Once a student makes the investment decision to pursue higher education, there are still many considerations to keep in mind. As a parent of such a student, this can be a frightening expedition. Asking for help is not easy, but the good news is that there is help out there to navigate these sometimes treacherous waters for future higher-education students and their families. All of the choices involved in such a decision can be daunting.
Even more anxiety-provoking is the fact that not carefully considering the best fit can cost an exponential amount. Poor decision-making can cost both precious time and money. Consider that fact that, “Nationally, only 39 percent of students graduate from college in four years and 59 percent graduate in six years,” according to Sara Zessar, an independent college advisor. She further explains that a whopping “one-third of all college students transfer to a different college, often losing credits, time and money.”
What Exactly is a College Counselor and How Can One Help?
A college counselor or consultant (known by many other titles ranging from academic advisor to individual college consultant, private college counselor and other similar titles) works with a student and his or her family to essentially find the most appropriate match or fit between an academic institution and the student. These independent education counselors (often called IECs) provide guidance that can include helping organize and plan everything from high school course choices to the entire college preparation process to helping navigate financial-aid-related needs and choices. With expertise, extensive skills and networking capabilities, a college counselor can break down the process into less intimidating steps and help ease the stress of this process for any given family.
An educational consultant can help choose a school or program and provide highly individualized guidance for students with diverse needs, including international students, individuals with disabilities or learning challenges, specialty school navigation such as boarding schools and graduate or law schools, etc.). In order to make the most effective use of an educational consultant, it is helpful if a student already has some inklings of a future plan. For example, with students who are thinking of navigating into Ivy League territory of higher education, academic consultants may help make the process smoother providing guidance and already having extensive knowledge of what it takes to get into and succeed in this specialized type of institution.
How Should I Choose the Best Independent College Consultant or Advisor?
For parents and students considering the independent college advisor route, it is first very important to consider cost. Guidance counselors at high schools are “free,” however there is the reality that with their caseload being so large that they are unable to give the individualized attention that students require. “Currently, the national student-to-counselor ratio is 482 to 1, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling,” reports CNBC.com.
So essentially the cost of not planning adequately due to a lack of individualized attention could be greater in the long run. Pricing for private college counselors varies greatly, with the average hourly cost of a private college consultant at approximately $200/hour. Cost is generally structured either hourly or arranged as a package deal. Some packages can cost upward of $6,000.
Second, it is important to consider the qualifications of the counselor, including education and professional affiliations. Credentials also include everything from schooling to professional organization affiliation. Some of the professional development organizations that a counselor may belong to include the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), and the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). Many of these organizations require that a counselor participate in a minimum number of professional development hours. Many will attend conferences to increase field knowledge and keep up with growing trends in the industry. Additionally, some top consultants will visit upwards of 30 college campuses a year, which allow them extensive networking opportunities which can be essential in helping a student navigate his or her future.
Third, it is imperative to select a private college consultant who values high ethical standards in his or her practice. For example, promising a student admission into his or her top choice is not ethical. In fact, the primary job of these counselors is to get to know a student and serve as a guide throughout the process to help find the best match between an individual and a school.