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Admissions 105: When To Seek a Pro

When it comes to college admissions, it’s smart to make informed decisions. After all, your choice of a school can have a lasting impact on your future, providing the educational foundation for your career and the social/ emotional growth that can steer your life.

Moreover, when you factor in the current economic climate and the high financial obligation in higher education, careful college decision-making is imperative. According to a U.S. Department of Education study, as many as 60 percent of American college students attend more than one school before they graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Often, when transferring to another college, credits are lost and certain courses must be repeated at the new institution, which can result in additional costs.

Making the “right” college decision is not easy, however. With so many options, ever-changing admissions standards, and considerable pressure to succeed, selecting the school(s) that best suit your personality, values, learning style, and interests can be a complicated, daunting, and sometimes frustrating task. Finding a school requires research, recognition of the possibilities, and the ability to evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of each choice. The effort takes time, thought, organization, and most of all, perspective: beyond name or prestige, coming to understand what is really important for each student, and setting realistic expectations.

Some families find it helpful to seek guidance from a private educational consultant, an unbiased professional who spends a large amount of time visiting campuses across the country and can help a student to focus on appropriate options, including school choices that might otherwise be overlooked. For instance, I’ve guided students who performed very well in high school but received disappointing SAT scores to schools that are SAT-optional. Other students may be enthusiastic about their social action projects through temple youth group and need help finding schools where their unique leadership skills will be appreciated and rewarded. Many students need to find the best financial opportunities that meet their personal circumstances.

Once you’ve selected good school matches, an educational consultant can also work with you to prepare applications that give college admissions officers a clear understanding of your academic interests, activities and involvements, values and goals.

If you’re unsure about college options and wish to consider professional consultation, here are three important guidelines:

1. Choose an Experienced Consultant: Seek out an educational consultant who is a member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association ( or is affiliated with the American Institute of Certified Educational Planners ( IECA members must meet the profession’s highest standards—a master’s degree or comparable training, a minimum of three years’ experience, and at least fifty campus visits—and must sign and adhere to IECA’s “Principles of Good Practice,” a document outlining ethical guidelines. AICEP-certified counselors must possess a master’s degree, demonstrate experience working in college admissions, and pass a written certification exam. Membership in either organization is an indication that the independent consultant possesses applicable knowledge and expertise; fees will vary by geographic location and by the consultant’s years in the field.

2. Seek a Student-Centered Relationship: When speaking with an educational consultant, cultivate a relationship that puts your needs as a student first: the goal of the process is to find schools that are the best matches for you.

3. Beware of Pie-in-the-Sky Promises: Be cautious of consultants who promise you admission to your favorite school, or a sure way to present your application. Rather, look for a consultant who encourages you to be honest, creative, and independent. Finding and getting into the right school is a team effort, and an educational consultant can be an integral member of your team.

—Judith Berg, educational consultant; certified educational planner; past president of Temple Beth Miriam, Elberon, New Jersey; North American board member of the Union for Reform Judaism


Union for Reform Judaism.