocacy event. We will advocate for greater clarity in the financial aid award process through the standardization of college financial aid offers proposed in the Understanding the True Cost of College Act. We will also urge legislators to consider the challenges faced by students and families imposed by the new FAFSA rollout.

We will continue to advocate for the independent educational consulting profession and the best interests of our members, students, and families.

IECA Will Add Certified Educational Planner Credential to its Portfolio

As part of its commitment to promote the highest quality independent educational consulting for students and families, IECA has announced that it will integrate the American Institute of Certified Educational Planners, the nation’s leading certifying body which awards the respected Certified Educational Planner designation, into IECA’s suite of offerings.

Founded in 1976 and now 2,800 members strong, IECA is the largest and oldest organization representing independent educational consultants (IECs) who work in private practice. AICEP, founded in 1994, credentials full-time, experienced IECs and school-based college counselors. The Certified Educational Planner (CEP) designation recognizes professionals who have achieved the highest level of competence and knowledge of the independent educational counseling profession. To be awarded the CEP credential, individuals must meet stringent requirements and pass a rigorous board-certifying assessment. To retain the credential, CEPs must continue to conduct evaluative campus or site visits and participate in specified professional development activities to meet recertification requirements every five years.

More than 25 years ago, IECA helped establish the American Institute of Certified Educational Planners to promote raising standards and lifelong learning among independent educational consultants. Today, IECA’s growth and leadership have made this consolidation a natural mark of progress and uniting two leading organizations in the profession. “Particularly as we have seen state governments and agencies examining the profession, they have come to rely on IECA and AICEP as evidence of competence, ethics, and experience for families,” said Mark Sklarow, CEO of IECA. “This union will strengthen that recognition.”

Rachel Sobel, AICEP chair, explained the value the integration presents for those holding the CEP designation. “Over the past 10 years, AICEP has seen growth continue to innovate and expand. Recently, we revised our application, assessment, and recertification processes, and are working towards accreditation from a nationally recognized certifying agency. At this stage in the growth of AICEP, we need a louder voice in national and international conversations. All CEPs will benefit from a connection to a range of programs and services that will tie directly to certification and recertification. The stability and progress of AICEP will be advanced by integrating AICEP into IECA as the credentialing arm of IECA.”

Ibrahim Firat, president of the IECA Board of Directors, sees the development as a mission-driven endeavor that will enhance IECA’s standing and value. “This integration represents a significant milestone for IECA, reinforcing our commitment to professional excellence. By aligning our efforts, we solidify our position as the industry leader, amplifying our voice in collaboration with governmental agencies and media. Moreover, this effort provides our members with an additional sense of accomplishment, opening doors to expanded educational and training opportunities. It underscores our vision as the leading provider of continuing education for the entire profession,” says Firat. “Ultimately, by bringing the CEP designation into IECA’s suite of programming, parents will look to IECA membership and its certification mark as the assurance they need that the IEC they hire is knowledgeable, ethical, and offers exceptional advising.”

Dr. Steven Antonoff has headed both organizations and is considered the national leader in training those entering the independent educational consulting profession. “This is a foundational step in the evolution of our profession,” said Antonoff. “As we have grown, so too has the need to reinforce our commitment to the highest standards. By synchronizing efforts, we will have another way of telling the public that IECs are a trusted source of educational planning advice.”

The integration of AICEP and its certification program into the Independent Educational Consultants Association is slated for 2024 as both groups work to ensure a seamless implementation.

Five Ways IECA Changed in 2022, and One Way It Didn’t

Those who work for any nonprofit—a school, a church group, or a membership society like IECA—know that change in such organizations can come slowly. Nonprofits are notoriously averse to alienating supporters and members, seek to develop consensus, and are more often than not pushed to change rather than embracing it.

Yet I know that when we look back on the history of IECA (which we’ll do soon as we close in on our 50th anniversary), we will see 2022 as a transformative year, one in which the association changed in substantial and fundamental ways.

