Finding the right boarding school for your child is one of the most important and expensive decisions you will ever make. You might try to research thoroughly on your own, only to find that most websites look alike, and very few give information on the profile of typical accepted students. Families who want guidance often turn to “independent educational consultants” or, IECs.
IECs are professionals who are paid by the family to advise them on the boarding school search and admissions process. Many offer full-service comprehensive packages that span over a year’s time, and others have shorter packages or an hourly rate. A typical consultation starts with a focus on the student’s background and interest in boarding school. This includes a review of his transcript, testing, activities, interests, and academic successes and challenges of the past. An IEC talks with the student and parents about goals for the future and what they hope to get out of the boarding school experience. Consultants might give examples of schools that are nurturing or offer learning support, or those which give extra help to students when they need it, whether they ask for it or not! IECs discuss the pros and cons of the more rigorous schools or might help a family decide whether to repeat a year. Families might hear about how the schools are different from each other, and why a single-sex school might be beneficial, or why a rural, primarily boarding community, will feel different than a suburban school with a mix of day students. IECs know the inside scoop on boarding schools, and they get this through their campus visits, meetings with admissions officers, and by seeing the successes of the students who they place at schools. They help families determine a list of schools to apply to, and this discussion customarily takes many months, but in certain cases can be done within one meeting.
This video outlines some of the expectations you should have when hiring a consultant.
Once the school list is determined, the family and the IEC move on to the admissions process. IECs might prepare a student for an interview, discuss possible essay topics, or simply give a timeline of what needs to be done. In some cases, IECs call schools on a student’s behalf to discuss the appropriateness of a placement, or they might help an international family schedule on-campus interviews. Every IEC works a little bit differently, but it is important to note that no reputable IEC will write an essay for a student, nor will they tell a family that the IEC’s personal connections are crucial in getting a student admitted.
If you are considering working with an educational consultant, it is important to find a professional who has an active boarding school practice. There are some consultants who specialize in therapeutic boarding schools, others who work with traditional schools, and some who do both. The best place to start looking for a consultant is the website of the Independent Educational Consultants Association, IECA is the gold standard for educational consultants, and members have the highest standards in the profession. IECA members are only approved after showing a successful practice with references, contacts in the field, 50 or more boarding school campus visits, and many years of successful placements.
IECA has developed a strict set of ethical guidelines that govern the actions of consultants in their relationships with students and families, schools and colleges, and with colleagues. These include a responsibility to understand each student's special strengths, values, and needs while striving to include all family members in the educational planning process.
Kristin White is an educational consultant in Darien, Connecticut.
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