Hiring an IEC to help navigate the college admission process is a growing trend, especially among high achievers, according to Lipman Hearne. The marketing and communications firm recently conducted a nationwide survey of 1,264 students who scored in the 70th percentile or higher on the SAT (at least 1150 out of 1600) or ACT (a composite of at least 25). Of these students, 26 percent admit to hiring an IEC to help them in their college search. This equates to about 160,000 college applicants.
The reason? Fear.
High school students and their parents have become so panicked with the mystique surrounding today's college admissions process that they are clamoring to find help to better their odds in the college admissions game.
That, along with the lack of quality admission counseling in the high schools, has been a boon for independent education consultants. The profession is exploding nationwide, to the tune of $400 million a year, according to the IECA in its latest report. It has grown from about 1,500 in 2008 to more than 8,000 professionals, IECA said. This figure does not include the extra 10,000 to 15,000 who "dabble" in it to earn extra income.
According to the IECA, on average, a complete package from initial consultation in junior year to submitting the application in senior year will run $4,035, up from $3,590 in 2009; for students with special needs, the cost goes up to $4,750. Most consultants also offer hourly rates of about $150 an hour for students who simply want some general direction on, say, their essay or their choice of schools.
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"[IECs] exist and seem to multiply in numbers because the market is clearly willing to pay for it," said Bruce Poch, former vice president and dean of admission at Pomona College. "Remember, this is the generation of parents who want to be their child's friends, and Facebook friends, not just parents. ... They are willing to pay, sometimes a lot, to have someone nag for them."
He added: "For some, the expense suggests quality. Katherine Cohen at IvyWise and Michele Hernandez consulting built their empires on that notion."