You can start to get a clear picture of what type of college counseling service you receive from Sheila Hallsted-Baumert when you check out her LinkedIn profile. The Certificate Program in College Admissions and Career Planning graduate and independent educational consultant (IEC) has a history in education and the résumé to prove it.
Here’s what Sheila has to say about her IEC business, HB Education Solutions:
With close to 30 years of experience in international education, from K–12 teacher and counselor, I have mastered how to help students navigate the transition from high school to university and from undergraduate to graduate programs.
My IEC practice delivers a full package of services that guides students in researching colleges and programs, balancing a rigorous GPA with competitive test scores and more; however, I know the best moments are to be found when talking about a student’s passion. Holistically minded, my guiding principle is for students to become confident learners; I believe in each student's capacity to succeed.
Applying for college can be a stressful time for students and their families. From her own undergraduate experience to her master’s and doctorate degrees, Sheila’s path has always been rooted in education and with finding purpose. Her current career is a culmination of years of learning, engaging and teaching—with a bit of administration to round out her skill set. A goal of Sheila’s is to have her clients find their true selves in their educational process.
Let’s take a look at the journey Sheila went on in order to arrive where she is today.
First, Find Your Passions
Sheila’s original career path was to become a musician.
“I grew up on the East Coast in a suburb of Washington, D.C., with a musical mother,” she says. “I, too, believed I was destined to be a musician. I played the violin; attended Tanglewood, Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer academy for advanced study; and followed my teacher Miss Pardee to Juilliard.”
Her undergraduate college experience was also determined by her love of music: She applied to and attended Princeton University to follow her interests and because of orchestra conductor Michael Pratt’s enthusiasm. However, an injury took her off the musician path, and instead she pursued a degree in romance languages and literatures.
Following her bachelor’s degree, Sheila attended and earned both her master’s degree and Ph.D. in European history from New York University (NYU), specifically for the chance to work with Dr. Tony Judt, who was well known in the history field, and because the program had a built-in year abroad in Paris at Sciences Po. When an initiative for a joint doctorate with the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales enabled her to satisfy the Ph.D. requirements for both universities, Sheila was up for the challenge.
“In terms of a career, I was preparing the terrain for a position at the university level and I wanted the cross-cultural and transatlantic connections to help deepen my research and fluency,” she says.
Second, Inspire the Next Generation
From late 2005 to mid-2015, Sheila held various roles at the Ermitage International School of France near Paris. Her first position was as a head teacher for critical thinking, humanities, geopolitics and English for the K–12 and university levels.
“Ermitage provided me with a great opportunity,” she says of her time with them. “I had been prepared to teach at the university level, but the training and experience Ermitage offered allowed me to see how important it was to reach children earlier—encourage, mentor and guide became my mantra as I designed my classes.
“I also realized that I wanted to contribute more to the school’s mission. Ermitage was entertaining the idea of bringing in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP). I was brought onto the senior executive team as a senior development and curriculum adviser.”
An integral cross-functional team member, Sheila managed the lifecycle of the application process, developed training workshops and performance management measures for faculty, served as subject matter expert for the design of innovative curricula, and coordinated with admissions to recruit and retain cohorts.
“My love of research made a perfect fit with the kind of in-depth investigation needed for curriculum development and faculty training,” she says.
In 2009, Sheila was promoted to academic dean, which included the responsibilities of school counselor for 120 students from diverse backgrounds in the K–12 setting. There, Sheila performed numerous duties, including:
tracking student progress
maintaining application processes
advising on scholarship/grant proposals and research projects
providing access to academic resources
coordinating with Ermitage’s university admissions counselor to provide student training in college counseling, résumé building, interview coaching, public speaking and essay writing.
Little did she know she was building the skills for a new career path.
Although she also held the interim assistant director position for Ermitage’s middle school program for one year, Sheila reflects:
“My role here that most influenced my current career as an admissions consultant was as the academic dean and school counselor. I was asked to take on the 11th- and 12th-grade classes to help them craft their course selection, navigate the many moving pieces of the IBDP and maintain close relationships with them as they prepared for their next academic journey.
“I fell in love with this age group—everything was new to them. The best was overseeing their research projects and guiding them to shift their mindsets.”
Third, Don’t Forget Your Own Career Goals
Those work experiences also allowed Sheila to see where she needed to make improvements for her own career. In 2016, she joined Revolution Prep as an online faculty trainer and academic tutor in college admissions, counseling and test prep.
“As I leaned more into the world of college admissions, I started to notice my blind spots,” she admits. “One major issue was knowing very little about standardized testing. I started working for Revolution Prep as an SAT/ACT tutor to get a better sense of the test itself.
“From inside the testing world, I gained valuable insight into how to counsel students—and even more so as COVID-19 upended the admissions landscape, in terms of whether to submit a score or not. In fact, I have a much better grasp of how to help students understand their current levels, what the test is demonstrating and how they should approach standardized testing as one piece of the entire admissions process.”
Overlapping with the online college admissions tutoring, she founded HB Education Solutions and is its lead education and admissions consultant. Although she is an educational consultant, being an independent one is both familiar and uncharted territory for her. She relies on past experiences to guide her and to set the tone.
“I love being my own boss,” she says. “A major benefit of my business is the ability to work more one-on-one with my students. The challenge with being an IEC is feeling that you are isolated and alone. At first, I felt as though I was re-inventing the wheel every day. Then I realized that joining associations such as National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA) gave me the much-needed interactions with other IECs and the resources to make my practice much more efficient.”
