Choosing a College Consultant: Be Sure to Do Your Homework

college_campus_The field of college consulting has grown rapidly in the past few years, with new consultants popping up in the Houston area each year. From English teachers looking to make a little money on the side, to large national chains, the growing number of consultants makes it increasingly more challenging for parents to identify a qualified consultant who can help students achieve their college admissions goals.

College consultants offer a wide-array of services, from workshops to one-on-one counseling in the areas of college selection, entrance exam preparation, college application and essay support, major and career-field selection, scholarship and financial aid support, and more. Qualified consultants can help with all of these and provide an objective coach who takes the pressure off parents.

So how do you find a qualified college consultant?

Dr. Beth Dennard of Bright Futures Consulting recommends parents start by finding a consultant who can help students understand themselves, their motivation, and their interests. Dennard uses the “Birkman Method,” a 298-question personality assessment that combines motivational, behavioral, and interest evaluation into one assessment. The Birkman allows Dennard to tailor services and even select colleges that will best fit the individual student.

“Successful college admission is not about school names, perceived prestige, or rankings in national publications.  It’s about finding the ‘best fit’ school for each student to thrive, grow, and pursue their interests and passions,” she notes.

Dennard also suggests parents find a consultant who not only has college admissions knowledge, but also the appropriate experience, training, and follows strict ethical guidelines.

“It’s not enough to be a grammar expert who can help students write essays or fill out online applications. A consultant needs to know the latest trends in admissions and should continually update his or her college knowledge by visiting colleges around the country to learn ‘from the horse’s mouth,’ what schools offer students and what they’re looking for in successful applicants.”

Additionally, Dennard recommends finding a consultant who has demonstrated experience and expertise in the field and one who seeks ongoing professional development from organizations such as the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), or the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, (NACAC).  Members of HECA and NACAC must abide by ethical guidelines and principles of good practice.  Dennard has 30 years of experience in the field of college admissions, high school counseling, and as an educational consultant. She holds a doctorate in education, is a licensed professional counselor, and a certified Birkman consultant. She is also a member of HECA, NACAC, and the Texas Association of College Admissions Counselors (TACAC).

Finally, it is important that consultants provide a clear, in-writing explanation of their services and charges. These should be discussed upfront and formalized in a written contract between the family and the consultant.

“Families need to know what they’re getting for their money when they sign up with a consultant. A quality educational consultant’s services are not cheap. However, compared with what most families pay for private tutoring, athletic coaching, or music lessons over the course of a child’s life, it’s a bargain and a tremendous investment in a child’s future.”

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