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The American Institute of Certified Educational Planners (AICEP) - A Complete Guide

If you’re an experienced independent education consultant (IEC or counselor henceforth) looking for a certification that reflects your experience and competence, then we recommend you check out the American Institute of Certified Education Planners (AICEP). The AICEP, through its in-house assessment process, offers its Certified Education Planner (CEP) credential to counselors with deep experience in their field, robust knowledge of the college admission process, and relevant academic background.

What is the American Institute of Certified Education Planners?

AICEP, founded in 1994, confers the CEP credential on counselors, thereby recognizing that they have achieved the highest level of competence and knowledge in the field of counseling. AICEP offers its CEP credential to counselors specializing in admissions into colleges, boarding and day schools, and therapeutic programs and schools. 

How can I become a Certified Education Planner? 

Obtaining the CEP credential is a rigorous process and is reserved for experienced counselors who have worked with a variety of student profiles. At present, there are 276 CEPs in the U.S. To become a CEP credential, you must meet the eligibility criteria and pass the assessment test.

The initial qualifications required are as follows:

  • Have a Master’s degree in a relevant field (AIPEC recognizes that education counselors come from various backgrounds and will still consider your application if you do not have a relevant Master’s degree. Most likely, you will have to prove comparable professional experience and have completed relevant certificate programs like UCLA’s College Counseling Credential, UC Berkeley’s Admission Counseling Program, etc)

  • Have at least 4+ years of experience as a counselor

  • Prove that you continually seek professional development by attending conferences, workshops, webinars, panel discussions, etc., and membership in organizations like the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), and the American School Counselor Association (ASCA).

  • Must be a member of organizations for counselors (IECA, HECA, ASCA, etc)

  • Must contribute to the profession of counseling by sharing knowledge, either by participating in panel discussions, giving talks, writing articles and other knowledge resources, volunteering, etc

If you meet the eligibility criteria, you can apply to become a CEP. Your application must include details on the following:

  • Details on your educational background, training, and professional experience, including in your chosen specialization

  • Three professional references who can attest to and elaborate on your experience and expertise

  • A list of 30 site visits (colleges, schools, etc) conducted in the last 3-5 years

  • Provide a case study based on professional experience in your chosen specialization (boarding, day school, college, therapeutic, etc)

Two AICEP referees evaluate your profile and decide whether or not you can sit for the assessment test. In case your application is rejected, AICEP will provide you with specific feedback on where it is lacking — usually, applications are rejected because they do not meet the professional experience requirements.

What does the CEP Assessment include?

You can sit for the CEP Assessment within six months of your application being approved. The CEP Assessment will test your ability to advise students with different profiles effectively and evaluate how well you understand their needs, interpret their test scores, evaluate their college applications, and suggest “best fit” colleges. The assessment tests your professional and institutional knowledge through two essay-type questions. It is administered online and lasts for five hours, which includes a break. 

Broadly, the CEP Assessment will ask the following questions:

  • To test institutional knowledge: Write descriptions on two of four institutions selected by the testing committee. These will be based on the list of 30 site visits submitted as part of your application. 

  • Here, you will have to include information on the kind of student fit for the institution, standout features (if any), description of the amenities and the influence of nearby communities on the institution, admission criteria, and list two or three similar institutions.

  • To test professional knowledge: Evaluate the profiles of two fictitious students and recommend three to five colleges that would be a good fit for them. You will have to provide reasoning for your recommendations. 

  • Here, you will have to provide a plan of action for working with each student and their family, highlight what characteristics of a college fit the student’s profile, and accordingly provide justifications for your recommended college list.

Your CEP credential is valid for five years. You must recertify every five years to keep the credential valid. Recertification involves proving that you continuously seek professional development (by attending workshops, webinars, etc, and membership in professional organizations).

What does the profile of a certified CEP look like?

Before applying, it can be a good idea to compare your profile to someone who meets the eligibility requirements. CEPs are experienced counselors who are among the best in their field. They have vast experience and deep knowledge of their specialization and are often thought leaders. The AICEP website publishes sample profiles of counselors who qualified to take the CEP Assessment:

Profile of an independent consultant:

  • Master’s degree in Human Development

  • Attended programs sponsored by the College Board and Learning Disabilities Association of America to earn professional development hours

  • Attended the HECA and IECA annual conferences for four years

  • Enrolled in the IECA Summer Training Institute

  • Four years experience as an IEC

  • College counselor at a public high school for three years

  • Speaker and/or moderator at panel discussions, lectures, etc.

Profile of a college counselor:

  • Master’s degree in Guidance and Counseling

  • Eight years experience as a high school counselor

  • Two published articles on college admissions

  • Panelist at three conferences on college admissions

  • Attended multiple National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and affiliated conferences

  • Chair of Admissions Practices Committee of NACAC Affiliate

How much does the CEP certification cost?

It costs $300 to apply for the CEP credential. If you fail the assessment, you can reapply within 12 months at no extra cost. Additionally, there is a $150 annual fee to keep the credential valid.  

What else does AICEP offer?

AICEP hosts a blog on its website that it regularly updates with new information on the CEP credential and other knowledge related to counseling. Articles by authors touch upon how the CEP credential changed their professional lives, experiences of taking the CEP assessment, and more general topics like the impact of AI on counseling, the impact of remote learning, counseling international students, and more. You can access the blog here.

Additionally, AICEP offers an online directory of CEPs that students and parents can use. You can search for your preferred CEP by parameters like name, city/state of residence, and specialization. 

Our opinion — should you apply for a CEP credential?

If you’re an experienced counselor looking to distinguish yourself, a CEP credential is a great way to make yourself stand out! It is among the most prestigious recognitions you can receive as a counselor. Obtaining it involves a rigorous application process that tests your professional and institutional knowledge thoroughly. If you pass, you set yourself apart as a trusted counselor who can give students and parents the very best advice.   

Bonus — the Lumiere Research Scholar Program!

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!

Kieran Lobo is a freelance writer from India, who currently teaches English in Spain. 

Image Source: AICEP logo



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