• 11/14/2022 8:06 AM | Anonymous

    By Keith Berman, Ed.M., M.S.Ed., CEP, President, Options for College, Inc.

    When I was first certified as a CEP, life was… very different. I had just gotten married, was living in Cambridge, MA, and had just come off a six-year whirlwind that included working in both the Harvard and Yale undergraduate admissions offices, completing my commitment to the New York City Teaching Fellowship, writing articles on special education technology issues of national importance at the American Institutes for Research, surviving my first year in practice, traveling to India to work with the Princeton Review ACS team, and even getting a nod from Boston Magazine, where an elite college admission was linked to the sin of pride with a delightfully snarky tone.

    I felt I had done things the right way, so to speak. I had taught in schools, earned my Masters, worked in admissions, written policy memos, and was ‘officially ready’ to give advice. The only problem was that, well, no one cared whether you did things ‘right’ or not…

    … until I found the American Institute of Certified Educational Planners. Despite all my credentials, I felt like I hadn’t ‘started’ as a consultant, beyond deciding that, in my 20’s, I was going to enter the field of educational consulting for a good long time (I started my 18th year this March). That’s what AICEP meant – the “right start” – some acknowledgment that, indeed, I had made a commitment to a profession, not just a business. 

    The next few years, and recerts, would see me consult with urban districts, form a relationship with Johns Hopkins CTY, work in schools running guidance offices, and travel the world as a speaker, all while working as an Independent Educational Consultant (IEC). I even found a voice and style and wrote a curriculum that I still use.

    Much of it comes back to those nervy moments I sent my CEP application to a group of veritable strangers. Holding my background and skillset up to a group of experts was the most significant step in launching me forward – the right way to verify that I was indeed ready to advise families and students.  

    Now my life is very different, back in my beloved New York City, with a bigger family and established practice, much more interested in finding calm than remaining in the whirlwind, an AICEP Commissioner about to complete his first term. But one thing has not changed at all. The significance of certification continues to be one of my most valued credentials, and it brings with it the peace of mind that only belonging to a community of practice with high standards can.


  • 10/23/2022 10:55 PM | Anonymous

    Author: Julia Surtshin, MSEd., CEP.

    I’d submitted my application to AICEP and had been given the go-ahead to sit for the assessment. I was working my prep system and had scheduled the assessment. Finally, the day arrived. I was prepared: water and coffee, and a snack to keep myself fueled. I’d figured I’d be done in about three hours (which was the average even back in the day when the assessment was longer), and planned to go out to lunch and have a margarita with my husband to celebrate.

    I opened my laptop, looked at the exam, and I was off. Sitting for the AICEP assessment is a serious undertaking. I’d had mentors who offered encouragement and told me what to expect.

    But...what they didn’t tell me is about the surprise I’d get as I tapped away at my laptop’s keyboard, conveying what I knew about colleges and expounding on how I’d handle the imaginary student highlighted in the case study.

    That surprise was how much I really did know about colleges, about students, about fit, and about handling an IEC practice. As hour three grew closer to four and I was nowhere near finishing, the proctor suggested that I’d better get some lunch. (My coffee had run out and the snacks were long gone.) After a quick bite, I returned to complete my answers, finally closing my laptop about three hours later. I’d been an IEC for close to 15 years, had visited countless campuses and worked with a wide range of students. I’d prepared for this and yet, I was not completely sure that I had what it takes to earn my CEP. I was genuinely taken by surprise by how much knowledge, skill, and yes...perspective, I could bring to bear on subjects that I dearly loved.

    So, why am I telling you this? Because while mentors will make suggestions about how to prepare for the assessment, offer strategies for “test day,” and perhaps, even allude to the satisfaction you’ll feel when you’re done (in my experience it was called relief), no one truly prepared me for the energized satisfaction I felt as my fingers flew in an effort to communicate what I had to share.

    Sometime later, the letter from AICEP arrived. I’d done it. I was a Certified Educational Planner!

    As a longtime advocate for quality standards for our profession, I’d originally sought my CEP as a “put your money where your mouth is” effort. I wanted to do my part to bolster the professionalism of our field. In the end, the most significant benefit I got was the opportunity to pull together and take stock of my own professional accomplishments and acumen and receive recognition of that from my peers.


