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DCE Magazine

The Virus That Stole Senior Year

COVID-19 poses huge challenges for new grads, making Independent Educational Consultants more essential than ever.

Summer 2021

Of all the aspects of daily life disrupted by the pandemic, none has been more impactful or consequential as losing a year of on-campus education – especially for high school seniors transitioning to college. With students stuck at home, forced into endless months of remote learning, think of all that has been lost, and not only in terms of classroom instruction.

COVID-19 has forced teachers, students, and parents to adapt and fashion a new normal on the fly. And while the experience has highlighted the ingenuity and resourcefulness of everyone involved, the effects of a year of isolation for teen students can’t be minimized, said Mark Sklarow, advisory committee member for DCE’s Independent Educational Consultant certificate program.

The impact is being felt in numerous ways, he said. Imagine being cheated out of your senior year, graduation ceremony, the excitement and apprehension of leaving the nest for college, to say nothing of the lack of social gatherings, hanging out with friends.

“Let’s start with the emotional impact,” Sklarow said. “Transitioning from high school to college is always fraught. Students worry about everything from interesting professors to making friends to sharing a room with a stranger. Even the most excited student has moments of doubt and anxiety. Now let’s layer on top that the Class of 2021 will not have had a typical senior year with its rites of passage and reminders of what lies ahead.”

As a result, the role of the Independent Educational Consultant has become more prominent than ever. IECs are increasingly essential to help students and their families navigate the new challenges of transitioning to college life – meeting the educational, financial, and emotional needs of students at a very crucial juncture in their lives.

Sklarow, CEO of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), recently took time to offer his observations on the changing landscape for students and families planning for college – and what it means for the growing ranks of IECs.

Mark Sklarow

“The key to the success DCE has had is that it helps IEC students build on the successes they have and fill in the voids.” Mark Sklarow, IEC Advisory Committee Member

What are your thoughts on the current and future landscape for students transitioning to college?

This could be answered in dozens of ways. No office bulletin board congratulating seniors on where they are heading. No senior classes filled with students in college sweatshirts. No prom. All these rites serve a purpose to begin the separation from local high school to life in college and they disappeared for so many. So, I worry about the added emotional toll, the added uncertainty.

Is there anything positive they can take from this?

Students realized that they could learn virtually. And they learned to appreciate what they had: family with a home, a job, food to eat, rather than what they wish they had. So, while I worry about the emotional toll of COVID, there’s a piece of me that thinks many may have discovered inner strength and inner knowledge that will help them. Maybe, just maybe, there was a lesson on resilience as well. Students may be thinking: ‘I survived being stuck at home for a year with only my parents – if I can do that, I can do anything!’

What are some of the temporary and permanent changes you foresee?

The application landscape has certainly changed, and I suspect the changes will be largely ongoing, especially growth in schools who made standardized test scores optional. And we can’t ignore the economic realities of COVID. Where professionals and the wealthy have largely fared well, too many others were left in serious financial difficulty. Families that scrambled to meet college tuition in May of 2020 may be unable to find the resources in May of 2021. Colleges, financial aid officers, IECs and families will need to recalibrate.

How is this affecting the role of the IEC?

Independent Educational Consultants have been perfectly situated for times such as these. They have long talked about ‘great fit’ over name brand. They have always advocated for students as being far more than their test scores and GPAs. All of these are growing in importance as a result of COVID. Additionally, IECs regularly do career exploration, Myers-Briggs personality indicator tests, and learning-style examinations as part of the intake and review process. These have all grown in value as a result of the suspension of schools, clubs and jobs. I believe this is why the use of IECs has grown over the past year and the number of IECA members has soared. The unique student-centric approach IECs take in working with families has never been more critical.

How does the IEC certificate program prepare candidates to succeed in this space?

It begins with the basic premise that IECs don’t work to get students into a specific school. They help to understand the students fully and guide them to consider opportunities by casting a wide net – often colleges they never thought of previously. Everything flows from that. From financial aid knowledge to counseling skills and college knowledge, the IEC certificate program ensures that all bases are covered, with an emphasis on managing an ethical and successful practice. It also stresses that success requires training in both business and counseling to succeed.

What type of student is the program intended for?

Most entering the program are career changers, and sometimes significant changes, from attorneys to nurses, and sometimes more subtle changes within the academic world. The key to the success DCE has had is that it helps IEC students build on the successes they have and fill in the voids. Whether your background is that of a school counselor, a mom who helped their children through the process or a marketing genius who wants to help kids, virtually everyone entering this field should find what they need at UCI.

It seems like it would be an especially fulfilling and rewarding career.

Ask anyone who is an IEC and be prepared for the grin that will appear and excited sharing of stories of watching teens blossom and succeed, especially when worried students discover a school they never heard of where they thrive. Want proof of the field’s appeal? Most come to independent educational consulting mid-life – our average IECA member is probably 55 years old. They could stop at 65, or 70, or 75. But they keep working because the work itself, and the colleagues who become friends along the way, make working so much more rewarding than not.

Learn more about the Independent Educational Consultant Certificate Program.