Considering a Private School?

Considering a Private School?

Educational consultants can help families navigate application process.

For families considering an independent school for the 2017-2018 school year, the admissions process begins this fall. From essays and interviews to school visits and standardized tests, the process for getting into kindergarten may feel nearly as daunting as applying to college.

Narrowing down the vast field of potential schools to find the best fit, completing the application and securing a slot at one of the area’s top private schools are all challenging tasks. That’s why many families rely on an educational consultant to help them understand and navigate through the entire process.

"Schools have as varied personalities as students do,” said Mark H. Sklarow, CEO of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) in Fairfax. “Level of competitiveness, exploration versus memorization, independence versus group work, philosophies of learning, uses of technology, requirements in sports and the arts … the list goes on.”

When choosing a consultant, avoid those who guarantee that they can obtain admission to a particular school or secure a specific dollar amount in scholarship funding, advises Sklarow. Additionally, educational consultants should not complete admission application forms or write or re-write student essays.

An educational consultant’s role is to guide students and parents through the admissions process. Consultants usually begin by meeting with families and getting to know the child's educational needs, identify strengths and weaknesses, and consider their interests and dislikes. Ideally, consultants combine the information they glean from their conversations with the family with their knowledge of area schools to help families decide on schools that are a good fit.

"Consultants can help families select a school that is the right fit. “Parents need to be realistic about their child’s strengths and weaknesses and learning style,” said Mimi Mulligan, assistant head and director of Admission and Enrollment Management for Norwood School. “All independent schools offer fine academic programs, but we each have a unique school culture.”

Consultants aim to give students and families unbiased advice and recommendations based on their professional judgment of a student's needs and abilities. Consultants who are IECA members, for example, have “visited hundreds of campuses to understand the culture beyond the numbers to ensure such a successful pairing,” said Sklarow.

Sklarow advises families to begin working with an independent educational consultant during the academic year before the year they plan to apply to an independent school.

What To Ask

Questions to ask before hiring an independent education consultant:

  1. Do you guarantee admission to a school, one of my top choices, or a certain minimum dollar value in scholarships? (Do not trust any offer of guarantees.)

  2. How do you keep up with new trends, academic changes and evolving campus cultures? How often do you get out and visit college, school, and program campuses and meet with admissions representatives? (The only way to know about the best matches for you is to be out visiting schools regularly — a minimum of 20 campuses per year.)

  3. Do you belong to any professional associations? (NACAC and IECA are the two associations for independent educational consultants with established and rigorous standards for membership.)

  4. Do you attend professional conferences or training workshops on a regular basis to keep up with regional and national trends and changes in the law?

  5. Do you ever accept any form of compensation from a school, program, or company in exchange for placement or a referral? (They absolutely should not.)

  6. Are all fees involved stated in writing, up front, indicating exactly what services I will receive for those fees?

  7. Will you complete the application for admission, re-write my essays, or fill out the financial aid forms on my behalf? (No, they should not; it is essential that the student be in charge of the process and all materials should be a product of the student’s own, best work.)

  8. How long have you been in business as an independent educational consultant (IEC)?

  9. What was your background prior to going into independent educational consulting? What was your training and education?

  10. Will you use personal connections to get me in to one of my top choices? (The answer should be no. An IEC doesn’t get you admitted — they help you to demonstrate why you deserve to be admitted.)

  11. What specialized training do you have (LD, gifted, athletics, arts, etc.)?

Courtesy of IECA