12 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an IEC (Plus Our Answers!)

As “Back-to-School” season approaches, your thoughts begin to drift from vacation-planning to college-planning. The weeks seem to speed by faster than normal and, before you know it, your child is visiting campuses, taking standardized tests, and plotting world domination (Okay, maybe not that last one…but you get the point).

Your student’s time is precious and limited…and so is yours. As with many service industries, the field of educational consulting was developed to meet the needs of families seeking expert advice and guidance through one of the most important pieces of an adolescent’s life: the college search.

The increasing complexity of the college admission and financial aid processes has led many families to engage the services of an Independent Educational Consultant or IEC. As an industry on the rise, and one that is often misunderstood, it’s important that families thoroughly vet any IEC with which they are considering working. The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) has put together a comprehensive list of questions that every family should ask an IEC before engaging their services. As an established educational consulting firm, we are happy to not only share this list of questions as a resource for families, but to provide our answers to them, as well!

12 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Independent Educational Consultant (Plus Our Answers!)

1. Do you guarantee admission to a school, one of my top choices, or a certain minimum dollar value in scholarships?
Estrela: Nope. That’s not our style and, quite frankly, shouldn’t be for any IEC. We work with students to find the right-fit schools for them and all admission decisions ultimately lie in the hands of the respective admission offices. Ditto for financial aid.

2. How do you keep up with new trends, academic changes and evolving campus cultures? How often do you get out and visit college, school, and program campuses and meet with admissions representatives?
Estrela: We like to keep up with the Joneses…and all things happening in education. We subscribe to several education-focused e-newsletters and blogs such as The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed. In addition, we stay up-to-date on what schools are doing by following them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram! As for campus visits, we spend approximately 4-6 weeks per year visiting campuses across the United States and Canada (check out our list of visits here)…and we have the pennant collection to prove it.

3. Do you belong to any professional associations?
Estrela: Absolutely! Our Co-Founder, Kristina Dooley, is a Certified Educational Planner (CEP) and Professional Member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA). She also holds membership in the following associations: the Ohio Association for College Admission Counseling (OACAC), the Overseas Association for College Admission Counseling (OACAC), the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA) and the Small Boarding Schools Association (SBSA).

4. Do you attend professional conferences or training workshops on a regular basis to keep up with regional and national trends and changes in the law?
Estrela: You betcha! We not only attend, we also present at conferences around the country each year. Our team frequently takes part in professional webinars…and we’ve been known to lead them, too!

5. Do you ever accept any form of compensation from a school, program, or company in exchange for placement or a referral?
Estrela: Unless you count hugs and high fives as compensation, never. We want to make sure that our students find the right place for them and we don’t want anything to sway our opinion of a school. Fit isn’t universal so while WE may think a school is the cat’s pajamas, our student needs to as well or it’s not making the list.

6. Are all fees involved stated in writing, up front, indicating exactly what services I will receive for those fees?
Estrela: There’s no nickel and diming around here. While we do offer an hourly option, most of our families take advantage of our comprehensive packages which cover all facets of the school-search process. Each family has a signed agreement form which details all services, as well as a list of parent/student responsibilities in the process.

7. Will you complete the application for admission, re-write my essays, or fill out the financial aid forms on my behalf?
Estrela: We’ve already been to college and completed our OWN applications at that time. These are YOUR applications and the schools are evaluating you and your work, not ours. That being said, our role is to help you develop the best materials for submission and to make sure you are completing everything in a correct and timely fashion. While we don’t write your essays for you, we will absolutely help you brainstorm topics/ideas and provide constructive feedback on all of aspects of your application pieces. 

8. How long have you been in business as an independent educational consultant (IEC)?
Estrela: Estrela Consulting will celebrate 7 fabulous years in September 2015! Anyone want to celebrate with us? We’ll bring the cake!

9. What was your background prior to going into independent educational consulting? What was your training and education?
Estrela: While our co-founder, Kristina, would like to say she was royalty in her former life, she was actually the Assistant Director of Admission at Hiram College (OH) and then the Director of Admission and Marketing at Andrews Osborne Academy, a day and boarding school in Ohio.

10. Will you use personal connections to get me in to one of my top choices?
Estrela: It’s true that we know many folks in the world of higher education. Lots of really great and influential people, in fact. However, our role is to help students present themselves to colleges using their own merit…not ours. We fully believe that if a student applies to a school that is the best fit for them, and one at which they are academically qualified to enroll, they’ll receive the fat envelope (or fat email?).

11. What specialized training do you have (LD, gifted, athletics, arts, etc.)?
Estrela: Kristina’s professional work began on the other side of the admission desk in both the college and boarding school settings…we’d say that was pretty good training! We work with students of varying abilities academically and many of our students are talented athletes and musicians. One of our specialty niche areas is working with international and expat students. In fact, Estrela Consulting was started while our co-founders were living abroad in Brazil (did you know “Estrela” is Portuguese for “star”?).

12. Do you adhere to the ethical guidelines for private counseling established by IECA?
Estrela: 100% yes! We actually provide a copy of the IECA Principles of Good Practice to our client families so they can feel confident in our work as ethical IECs (Click here to download your very own copy!).