Why are professional memberships important?

Canada / Europe / Guides / UK / USA

At the bottom of my website I list two organisations: the International Association for College Admission Counseling and the Council of International Schools. I am fortunate to hold membership of the first organisation and to be one of 15 Independent University Consultants approved by the latter.

But why does this matter?

Well, the profession in which I work is one which often happens in the shadows. Families hear of or meet a consultant, who works with the family, and maybe the student’s school is aware, and maybe they’re not. It’s all done on word-of-mouth, so-and-so helped my child get in, they explained this terminology, and so on. Within relatively small circles of people, there are little communities using the services of people who seem to know what they are talking about, but who hold no professional memberships or have any code of ethics to be held to.

And in most cases this is fine, until things go wrong. School and independent consultant could be giving conflicting advice, the consultant could give bad advice, and the family may end up in a complicated situation.

Using a consultant who has a set of rules to play by, and who has been checked and accredited, makes all the difference. Crucially this happens when talking with universities: international universities may not be happy to deal with just anyone, but if the consultant is someone they know – through mutual membership of professional associations – then it’s a different matter. Those of us who are members of International ACAC and CIS – or similar organisations which focus on the USA such as HECA, IECA or NACAC – are seen as being ‘inside the circle’ of admissions. Many of us have worked in either schools or universities or both at one time or another. We have relationships with universities, we follow the rules and, when push comes to shove, we can advocate for students as and when necessary.

To give one example of this, last year I worked with a student who, in error, paid his application fee for a university but forget to press the final submit button. Two days after the deadline, the admissions officer from the university that was expecting his application contacted me, surprised that the application hadn’t come through. Quickly I discovered the mistake and, on realising that it was an honest mistake, I was able to ask the university to accept a late application. The university happily agreed and the student went on to gain an offer of admission.

So when you are looking for someone to help with university applications, don’t go for someone who has the right accent or can baffle you with jargon. If you are a school adviser reading this, don’t let your students just find anyone to help them, make sure that they are working with someone who has a code of ethics to abide by. You wouldn’t let your students go and receive physiotherapy from someone without training or accreditation, so nor should you when it comes to university advice.