How to Become a College Planning Consultant

Target Market

Industry Background
The IECA estimates that in the United States, there are only about 2,000 educational consultants, 500 of whom belong to its organization. This is strictly a guess, because not everyone who provides educational consulting services chooses to join a professional membership association like IECA. But using that figure as a benchmark, that works out to about one consultant per 8,000 students (based on a student population of nearly 16 million). What's more, IECA says that some states-including Idaho and Oklahoma-do not yet have even a single educational consultant among their ranks.

Even the federal government doesn't track educational consultants as a specialized group. The closest thing to a classification for this group of professionals can be found in the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-2007 Edition (U.S. Department of Labor). The handbook has a "Counselor" category with a subcategory that includes educational, vocational and school counselors who work primarily in elementary schools, secondary schools, colleges and universities. It's reasonable to assume that the 248,000 individuals in that category are primarily employed by various organizations and schools. The rather vague "Counselors, all other" category, which numbers 25,000 people, is more likely to be where the independent consultants reside-but no one really knows for sure!

What's Inside

What is known is that the Department of Labor says that overall employment for counselors in general is expected to grow faster than average through 2014. So the opportunities for an enterprising consultant like yourself to forge a meaningful career doing something you love appear very bright indeed.

Who Needs You?
You'll find most of your clientele are likely to come from the following demographics:

  • Busy parents who have neither the time nor the energy to do all the legwork necessary to find the right college for their kids
  • Parents who value time more than money and would rather spend what free time they have on personal and/or family pursuits and pay someone to pore over college catalogs or applications for them
  • Parents who want/need their kids to have more personal attention than is usually available from high school counselors. "School counselors are so overworked," Sklarow says. "On average, today's counselors have an average of 600 kids to counsel, or up to 1,000 or more in schools in large cities like Los Angeles. They're often dealing with drugs and alcohol, crisis intervention, and even lunchroom duty, so college counseling usually is a really low priority."
  • Parents who know other people who use educational consultants and feel their kid(s) will be at a disadvantage if they don't use a consultant
  • People who are overwhelmed by or impatient with the application process (so much paperwork, so little time!). This is especially true when it comes to financial aid, which of course must be reapplied for every year.
  • Parents who are anxiety-ridden about getting their kids into the "best" schools. "It used to be simple: If a kid's SAT scores were good, she would go to Penn," says Sklarow. "If the SAT scores were lower, that same kid would go to Temple. Now, almost the entire senior year is given over to college anxiety."
  • People who perceive educational consultants as insiders (which of course you will be once you establish the right contacts) and as a result are in the best position to help them make the wisest collegial decisions

So how can you serve these diverse audiences well? To begin with, you'll need to make the college circuit in person to glean as much insight as possible about local universities, Ivy League schools, Big 10 and other nationally known schools, or all of these, depending on your personal interests and your clients' choices. Because there are more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States and only one you, you may wish to follow the lead of educational consultants who choose to specialize in particular fields or offer specialized services. For instance, there are counselors who focus on Ivy League placements, others who counsel learning disabled (LD) or at-risk kids, and still others who place athletes or performing arts students. Also, you'll need to get some education yourself, both as a business owner and as a student of educational consulting. We'll help you with both in subsequent chapters of this book.

On the Money
You're no doubt wondering whether the financial rewards of being an educational consultant are worth the significant efforts necessary to establish your business, considering all the traveling, fact-finding, student meetings, office administration, and other tasks you'll be doing. The short answer is: Yes, eventually.

"We typically tell new consultants that they are likely to have a net loss in the first year because of the learning, traveling, campus tours and office equipment they'll need," Sklarow says. "They can expect to break even or earn up to $15,000 in the second year, then be making a real salary in the third. The caution is: It all depends upon how effective you are in the marketing and promotion of your business."

Here's the scoop from IECA on how much you can earn once you get that academic ball rolling:

The average rate charged by educational consultants is $140 an hour, with a range of about $75 to $300. Sklarow says about a third of consultants charge by the hour. The average package cost for a college placement (typically starting in 10th or 11th grade through college enrollment) is $3,200, with a range of $750 to $7,500. There are exceptions to this rule, of course-we've heard of one consultant who charges (and gets) $30,000-but the only typical exception to this rule nationally is in New England, where the average is just under $4,000.

So let's do some math. If you have 10 paying customers who choose your $3,200 package, your gross annual income would be $32,000. Or if you counseled 25 kids a year-which is entirely feasible by your third year-you would earn $80,000 a year.

Conversely, if you counsel 10 hours a week at $150 an hour, your annual income for a 45-week year would be $67,500 (the other seven weeks would be set aside for vacation and travel to campuses). So as you can tell, there is some serious money to be made once your business is up and running. The trick is to make it through those lean and hungry early years.

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