1. Government Affairs

After years of avoiding any involvement in legislation and keeping a low profile even after being pulled into some state efforts to regulate or register IECs, in 2022 IECA wholeheartedly embraced our role in two ways: 1) We demanded that IECs be treated fairly and as valued small businesspeople; and 2) We became a valued source for state and federal agencies as they examined laws effecting adolescents and education. This past year IECA and its legislative counsel/lobbyists weighed in, with some success on several issues. We took positions designed to support members and their clients and responded with enthusiasm when a U.S. Senate Committee sought IECA’s advice on legislation being considered that impacted teens.

As one IECA member told me in a group Zoom meeting, “I have come to realize that unlike any other group, IECA has my back.”

2. Innovating How We Provide Education

For most of IECA’s history, member educational opportunities were conducted in person: conferences, Summer Training Institute, retreats, campus tours, and symposia were all held in person. COVID, of course, required us to reassess and within weeks we transitioned to online learning. Now we have the opportunity to reexamine the delivery models for our educational offerings. We are exploring what type of learning works best virtually and what works best in person so we can innovate all of our educational programming. Look for changes to conferences that reflect these changes, including advanced Harkness-style, small group sessions for advanced topics, more small-group discussions, new and improved networking, and more expansive tours.

3. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The IECA Board of Directors has fully embraced the idea that IECA needs to examine our processes, requirements, leadership, and programming to ensure that all are welcome, all who are qualified can find pathways to volunteerism and leadership, and all can participate. Diversity this year was a central focus. Are we ensuring that planned events don’t conflict with religious and cultural holidays? Are we ensuring that those with disabilities, including hearing and vision impairment, can access IECA information online? Do our conferences consider the needs of those who are neurodiverse? Do we ensure that membership is available to those who have a non-traditional background? There is much to be done, but recognizing these needs is an important start.

4. Growth of the Two Gs: Global and Graduate School

The growth in members with clients looking to study outside of their home nation, as well as those with clients looking into graduate and professional education, exploded in 2022. This offered IECA a critical challenge. I have often said that IECA should never ask folks to join if we are unable to meet their needs. Our Graduate and Global members presented us with such a challenge in 2022. As an association, we have embraced both and have re-committed to making both sub-specialties an essential piece of who we are. We launched study groups, affinity groups, and roundtables; we increased the number of educational sessions offered at conferences; we held our first global gathering in 2022 and will follow up with a university symposium in Italy early in the new year. Graduate school advising is growing quickly, and many members have offered to volunteer, present, and host; our processes are working overtime to keep up, and we are committed to doing so.

5. Embracing Our New Role

On the day I arrived at IECA, 28 years ago, I was told that IECA was the “gold standard” in the profession. Since that day, I embraced the concept and have told our board on numerous occasions that “protecting IECA’s reputational value” was as important as protecting our financial viability. But something changed this past year. It happened when government agencies and other educational associations reached out to us for support or guidance. It happened when hundreds of members in other associations joined IECA, either because of our legislative work or because of our diverse options of educational programming. It happened when members embraced the value of having experts in adolescent behavior, since increased numbers of “typical” adolescents were dealing with mental health challenges. It happened when we conducted a survey of volunteers and discovered that over 300 members are volunteering in significant ways. And it was cemented when we realized that all the above led us to a point when our membership includes 150% more IECs than any other organization in the US or the world. In 2022, our role as the leader of the profession was not simply an adage, it became reality and as a result our responsibility to the profession and to the public has grown.

6. One Way We Have NOT Changed

Despite these changes, IECA has fundamentally remained the same. Our expectations that potential members must demonstrate they are at the top of their profession remains, just as we stress ethics and excellence in our trainings. Our standards remain the highest in the field. We take ethical violations seriously. We remain committed to the concept that all IECs are colleagues, not competitors. And most critically, we continue to hold fast to the rule that IECA members work, always, in the best interest of their clients.

IECA Responds to Rick Singer’s Sentencing

IECA responded to today’s sentencing of Rick Singer, mastermind of the “Operation Varsity Blues” college admissions scheme, which has included the conviction of more than 50 people.

While Singer’s wrongdoing has resulted in a jail sentence today, and both parents and athletic directors have been similarly found guilty, these punishments have not resulted in fixing the many problems vexing college admissions.

