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Choosing an Educational Counselor

The fundamental role of an independent educational counselor (IEC) is to help students make decisions about their educational journey experience. That responsibility includes helping students explore high school opportunities, college options, and, often, career pathways, in order for them to succeed both academically and socially.

IECs don’t get students admitted: they help students by offering recommendations and guidance about how to best position themselves for the admissions process to a group of thoughtfully chosen schools.

IECs also introduce students to colleges they might not have heard of and reintroduce students to ones they have heard of but that deserve a deeper look. 

Most importantly, an effective IEC is one who understands that the college admissions process is truly a reflective and introspective journey, one that happens deliberately and gradually.

An IEC acts as a trusted advisor to students and families by helping navigate important decisions, so that when the student and their family look back on the process, everyone involved — regardless of the ultimate outcomes — can say, “I wouldn’t have done anything differently.”

Here are six factors families should consider when looking to hire an IEC:

  1. Generally, you will want to work with a counselor who holds themselves accountable to a professional organization, such as the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), or the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA). (At PrepMatters, we’re members of all three organizations.)
  2. It’s also wise to find a counselor who has worked in a school as a teacher, counselor, or administrator, or in an admissions office — or in both.
  3. Avoid anyone who claims to offer guarantees of admission to a school or a certain minimum dollar figure in scholarships. IECs should be clear on what’s in your control, what’s in their control, and what’s out of either of your hands. Click here for a list of other warning signs.
  4. Find an IEC that regularly visits college, school, and program campuses and meets with admissions representatives in order to keep up with new trends, academic changes, and evolving campus cultures.
  5. Ask the IEC if they attend professional conferences or training workshops on a regular basis. Keeping up with regional and national trends and changes in the law are marks of an IEC with their fingers on the pulse of academia.
  6. Find out if they are familiar with educational counseling best practices and ethics guidelines, such as HECA’s Standards and Ethics or IECA’s Principles of Good Practice.

For a list of helpful questions to ask a potential IEC, check these out.

The college admission process can be a long and winding road, but an experienced IEC can smooth out some of the bumps and make the process a bit easier. It’s important to realize that a successful experience of working with an IEC relies on a good working relationship with the student, one that is built upon trust and rapport over time.

The IEC you choose should be a resource that is in addition to others who are advising the student, such as the school-based counselor, parents, and other mentors. We recommend meeting the IEC first to see if the vibe is right and if that individual’s style and philosophy complements your own. This is why PrepMatters gladly offers a complimentary meet-and-greet for any family who wants to learn more about educational planning.

Updated January 11, 2022. Jeff Knox contributed to an earlier version of this blog.

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