Steering the search

Educator strikes out on his own to help students navigate the college selection process

Posted on Nov 1, 2016 :: The Business of Life
Jessica Thiel
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Though January holds the official spot as the first month of the year, anyone who’s gone through school knows that September feels like the beginning of the year. Fall is the season for getting down to business, and that includes filling out college applications.

For many students and parents, the process of selecting and applying to colleges inspire simultaneous emotions of excitement and anxiety. In his work as an independent educational consultant, Chuck Erickson makes it his mission to harness those positive feelings and alleviate the negative ones while helping students find their just-right college fit.

Educational consulting is a new move for Erickson, who transitioned to the field full-time about four months ago. He brings to this endeavor 15 years of experience working in admissions and student affairs at three different higher learning institutions, including Lawrence University.

Erickson had reached a crossroads. The next step in his career progression would have taken him to administrative roles within education, but Erickson didn’t want to give up working directly with students.

“I wanted a new challenge, and I wanted to stay student-centered,” Erickson explains.

Throughout the course of his career Erickson has perused more than 4,000 college applications and interviewed hundreds of students. For him, consulting seemed like a natural choice, one that would let him put his experience to direct use helping students achieve their goals.

Erickson, who also conducts speaking events on topics like financial aid and the admissions process, had contemplated working independently for some time, but making the leap from the security of working for a university to striking out on his own felt intimidating.

Enter College Connectors. The company, based in Minneapolis, recruited Erickson. The opportunity was ideal, giving him support and a curriculum to follow while allowing him to build his own business at the same time.

On the scene for 30-plus years, independent educational consulting is gaining new traction, says Erickson. The service has long had a place in large metro areas but has recently begun to grow in smaller cities.

Erickson attributes the rise to limited access to guidance counselors. Large caseloads mean that most teens net just 40 minutes of facetime with their counselor throughout the course of their entire high school career, Erickson says. This, coupled with an increasingly complicated admissions process, has led to stress for some students and parents.

Jennifer Johnson, director of admissions for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, says that students today have many options. Whether they seek help from a parent, counselor or staff at a college or university, having an advocate is valuable, she says.

“Having a support person can have a huge impact for students,” Johnson says.

To Erickson, it just makes sense. “This is the largest financial decision your child will probably be connected to,” he says, “Why are you not getting professional help?”

In addition to Erickson’s face-to-face meetings with students, his services include extensive research and a personalized website that keeps track of tasks and deadlines. He charges a fee of $2,250 for his College Search package but stresses that he offers payment plans and flexible options to families.

According to the mother of one of Erickson’s clients, who prefers to remain anonymous, the investment was well worth it.

With around 2,500 four-year colleges and universities in the nation, narrowing down the prospects felt daunting to the family. “What if we’re ignoring the one school that will be the perfect fit?” the mother had worried.

The busy teen entered the college search process a bit grudgingly, his mother says. In the process of working with him, Erickson took into account all of the boy’s interests and preferences, including academics, sports and extracurricular activities, culminating in a list of 10 school recommendations.

With five college applications in the mail, the high school senior’s perspective has shifted to one of enthusiasm, thanks to working with Erickson, the mother says.

This experience is typical for Erickson, who revels in seeing that light switch turn on. “I want to see these kids get in the car come fall, excited and ready to move into their college.”