“The Varsity Blues scandal led colleges to review their admissions systems to make sure they were ethical and upstanding, but the broader issue of opaqueness continues to plague the college application process—and result in heightened student and parent anxiety,” said Mark Sklarow, CEO of IECA. “While we applaud the court for bringing Rick Singer to justice, we continue to advocate for greater transparency in admission criteria from college admissions offices.”

The steep decline in college acceptance rates further heightens the anxiety levels of students and families. With many colleges moving to test-optional admissions due to the pandemic, the pool of applicants has grown, and acceptance rates have fallen to record lows for many colleges and universities: most recently 3.19% for Harvard, 8.56% for Rice, and 9% for Tufts, among others.

Adding to this, access to college advising is unequal across the country and particularly strained in urban and rural public high schools, where the average student-to-counselor ratio is 455:1 and more than 700:1 in some areas. This leaves school counselors overburdened and students under-resourced.

How IECA Assures Parents the Highest Ethical Standards in College Advising

Independent college advisors who seek to join IECA go through an extensive application process designed to assure the public that unlike Singer, the advisor they are working with is knowledgeable, competent, and ethical. 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 IECA’s Principles of Good Practice and submit their marketing materials for review to ensure they accurately reflect the independent educational consultant’s role.

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. Because IECA consultants are committed to the highest ethical standards of practice, families find that IECA members have the student’s best interest as their sole focus.

Recent years have seen tremendous growth in the independent educational consultant profession, with IECA’s membership now totaling more than 2,600 consultants in almost every state and 41 countries around the world (reflecting a 60% growth since the Varsity Blues scandal broke). Throughout its growth, however, it’s adherence to the highest standards in ethical, student-centered advising has remained unchanged.  According to Sklarow, “Our growth is a testament to the public’s reaction to the Varsity Blues scandal. Parents wanted a way to be guaranteed that their IEC was both capable and earnest in finding the best possible college or university for their child.”

Sklarow continued, “Our members are ethical, compassionate professionals who dedicate their careers to advising students and families on their individual paths to success. They focus on the unique student’s needs to help them have a successful experience wherever they choose to attend college.”

How IECA Members Help Students and Families Navigate College Admissions

Families who choose to work with an IECA member educational consultant to navigate the college admissions process benefit from the consultant’s expertise, professionalism, and unbiased viewpoint to find the best-fit college for their student.

IECA members have extensive, firsthand knowledge of colleges—gained from touring dozens of colleges, meeting with admission officers, and conducting their own research. An IECA member consultant offers individual attention, spending hours with each student and their family to learn the student’s personality, interests, qualifications, and aspirations.

Combining their vast knowledge and their understanding of the specific student, IECA member consultants then help find the best-fit colleges for the student—those that provide the best environment for the student’s academic, social, and personal growth and meet the student’s financial needs. An IECA member consultant walks the student and family through each step of the college application process, meaning reduced stress and anxiety for the student and family.

IECA members believe there are many great postsecondary options for every student, and no student should be made to feel that they must become something they are not to get accepted. Being and presenting one’s authentic self and demonstrating one’s own talents and abilities is a way of ensuring the right college fit. This is central to what an ethical independent educational consultant does.

Four IECA Members Honored with 2022 Making a Difference Awards

IECA has recognized four independent educational consultants (IECs) from across the U.S. with its annual Making a Difference Awards in recognition of their selfless volunteer efforts that have made a difference in the work of the association’s 2,600 members during this year.

Award recipients include Chris Andersson of New York, NY; Cheryl Chamberlain of Riverwoods, IL; Yesim Erez of Anaheim Hills, CA and Istanbul, Turkey; and Yvonne Espinoza of Austin, TX.

Through their efforts, these members have added significantly to the strengths and skills of their IECA member colleagues in their work with tens of thousands of students annually. The lifelong learning, collegiality, and ethical standards represented by the awardees are the hallmarks of IECA.

The Making a Difference Awards were presented by IECA Board President Ibrahim Firat during the organization’s Fall Conference (November 7-9, 2022 in San Diego, CA), which was attended by over 1,000 independent educational consultants and college, school, and therapeutic program representatives.

