An educational consultant is an independent consultant who helps parents/students and organizations with educational planning. They are classed as "educational, vocational, and school counselors."  Educational Consultants, however, are normally self-employed (or are part of consulting firms), while school counselors are employed by a school.
The majority of educational consultants are located in the United States. The two main professional organizations for educational consultants in the United States are the Higher Education Consultants Association and the Independent Educational Consultants Association. The Higher Education Consultants Association is a professional association focused exclusively on the practice of college admissions consulting, while members of the Independent Educational Consultants Association also assist students with consulting specialties that include college admission, day and boarding school, at-risk students, and learning disabilities. Members of both associations work with both American students and students from other countries who are interested in coming to the United States to study. Many educational consultants in the U.S. are also members of other associations, such as the National Association for College Admission Counseling, its regional affiliates, and the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs.
A small number of educational consultants are based in the United Kingdom, Canada, Europe, Asia, and South America. The primary association in the UK is the Society of Education Consultants (SEC). Other UK professional associations or bodies to which educational consultants typically seek membership or affiliation include the Department for Children, Schools and Families, Ofsted (The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills), Learning and Skills Council, Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal and the Gilfus Education Group
Variety of consultants
While some educational consultants are generalists, many specialize in assisting particular kinds of students or particular educational needs. For example some consultants focus exclusively on assisting students with college planning and admissions, some on students seeking a private secondary school, and yet others specialize in students who are learning disabled or have behavioral/emotional difficulties. Other consultants provide advising services for college students seeking admission to graduate school. Other educational consultants work to assist high schools and other organizations with educational program planning. Fees for consulting services vary widely. Some consultants charge an hourly fee, while others offer an "all inclusive" package that may include unlimited hours of service. Some consultants offer a sliding scale based on family income, or offer pro bono services to low income students.
Families considering hiring an educational consultant should carefully assess the qualifications and experience of individual consultants. Membership in one or more of the professional organizations described above may also indicate a consultant's dedication to professionalism, since these organizations have specific requirements for the education and experience of their members. In particular, these professional associations prohibit their members from accepting compensation from educational institutions for student referrals. However, in addition to looking at a consultant's experience and professional affiliations, families should also ask for references from past clients. Consultants should be clear about their fees, counseling process, educational philosophy, and expectations at the beginning of the relationship.
The field of educational consulting has grown considerably in the past decade. Those considering launching an educational consulting practice should begin by assessing their personal qualifications and experiences. Most successful consultants enjoy working with young people and their parents, and get satisfaction from helping students reach their goals. Although a few educational consultants have received media attention for charging large fees, prospective consultants should understand that very few consultants get rich from educational consulting, so the desire to earn a high income should be a secondary consideration. Since competition in the field is growing, prospective consultants should also conduct market research to determine the feasibility of launching a practice in their geographic area. Consultants should plan on being committed to continued professional development, such as attending conferences and regular school visits. Several of the organizations mentioned above hold annual conferences and offer training for those who are new to the field of educational consulting. Additionally, there are a number of universities and colleges that offer programs where consultants can further their education and knowledge.
In the United States, educational consultants are not bound by any particular statutory rules for practitioners. However, many of the professional organizations listed above have established standards for professional and ethical behavior for educational consultants by which their members pledge to abide.
Some education agents catering to students applying to foreign universities are known to engage in ethically dubious practices, such as writing essays for applicants.
- Parent and Student Advice, Independent Educational Consultants Association website
- Advice for families on choosing a professional college admissions consultant, Higher Education Consultants Association
- Complexity and Competition Drive Demand for Consultants, Education Week, June 2010
- I Can Get Your Kid Into an Ivy, Business Week, October 2007
- Private Counselors, Policing Themselves, Inside Higher Ed, June 2010