What’s the difference between college consultants and counselors?

By Maxine Seya

What’s the difference between a college consultant and a college counselor?

– Wendy, a parent from Georgia

SocratesPost what's the difference between a college consultant and a college counselor?

While these two job titles are sometimes used interchangeably, there is a difference.

All about College Consultants

A college consultant is sometimes known as an admissions consultant, an independent educational consultant (IEC), or college coach. They typically work in private firms hired by parents who want to buy strategies for their kids to get into selective colleges. Within these organizations, however, they are oftentimes referred to as counselors.

I used to work as a college consultant. Throughout the interview process, I recall interviewing for the “counselor” role, responsible for handling caseloads of students who need everything done from college lists, to college essay brainstorming, to test prep, to interview coaching. But as I got hired and settled in my new job, the firm’s owner said we were going to rename our titles to “admissions consultants,” so as to sound “more prestigious,” just like the colleges our clients aimed for.

There is no specific college major, certificate, or license needed to get hired. Usually, employers ask for just a degree from a Top 20 school — the higher ranked, the better. Clients in our region focused more on where the consultant went to school than their experience.

IECs vs College Consultants

IECs jobs are similar. Compared to pure college consultants, they may help more with younger students, students with disabilities, or other academic concerns unrelated to college. But the money is generally in the college consulting. The biggest difference between IECs and college consultants is that IECs operate more like freelancers or one-man bands whereas college consultants may work in firms. A popular career path looks like this: A stay-at-home mom helps her 3 kids get into Ivy Leagues. Her peers come to her for advice. She decides why not start a business and make some money off of it. Former college admissions officers and high school counselors also like to become IECs.

More and more universities are catching on to the billion-dollar and rapidly growing college consulting industry — basically unheard of 20 years ago. Schools like UC Berkeley, UCI and UCLA are now selling online courses and certificates at $5k-$6k to launch IEC careers.

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Maxine Seya
Maxine Seya is a former investigative journalist, college consultant, and admissions interviewer. She studied at Peking University (Beijing, China) and Université Paul-Valéry (Montpellier, France) and investigated for CNN and Huffington Post before graduating from Northwestern University. She founded SocratesPost to share the human stories behind the admission gates and offer parents clarity as they help their teens with college.