  • 10/23/2022 10:39 PM | Anonymous

    Author: Qing (Shirley) Xian, MBA., CEP

    It has been two and half years since the wave of campus closure due to the covid-19 pandemic.

    I still clearly remember the chaos I experienced, spending long hours at night talking to worried parents of boarding school students. We were trying hard to figure out where my students were: on their way home, in a quarantine facility somewhere? Were they stuck at an airport? Would they be allowed to board? Were they safe and sound? 

    Thankfully, life is getting back to normal and remote learning is gradually becoming a remote memory. Yet, for this college application season, there is still a question in the Common Application asking about the impact of Covid-19. We’ve all heard so much about the inconvenience and negative impacts of remote learning on students, the lack of peer interactions, the heavy burdens on families, etc. The best news is that most students in the U.S. are back on campus already. It seems the right time to move on and lessen the emotional burden we’re carrying.  

    As a CEP who works mainly with international students, I have learned firsthand from my students’ experiences that there are multiple layers of impact of remote learning, and the last layer only applied to a small group of students who experienced a profound negative impact on their academic performance and well-being. And today, I want to talk about them specifically, to try to peel off these layers one by one:

    The first dimension: being remote and away from campus, your friends, your teachers, and your communities.

    This is the dimension that is most common. I don’t want to spend much time talking about the impact of being remote, which has been discussed extensively through many channels; this negative impact has happened to all students to various degrees.

    The second dimension: under the impact of time difference. 

    This dimension mostly applied to the international students. Several hours of time difference could cause great inconvenience. But 12, 13, or even more hours of time difference literally reversed day and night for these poor kids, causing a profoundly negative impact in their daily life and their academics during remote learning. Some schools were more considerate and offered these students recording of classes and gave them leeway to skip the normal class time.

    But we all know, high school material, especially in AP or IB high level courses, can be challenging to digest even if a student is sitting in the classroom with a teacher. Although super inconvenient, many of my students chose to still dial in to the zoom meetings, to participate in real time. As teenagers and young adults, they not only needed to stay up really late and sleep during daytime, which was exhausting, a lot of them also registered to take AP tests.

    Importantly, the AP tests were administered in the U.S. time zone, which could mean the tests would finish at 2am or 3am Asia Pacific time. To make sure they still had clear mind during tests, these kids started to adjust to the different time zones months before. So even though their classes may have finished at 12am at night Asia Pacific time, they forced themselves to stay up until 2 or 3am into the morning to train their bodies and minds. Although these kids stayed at home, they were lonely. When they woke up, their parents had already left for work.

    And when their parents were at home after work, they were in classes online. Although in the same house or apartment, they barely had any family time. They also barely found time to interact with their childhood friends in their hometowns because their schedules wouldn’t allow it. Not only they couldn’t participate on campus activities, but it was also almost impossible to participate in activities back home. For them, remote learning went beyond being inconvenient. It could be absolutely devastating, both physically and mentally. 

    The third dimension: being the outlier or becoming marginalized (unintentionally)

    When comparing a Zoom classroom to an in-person classroom, it’s easy to see that it’s harder to carry on conversations, ask questions, or get answers with teachers, or with other classmates via a Zoom classroom.

    But let’s imagine a different scenario; for a class of 30 students, you are one of the only three or four students participating via Zoom online, in a day and night reversed time zone, while your teacher and all other 26 or 27 classmates are in the same room. Then, imagine you have a question that you want to clarify with your teacher, but the conversation in the room has already moved on to next topic. You try to raise your hand via Zoom, but the teacher fails to notice it, accidentally……somehow because of this or that, you slowly lose the courage or drive to follow through and your questions remain unanswered. You gradually feel that they, your teachers, and classmates on campus are one group, and you and other international students, in China or in Mongolia or other countries, are another group, a much smaller one.

    This was the reality for several of my students. Because at the time, due to travel bans, in order to return back to campus, they needed to stay in a third country for 14 days before entering back into the U.S. Furthermore, due to the limited flight options during the pandemic, they may have had to stay in a country they’d never visited before and where they didn’t know a single soul for two weeks while needing to navigate all the potential challenges and processes required to leave the hotel, get to the airport, and navigate an unfamiliar airport before heading back to the U.S. And these were teenagers!  Because of these uncertainties and concerns, their families hesitated. As a mother, I knew I certainly would under these circumstances. 

