Educational Consultants Are Everywhere and Want to Help

In addition to an enviable array of school choice options, DC parents enjoy perhaps the largest selection of educational consultants available anywhere. Parents looking for help, ideas, or a professional opinion on educating and raising children – from preschool through college – can now consult with District-based companies providing school choice, school placement, therapeutic placement, learning skills, tutoring, college counseling, and academic coaching services.

Still largely a boutique business, educational consultancies tend to be comprised of one, two, or maybe a small handful of extremely experienced, passionate professionals. Within some of the more traditional educational service categories, such as tutoring, there are plenty of companies from which to choose. Newer fields, such as school choice consulting and academic coaching, are smaller niches with fewer practicing professionals.

Education consultants generally operate on the principle that engaging an expert one-on-one is never cheap but always worth it. Deeply committed to their causes, they often provide free resources and accessibly priced group presentations.

When considering hiring an educational consultant, parents should ask as many questions as necessary until they feel confident. Here are some obvious ones:

·      Is the consultant accredited or a member of any professional organizations?

·      What is the consultant’s educational background?

·      Can the consultant provide reviews (such as on Google or Yelp!) or references?

·      How long has the consultant been in business?

·      How many clients do they have?

·      How many employees work for the consulting company?

·      Do they have a website explaining their academic philosophy?

To hire an educational consultant is to welcome a new member to your family team right before the big game. The stakes are high. So it is important that parents, students, and consultants be on the same page. If you decide after meeting a consultant that her specific brand of help isn’t exactly what your child needs at the moment, ask her for recommendations for other companies providing services that may better match your student’s needs.

Below is an overview of the types of educational consulting services available in Washington and what to expect when using them. Your research can be as educational as your student’s experience with the services you arrange. Enjoy the process!


School Choice

With an overwhelming number of public school choices in DC, only 25 percent of public school students attend their neighborhood schools. It is no surprise that there are educational consultants engaged in aiding parents to make their choices. Downey School Consulting helps parents navigate the all-important DCPS Common Lottery with aplomb. Employing her exhaustive knowledge of local schools, founder E.V. Downey helps parents new to the DCPS system decide which schools are worth shooting for and which need to be ruled out.

“Should we need consultants to help navigate a public good like education?” asked Sara Wilson, a two-time Downey client. “Of course not. But it's like getting help to file your taxes: sometimes when the subject matter is complex and the rules keep changing, and the stakes are high and the consequences of making a mistake are painful, you need to get help from a professional.”

Lottery presentations cost $35 for one parent or $55 for two, and parents can expect to leave with a wealth of information it would have taken them untold hours to amass on their own. (Downey School Consulting:,


Learning Specialists

Parents who have questions or concerns about the ability of schools to meet the individual needs of their children may seek out learning specialists to evaluate their needs, improve executive functioning and general academic performance, and even advocate on behalf of the student’s family with a school. Learning-specialist services may include classroom observations, administering of learning skills assessment tests, and individualized academic support provided with the help of esoteric learning aids.

“My kid has pretty serious ADHD and he was having real problems keeping up in class and doing homework. His teachers were sometimes sympathetic but they just didn't have the time or energy to keep him on track – or keep us on track,” said one Capitol Hill father. “So we talked first to a learning consultant, Colleen Buchanan, who referred us to a tutor she knew who was really able to engage with our son at a personal level. It's still a struggle, but having someone who can sit down with our son for an hour and squeeze the maximum amount of work out of him – while still leaving him in a happy place – that is a gift. And it frees us from having to be the 24-7 bad guys.”

Some learning specialists, like Buchanan, have cutting-edge knowledge, tremendous teaching ability, and the benefit of years of experience as the learning specialist at a private school during which they’ve seen it all. Others are basically homework wranglers – very nice people, very encouraging, but without quite the level of know-how when it comes to solving particularly complex issues. Decide which it is you need, and expect to pay $75-$175/hour. (Colleen Buchanan:


School Placement

Families for whom the DCPS lottery route is not appealing or not applicable, often due to their children’s therapeutic or special needs, may seek professional help in placing students in appropriate boarding or day schools. There are a gazillion of these institutions in the area, many of which cater to surprisingly specific demographics.

