An education consultant, also called a higher education consultant, is a professional who helps students and parents with financial and college aid planning. These educational consultants are trained to help students find universities where they can succeed. Depending on the specific area in which a higher education consultant works, roles and responsibilities vary. However, in general terms, the role involves advising clients on methods to optimize student outcomes.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Jennifer Mason, an experienced higher education consultant. Mason has worked in the field for many years and has a wealth of knowledge about the profession. During our conversation, she shared her story of how she got into consulting and what her job entails. Mason began her career as an architect, but found that the profession was not conducive to her lifestyle.
She and her husband had spent three of the previous five years living on the other side of the country, which was quite miserable. As an architect, she was more mobile than academic, and had moved twice to follow her husband's job. But major architectural firms tend to be in metropolitan areas, and a large part of colleges and universities are located in places where there is not much of an architecture market. Mason then decided to pursue a doctorate in English at another institution.
During this time, she was offered a job at a research company called the Advisory Board, which was in Washington, DC. She hadn't decided to work outside higher education, but she was curious to know what kind of company hired people with advanced training in the humanities and what those people did there. After some research and conversations with people at the company, Mason accepted their job offer. At the Advisory Board, Mason worked on launching a new division focused on higher education.
She took on various roles such as growth strategy, content strategy and marketing strategy; business development; account management; staff recruitment and training; creating strategic plans; and launching new programs. She also wrote executive briefings, white papers, program summaries, press releases and other strategic communications from or for senior leaders. Mason's work also included consulting for the World Bank on how to prioritize investments to achieve the greatest impact on student learning outcomes in Laos. She also helped an organization's CEO evaluate a multi-million dollar partnership offer and then wrote a script and created slides for presentation to the board to defend the recommended course of action.
Mason's work has been varied and rewarding. She has been able to work on faculty recruitment practices that promote inclusive excellence; find better and more equitable ways to structure undergraduate STEM education; create more accessible professional education opportunities for college and university leaders; build capacity institutional for innovations in teaching and learning; create tools that help institutions evaluate and implement best practices; and much more. If you're considering moving into higher education consulting as an alternative career path, Mason recommends using all of your networks (including personal and alumni networks) to find out what it's really like to work at different companies now. The organizational culture and nature of work can vary significantly from company to company, as well as in the same company at different times.