“Our Making a Difference awardees have fostered connections and community among IECA members, and shared resources benefiting all members’ IEC practices,” said IECA CEO Mark Sklarow. “Their collegiality and generosity are hallmarks of IECA.”

Ibrahim Firat (left) with Chris Andersson (right)
Cheryl Chamberlain
Ibrahim Firat (left) with Yesim Erez (right)
Yvonne Espinoza

IECA Advocates for Religious Tolerance and Inclusion

IECA advocates for religious tolerance and inclusion and condemn all forms of antisemitism, extremism, hate, and bigotry. We believe no one should feel attacked or marginalized because of their religious beliefs, and that every student, family, and colleague should be treated with kindness, acceptance, and respect.

Disturbingly, antisemitism remains a persistent and serious problem in the US and globally. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports that attacks on Jewish people and sites in the US were committed at record high levels in 2021, including hundreds at colleges and universities. We at IECA are deeply troubled by this intolerance and offer our support and empathy to our Jewish students, families, members, and affiliated professionals.

IECA is committed to helping families of all backgrounds have access to skilled and ethical academic or therapeutic guidance and to creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. We welcome all individuals, regardless of age, citizenship status, culture, disability, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, learning differences, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. Our work to promote equity, fairness, and inclusion must be constant.

We urge our members and colleagues to recognize and respond to instances of antisemitism, bigotry, and hate. Here are resources to help you take action today:

As leaders in education, we have an opportunity to model leadership that is focused on unity, support, and action. We must do our part to build a more tolerant, inclusive, and socially just society.

IECA Presents to US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions

On October 19, 2022, IECA members Bar Clarke,  Karen Mabie, Heidi Molbak, and Jesse Quam joined CEO Mark Sklarow in presenting to the senior staff of the Senate Committee that oversees a wide area of legislative responsibility. The US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) requested IECA’s input as it explores adolescents and mental health, with a particular focus on health and safety of teens in therapeutic residential programs. Staff leaders representing Senator Patty Murray (WA) and IECA’s legislative counsel, Craig Saperstein of Pillsbury Law, also participated in the meeting.

At the outset, IECA had the chance to explain the Association’s work, our criteria for membership, and earning designations in therapeutic placements. IECA’s Principles of Good Practice, our Standards of Excellence and training new independent educational consultants (IECs) through our Summer Training Institute were all explored by the Committee staff. They seemed particularly interested in our prohibition against accepting kickbacks or expensive gifts as well as the role IECs play beyond student placement including after-care, family dynamics, and communication with parties during treatment periods.

In response to questions about campus visits, IECA members noted that being able to visit a campus and speak with students was incredibly valuable, and that the online Member Network allows IECA members to find trusted colleagues who may have a recent experience with a program. Mark Sklarow cautioned that while IECA members can visit programs, these are planned and controlled, and that state government and credentialing organization hold greater authority in evaluative visits which can be unscheduled and more invasive.

The Senate Committee staffers seemed interested to learn that IECs are, at times, brought on to assist a school district in finding residential care when local options have been exhausted. Likewise, referrals from psychologists and other professionals were discussed.

Bringing up the “horror stories” at programs that surfaced in the news recently, the IECA team offered several insights. They noted that many of these stories relate to instances more than two decades old, which was followed by a period of dramatic change and improvement in program staff training, new policies to safeguard children, and the like. Additionally, we noted that many of the stories specifically relate to publicly financed programs, not those privately held. Even so, the IECA team was clear that IECA supports new legislation that can assure the safety and care of teens, including extensive staff training on therapeutic holds and isolation, record-keeping, improved communication between teens and parents, and recognition of client rights.

IECA also addressed the work of some unaffiliated consultants who act as program recruiters or agents, accepting kickbacks (while masquerading as IECs), and indicated that such actions hurt the professional reputation of legitimate IECs. IECA endorsed mental health parity and expressed concern that those who go too far to attack all therapeutic schools and programs run the risk of stigmatizing adolescents seeking mental health care.

