What to look for in a college consultant

There are many reasons to seek professional guidance from a college consultant. Key ones include:

*Personal attention.

*Confusion over the many college and scholarship options.

*Concern about investing wisely given the high cost.

*A desire to match a student with the right institution.

*A desire to create a dispassionate forum for discussing options.

If you do decide to hire a college consultant, here's a checklist of what to look for in a consultant:

*Membership in the Independent Educational Consultants Association, a professional group that requires: a bachelors degree or higher from an accredited institution; professional references plus evidence of visits to at least 100 colleges or universities; and at least three years of active independent practice or one year of independent practice coupled with three years of recent related experience, such as being a high school director of guidance counselors.

*Key credentials, like accreditation from the American Institute of Certified Educational Planners (CEP).

*Personal references from other parents who have had good success.

Remember, a good consultant will not guarantee getting a child into a particular school or help write a student's essay, says Carol Loewith, president of the Fairfax, Va.-based Independent Educational Consultants Association. But a consultant can give suggestions and tips that will help students write a better application.

Another tip: Get a personal reference. Tad Trombley, a father who hired a consultant for his daughter, says parents and students should ask plenty of questions to make sure that the attitude and approach of the consultant is one they approve of and understand.

"Our consultant was very careful," Mr. Trombley says. "He wanted everything to be accurate on her rsum. You just don't want them to make it better than it should be. My impression is that some of these people feel they are just hired guns - they think their job is just to get you in."

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