Do you need a college advisor?

Man and teenage boy in friendly tutorial in home setting.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? More and more families are now enlisting the help of a college advisor.

What is a college advisor?

A college advisor — sometimes called an education planner, educational consultant, or college admissions counselor — is an independent consultant hired by families with college-bound students to help navigate the admissions and applications process. The ultimate goal is to increase their ability to find a school that will be a good fit for him or her.

What does a college advisor do?

The college advisor begins by meeting with the student and pinpointing things that are most important to your student in their dream school. At the same time, the advisor identifies schools where the student has an increased likelihood of getting accepted and — most importantly — being happy.

That “perfect fit” aspect is where college advisors really add value, says Mark Sklarow, CEO of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA). “What makes independent educational consultants unique is that they’re on the road 25% of the time. They have visited an average of 300 campuses, usually going to at least 20 per year.”

Sklarow says advisors meet with the admissions staff and department heads, and gain a sense of social life by observing the campus. He notes that while students can browse school websites to see if their stats are a good fit or to get an idea of what the campus looks like, the advisor can offer insights from firsthand observations.

How does the process work?

Sklarow says ideally a consultant starts working with a student in 10th grade. This provides time to identify a list of possible school matches and conduct on-campus visits before narrowing down the final choices. On average, a consultant meets with the student and/or family for at least 20 hours in total.

And while 90% of consultants will meet with a student at least once in person, only 25% are meeting face-to-face every time, according to IECA research. Much of the process takes place via videoconferencing.

How much does a college advisor cost?

Sklarow says 90% of IECA consultants offer a comprehensive package that covers up to three years. Although it can vary widely by location, the average package cost nationally is just over $4,000. More than two-thirds of consultants also offer an hourly rate, which is just under $200 an hour on a national average but can vary regionally.

Is it worth the price?

The decision of whether to hire a college advisor is a personal and financial one, and the answer will depend on your specific situation. Sklarow says consultants can bring valuable insights that help students determine which schools can be a good fit based on their own familiarity with those schools. They also have a national network of connections. And while guidance counselors can also offer these things, they aren’t solely focused on college guidance.

Be a smart shopper

Anyone can call themselves a college advisor, so it’s important to do your research.

Ask parents you know for recommendations and validate the advisor’s credentials and experience. Watch out for red flags, such as overly aggressive sales tactics, promises that sound too good to be true, and consultants who earn commission from referrals or by selling other products and services. The IECA has a list of 12 questions you should ask when evaluating a college advisor.

Are there more affordable alternatives?

If your family decides not to hire a college advisor, there are some budget-friendly tactics you can employ to help with the college search and application process.

  • Use College Board’s online college search tool to look for schools that would be a good fit based on criteria like your student’s test scores, intended majors, or the type of campus environment he or she is seeking.
  • Pay a visit yourself to the universities your student is considering and ask specific questions about admission requirements.
  • Follow the social media accounts of college advisors and experts, as they often share helpful resources.
  • Encourage your student to set up meetings with his or her school guidance counselor. Guidance counselors have a depth of knowledge about getting into college and can often answer many of your family’s questions.
  • Go to college fairs. College fairs are a gathering of college representatives who are looking for students for their institutions.•
  • Search for college prep webinars that have helpful information you’d want to glean from a college advisor. IvyWise is a good place to start, along with the College Board.

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