One Bad Apple, or, How to Choose an Independent College Counselor

News broke today of a wide-ranging scandal in college admissions. Famous people were involved. There was cheating on the SAT and ACT. There were doctored photographs of students who falsely claimed to be college athletes. There were bribes. There were arrests. At the center of it all, there was a rotten apple: an independent college counselor who promised admission to some of the country’s most selective colleges–for a price–and plenty of parents who were willing to pay it.

But was anything new?

Unfortunately, no. People have always tried to game the college admissions game. After today’s news blows over, people will probably come up with other schemes. So what does this mean for the regular family just hoping to find a good match between student and college? And how does an independent college counselor fit into the mix?

It’s unquestionable that admission to the most selective schools is extremely competitive. Colleges that admit less than 10% of applicants drive the “crazy” that we often connect to the college application process. Valedictorians and students with a 36 on the ACT are routinely turned away at these schools, much to the confusion and disappointment of students and families. Turning to the promises of an independent counselor can seem pretty tempting. But we need to remember that there are 4,000 colleges in the United States, most of them accepting over 70% of applicants. Working with an independent college counselor who can find the best for your student is the goal of an ethical professional.

When you are deciding if an independent counselor is best for your student, ask if he or she belongs to a professional organization like IECA (Independent Educational Consultants Association). Although independent college counselors don’t yet have a national exam or certification process, being accepted into IECA or other organizations like HECA (Higher Educational Consultants Association) function kind of like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. IECA members value honesty and transparency. They adhere to a code of ethics that prohibits behavior like the one we saw in the news today. And above all, they put the needs of the student first. They help students make the best match with a college based on the student’s genuine interests, goals, and achievements.

At the end of the college admissions process, students who work with IECA members will feel good about themselves and their college decision because they will feel ownership over the process. Whether they get into their dream school or they become excited about another choice, those students will know that they made it on their own merits and efforts. The sad thing about the news today is that the families and counselors took that feeling away from their students.

For more information about IECA and its ethics policy:




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