    The great news is that all these students are now back on campus, and they’ve resumed their normal school lives. They couldn’t wait to come back and were thrilled when they got back on campus. Now, these students have a renewed motivation and deep appreciation. Their engagements in their campus communities are stronger than ever.

    But the not-so-great news is that their transcripts sometimes reflect the challenging journeys that they’ve been through. Because of the experiences of students like mine, when we talk about the impact of remote learning due to Covid-19, it’s important for all of us to take the time and effort to fully understand its varied and often complex dimensions.


  • 09/26/2022 8:47 AM | Anonymous

    By Sany Furth, CEP

    I received a query from a family the other day that said this: I am looking for a consultant who has experience with international university placement. I used someone who said they had experience, but did not. My child is at an international location that is not a fit. While I don’t know if this family used a consultant who is part of an organization like NACAC, IECA or HECA or even a Certified Educational Planner (CEP), what I do know is that having my CEP distinguishes me in a variety of ways. 

    As the number of domestic and international educational consultants are on the rise, it is paramount  as international IECs to distinguish ourselves from agents as well as those who have never worked with an international student, traveled abroad and viewed schools or post secondary institutions or have an understanding of cultural differences. 

    We know the difference between agents and an IEC, and we want our clientele to clearly understand these differences as well. We work for the family, not  a specific school. We know we  are not there to fill seats, we are there for the family to provide wise counsel and assist families in making the best possible decisions for their students. We know that a Certified Educational Planner is the highest mark in our profession and is a clear demonstration of unique expertise in our field of consulting. We continue our knowledge base of whatever our specialty: university, school, therapeutic based consulting, summer, test prep to name just a few. Agents have a narrow view of all of this. This is why the CEP designation is important to us as international consultants. 

    Those who work with an international clientele also have keen knowledge of cultural needs as well as the understanding of transition from one culture to another;  what it takes to move from one country to another. Our work does not stop just at placement. This is another aspect differentiating us from agents. 

    Because we recertify every five years, our learning is continuous through campus visits, webinars, visits with admissions directors. This sets us apart from not only agents, but others out there without this designation. We CEPs are informed, we guide and advise. We keep up with what is new in the field, and we know in the last several years, things have moved quickly and changed on a dime. 

    Holding the Certified Educational Planner is the highest level of professional standards in the  field of educational consulting.  Do not hesitate to reach out to us, we will not let you go down this path alone. We will coach you, we will assist you through the application process, tutor you through the exam process. We want you to succeed and gain this esteemed designation.

  • 01/28/2022 8:35 AM | Erika Smith


    On Jan 21st, 2022, the Department of Homeland    Security (DHS) announced that 22 new fields of study   had been added to the STEM Optional Practical   Training (OPT) program to enhance the contributions   of nonimmigrant students studying in the fields of   science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and support the growth of the U.S. economy and innovation. These 22 new fields of study include Forestry, Climate Science, Geobiology, Data Science, Business Analytics, Financial Analytics, Social Sciences, Research Methodology and Quantitative Methods and list of other fields (please refer to the link below to review the details).

    This new policy has significant impact for international students in their consideration of their career choice post-graduation. Under traditional OPT, foreign students who graduate from American universities can stay and work in the U.S. for one year after graduation. During this one year OPT period, they can receive sponsorship from their employers to participate in the annual lottery for a slot in the 85,000 H-1B work visas. Due to the high uncertainty associated with this lottery, many employers purposely shun away from international graduates. For these graduates of designated STEM fields, they have three years vs. one year to participate in the lottery and thus get much higher chance to receive a work visa.

    With this expanded STEM OPT program, the international students and new graduates from these 22 fields have gained access to three years OPT vs. one year and their chances to receive work visa through lottery have improved tremendously. For them, the impact of this extended STEM designated degree list is material on their career outlook in the U.S. In turn, this new policy development will also influence the choice of major for future international students.

