The Real Reason Why You Should Hire an Independent Educational Consultant. | Chicago North Shore Moms

Words by Rachel Zimmerman, Independent Education Consultant
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Local Glencoe mama Rachel Zimmerman, owner of The College Shop, gives the real deal about hiring an Independent Educational Consultant for your high schooler.

When I tell people that I’m an Independent Educational Consultant I’m typically met with two responses: a polite nod and smile that lets me know they have no idea what that means or a response that includes something about how I can get their kid into USC a la the Varsity Blues Scandal. If one of these might have been your response as well, don’t worry, you’re in good company. The business of Independent Educational Consulting, although well established for over 40 years, is only recently becoming a mainstream staple for students for many reasons, one of which is that IECs are doing a much better job of explaining just what it is we do—which I hope is what I’ll be able to do here for you today.

Independent Educational Consultants (or IECs) is a broad term for a person that privately supports students’ educational journeys. Today I’ll focus on the particular pathway I support, college admissions advising, but if you’re interested in learning more about consultants who work with students in one of the many other pathways, I highly recommend you check out for more information on find the best IEC to support you and your student’s needs.



Let’s start first with what Independent Educational Consultants DON’T do. IECs do NOT:
  • Get anyone into college: No IEC should ever promise admissions to an institution. Not only is this unethical, it’s also illegal. (See: Aunt Becky! And PS. their “consultant” was not formally trained or part of one of the two established associations, IECA or HECA.)
  • Do the work for you or your student: We won’t fill out forms, submit applications, or write essays. Consultant does not mean concierge. Applying to college is a lot of work and your student should be prepared to do the work.
  • Replace your student’s School Counselor: When you hire a tutor for your student for, say, a tough math class, they’ll get extra support from the tutor but it doesn’t mean they can stop listening in class. The same is true when working with an IEC who will work in tandem with the great college readiness work being done with their school counselor.
So, what can you expect when working with an IEC?
  • Student and Family Discovery: This includes interviews, surveys, and other activities like card sorts, all designed to better understand your students, and how to best support their educational journey.
  • Academic and Extracurricular Planning: IECs can start working with students as young as 8th grade as they prepare for high school. While this might be too early for some families, for many they feel overwhelmed by all the decisions to be made as your student begins high school and an IEC can significantly ease this transition.
  • College Research, Visits, and List Development: At the heart of the work an IEC will do is guide you through the college research process and help to develop a college list, which I typically recommend beginning between mid-sophomore year to mid-junior year. IECs are college experts and we mean that quite literally—part of our continued membership to IECA or HECA requires we are out visiting colleges ourselves and the typical IEC will spend 20% of their time on campuses across the country.
  • Admissions Planning and Guidance: As students get closer to senior year we really get into the nitty gritty of admissions season. An IEC will help organize and plan your application strategy, help keep your student on track (we take the nagging out of your hands!), support the essay writing process with planning, revising, and finalization (both personal statements and supplemental essays), and walk you through the financial aid process both for need-based or merit-based aid. I also do a final check of every application that gets sent by my students to ensure all i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed so applications can be sent with confidence.



All IECs work in different ways but the items covered above are tenants of the vast majority of any practice. IECs typically offer support in either a comprehensive approach with an unlimited number of hours for one set price, or at an hourly rate billing as they go, or often a mix of both options. Make sure to do your research when searching for the right Independent Educational Consultant—ensure they’re a member in good standing at either or both IECA or HECA and that their values and approach matches the vision you have for your student’s college application process.

If you’re interested in learning more about my practice, The College Shop, and how I might be able to help support your student, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected] or visit to learn more!

About Rachel

The College Shop is a boutique Independent Educational Consulting practice owned and managed by me, Rachel Zimmerman. After a decade in the college and career readiness industry, and as a former high school teacher, I decided to strike out on my own, equipped with years of experience and a passion for student success. After leaving teaching in 2008, I began a career focused on support students on their path to post-secondary success. I worked for five years at Kaplan Test Prep where I gained invaluable experience developing products and services for college admissions exams for Kaplan’s school and district partners. Most recently, I worked as a Strategic Consultant and Consulting Manager at Naviance (formerly owned by Hobsons). At Naviance, I worked directly with the largest school districts across the country consulting on college and career readiness strategy, post-secondary data analysis, change management, and Naviance software implementation and administration. Learn more about me by reading my CNSM Meet a Mom feature!

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