IECA and our Therapeutic and Government Relations Committees anticipate providing additional input to the Senate Committee in the new legislative year.

Establishing an Inclusive Practice, Supporting Our LGBTQIA+ Students

Note: This blog uses terms that may be unfamiliar to some readers. It Gets Better Project offers a helpful glossary.

Happy Pride Month, IECA!

In June, the month of the historic Stonewall Uprising of 1969, we celebrate with Pride the global LGBTQIA+ community and the Black and Brown trans foremothers of the gay rights movement, people who fought for equality and justice in the face of violence and harassment for being their authentic selves.

Pride Month is about celebration, but it is also about advocacy and activism. As IECs, we are in a prime position to be allies and advocates for our LGBTQIA+ students.

Supporting LGBTQIA+ People

The first thing we can do to support our LGBTQIA+ students and families is to ensure that we support our LGBTQIA+ colleagues and people in our everyday lives. Learning how individual schools, colleges, and therapeutic programs serve LGBTQIA+ students is important, but that information will land flat if our consulting practices and professional associations don’t operate inclusively to begin with.

Let’s start by recognizing the falsehoods and societal norms we’ve internalized and re-educate ourselves so we can be effective allies.

Misinformation and false assumptions cause harm to LGBTQIA+ people. Having a gender identity or sexual orientation that does not align with cisnormative, heteronormative standards is not someone’s lifestyle choice or political statement. It is the true, lived experience of a human being.

Being raised with recent social norms can result in anti-LGBTQIA+ bias and internalized homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism—even for people within the LGBTQIA+ community. These norms lead us to expect that people are heterosexual and identify with the gender they were assigned at birth unless we’re told otherwise, unless the person “comes out.” These assumptions are unconscious until we make an effort to examine and counteract them by seeking education.

Educating Ourselves

LGBTQIA+. Heteronormative. Homophobia. Transgender. Ally. Microaggression. Gay. Queer.

Some of these words may be familiar. Others may not. Make an effort to learn them. Find a buddy to practice with and help you use them. Pronouns and chosen names, in particular, require practice.

Education helps us be informed and effective allies. Don’t rely on an LGBTQIA+ person to define terms or tell you why certain language is hurtful or offensive. Use Google and accept responsibility for your own learning. (You’ll find numerous resources throughout this blog.)

Being an Ally Requires Action

Allies take action even when it’s uncomfortable.

For example: Speak up when you observe microaggressions against an LGBTQIA+ person or group. Correct a speaker who has misgendered someone. Don’t let others use words like “gay” or “queer” in a negative way or tell an LGBTQIA+ person to act or look differently in order to fit in. When you make an inevitable mistake, apologize, correct it, and move on without calling further attention to the blunder.

Be an Ally by Protecting LGBTQIA+ Students

We live in an unjust world where LGBTQIA+ students are not always safe, even at home. If a student comes out to you, respond with appreciation, respect, and affirmation. Listen attentively. Ask if they need any help or resources.

Maintain student confidentiality in conversation, communication, and written notes. It is critically important that we don’t “out” a student to anyone, including their family. Consider specifying in your client agreement that you will maintain student confidentiality except in cases where you are a mandatory reporter or choose to follow such guidelines.

Develop a list of local and online organizations that you can share with students if needed. GLSEN’s When A Student Comes Out to You blog provides helpful advice for education professionals, and their Coming Out blog and handout are excellent resources for students.

