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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

College Consultants: Charlatans or Essential Assistants?

College Consultants: Charlatans or Essential Assistants?

By Katherine O’Brien, MA CCPS
Founder and Chief College Planning Specialist
Celtic College Consultants

This week’s online brouhaha between Tufts’ Dan Grayson and the IECA and HECA, national organizations of professional education consultants regarding the role independent consultants play in college admissions left parents wondering whether independent higher education consultants were a blessing or a curse.  Independent consultants, college planners, and the like work directly for and with students and their families, not for high schools or colleges/universities.  These consultants range from those who promise admissions to certain schools, write essays for students, and/or give financial planning advice which results in nice commissions for themselves and little or no help for their clients to ethical, well trained and educated professionals who provide invaluable assistance to students trying to find a focus, find themselves, and find suitable colleges and programs as well as offering sound financial aid and college funding advice which increases the family’s ability to afford college.

Mr. Grayson rightly decries those consultants promising admissions to particular schools/top schools and selling admissions essays the students may never even see.  I join him in the stand for high ethical standards in this field. On the financial side of things, I wrote The Ultimate Guide to Top Quality College Planning (available through Amazon) earlier this year specifically to provide parents a solid overview of the various training programs and professional organizations for college planners/education consultants.  I provide clarity for parents seeking help on the financial side of things so parents know how to interview potential consultants and find those without a conflict of interest or, at the very least, have that bias understood by all from the beginning.

Mr. Grayson, the Assistant Director at Tufts University wrote a letter to Mark Sklarow, the president of the Independent Education Consultants Association this week and said, “I know there are a great many independent counselors who are adept and thoughtful. I'm grateful for the strong professional and personal relationships I have with independent counselors, particularly those working overseas…

“Further, in November, I'll be giving a panel at an admissions conference offering a clear and explicit defense of the role that ethical independent counselors play. …IECs, when they are ethical and thoughtful, help families navigate an often eldritch and nearly always opaque process marked with constantly shifting deadlines, requirements, and expectations. I'll say in November, and I genuinely believe, that students need to have well-informed guidance to be able to effectively understand US university admissions, and that a family that seeks help from a well-informed independent counselor is acting in their child's best interest.  We, collectively, must promote well-informed IECs …
or we risk ceding families to the group of actors who are poorly informed and will lie and cheat to make a buck.” (emphasis added)

HECA, IECA, and NICCP all require their members to adhere to a code of ethics.  Those of us who join these groups pledge to provide ethical guidance to our clients and to represent ourselves accurately to prospective families and our colleagues.  Members of the NICCP also have annual continuing education credit requirements.  Good consultants in must constantly seek updated information since requirements, trends, laws, and deadlines change often.

With his blog, and other writings, Eric J. Furda, Dean of Admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, advocates “advice on the college process which doesn’t try to give answers or false promises; instead [he] embrace[s] guidance which provides an opportunity for responsibility and growth.”  Dean Furda’s comments presuppose that students are receiving guidance.  Given the incredibly high student to counselor ratios, families are increasingly turning to independent college consultants and planners for assistance.  Money Magazine supports this option saying, “School cutbacks have left guidance counselors badly outnumbered…Consultants have begun to fill the void, helping parents and kids to find the best schools for their money.  Good consultants know college admission trends and maintain significant ties in the field.”

In this time when every dollar really counts, finding an education consultant/ college planner to work with your college bound student and family is a critical part of every college bound high school student’s life.  Many planners offer a variety of services and options which can be fine tuned to each family’s needs and budgets.  Families seeking financial as well as admissions/student preparation guidance would do well to consult the National Institute of Certified College Planning Specialists’ online directory at

Money Magazine quotation was found on 10/23/13.
Dean Furda’s words were found in The Art of the Personal Statement by Alex Thaler
Mr. Grayson’s words were found in his open letter to Mr. Mark Sklarow, President of IECA and circulated by HECA.