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Lawyers who once handled student advocacy matters are doing it. So are former nurses and speech therapists.

They are cashing in on a blossoming cottage educational business created by parents' desires to get their children into the "right" college or university.

Zealous parents are turning to private college admissions consultants who charge fees for counseling and guiding students into higher education institutions.

The business can be lucrative. It is attracting more professionals who were not previously directly involved in education consulting, said Mark H. Sklarow, executive director of the Independent Educational Consultants Association or IECA.

The number of educational consultants nationally has grown from about 500 several years ago to more than 2,000 now.

"There's been unbelievable growth in the field," Sklarow said. "Many are former school counselors. A recent trend is the increasing number of attorneys who were doing student advocacy work."

Suburban 'anxiety'
The growth is fueled by college admissions competition and what he described as "anxiety" among suburban parents. It is also a result of parental concern created by the overload placed on school guidance counselors.

"It's not a business for the faint of heart," Sklarow said. "It's not easy to be financially successful early on. If most break even the first couple of years, they're lucky."

Major investments are travel to colleges and universities, research and training. Successful consultants can make "six figures or more," he said.

Greenwood Associates Inc. in Tampa is an IECA member and one of the more experienced educational consulting businesses.

The firm recently expanded, adding an associate in Orlando. The company also has offices in Houston, Atlanta and Boise.

Janet Greenwood, the firm's president, incorporated the company in 1997. She has been a guidance counselor, school psychologist and college professor. She has developed a career and educational counseling system involving psychological testing.

Greenwood charges a fee of $3,200 for four years of consulting that begins when a client is in the ninth grade. She said business has increased about 50 percent in the past year.

Her process involves self-exploration testing to determine career and personality characteristics and then teaching students to evaluate opportunities in light of their characteristics.

"We talk about how they want to evolve and help them develop," Greenwood said. "It's not just about grades. It's about young people making their first adult decisions."

Arranging college trips
By their senior year, clients usually are looking at one or two majors and colleges that offer what they need. In some cases, Greenwood sets up campus visits.

The company's fee is designed to make services available to middle-class families.

Educational consultants' fees vary. About 90 percent offer some type of packaged consulting such as what's provided by Greenwood Associates.

The national average fee for a consulting package is $2,800, Sklarow said.

In Florida, consulting packages cost an average of $3,000, with hourly fees averaging $135, he said. In the Northeast, consulting packages can run as much as $6,000.

A recent survey of IECA members showed 80 percent of consultants' clients go to private colleges.

About 5 percent of Eckerd College's applicant pool of 3,000 use consultants, said John Sullivan, director of admissions at the private liberal arts college in St. Petersburg. "That's what we know about," he said. "My guess is more are doing it behind the scenes. Some consultants are very good at helping students find a match."

© 2007 Tampa Bay Business Journal

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