Other Actions That Build an Inclusive Practice

  • Create and promote a non-discrimination policy.
    Be sure your policy includes non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Ensure that it applies to all individuals, including students, parents/guardians/caregivers, employees, vendors, and your professional network.
  • Conduct a content audit.
    Are your forms, resources, and photos inclusive of all identities and family structures? Do you use inclusive language in your online content and communication with families?
  • Ask for chosen or preferred name, rather than nickname.
    A nickname can be informal or trivial, whereas a trans student’s chosen name is a vital affirmation of their identity. To be inclusive of trans students, use the term chosen name or preferred name, or simply ask “What would you like me to call you?”
  • Don’t require, or even request, a person’s legal name.
    A trans person’s legal name may be dysphoric for them. Only ask for it when absolutely necessary, such as on applications that will need to match the student’s high school or medical records.
  • Avoid “othering” trans and non-binary people when requesting pronouns.
    When requesting pronouns from clients, provide a blank line where each respondent may fill in their own answer. This is preferable to trying to list all possible pronouns and avoids minimizing the identity of someone who might otherwise have selected “Other.”
  • Don’t make sharing pronouns compulsory.
    A student may feel unsafe sharing their pronouns, especially in a group setting. Likewise, someone who is struggling to determine their true identity after years of hiding it may not be ready to share definitive pronouns. Make sharing an option, not a requirement. Use the person’s name when referring to them until they share their pronouns or you can ask privately.

Safer Spaces Start with Us

Establishing an inclusive practice for LGBTQIA+ students and families requires that we continue to learn and grow. The resulting strength of our personal and professional relationships, and the joy of a well-supported and well-advised student, remind us why the effort is worth it.

By Suzanne Lewis, M.Ed., founder & CEO of Meridian Educational Consulting LLC. As an active Professional member of IECA, she serves on the Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) Committee, was a 2021 Summer Training Institute (STI) faculty member, and co-founded the LGBTQIA+ and Allies Affinity Group with Chris Andersson.

Resources for Further Study

Many local and national organizations provide resources and education for you or your constituents:

PFLAG – With over 400 chapters across the country, PFLAG provides confidential peer support, education, and advocacy to LGBTQ+ people, their parents and families, and allies.

GLSEN – Their mission is to ensure that every member of every K-12 school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Provides student programs, advocacy, research, and policy work.

The Trevor Project – The world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people. Also offers resources and education for people working with LGBTQ youth.

  • Read the report from their 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.

It Gets Better Project – Their mission is to uplift, empower, and connect LGBTQ+ youth around the globe. Offers inspiring content and mental health tools.

Campus Pride – The leading organization for student leaders and campus groups working to create a safer college environment for LGBTQ students. Known for the Campus Pride Index database of LGBTQ-friendly campuses, they offer a myriad of other resources for college students and those building college lists.

The Williams Institute – The leading research center on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy. Ensures that facts—not stereotypes—inform laws, policies, and judicial decisions that affect the LGBT community.

  • Published a report in May 2022 on the “Experiences of LGBTQ People in Four-Year Colleges and Graduate Programs.”

Introducing the AXS Companion to the Common Application

The AXS Companion is now available for college-bound students to use!

College enrollment continues to decline while barriers for under-resourced students grow—but the AXS Companion to Common App, a new initiative by IECA, in partnership with Oregon State University, aims to reverse this trend by supporting these students as they begin their college journey.

Applying to college is already a complex and often stressful process, and first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students of color have faced even greater hurdles to college during the pandemic: reduced or no access to college and school counselors; limited opportunities to access information and resources due to school closures; and a lack of familiarity with the US college and financial aid application processes within their families.

According to Common App, approximately one-third of their million-plus annual applicants are first-generation students. These students are more likely to create Common App accounts without submitting applications because they “often lack familial and school-based guidance on how to navigate the complex admission waters,” according to a recent article on BestColleges.com. It continues: “Just last year, about 700,000 seniors who opened Common App accounts never completed an application.”

Seeing this disparity in access to higher education, a group of IECA members set out to make a change. The result is the AXS Companion, a free online resource that aims to improve access and clarity for under-resourced students who lack college counseling support. Through detailed videos, the AXS Companion walks students through each step of Common App from beginning to end. Alternatively, students can watch an individual section’s videos to understand how to best respond to that section based on their circumstances.

View this video to see samples of the AXS Companion and to learn more about the project:

How the Project Came About

Several years ago, Maite Halley, an IECA member who has been a leader in the association in several capacities, envisioned this project as live workshops to support under-resourced communities. During COVID-19, Marilyn O’Toole, IECA member and liaison to Common App, asked Common App leadership if IECA members could pivot and develop step-by-step videos for the initiative instead.

