• Alison Merzel

Hiring an IEC doesn't alert the FBI

Updated: Dec 17, 2019

Just as I was preparing to launch my own independent education consulting practice, the news of the Varsity Blues Admissions scandal had broke, casting a dark shadow over the business of college admissions. In the media, and therefore in the public perception, the term admissions consultant became synonymous with corruption, greed, power, privilege, inequality, and fraud. Rick Singer is not representative of the qualified, credible, moral, ethical, and well-intentioned group of educational professionals with whom I associate.


The field of independent education consultants (IECs) continues to grow rapidly. Two professional associations exist for independent educational consultants - the Higher Education Consultants Association (CA) and the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA). IECA identifies independent educational consultants as skilled professionals who provides counseling to help students and families choose a school, college, or other program that is a good personal match: one that will foster the student’s academic and social growth.


In order to be accepted into membership of the IECA, I had to submit an application with academic transcripts, a resume, a letter of recommendation, and evidence that I was establishing or established in an independent educational consulting practice. I also had to pledge to adhere to the Principles of Good Practice, the IECA code of ethics. Not all independent educational consultants choose to apply for membership to a professional association - you can guarantee that those who do have been appropriately vetted.


What is the explanation for this growth and the need for families to hire outside consultants? There are many reasons, including:

  • increase in the percentage of high school students going to college

  • increase in the number of students considering out-of-state options

  • rising tuition costs causing families to seek help identifying the best schools for their financial situation and exploring financial aid opportunities

  • increase in the number of dual-income parents who have less time to oversee the college planning process themselves

  • increased competition for college admission, resulting in a desire for expert advice and judgment

  • need to minimize stress between parents and student

  • need for assistance finding programs/schools to accommodate learning disabilities, mental health challenges, specific athletics or other interests, religious or political preferences, gender fluidity, etc.

  • evidence that working with a consultant yields a positive outcome


According to the U.S. Department of Education, public high school students receive an average of 38 minutes of personal advising for college admissions over 4 years. IECs spend an average of 18 hours with each client.


Most high school college counselors just do not have the time to offer the kind of individual consultation that each high school student deserves. My goal is to supplement the support students receive in high school to increase the likelihood that they will enroll in a college or university that is the right fit for them academically, personally, socially, and financially. Around 25% of students who start a four-year institution transfer at some point and about 30% of first-year students drop out after their first year. I hope to help families mitigate the financial and emotional costs of making the wrong decision by investing the appropriate amount of time and research in finding the right school upfront.


While I am optimistic that the publicity of the admissions scandal will result in more transparency during the college admissions process and at least temporary stagnation of side-door deals to guarantee admission, I am not naive about the way the world works. Colleges and universities are under immense pressure to meet enrollment and revenue goals. Not every admissions decision is fair and there will never be full transparency into the decision-making process. Working with a qualified IEC can help you navigate the complicated college admissions process and make thoughtful, well-researched decisions about your student's educational future...without making front page news.


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