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Complexity and Competition Drive Demand for Consultants

Too time-strapped and daunted by the college search process to go it alone? Tired of nagging your child to decide on campus visits or study for the SAT? Looking to take some of the stress off the high school years?

Enter the college consultant. For a package fee or by the hour, families can get advice for choosing the right high school courses, coming up with a list of potential colleges, preparing application packets, and navigating through financial aid.

With the cost of college and competition going up, as well as the complexity of the process, the demand for consultants has taken off in the past decade, says Scott Hamilton, a consultant in Sacramento, Calif., and communications/PR chair of the Higher Education Consultants Association.

The association, which has 500 members, will hold its annual conference next week in Minnesota. In an effort to advance the professionalism of consultants, the association adopted a statement of standards and ethics in November. Among other things, it makes clear that consultants should not lobby a campus on behalf of their client or step over the line in helping students craft essays.

Hiring outside help is a big decision—and it's not cheap. The national average for the package of services is about $3,000, says Hamilton. You can also hire by the hour for specific help, such as preparing a list of potential colleges. But, Hamilton says, it's an investment in helping find the right match for your teenager. "People have to make decisions with more thought than in the past, with the cost of school and the economy," he says.

So, you ask, shouldn't your high school counselor handle this stuff? In many areas, counselors have enormous workloads and consultants provide customized service and are available in the summer, nights, and weekends, says Hamilton. Consultants are also plugged into the current college scene, visiting campuses often, and can be an effective third party in relaying information to students, he says.

I have one friend who swears it was the best money her family ever spent, and their consultant introduced them to colleges they never would have found. Others prefer to research on their own and use books and online resources to sort it all out.

If you are interested in finding out more about the consultant option, the HECA website has a directory of consultants. Or, take advantage of the association's free insight about researching colleges and writing essays at this link for parents and students.

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