Let's begin with an easier question about college planning - what exactly is an Independent Educational Consultant? Well, to put it in simple terms, it's an extension of your school guidance counselor and a college admissions counselor who works with you 1:1 to complete all things related to college admissions.
How do I find a GOOD Independent Educational Consultant (IEC)?
It is important you vet the person you are looking to hire. Here is a short list of questions you can reference when attempting to find a "good" college planner:
Are they a member of HECA or IECA (either of which are oversight organizations that encourage professional training and can investigate complaints made against independent consultants)?
What conferences did they recently attend? NACAC? HECA? IECA?
Do they have reviews or testimonials?
Do they have a website?
Have they visited college programs or Universities recently?
What else do I need to consider when hiring a college planner?
While sometimes you think you may be saving money by finding a planner who seems more budget friendly, often times these planners cut corners one way or another. Just like buying a car, you get what you pay for. Do you want to pay a bit more and have an overall better return for resale or do you want to get a car to get you from point A to point B and you'll make repairs and additional investments along the way until it's no longer drivable and you have to repeat the process again? However, the difference between buying a car and investing in a college planner is that it can greatly impact your student's future.
For example, a colleague of mine based in Colorado recently shared the story about how a family hired her last year in 2022-2023 for 2 hours to assist with essay editing. The student was very bright with the highest grades possible and the parents didn't believe it was worth the investment since the "grades and all of the accomplishments could speak for themselves." It turned out the student's essay topic they chose to wrote about was not very good - but the family just wanted it edited. Well the student had all top programs they were applying to and submitted the essay they spent an hour editing together in addition to the rest of their academic portfolio. Fast forward to this spring and turns out the student was rejected from her top 5 programs and ended up having to commit to taking the only "safe school" option on her list. The family was absolutely distraught and the student's individual confidence had plummeted. They called on my colleague and were willing to pay anything to see if they could go back and do something - but as my colleague explained, it was too late.
The moral of the story is that students can not comprehend that programs are highly competitive and that other students often have assistance with the process to ensure they have the best possible chances. If you have 68,000 applicants and a program accepts only 4,000 students, they are looking for the absolute best. If each student that applies to this program has the same grades, same GPA, same SAT scores, same amount of volunteer roles, same leadership qualities, how will schools choose to differentiate between them? It's not as simple as getting good grades and simply filling out the corresponding information anymore. Part of this is because programs are not able to create a number of new spots for each incoming class and the other is that more international students with the ability to pay and the extensive academic backgrounds are coming to the US to study. If international students come from intensive programs where they learn how to do research and can speak 5 languages and have a published, peer-reviewed article, how will your student stack up?