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What Does a Higher Education Consultant Do?

Industry Advice Education

Many people aspire to work in the field of education, even if they don’t envision themselves leading a classroom. Current educators may find themselves looking for a change in their careers, but might be unsure of what other opportunities are available to them.  

For professionals in either of these situations, higher education consulting could be the next step on the path to fulfillment. Higher education consulting plays an important role in helping families, institutions, and other organizations strategize for the future. 

Although this role largely takes place outside of a classroom, education consulting is meaningful work that allows professionals to make an impact on student outcomes and realize the value that strong educational leadership can have.

What Is A Higher Education Consultant?

Higher education consulting is a broad term that encompasses several different functions. The precise responsibilities of a “higher education consultant” depend largely on two factors: Who has hired the consultant and the role that they are hired to perform. 

In a broad sense, however, higher education consultants work closely with students, families, and educational institutions to help them achieve various goals:

  • Parents and families often hire education consultants to guide their children to academic success and earn admission into their top choice universities.
  • Schools and universities may hire consultants to help fix systemic problems or advise administrators.
  • Private companies supporting the education industry might work with consultants to develop learning products for use by educators and institutions.

Professionals in this field can work independently, at an educational consulting firm, or at an educational institution.


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Career Outlook for Higher Education Consultants

As with many industries, the education sector is continuously changing and evolving to meet the new realities of an increasingly connected world economy. These changes bring new challenges to both families and students, who need help navigating an increasingly competitive college admissions process. Additionally, academic institutions are facing tighter budgets, less funding, and lower enrollment rates. The demand for skilled higher education consultants only continues to grow as colleges and universities seek to remain relevant. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for postsecondary education administrators will grow at a rate of 10 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations, making the role an attractive career option. What’s more, postsecondary education administrators—a category that includes higher education consultants—earn an average salary of $94,340 per year. The compensation varies based on the services offered by the consultant, the type of consulting work they engage in, and the location in which they work. 

Key Responsibilities of Higher Education Consultants

Depending on the specific area that a higher education consultant works in, the roles and responsibilities vary. However, generally speaking, the role involves advising clients on methods for optimizing student outcomes. 

Working with Parents and Families

In situations where a consultant is working directly with students and families, a consultant is charged with identifying the strengths and weaknesses of a student and devising a plan to help them achieve their academic goals. In this capacity, responsibilities might include:

  • Identifying which schools align with their interests or goals
  • Administering exams
  • Providing career guidance
  • Assisting in the college admissions process
  • Advising on financial aid

Since much of this work is focused on helping students get into their dream schools, education consultants must be up-to-date on all information related to the college application and admissions process. 

Working with Schools and Universities

Alternatively, some consultants prefer to work for education consulting firms or directly with colleges and universities instead. In these settings, the services offered by a consultant are very different compared to consultants working with families and students. When working with a college or university, educational consultants often follow a process for identifying a problem and designing a solution to that problem. Typically, the consulting process is initiated with a written proposal followed by the formation of a project team upon approval. Once the team is formed, the consultants begin efforts to understand the solution and identify critical issues. The team then studies the situation, gathers and analyzes information, and finally develops recommendations to present to the client.

When working with universities and other institutions to help reach their strategic goals, a higher education consultant’s responsibilities might include:

  • Maximizing student outcomes
  • Managing various budgetary pressures 
  • Advising upon other organizational issues
  • Recommending improvements to school/university policies and programs
  • Identifying specific problems (and designing custom solutions to those problems) 

Within this role, consultants will often find themselves developing specialized skills in their areas of interest. For example, higher education consultants advise on topics such as enrollment management, diversity and inclusion, student success, campus planning, strategic planning, and leadership development. Having extensive knowledge or experience in any of these topics can help to differentiate a consultant and provide value to their potential clients. 

Working with Private Companies

Finally, there are also opportunities for higher education consultants to work with private organizations, such as businesses that develop products for use in the education industry. In these cases, consultants might play a role in the development of educational products such as textbooks, educational technology, and other tools intended for use in schools.  Many institutions, as well as students and families, rely on these professional consultants for their expertise in the field of higher education. 

Required Skills

Regardless of where or with whom an education consultant works, there are specific skills that are needed to succeed in the role. For example, attention to detail and problem-solving skills are required for consultants to accurately identify areas of concern and advise clients on next steps. Higher education consultants must also have a thorough knowledge of state and federal education regulation and policy; keeping up with changes in the landscape is a vital aspect of the job. 

Additionally, some of the most common soft skills needed for educational consulting include:

  • Planning and organization
  • Critical thinking
  • Strong decision-making skills
  • Relationship management
  • Prioritization
  • Exceptional written and verbal communication

There are many ways that professionals looking to break into this career can stay up-to-date with industry trends and refine these skills. Some of the best ways of doing so include reading relevant blogs, newsletters, and other industry related publications, attending and presenting at higher education conferences, and networking as much as possible.

Required Education

One of the best ways for aspiring education consultants to hone their skills is to get as much experience as possible working with students, teachers, and other educators. In fact, many have held teaching positions or other roles in education prior to transitioning to the consulting field.

According to the Higher Education Consultants Association, it is important that educational consultants hold at least a bachelor’s degree, but in many cases, higher education consultants choose to pursue a master’s degree in education, psychology, or other related fields. Dr. Joan Giblin, assistant teaching professor in Northeastern University’s Graduate School of Education, says that there is great value in studying higher education administration at the master’s level. She points out that, “no opportunity exists to study the field prior to graduate work. This is often the first time students have the opportunity to learn about the field of higher education.”

Northeastern’s Master of Education in Higher Education Administration program provides students with the skills they need for mid-level and leadership positions across higher education, including higher education consulting. Upon completion of the program, students are able to apply key competencies such as:

  • Budgeting
  • Crisis management
  • Collaboration
  • Change agency
  • Problem-solving
  • Technology literacy
  • Data-driven decision making

Additionally, Northeastern’s program is rooted in experiential learning. Participation in the experiential network provides students with opportunities to work on short-term, real-world projects to complement their academic work. Since the program is completed entirely online, it is designed to allow working professionals to network and build global connections while allowing them to draw from their own work experiences and prepare them for career advancement.

Becoming a Higher Education Consultant

If becoming a higher education consultant is the next step in your career, there are many resources available to help you pursue this change. It is important to have the proper training as well as experience in education and a strong network of professional relationships to help you reach the next level in your career.

Although you may become a higher education consultant with a bachelor’s degree, those who hold a master’s degree have greater opportunities for promotion or to work with more selective schools, organizations, or private clients. As always, be sure to evaluate both your personal and professional goals when deciding if pursuing a Master’s in Higher Education is right for you.


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