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February/March 2008

Educational Consultants
Finding A Learning Environment that Fits
by Carrie Whitney

Choosing a learning environment for your child is not just about choosing a good one—it’s also about choosing the right one, or the one that will suit your child’s individual needs and talents. Considering the multitude of educational options in Atlanta, for families relocating here, or those unhappy with their current educational environment, the task of finding the right academic program can be downright daunting. However, the task of selecting the right educational environment for your child may be easier with help from an educational consultant.

Educational consultants are skilled professionals with a background in education (and sometimes psychology or related fields) who assist families with the process of locating, applying to and choosing a learning environment that best suits the child. Many educational consultants focus on specific levels of education and may help with placing your child in a K-12 private or public school, college, boarding school or study abroad program. Consultants also help find the right educational environment for children with learning differences or emotional or behavioral difficulties. Consultants usually conduct thorough interviews with the child as well as the family to gain a strong understanding of the child’s strengths, needs and interests.

There are many benefits of working with a consultant, including the fact that he or she has extensive knowledge of learning environments and spends much time visiting places and getting to know the culture, atmosphere and programs. Rather than choosing an academic setting for the parents and students, consultants present the family with multiple options that would make a great match for the student.

Metro Atlanta’s private and public school options are nearly limitless, and there are many schools with excellent reputations. But beyond choosing a good school, parents need to find the right school that will foster the child’s social and academic development. Whether looking for an elementary program, a special needs school or a college, an educational consultant will help locate a school that works for both the parents and the student. The Francal Consulting Group (404-210-3847, offers three main services: K-12 private school placement, help with finding a tutor or learning specialist and college admission counseling. “For the children, the match is important,” says Alicia Francois-Calhoun, director of Francal Consulting. Of course, the reputation of the school is significant, “but the most important thing is the match.” Consultants continuously research and visit schools to make sure they have the most up-to-date information and can offer this information to families during the process of generating an initial list of schools.

After the initial list is created, parents should visit the schools before beginning the application process for any private schools on the list. Consultants can help with this, too. For example, they can schedule necessary testing, recommend preparation programs or help interpret test scores. At Lida Griest Educational Counseling (404-239-0053, which offers placement in public and private day school, college and special needs schools, founder Lida Griest says she helps families all the way from acceptance to beginning at the new school. “I facilitate every step of the way until the family gets there,” she says.

Working with a consultant can be particularly beneficial when trying to find a boarding school or other type of away school for your child. Boarding environments offer an education option for those students seeking a more independent environment. Many parents may not know how to search for a boarding school, but the consultant will be familiar with each school’s reputation and offerings and can assist the parents with finding the right fit. “There is a school for everybody,” says George Kirkpatrick with The George G. Kirkpatrick Co. (404-233-3989, which specializes in placing students in boarding, college, day and special needs schools. “Boarding schools may help children get a new start. In fact, sometimes children go to boarding school and just flourish.”

Similarly, well-placed college students have a good chance of succeeding, too. Wendy Williams of Williams Educational Consultants, LLC (770-578-1519, who assists with placing students in colleges and graduate schools as well as semester abroad and summer programs, spends much of her time visiting campuses and talking with admissions counselors so that she knows what they are looking for. She says the schools are happy to work with consultants, because they know the consultants will send students who will fit into the school well. When choosing a college, students not only need to consider the academics, but also features such as the setting, location, student body and athletics and club offerings. That could mean a lot of work for the parents, but a consultant can reduce the workload. “My main goal is to really support the family,” says Williams. “That way, parents can spend time with their children instead of worry about application deadlines.”

Perhaps consultants can help most when given enough time to work with families on the front-end of the application process—a year-and-a-half before school starts is ideal. However, even in the case of last-minute relocation, a consultant will know which schools are still possibilities and can help speed up the process. Since consultants also get to know the students as well as the schools, those students working with consultants generally have a high acceptance rate, since they are well matched with the programs. “We’re really here to help the child—not to change the child to fit the school,” says Griest. Although educational consultants are frequently found through wordof- mouth, the Independent Educational Consultants Association ( is a reputable source for finding consultants. The IECA is a non-profit, international professional association representing full-time, experienced educational consultants. An IECA member does not accept compensation from any school or other educational institution for the placement of a child. The organization provides information on member consultants, all of whom have met the association’s educational licensing requirements. The IECA Web site allows visitors to find a consultant by location and type of academic setting.

Whether you are an Atlanta native or new resident, an educational consultant can help make sure your child’s learning environment is not only a good one, but is also the right one.

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