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    Student-centric advice and objective recommendations

    Higher education has never been more confusing or expensive. Our goal is to help you navigate the very big decisions related to higher ed with objective information and expert advice. Each piece of content on the site is original, based on extensive research, and reviewed by multiple editors, including a subject matter expert. This ensures that all of our content is up-to-date, useful, accurate, and thorough.

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    What to Look for in a College Consultant

    By Zach Skillings

    Zach Skillings is the Scholarships360 Newsletter Editor. He specializes in college admissions and strives to answer important questions about higher education. When he’s not contributing to Scholarships360, Zach writes about travel, music, film, and culture. His work has been published in Our State Magazine, Ladygunn Magazine, The Nocturnal Times, and The Lexington Dispatch. Zach graduated from Elon University with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts.

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    Reviewed by Bill Jack

    Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: November 1st, 2023
    What to Look for in a College Consultant

    Applying for college can be an overwhelming process, which is why some families choose to hire college consultants. Also known as independent college counselors, these individuals take the confusion and stress out of the college admissions process. If you’re thinking about hiring a consultant, here’s what you need to know. 

    What is a college consultant?  

    College consultants are professionals who can be hired to help students and their families navigate the college admissions process. They’re also referred to as independent or private college counselors. Consultants work with students and parents to reduce anxiety about applying for college, helping them understand and explore their options. Services often include helping students create a list of potential schools, keeping students on track to meet deadlines, and reviewing essays and applications. 

    Do I need a college consultant? 

    Before you begin your search for a consultant, you should ask yourself why you need one in the first place. Many families hire a consultant due to the lack of sufficient counseling at public high schools. According to the American School Counselor Association, the national student to counselor ratio is 408 to 1 – much higher than the recommended ratio of 250 to 1. When counselors have such high caseloads, it’s tough for students to receive the individualized attention they need when applying for college. 

    Some parents, especially those who have never been to college themselves, may feel overwhelmed by the admissions process. College consultants can take the confusion out of the admission process and provide students with critical guidance. If you feel like you need extra help navigating the admissions process, you may want to consider hiring a college consultant. 

    What should I look for in a college consultant? 

    If you’re thinking about hiring a college consultant, ask yourself these 6 key questions: 

    1. What services do they offer?

    First things first, you should be clear on the services your consultant provides. Good college consultants should be upfront about their services, but make sure to ask if they don’t provide this information. Consultants may offer any of the following services: 

    Before hiring anyone, make sure you’re 100% satisfied with the services your consultant provides. 

    2. What is their background in college admissions? 

    Be on the lookout for consultants who have worked in college admission offices or high school counseling services. It’s important to also seek consultants who belong to national college counseling organizations such as IECA or NACAC. Don’t be afraid to ask them about their track record, either. How many of their students were accepted into their dream schools? What do former clients have to say about working with them? You should feel confident that your college consultant is qualified to help you achieve your goals. 

    3. Do they have your best interest in mind? 

    Look for a consultant who’s dedicated to finding the college that’s right for you. Your best-fit college isn’t necessarily the most prestigious school, or the one where your parents or siblings went. Rather, it’s the school that best aligns with your interests, goals, and personality. Your consultant should understand that, and be serious about helping you find (and get accepted) to your dream school. And of course, you should choose a consultant who is ethical and trustworthy. 

    4. How accessible are they? 

    How often will you meet with your consultant? Can you meet with them online instead of in person? Are they accessible (via phone or email) in between meetings for quick questions? Applying for college can be overwhelming, and you want someone in your corner who will provide dedicated service. Knowing your consultant is easily accessible can reduce a lot of potential stress. 

    5. Are they relatable? 

    Don’t overlook the relatability factor when you’re selecting a college consultant. Everything will go a lot smoother if you get along with your consultant and feel comfortable speaking with them. Look for someone who’s friendly, relatable, and easy to build a connection with. Having a consultant like this can make the difference between a smooth college admissions process and a difficult one. 

    6. How affordable are they? 

    We can’t ignore the fact that private college consulting can be expensive for families with limited resources. Hourly rates can reach $200, while comprehensive package fees can cost thousands of dollars. Make sure to compare prices when shopping for a college consultant, but don’t simply opt for the cheapest one. You should definitely consider the other factors we’ve discussed. If you’re worried about affordability, remember that you don’t have to purchase a comprehensive package. Simply paying for an hour or two of consultation can get you and your family started in the right direction. 

    What if I can’t afford a consultant? 

    If you can’t find a reliable consultant within your price range, try to find someone who provides free counseling. Over 90% of IECA members provide some form of pro bono work, while many organizations such as College Possible and Get Schooled provide free counseling services. Also check to see if there’s local nonprofits or charities in your area that offer free college admissions services. 

    How do I find a consultant? 

    Your best bet at finding a qualified consultant is by searching for someone who belongs to a national counseling organization. IECA and NACAC are the top two such organizations. Explore their websites and search for counselors by using the online directories: 

    Again, make sure you’re comfortable with your consultant and the services they provide before making any decisions. 

    Keep on reading

    While college consultants are great, there are many free resources online to help you through the application process. We’ve got resources to help you decide when to apply to college, and how to pick a college. You can also look into how to find a financial safety school, and decide whether to apply early action or early decision. We can also help you interpret your financial aid award letter, and appeal it if need be. And if you’re looking for a test prep tutor, check out our guide to help you find the perfect fit.

    Frequently asked questions about college consultants

    Will I be guaranteed admissions to my dream school if I hire a college consultant?

    No! Hiring a college consultant does not necessarily mean you will be automatically accepted into your dream school. Rather, they can help increase your chances by making your college applications the best they can be!

    What are some red flags I should look for when hiring a college consultant?

    You should be cautious of any college consultants that are promising or guaranteeing admission or unrealistic results. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it may be! Try to verify their credentials and track record to ensure you are making a well-informed decision.  

    When should I hire a college consultant?

    Many students start working with college consultants around their junior or senior year of high school. However, it is not unusual to begin earlier. Ultimately, the timing depends on your specific needs and goals so discuss this with your college consultant to determine the best time to begin.  

    Is hiring a college consultant worth it?

    Ultimately, if a college consultant is worth it or not depends upon you as an individual. Perhaps if you had an unconventional academic background or want to pursue a competitive program it may be helpful to have additional support.

    How much is it to hire a college consultant?

    According to IECA, most consultants charge under $140 an hour with a multi-year package of services.

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