    Please refer to the original article using link https://www.dhs.gov/news/2022/01/21/dhs-expands-opportunities-us-stem-professionals

    For the list of newly added fields of study, please refer to the link https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2022/01/21/2022-01188/update-to-the-department-of-homeland-security-stem-designated-degree-program-list


  • 11/22/2021 1:46 PM | Erika Smith

    Recertification Reflections by Erika Smith, CEP, AICEP Commissioner

    It is hard to believe I am already up for recertification for the first time.  December 1 to be exact.  Instead of writing this, I probably should be busy making copies and getting everything submitted! 

    Becoming certified is something I, like so many of you, worked towards for years.  I remember having the application printed out on my desk.  I would peek at it periodically—especially when I was having one of “those” days.  It was my guide on my professional journey toward a career that I could be proud of.  A career built on professionalism, education, ethics, and experience.  A career that included becoming a Certified Educational Planner (CEP)—the highest recognition in the field of independent educational consulting.

    To be honest, I’ve dreaded the recertification process.  As the years have passed, my work has become more demanding and my life more complicated.  The kids I work with and the kids I am trying to raise can take up a lot of time and energy!  Throw in murder hornets, a global pandemic, and civil unrest and it has been a little overwhelming for all of us.  Now that I am in the midst of the process, I am realizing something very valuable and unexpected that I want to share.

    As I look back on what I have (and have not) done over the past several years, I am finding myself re-energized and re-focused.  I thought I might feel bad about all the things I haven’t done, but that hasn’t happened.  I feel good about what I’ve done and looking forward to all those things I can still do—to serve my students, promote the CEP, and make a difference.  As I am looking back, I am moving forward.

    I encourage other CEPs (and those considering earning the designation) to focus less on what hasn’t been done yet and what can be done next.  We give our students a plan to reach their goals.  We also have a plan that can be realized and developed through the certification and recertification process.  Like so many other things in life—the CEP is more about the journey than the destination. 

    If you have questions about earning your CEP or the recertification process, reach out and talk to someone.  The AICEP Commission is made up of a group of professionals who like (almost) nothing better than to encourage other professionals to pursue and make the most of the CEP designation.  You can contact us by visiting www.aicep.org


  • 09/15/2021 10:04 AM | Katelyn Klapper (Administrator)

    This August, at the first Commission meeting of the 2020 -21 year, AICEP welcomed two newly elected commissioners. Certified Educational Planners, Alice Lissarrague and Qing (Shirley) Xian, each join the Commission for a three-year term and are currently both serving on the AICEP Outreach Committee.  The executive leadership team was also elected in June to continue for an additional year including:  Chair, Katelyn Klapper, CEP; Vice-chair, Rachel Sobel, Ph.D, CEP; Secretary Pamela Tedeschi, CEP; and Treasurer, Steven Syverson.

    In June 2021, Commissioner Lora Block, CEP, rotated off  the AICEP Commission after serving six years. The Commission is grateful for Lora's service and commitment to the professional standards of the CEP designation.



    Alice Lissarrague, M. Ed. & CEP, has nearly 20 years of experience as both an ESL and French teacher and college counselor, and is the founder of Lissarrague College Guidance, LLC. Alice taught at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Konan Women's University in Japan, Burlington High School and the Lake Champlain Waldorf School (LCWS). Alice is the college counselor at LCWS and has been an independent educational consultant since 2011. Prior to becoming a consultant, she served as the Smith College Alumnae Admissions Coordinator for Vermont. Alice regularly offers college guidance presentations to her local community and volunteers as a peer mentor to other college consultants.  



    Qing (Shirley) Xian, M.B.A. & CEP,  grew up in an educator family on a university campus in China. She is a professional member of Independent Educational Consultant Association (IECA), with a UCLA Certificate of College Counselling, earned with distinction. Shirley holds a strong belief in the value of in-person campus visit and has visited more than 100 college campuses from 2014 to 2019. In August 2018, Shirley published a book < “Interview” American College Campuses “美国大学> in Chinese by Social Sciences Academic Press (China). Prior to becoming an IEC, Shirley graduated from Georgetown University MBA in 2001 and developed in-depth industry expertise in Financial Services and Technology/Manufacturing and subject matter expertise in business analytics, data science, finance, and marketing.

