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HECA Conference Highlights

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

Earlier this month, I was in Alexandria, VA for the HECA (Higher Education Consultants Association) conference. (To learn more about HECA, visit

As an IEC (independent educational consultant), I value any and all professional development and networking opportunities, and the HECA conference did not disappoint. Not only did I learn about the latest in college admission trends and ed tech tools, I also got to network with admission officers from all over the country. It was a busy week! Below are highlights from two sessions and a college tour that stood out as particularly informative.

Most impactful educational presentation: "Ethics of Using AI in College Admissions"

Presented by Paul Nicholas, IEC, and Jamie Harper, Microsoft

The AI landscape may be relatively new, but it is rapidly evolving. In February, I wrote a blog post in which I cautioned students against using AI to write their college essays, and while I still believe students should author their own papers, this session made me realize that I need to approach AI with an open mind rather than from a place of fear. After all, it’s not going anywhere.

Bottom line: Colleges’ admissions offices are already starting to utilize AI to perform all kinds of application-related tasks, such as sorting through GPAs and test scores. Additionally, and ironically, colleges can have AI screen essays to see if they were written using AI, which was not readily known until recently.

Most eye-opening to me is that admissions officers could (and probably will) begin using AI to scrape applicants' social media platforms to see what they’ve posted. To some degree, admission officers have been doing this for years without the current tech tools, but AI gives them the bandwidth to do a deeper dive. Applicants: take note and clean up your Instagram and Tik Tok accounts before you submit your applications!

Best Ed Tech product presentation: College Kickstart

College Kickstart ( was founded by George Fan in 2013 “as a passion project run amok” during and after he worked with his own teenagers on their college admissions processes. The website’s blog page is filled with free data-driven stats for anyone, including students and parents, while the paid programming is available for the deep dive. This review provides an in-depth explanation: oney/college-cost-data-tools.html

Bottom line: This is a unique “web application designed to help college counselors ensure their students have a personalized and realistic college plan that includes a well-balanced list and early admission strategy.” Right away, I knew I needed a College Kickstart subscription, and I've already used it to generate professional PDFs for my clients and their families.

An Informative and Inspiring College Tour: American University

As an alumna and former parent at Georgetown University, I have spent a lot of time in DC. However, I had never toured American University before, and their admission office really rolled out the red carpet for our HECA/IEC group!

AU is on a well-appointed, scenic campus perched above DC in an aptly titled leafy neighborhood called American University Park. For its undergraduate population of 8000 students, there are are six separate undergraduate schools within the college to capture almost any academic interest.

Bottom line: Budding diplomats, AU would be a great fit! Check out AU’s undergraduate School of International Service:

Students choose emphasis areas in theme ("The Global Economy" or "Justice, Ethics and Human Rights," for example), a global region, and a language in which to gain fluency. Study abroad options are designed to enhance this educational experience.

The AU/SIS website touts, “as a student here, you will graduate prepared to combine knowledge and practice and to serve the global community as an emerging leader, waging peace and building understanding in our world.” I don't doubt it!


It was refreshing and inspiring to learn so much while getting to know fellow IECs from around the country. We work in a rapidly-changing and exciting industry, one in which collaboration and professional development are profoundly important. I can't wait to see what's in store for the 2024 HECA conference (in Atlanta!). Whatever sessions and tours are offered, I know I can count on learning the latest educational, relevant content.

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