Jessica Donovan of Red Brick College Consulting
How did you start your business?
In a conversation with a mentor, I mentioned my desire to help families with the college search process on a more personal level. He pointed me in the direction of Independent Educational Consulting. I was kicking around the idea when the Independent Educational Consultants Association
held a special workshop in Denver. The workshop helped me verify that this is a great career fit and also gave me an outline for getting started.
From there, I met with anyone and everyone who would listen. I consulted with education experts, school district administration, university administration, high school families, other independent consultants, accountants, lawyers, marketers, a SCORE mentor and various others. After all my research, I basically jumped in feet first, with no regret.
How did you come up with the idea for your business?
Budget cuts have forced high schools to reduce funding for guidance programs. In-depth college counseling services are all but obsolete in many districts. Research suggests the average guidance counselor has a caseload of 500 students and spends a mere 28 minutes with each one per year.
I counseled high school students and their parents for years at the University of Cincinnati as an assistant dean. I discovered that most families—even with parents who earned college degrees—struggle with the college selection process as a whole and have trouble navigating the admission and financial aid processes at all the institutions they’re investigating. That’s where I step in. I bridge the gaps between the high schools, families and universities to ensure students find the right academic and social environment in which they can thrive.
What resources here did you take advantage of and how did they help?
I had a diverse set of professional and personal mentors who support me and provide information and guidance, as needed. Cincinnati is comprised of many inter-connected communities. Reaching out to one person has the potential to lead down many paths. I connected with lawyers, accountants, creative directors, former co-workers, friends and family, all of whom helped me with everything from my business plan to intellectual property to personal support.
What inspires you?
I love translating a high school student’s personality and interests into a potential academic program, career and college choice. I enjoy looking at a student’s overall portfolio and helping to narrow their college search via personal assessment and research. Families are excited when they realize they have more diverse options than originally imagined—and that gets me pumped.
What’s next for you and your company?
I’m working on just about everything right now, but building my client base and developing programming for high schools are at the top of the list.
Interview by Robin Donovan