    ABOUT AICEP

    The American Institute of Certified Educational Planners (AICEP) awards the CEP credential to professionals, working independently or in schools, who have achieved the highest level of competence in educational planning. Only the best and most experienced counselors qualify to become CEPs.  A key requirement of all Certified Educational Planners is that they adhere to a strict code of ethical practices. In this way, the CEP designation signifies that the consultant maintains the highest standards of professional service and conduct.

    AICEP is taking the lead in providing the public with an assessed assurance of knowledgeable and professional educational planning. We hope that you will join this elite, and growing, group of educators, and help us further our mission of cultivating excellence in our field.


  • 05/10/2021 2:48 PM | Katelyn Klapper (Administrator)

    AICEP's Certification Confirms a Committment to Professional Standards

    We are seeing a continuing shifting of the tides toward the importance of credentialing for educational consultants. Now is the time to earn the CEP certification or renew your certification. 

    In much the same way that the ‘Varsity Blues’ college admissions scandal resulted in updated legislation in the State of California, there is also a groundswell of attention in a variety of states (including Utah, North Carolina, and Oregon) to further regulate the field of therapeutic placements. The State of Oregon is currently considering legislation which will have direct consequences on how referring professionals work with therapeutic placements in the state.

    SB 749, currently working its way through the OR Legislature, 

    “Requires residential care referral agent to be registered with Department of Human Services. Imposes certain requirements on residential care referral agents. Makes residential care referral agent mandatory reporter of child abuse. [Makes violation of certain provisions unfair trade practice.] Declares emergency, effective on passage.”

    In its current form, this bill proposes requirements for any referring professional involved in therapeutic placements who a) lives in Oregon b) has clients who reside in Oregon and/or c) refers a client to a therapeutic program in Oregon to not only pay a $750 license and registration fee to the State of Oregon (every two years), but must also comply with a comprehensive list of requirements, disclosures, and contractual obligations. While cost considerations of this bill could possibly slow its progress, the increased focus on professionals of all specialties within educational planning is only growing. 

    To our knowledge, the leadership of IECATCANATSAPNACAC, and HECA, as well as program representation from COPA, (all of which are membership organizations), are aware of this proposed legislation, and are in various stages of institutional responses, and we applaud and support their efforts on behalf of their membership.  

    AICEP is not a membership organization, but AICEP does provide a pathway for referring professionals to obtain, and maintain, the highest level of professional certification available in our field. As more attention is paid to educational and therapeutic consulting, in both traditional and non-traditional settings, we encourage all referring professionals to further their own commitment to ongoing education, professional development, and upholding the highest ethical standards by becoming or renewing your status as a Certified Educational Planner. AICEP welcomes all Referring Professionals, including members of IECAHECATCA, as well as those who remain unaffiliated, to reach out and learn more about formal certification.


  • 04/02/2021 6:33 AM | Erika Smith

    A Reflection on Recertification, by Dr. Erin Avery, CEP. AICEP Commissioner

    My, how time flies. It has been another five years since I recertified. Like measuring my life by the ages of my growing children, sometimes I stop and think, “How can five years possibly fly by so quickly?” As my oldest child prepares to leave home in September, I pause to reflect on my two decades as an educational consultant and my decade as a Certified Educational Planner. 

    A client, contemplating the shifting sands of higher education, remarked last week, “We need you now more than ever, Dr. Avery.” To that, I say that I need AICEP more than ever. Not only do I make a point to share with each and every prospective client that I am among a group of professionals in my field that supremely values continuing education, so much so that I would commit to 75 campus visits to fulfil my recertification requirements. I am also proud to share that I passed an exhaustive assessment that validated my college and boarding school knowledge by a committee of my peers.

    To say that being a CEP is “the gold standard of educational consultants” is no exaggeration. If one peruses the paperwork that recertification entails, one will note the many ways that we can document our professional development. For me, teaching for the past eight years in the UC Irvine Certificate in Educational Consulting program counts toward my recertification as well as having published my first book this year. I also have completed much community service with a local girls’ middle school which also has a place in the documentation. In addition to teaching, publishing articles and community service, leadership of all kinds can be used toward fulfilling recertification goals. So there are many ways to demonstrate our growth and professional mastery in our field.

    Please consider joining us in our efforts to set the highest standard for the field through our commitment to continued professional development and certification. Your clients will attest that your consulting is worth its weight in gold.



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