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8 Tips to Help With Pricing Your College Admissions Counseling Services

Pricing your college admissions counseling services as an Independent Educational Consultant (IEC) is a critical aspect of your business strategy. It's not just about the services you offer but also how you value them, and in turn, how they are perceived by your potential clients. The right pricing strategy can make the difference between a thriving business and one that struggles to attract and retain clients. Here are 8 essential tips to consider before setting your prices.

1. Research the market

Likely the most trite advice you will get, but also undoubtedly the most important. Investigate what other IECs are charging and the services they offer at those price points. However, don't just look at the numbers. Understand the context behind them—why some services are priced higher than others and what additional value they might be offering. This research will help you position your services competitively while ensuring you're not undervaluing or overpricing your offerings. A few things to keep in mind here are:

  • Conduct a competitive analysis: Identify other IECs in your area or within your niche. Note their pricing structures, services offered, and target demographics. This will help you position yourself within the market.

  • Adjust for location: Consider the cost of living and the average income of families in your area. Prices can be higher in regions with a higher cost of living or where clients have a higher willingness to pay. Similarly, adjust for target location as well - if the demand for service is to send children to expensive locations, that means the financial capacity exists and it is possible to premiumize.

  • Consider specialization premiums: If you specialize in a niche area (e.g., athletes, artists, students with learning differences), you may command higher prices due to the specialized expertise required.

2. Evaluate your own costs

The second step is to identify how your own setup and operational costs measure up against the competitive landscape you will be operating in. There is a lot of number work and financial modeling involved here that may sound grueling to some, but it is absolutely critical that you get this part right. It will help you decipher how much of an operating margin you have, which costs are avoidable and which are mandatory. To get started:

  1. Calculate operational costs: Tally up your business expenses, including marketing, office supplies, software, and any staff salaries. You can divide them into annualized expenses, or recurring expenses. Don't forget to factor in the cost of continuous education and professional development that is critical to your own growth and success.

  2. Put a price on your time: Time is quite literally money. Consider the time you spend on each client, including direct counseling, research, and behind-the-scenes planning. Your pricing should compensate you fairly for this time.

  3. Work backwards from a target profit: Determine the minimum profit margin that allows your business to grow and thrive. Working backwards from that and factoring in your other operational and expansion costs along with market indicators will help you arrive at a sustainable, competitive price point.

3. Understand the value you bring

Your level of experience and the credentials you hold can, and should, significantly influence your pricing. If you've been in the industry for years and have a track record of success, you can command higher prices. Similarly, if you hold specialized certifications or have completed advanced training, these qualifications should be reflected in your rates. Don't shy away from pricing your services higher if your expertise warrants it. A good way to approach this is to:

  1. Assess your credentials: Take stock of your qualifications, including your education, certifications, and any special training relevant to college admissions counseling.

  2. Evaluate your relevant experience: Consider your years of experience and the success stories of students you've helped. More experience and proven success can increase your perceived value. It is also a concrete representation of the results you have driven.

  3. Identify your USPs: Pinpoint what sets you apart from other IECs. This could be a specialized knowledge in a certain field, unique access to resources or networks, or a proprietary method of counseling. It can be difficult to accurately price your USP especially if it is truly unique, but you should still make the effort of factoring it into your calculations.

4. Communicate your value

Now that you’ve identified the value you’re bringing to the table and what it’s financially costing you to do so, focus on ways to communicate this. The guidance you provide can shape a student's future, and should be reflected in your pricing. While it's important to remain accessible to your target audience, don't undervalue your expertise. Price your services in a way that respects your worth and the transformative potential of your work. The key to establishing this credibility in the eyes of potential customers is by:

  1. Sharing your success stories: Share testimonials and success stories from past clients. Real-world examples of success can be very persuasive.

  2. Publishing relevant content: Publish blog posts, white papers, videos, or social media content that showcases your expertise and the depth of your services. With the power of AI tools, this has become a more accessible option than ever.

  3. Demonstrating consistent professionalism: You only get one chance to make a first impression. Ensure all your marketing materials reflect the high quality and professionalism of your services. This reinforces the value you provide.

5. Price based on value offered

Now that you’ve hopefully done the steps outlined above, you should have an answer to these questions: What sets you apart from other IECs? 

Is it your extensive network, specialized knowledge in a certain field, or a personalized approach? 

Now while developing a pricing structure, it should reflect the quality and uniqueness of your service. Consider the outcomes you deliver and how they impact your clients' success. This understanding will not only justify your rates but also help you communicate your value more effectively to potential clients.

6. Tier your offerings

Not all clients will need the same level of service. By offering different pricing tiers, you can cater to a wider range of needs and budgets. For instance, you could have a basic package for essay review and college selection, a more comprehensive package that includes application assistance and interview prep, and a premium package that offers extensive support, including scholarship searches and decision support. This approach not only makes your services accessible to more clients but also allows you to upsell additional services. Having customizability of your offerings is also important. Allow clients to add services a la carte to a basic package, giving them flexibility to tailor services to their needs.

7. Maintain a culture of transparency

Transparency builds trust. Clearly communicate what your services include and how they're priced. If there are potential additional costs, make those clear from the outset. This transparency helps set realistic expectations and reduces the likelihood of disputes down the line. It also demonstrates your integrity and commitment to fair dealing, qualities that can distinguish you in a crowded market. As a new player, your transparency on its own can be a signature offering. In the same vein, consider implementing payment plans, allowing clients to be transparent with you about their means and comfort. This will make your services more accessible to a broader range of clients. A way to start on the two-way street of trust is by offering a free initial consultation to discuss your services, pricing, and what clients can expect.

8. Create and implement a feedback system

Your initial pricing isn't set in stone. As you gain more experience and feedback, be prepared to adjust your rates. If you're consistently overbooked, it might be a sign that your prices are too low. Conversely, if you're struggling to attract clients, you may need to reassess your pricing strategy. Regularly review your pricing in the context of the results you deliver and the feedback you receive to ensure it remains appropriate and competitive. Some things to keep in mind here are:

  1. Solicit feedback: Regularly ask for feedback from clients about your services and pricing. Are they satisfied with the value they received? What did they like, what did they dislike, and why? What more could have been done? The more detailed this information is, the better it will be for you.

  2. Review and tabulate your outcomes: Keep track of the success rates of your clients, such as college acceptance rates and scholarship awards. High success rates can justify higher prices, and also help you analyze the difference between successful and unsuccessful cases, helping you tweak your own strategy.

By following these strategies, you can develop a pricing structure that reflects the true value of your services, meets market demands, and supports the financial health of your business.

If you’d like to recommend a rigorous research program open to high schoolers, you may want to consider the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded by researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here. You can also reach out to us at to know more, or to have a chat about possible collaborations!

Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students. Last year, we had 150 students on full need-based financial aid!

Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a Ph.D. student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.



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