Given that there are often special circumstances in play, school placement consultant services generally involve a bigger financial commitment on the part of the parents. For example, The School Counseling Group, a well-respected company founded in 1979, has full-service package offerings that cost $3,500 to $5,500. “Typically we ask families to call/email the office as a first step so we can get a better understanding of the kids and the current needs – before quoting them a price,” said Jen Parsell, client relations coordinator at The School Counseling Group.

Regardless of how many hours your child’s case will require, expect to pay an average of at least $175/hour for school placement consulting. (The School Counseling Group:,, 202-333-3530)


College Counseling

Given the cost of college today, no parent wants to squander college tuition on what turns out to be the wrong fit for their rising freshman. Increasingly parents are turning to educational consultants to ensure that their kids end up at the right institution. There are now several talented, independent college counselors right here in DC.

“My godchild, whose parents do not live here, had been living in London most of his life and wanted to apply to American colleges,” explained Capitol Hill resident Lou Ivey. “I needed someone who understood the process, could offer a roadmap, and could help with essays, and Claster Educational Services provided all three with precision.”

On an hourly, project, or multi-year package basis these experts help students develop into competitive applicants. They can help:

·      build a college list,

·      write convincing essays,

·      and present the best possible case overall given the student’s interests and circumstances.

They have usually visited 50-100 colleges. They seem to know everything about every school. Claster Educational Services (Capitol Hill), DC College Counseling (K Street), and Distinctive College Consulting (Meridian Hill) are all highly regarded. Comprehensive packages start at about $3,000 but can reach $14,000 or more. (Claster Educational Services:,, 202- 368-1888; DC College Counseling:,, 703-66-ADMIT; Distinctive College Consulting:


Tutoring & Academic Coaching

“Tutoring” covers a lot of ground these days, so it’s important to be specific when thinking about what kind your child needs. In content tutoring the instructor teaches the student the material that the student did not quite learn in school. In some instances the teacher pushes the student to go above and beyond what the school provides.

In test-prep tutoring the instructor teaches the student important strategies for optimizing her or his test score. This can include which tests to take, the peculiarities of each, and how to answer typical questions.

In academic coaching the focus is the student’s process and sustainable, long-term success. Given the student’s stated interest, challenges, and goals the coach teaches the student the time management, study skills, and motivation necessary to be successful.

For $40/hour you can often find a very capable, possibly brilliant college or grad student to tutor your child in the standard content areas. If you do not want to be at the whim of a full-time student, $75/hour can get you a good, enthusiastic, grown-up tutor who either works for himself or for a local company like Ashley Tutors. The highest-quality test-prep and content tutoring, at places like Adept Prep and Prep Matters, costs $150-$200/hour or more. The only company in DC specializing in study skills, Smith Rivas Academic Coaching & Consulting, charges $225/hour. (Ashley Tutors;,, 240-780-3233; Adept Prep:; Prep Matters:,, 202-524-4977; Smith Rivas:,, 202-615-7791)



Washington Independent Services for Educational Resources (WISER) is the local professional organization for educational consultants, including most of those mentioned above. The WISER website,, has background information and contact information for over 100 educational consultants in the area.

The Independent Education Consultants Association (IECA) is the national professional organization for educational consultants (excluding learning specialists and tutors), including some of those mentioned above. The IECA website,, has a searchable directory with contact info for the 48 educational consultants in the area who have been members for at least three years.

Paul Rivas is the founder of Smith Rivas Academic Coaching & Consulting and can be contacted at Smith Rivas helps students earn better grades in less time by teaching study skills and time management that last a lifetime. Their mission is to inspire students to seek more than they think is possible, teach them how to achieve it, and push them toward peak performance.