What are independent college counselors?

Independent college counselors also known as independent educational consultants (IEC), are individuals other than high school guidance counselors who provide college counseling to students and families. They are hired to provide these services independent of the high school.

A common depiction of independent counselors in the media are high-priced consultants who “package” students for admission to prestigious institutions. Such individuals do exist.

However, most independent counselors provide a much more modest range of services at a corresponding price. Professional college counselors educate the student and family about and guide them through the college admissions process.

A good counselor will not guarantee admittance into a specific college but work with students to identify the most appropriate colleges and how to best present themselves in the application process. This can include testing strategies, help with essays, time management, and researching appropriate schools.

There are several independent counselors professional organizations that set standards for their members. Reviewing their membership and ethical standards will give you an overview of their general services.

When looking for an independent counselor, keep in mind that these organizations have virtually no specific requirements for knowledge of the financial aid process. While some organizations are starting to provide to more resources in this area, do not expect to receive expert financial advice from an independent college counselor.

I think that this description of what an independent counselor does is very telling in that it never mentions “financial fit” or the financial aid process. You can see another example of how financial aid isn’t necessarily a primary focus here. This post, written by and Independent Education Consultant, lists questions to ask when hiring one. She includes “Have you placed students in top-tier schools” If so, which ones?” but never anything related to financial aid strategies. Taken together, I think it probably gives you a good idea of the type of clients she works with.

You can find counselors who are very knowledgeable and experienced with the financial aid process but it is not something you can assume to be true about all counselors. When hiring a counselor, be sure that they consider the financial aspects of the best college “fit” as well as the social and academic ones. You can read about one person’s experience with a college counselor here.

Places to find an independent counselor:

American Institute of Certified Educational Planners

Higher Education Consultants Association

Independent Educational Consultants Association Provides a list of 12 questions to ask when hiring a counselor. Also has a road map to help consultants assist families in determining if a college is affordable.

National Association for College Admission Counseling  You can download a limited two-page PDF of Breaking Down the college Admission Process.

National College Advocacy Group Provides a College Domino Track that actually includes a step for determining your EFC although I would move it up in the list.

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