With Common App’s approval, O’Toole then engaged Jon Boeckenstedt, vice provost at Oregon State University to discuss solutions to store and organize the video resources. This evolved into the collaborative framework of Oregon State University Ecampus building the platform, with IECA providing the content.

Left to right, clockwise: IECA members Jeffy Levy, Marilyn O'Toole, Pat Smith, Ibrahim Firat, Sylvia Jackman, Louise Franklin, and Jennie Kent.

Over the last eight months, many IECA members have worked tirelessly on this project, including: Ibrahim Firat, Louise Franklin, Carolyn Gelderman, Anne Holmdahl, Sylvia Jackman, Amy Jasper, Jennie Kent, Jeff Levy, Janae McCullough-Boyd, Marilyn O’Toole, Chantal Paiewonksy, Veena Rao, Pat Smith, and Juan Camilo Tamayo. These dedicated members produced the project content, which included writing and editing curriculum and scripts, as well as recording audio and video for 50+ modules for each section of Common App. Additionally, they called on experts in various fields to support their efforts, and created modules that provide financial aid guidance, essay suggestions, and admissions officers’ advice. The project creators chose the name The AXS Companion because of the double entendre: improving student access through the collaborative axis of higher education and IECA. The AXS Companion was introduced at the IECA 2022 Spring Conference in Philadelphia and is launching on September 1, 2022.

IECA is grateful to the members of the Oregon State University Ecampus who trained our colleagues to audio and visually record each section and then edited hours of their recordings, adding animation to make the directions and guidance clear. In addition, thank you to the engineers, graphic designers, animators, and project managers who have worked tirelessly to create this invaluable resource. 

Pictured above (left to right, clockwise): IECA members Jeffy Levy, Marilyn O’Toole, Pat Smith, Ibrahim Firat, Sylvia Jackman, Louise Franklin, and Jennie Kent.

New Year, Fresh Start

While many of us have already made—and broken—resolutions for the New Year, I wanted to offer a few ideas for independent educational consultants (IECs) still exploring goals and direction for 2022.

1. Establish a personal care plan.

No one—not a parent, teacher, or an independent educational consultant—can take on the concerns, anxieties, and emotional baggage of clients without a plan to care for their own emotional well-being. Explore some of the many mindfulness apps, begin a walking routine, join a book club—whatever works for you. Choose something that will help you escape the work you do. If you get into the habit NOW, it will already be part of your normal routine when the next busy season arrives.

2. Remember the personal care needs of your employees as well.

As we close in on the two-year anniversary of COVID-19, let’s also remember that your accountant, client-services rep, tutors, and essays specialist are also dealing with demands of work and disruptions to family norms. Think about offering flexible scheduling, time for exercise, and responsiveness to COVID-related scheduling changes, and resolve to give your team space to thrive.

3. Consider how rough it has been for so many people.

In addition to health care workers, many others are bearing relentless attacks by those who seemingly blame them for things well outside of their control. This includes food servers, teachers, store clerks, and airline workers. Let’s resolve to show some grace and offer words of affirmation to those whose work has become unpleasant.

4. Take advantage of technology in ways that make your life and your clients’ lives easier.

Talk about a win-win! Consider online payment platforms, meeting schedulers, offering digital resources, and using a new social media platform—just a few examples of technology use that ought to be on your radar this year.

5. Uncover ways that you can be a better IEC to under-resourced and under-supported communities.

This could take the form of pro bono work or volunteering with a community-based organization. It can also mean looking at ways you could do a better job understanding and responding to the changing face of adolescents. As America’s teens become more diverse, resolve to take coursework, get certified, and become more knowledgeable about inclusion—whether the differences are based in race, religion, sexual identify, physical disabilities, or neurodiversity. Becoming an advocate for the under-served or marginalized makes you a stronger IEC in your own practice and in educating peers.

6. Finally, get involved in your professional IECA community.

Become a mentor, request a mentor, learn a new specialty, attend an IECA conference, present a session or lead a discussion at a conference, join Affinity Groups, and become active in your Regional Group. This is how we make the profession and the association stronger. Resolve to recommend membership to an unaffiliated IEC. Let’s strengthen our community, together.

By Mark Sklarow, IECA CEO