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Independent Educational Consultants: Factors That Influence a Family’s Development of an Undergraduate College Consideration Set

Michelle G Helmin, Johnson & Wales University


College choice is one of the most significant decisions a family will make. Families with high socioeconomic status often hire independent educational consultants (IEC) to assist their family in college search activities. A review of the literature indicated a gap in the literature regarding IECs’ understanding of the factors which influence their client families in making the decision of whether to include a school in the family’s consideration set. The purpose of this mixed methods sequential explanatory study was to investigate and explore the factors that IECs believe would likely influence families as they build their consideration set for their traditionally-aged, first-time undergraduate students. The study was guided by two research questions: 1. How do IECs rank the factors that influence parents to include a school in their traditionally-aged undergraduate student’s consideration set? 2. How do IECs describe the factors that influence parents of prospective undergraduate students? In Phase 1, a Q-sort activity was completed by IECs (n = 33) recruited from throughout New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. In Phase 2, IECs (n = 5) participated in a dyad and triad to ascertain rich insights regarding the factors that they believe would most likely influence parents on the inclusion of a school in their family’s consideration set. Data from Phase 1 were analyzed using SPSS software and including factor analysis of the Q-sort configurations (Watts & Stenner, 2005). Phase 2 data were analyzed using a systematic analysis of the transcripts for each dyad and triad using similar coding across transcripts to uncover common themes (Kruger & Casey, 2009). Findings from both phases were analyzed for convergence and divergence. The results of the study indicate that IECs believe that cost, the availability of scholarships, the distance from home, parents of other college students, and the US News and World Report rankings all influence whether a family includes a school in their consideration set. Results may be used to inform decision-making by higher education marketers and enrollment managers as they create outreach strategies that will influence full or fuller pay families to include their schools in the family’s consideration set.

Subject Area

Higher education|Marketing|School counseling

Recommended Citation

Helmin, Michelle G, "Independent Educational Consultants: Factors That Influence a Family’s Development of an Undergraduate College Consideration Set" (2023). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI30316729.