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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Silbernagel

Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Independent Educational Consultant

Updated: Jan 14, 2021

Pen and paper to ask important questions

The college admissions process is complicated -- now more than ever. The increasing complexity and frequent

changes to the admissions landscape have led some families to seek the guidance of an Independent Educational Consultant or an IEC.

Seeking support is understandable, as the college choice is likely the first major decision that a teen will make and the financial investment required magnifies the importance of attending a college where they will thrive and succeed. When considering engaging the services of an IEC, be sure to thoroughly vet those you are considering working with. The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) has assembled a comprehensive list of questions they suggest families ask before hiring and IEC.

As a member of the IECA, I am happy to provide this list of questions as well as answer them. I’m also happy to answer in person. Feel free to contact me at any time.

12 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Independent Educational Consultant

1. Do you guarantee admission to a school, one of my top choices, or a certain minimum dollar value in scholarships?

Michelle@Touchstone: No, and I’d carefully consider any IEC who claims to do so. But I can promise to guide students and families through the admissions process providing information, resources, and objectivity that will maximize a successful outcome. I work with students to create a balanced list of schools that meet their college priorities -- where they will thrive and succeed. Students have control of where they apply and ultimately where they enroll. But, the admissions and scholarship decisions are in the hands of the colleges’ admission and financial aid officers.

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?

Michelle@Touchstone: I love to immerse myself in all things happening in higher ed. I subscribe to several higher ed newsletters and blogs, such as Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. I stay up to date with the colleges by closely monitoring them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, viewing their webinars, and subscribing to their counselor newsletters. Whenever possible, I visit the campuses themselves. The personal connection is important, as well. I regularly meet with admissions reps when they are in town and frequently pick up the phone to get offline, personal insight.

3. Do you belong to any professional associations?

Michelle@Touchstone: Yes, I’m a member of the IECA, PNACAC, and SACAC to name a few. Being a member of these associations provides me with access to a breadth and depth of experience and knowledge via my colleagues all over the country.

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?

Michelle@Touchstone: Absolutely! And so many are virtual these days, so the wealth of obtainable information has just been fantastic lately.

5. Do you ever accept any form of compensation from a school, program, or company in exchange for placement or a referral?

Michelle@Touchstone: Absolutely not.

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

Michelle@Touchstone: Yes, every family receives a free initial consult to determine needs and expectations -- whether hourly or package, comprehensive or a la carte. Each family has a signed agreement form that details all services, as well as a list of parent/student responsibilities in the process.

7. Will you complete the application for admission, re-write my essays, or fill out the financial aid forms on my behalf?

Michelle@Touchstone: I’m happy to guide students so they can develop the best materials for submission, to help keep them on track in terms of completing the application requirements in a timely manner, and to support them through the essay writing process of developing topics/ideas, providing constructive feedback on the essays as well all elements of the application pieces. But college applications belong to the student, it’s their place to shine, not mine.

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

Michelle@Touchstone: While I’ve been providing informal college application and essay advising for a few seasons, Touchstone College Advising is a new “business” endeavor. The nameTouchstone was inspired by my beloved, late father -- my personal rock and touchstone. Providing Touchstone guidance to students and families through college admissions is both a mission and a privilege.

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

Michelle@Touchstone: I’ve worked in research, marketing, writing, and editing, as well as in higher education as a Director of Research and Strategic Planning before becoming a college advisor. I also completed the postbaccalaureate Independent Educational Consultant Certificate Program at the University of California, Irvine. Check out my bio and read all about my geeky love for information and college knowledge.

10. Will you use personal connections to get me into one of my top choices?

Michelle@Touchstone: While I will happily pick up the phone or meet with members of higher education to learn nuanced information that pertains to individual student circumstances, my role is to help students present themselves to colleges using their own merit. I strongly believe that if a student applies to a list of colleges that are the best “fit” for them, academically and culturally, they will receive a positive outcome.

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

Michelle@Touchstone: I work with students of varying interests and academic abilities including athletes. My goal is to provide personalized guidance to meet the needs of each individual student and I participate in ongoing professional development to stay abreast of the skills and knowledge needed to meet those needs.

12. Do you adhere to the ethical guidelines for private counseling established by IECA?

Michelle@Touchstone: Unequivabley, yes! I actually provide a copy of the IECA Principles of Good Practice to my client families so they can feel confident in my work as ethical IECs (Click here to download a copy right now).


Please reach out if you have any more questions about what an Independent Educational Consultant can do to ease the college admissions process for your family.


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