Do Non-Traditional Students Need a College Consultant?
If you’re thinking about getting a college degree, the process of deciding on a specific program and school can seem overwhelming at times. It becomes even more complicated if you have been out of school for awhile and you aren’t sure what the expectations are for being a successful student. There are many others like you, who are non-traditional students or students who have pursued a career and/or family after high school instead of a degree. What are your options when you need help making this decision?
You may ask friends or family for advice and that can cause of a sense of uncertainty if you receive numerous suggestions. Conducting an Internet search may also add to the level of frustration experienced if there is a lot of information to process and you cannot reach a decision. You can contact the schools and talk to an advisor; however, you can’t expect them to make a decision for you or know what your specific needs are – unless you have defined your goals. What is needed is a strong sense of self-awareness and accurate information.
There is another option to consider when you need help, hiring a college consultant. However, before you hire a consultant, carefully consider the costs involved and services offered so you can make an informed decision about the overall benefits.
What is a Non-Traditional Student?
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, “73 percent of all undergraduates from 1999–2000 had one or more characteristics” of a non-traditional student. These non-traditional characteristics include “not enrolling in college immediately after high school, working full-time, being financially independent, having dependents, being a single parent, or not possessing a high school diploma.” The report also indicated that these students often enroll during a period of transition in their life, such as a divorce, job change, or birth of a child. Their needs are usually related to new career goals, which can include a new job or job advancement. If you talk to a school advisor, be sure to explain your needs, expectations, and goals so they can better assist you.
You’ll likely find that advisors are trained to help assess students’ needs. For example, in Academic Advising Today, published by the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA), advisors were told to respect the individual differences of non-traditional students and the “most successful advisors take time to learn each student’s story, identify the student’s strengths and challenges in this new environment, and respectfully and effectively link these students to the resources that will best suit their individual needs.” As you interact with the advisor consider the importance of developing a working relationship with them as they are can help to explain the admissions and degree completion process, and they should be available throughout your program to check your progress and answer questions.
I was a non-traditional student when I returned to college, 18 years after having completed my undergraduate degree. I remember how valuable the advisor was, guiding me through the school procedures and making course-specific recommendations. However, I had already taken time to assess my academic and career needs, and knew what direction I wanted to take with a specific degree program.
The starting point for looking into degree programs should begin with a self-assessment of your goals and academic preparedness. Some of the qualities you’ll need include self-motivation and self-determination, and you’ll need to devote time and effort to be involved in class and complete the required learning activities. As you develop self-awareness you should also consider your expectations for completing a degree and how this relates to future career plans. And just as important, you’ll need to assess your finances while exploring financial aid options.
If you find that you don’t have a clear understanding of your goals, skills, or degree options, you may need additional guidance. You can start by contacting the schools you are interested in and talk to an advisor. You may also decide to enlist the help of an educational consultant. This is similar to a job seeker who feels stuck in their present career and hires a career coach to develop specific goals, identify their skill sets, and assess their needs.
The College Consultant Option
The article, Do You Need a Consultant for Adult Education?, indicated that you should conduct “research into consulting firms before choosing—and go with one that offers the right combination of services, expertise, experience, and pricing that works for you.” One important aspect to consider is whether or not the consultant has previously worked with adult students, especially non-traditional students. What are the typical costs for a consultant? There are several factors that influence the fee charged, such as your location and the amount of time they will work with you. The fees for college consultants vary; however, $85-$150 an hour is a general average. Other estimates find that college consultants' total fees may range from $250 to $40,000. Since this does require a financial investment on your part, be sure to explore all available options first.
There are numerous businesses that offer consulting services for prospective college students. For example, College Match Educational Consultants “work one-on-one with students to discover their unique skills and abilities that colleges will value in each admission application.” Another service, Transition2College, is “an educational consulting firm specializing in assisting high school students with disabilities prepare for a successful transition to college.” If you contact a consulting company, make certain you understand the pricing structure, the services provided, and what the expectations are for your involvement in the process. You must weigh the potential value received with the investment you’ll be expected to make.
Relevant Consultant Associations
There are two associations that can provide potential students with information about the consulting industry, types of services, and professionals in the field. The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) is the “nation’s leading professional organization for independent educational consultants working in private practice.” They’ve produced a very helpful document for students, 12 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Independent Educational Consultant and one of the questions listed was: “Do you guarantee admission to a school, one of my top choices, or a certain minimum dollar value in scholarships? (Do NOT trust any offer of guarantees)” Students can also utilize the Find a Consultant database.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), was “founded in 1937 and is an organization of more than 12,000 professionals from around the world dedicated to serving students as they make choices about pursuing postsecondary education.” They’ve developed a Statement of Principles of Good Practice, which includes “core values that represent statements of the association’s vision and beliefs.” One of those core values is social responsibility: “We believe we have a duty to serve students responsibly, by safeguarding their rights and their access to and within postsecondary education.” This is an important purpose statement for the work of a college consultant – the focus should be on students’ needs and guiding them towards the best academic options.
What Is Best For You?
Regardless of the option you choose – selecting a school yourself or utilizing the services of a college consultant – you must decide what is in your best interest. School advisors are trained to provide you with knowledge about their school. But that may not be enough, if you need help gathering information about degree choices and assessing your skills. That’s when a college consultant might be helpful. However, always make the final decision about starting a degree program yours and don’t allow yourself to be talked into something you are not ready for or cannot fully commit to.
Photo © Ikon Images/Corbis