Cialfo and HECA annual conference 2017

A couple weeks ago, Anjalee and I travelled all the way from Singapore to sunny California for HECA’s annual 2017 conference. It was a blast meeting so many independent education consultants and learning from the keynotes and sessions. Approximately 350 IECs attended, most of whom were from the West Coast (thanks to all who offered us sightseeing tips!).

Cialfo sponsored the welcome reception for HECA conference attendees. There were great snacks, free flow drinks, and amazing company. Paula from The Academic Match showed us their Big Essay Ideas card deck — 50 thought-provoking questions that help students brainstorm admissions essays. On Day Two, we attended the official closing beach party – there was sand, food, and we danced to the Vengaboys.


Tips from the College Essay Guy

We had the privilege of meeting Ethan Sawyer, better known as the College Essay Guy! He hosted a presentation called “25 Amazing 1 Minute Ideas To Take Your College Counselling To The Next Level” alongside Casey Rowley (Counsellor, Beverly Hills HS) and Evelyn Alexander (Counsellor, Magellan College). The full list of 25+ tips can be found over at [], but we’ve listed some of our favourites below.

1. To have a great workshop or bootcamp, invest in great snacks.

2. Alternatively, host a mini Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) session… though we prefer the snacks idea.

“Chocolate is a must, and a Costco or Sam’s Club membership can be key. Last year, I found Hot Fries to be pretty epic with the guys.” – Chris Reeves

3. Take a minute to check in with the student before your session starts to see where they are mentally.

4. Ask students to pick three (and only three) people to receive feedback from.

5. To quickly build rapport with your students, ask them what their favourite band or artist is on their intake form. When they come in, have that artist playing on Pandora or Spotify.

The other presentation hosted by Ethan was called “How To Improve A Personal Statement In 20 Minutes”, where he discusses the litmus test for a great college essay. It’s a great presentation that a blog post can’t do justice, so you should check out the Prezi [here]. Anjalee came out of that presentation saying she should become a mentor, so you know it’s good!

The college admissions landscape

Robert Massa from Drew University and Claire Cafaro of HECA presented on the changing college admissions landscape. They took us through the evolution of college counselling: from 1988, where guidance counsellors were the local experts – to the 2010s, where it is now data-driven and the majority of college admission counselling takes place online.

There were some statistics and numbers mentioned that caught our eye:

  • the cost of not going to college is about $500,000
  • in 2014, Americans with a 4 year college degree made 98% more per hour than those without (in contrast with the 84% in 2004)
  • over their lifetimes, high school graduates earn $1.2m, college grads earn $2.1m, masters graduates earn $2.5m, doctoral grads earn $3.4m, and professionl degrees (law and medicine) earn $4.4m
  • that college graduates are twice more likely to be in better health than non-college graduates!

All these make for interesting implications about the future of colleges. Exploring international markets is a must, as international students help colleges plug deficits in revenue and enrollment. Colleges need to differentiate or die (what programs stand out? What opportunities are being offered that aren’t available anywhere else?).

Online learning

Julia Varriale from the UCLA Extension College Counselling Certificate Program spoke about the rise of online learning. 85% of those studying online are undergraduates, with 14% of almost 6 million online learners studying exclusively online.

There has been enormous growth in online learning in K12. In 2000, only 14 states had state-sanctioned online K12 virtual schools — compare that to 2011 with 55% of school districts nationwide. The biggest reasons are, of course, credit recovery and course not offered, but there are also other reasons like illness, home-schooling, or scheduling conflicts.

And the answer to “do colleges care?” is: it depends. Is the college private or public? Where did you take the online class, and why?

Online learning extends beyond high school and undergraduate college – of the 20,207,369 students enrolled in at least one online class in 2014, 2,914,582 were enrolled in post-baccalaureate studies. That’s 14.4%! Common reasons cited include flexibility, time constraints, transience, lower cost, and course not offered nearby.

Predictions for 2018

This was our first time attending HECA (as well as the first ever international organisation to attend), and we learnt a lot from the people and presentations. Most strikingly, we realised that a lot of challenges Asian IECs face are the same as our Western counterparts, from setting boundaries with parents to getting students to submit essays on time.

Education as a whole is also slowly progressing towards further tech enablement. 90% of the exhibitors at HECA were education technology companies, founded by some incredibly passionate people we were lucky to meet. As the education industry shifts to a more tech-focused mindset, customer service will become even more important — not just with parents, but also in allowing the student to be the driver of the consultancy sessions.

We’d like to extend a massive thank you to the HECA team and volunteers for organising a great time. For all HECA 20/20 Vision conference attendees, we’re offering a 1 year free trial of Cialfo. Simply check your email for the promotion code (if it’s not there, do check the spam box as well).

See you at the 2018 annual conference!

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