Education consultants are everywhere on the Internet these days. Remote meetings have made it easier to set up a practice, but the profession has become a lot more competitive. The admissions process has become more complicated in recent years and more competitive at the highest levels. So there’s more demand for and also more supply of education consultants.

Guilds exist to protect their members from too much competition. I have considered, from time to time, being a golf professional. Not someone who plays professionally, but someone who sells slacks and gives an occasional lesson to a beginning golfer. But the PGA of America has strict and extensive requirements. 

I did become a public school teacher years ago. I worked through the labyrinth of credential rules laid out by my state’s licensing board. I’ve sometimes pondered the fact that Michael Jordan could not teach physical education in my state. Yo-Yo Ma could not teach music. And I know many substandard teachers who are fully licensed.

What Does IECA Certified Mean?

This brings me to the subject of private education consultants. It’s an unregulated industry. But there’s a certification process promoted by the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA). Its professional designation involves having a master’s degree, at least three years of experience, a minimum of 35 students advised, 50 college visits, and three letters of reference. 

As arduous as the process is, the organization has over 2100 members. It’s more of a multi-million dollar cash cow than a gatekeeper. It charges $600 in annual dues so you can display their logo on your website and $350 for the semi-annual conferences described by one education consultant blogger as “waste of time conferences where they serve stale danishes.” The conferences offer overrated “networking” opportunities that mean little to the clients the consultants serve.

Does the logo on the website or having one’s name in the searchable database guarantee quality? Not really. It’s doubtful that there are 2100 education consultants that really know what they’re doing. And it’s quite likely that a few of the remaining 5000 or so do. College visits, by the way, are a way for consultants to write off vacations.

Who Are the Education Consultants?

Private college admissions counselors run the gamut from former college admissions officers to Ivy League alum seeking to cash in on their elite status to moms who got their kid into a good school and decide they’re qualified to hang out a shingle. Recently, there’s been a surge in current college students providing college admissions guidance, although often it’s in the form of an essay editing or an SAT tutoring gig. 

Boutique agencies are not necessarily better than run-of-the-mill agencies. They just charge a lot more.  What makes some agencies different, like this one, is that we’re not a 9-to-5 agency. We’re available at all times of day and night, weekends and holidays. We know that parents have jobs and students have school, work, and activities. We’re grateful for our clients and won’t act like we’re doing you a favor accepting your business.

My Beef

A special beef I have with the IECA is that I couldn’t offer any sort of guarantee if I were a member. Of course, I don’t guarantee admission to any particular college. But I do refund money to people who don’t feel a service is working out or the information isn’t helpful. And I advertise that. I have other disagreements too.

IECA members are not allowed to criticize colleges and universities. I criticize them all the time. Most of the “need-blind” institutions aren’t really. And I call them out for it. I call them out for legacy admits. I call them out for disingenuous “tuition freezes” that only benefit the wealthy. The argument is that it will hurt my clients’ chances of being admitted. But my clients’ identities are confidential.

I’m not a member of IECA. There’s nothing about me or my practice that is boutique. I don’t even like to call myself a consultant. I prefer the term college application coach. They say you get what you pay for. Well, not always.