Passing along that knowledge to those who want it or need it is also part of her life and career goals. In order to help make that a reality—and to reflect and reset—Sheila became a podcast host.
“Often, my days are punctuated with re-capping sessions, researching university programs and reading essay drafts,” she explains. “One of the great pieces of advice I received from my mentor in this field was to take time away from the office. For me, that also meant a mental stepping back and reflecting. The year 2020 marked the beginning of COVID-19 and a rise in mental health issues. I thought my monthly musings might be a way to slow things down, take the time to really look around and perhaps give others a chance to think about the industry in a different way.”
These musings, as she calls them, encouraged leaning into your community for support and led Sheila to write a blog post for CounselMore and receive recognition from HECA. “I wish for students, parents, fellow counselors,” she says, “to have access to as much data-driven information as possible. Getting to be a national webinar host on various topics from testing to executive functioning gives me a platform to share information freely to a wide public!”
Fourth, Exceed Expectations
“Enrolling and completing the Certificate Program in College Admissions and Career Planning certificate was the best move for my career!”
With all of Sheila’s relevant professional experience, this is a bold statement to make. She was already tutoring and doing a podcast and speaking obligations—on top of operating her own independent business. So why then at this point throw in the mix our college admissions and career planning certificate?
“I realized that I needed to add academic heft to my experience,” Sheila replies. “I had a certain amount of ethos before launching my own company, but the ‘Varsity Blues’ scandal that surrounded this industry lingered.
“I knew future clients—or at least the ones that I wanted to work with—would be more discerning and would expect a higher degree of ethical practices. Proving that I was taught in such an environment, that I adhere to such standards is essential to establishing confidence and trust right out of the gate.”
She selected our program for three main reasons:
“I knew that a full curriculum would help reinforce my strengths, as well as pinpoint my weaknesses.
“When I first considered this certificate, classes were in person. When COVID-19 shut down this option, I loved that UC Berkeley Extension offered both online synchronous and asynchronous classes. I wanted as much ‘live’ time as possible, and I quickly realized that being asynchronous was critical when scheduling became tight!”
A five-course certificate, Sheila praises the college admissions and career planning instruction, as well as all of the information given to succeed. Each course and its instructor made a positive impact.
She extols, “There was so much information to take in, digest and make my own. These two courses really gave me the overview—a set of boxes to check, a blueprint of the admissions process, clear goals I could set for my students.
“I loved the Career Planning for College Admissions course as it re-opened my eyes to the reality that not all high school students will choose a university path. My clients come to me having already made the decision to attend a four-year university, but I feel more confident knowing that I have the tools to guide them should they need to or even want to shift gears.
“Last, but certainly not least,” she continues, “I very much enjoyed Counseling Techniques for Educators. It reminded me to have more empathy for my students in that they may have a lot more going on in their lives than just college admissions. For me, I loved the research and additional reading this course offered. It was like going back to school—a journey I will always happily embark upon!”
Sheila was already comfortable with the online platform before taking the courses due to her work with Revolution Prep pre-pandemic. The global pivot to online education and processes had already been a part of her career as she delivered her tutoring sessions and met with parents for appointments online.
“I knew the logistics of lighting, connectivity and sharing of documents,” she says of her business model. “But more importantly, I had already developed techniques for engaging with my students and clients across Zoom. My clients are most often international. Having lived in Europe, that is my warm market. Now based in the United States, my clients are in a different time zone and having the ability to meet on Zoom—and be comfortable and confident with this platform—has been very positive!
“I am constantly reminded that my students are digital natives and they have come out of the pandemic knowing how to share their screens and documents. And they appreciate that I can meet them on their turf, so to speak!”
The certificate program helped Sheila hone the services she could provide her clients by shedding light on things she didn’t know about before and that could affect a student’s college list or application.
“The courses in the certificate program really helped me focus my knowledge base,” she says. “One of the best exercises was how to conduct a college report. I learned that a campus visit can be so much more for my students when they have a synthesized report to review or even a full template to follow.
“From my work with my classmates and the assigned readings, I now encourage my clients to go beyond the brand name: I can show them where to look, how to strip away the hype and go for the experience, the values and the mission of the school, as a better guide than sheer rankings.”
Helping her clients realize that their college list is much more in line with who they are as a student is one of the important lessons Sheila received in the college admissions and career planning certificate. “Many of the lessons helped me to realize that I want my students to consider more deeply not just what they want to study, but how they want to study.”
Finally, Envision Your Future
“Having completed the college admissions and career planning program has been a game-changer!” The different points of view of both instructors and fellow classmates provided Sheila with new information and skills for her IEC business.
“I loved meeting my classmates,” she relates. “They all came to the table with so much to share, with many different perspectives and knowledge points so different from mine! I found I could apply this new-found knowledge immediately to the benefit of my clients.
“I also found a set of colleagues that I could count on and reach out to at a moment’s notice. Many of my colleagues also turned out to have niche specialties that I can refer to, such as how best to advise athletes.”
Now that Sheila has completed the program, what advice does she have for others who might want to take their previous personal or professional experiences and become an independent educational consultant? She breaks it down from different viewpoints.
“The decision to become an IEC is not to be taken lightly,” Sheila advises. “While it is extremely rewarding, it is also extremely challenging.
“I have met parents who feel they can ‘do this’ because their child was successfully admitted to XYZ university.” Her advice is to realize that many other players worked behind the scenes to help their child along the way and that many other factors came into play long before they got involved in the actual application.
Her second piece of advice would be to take the full college admission and career planning program to help them recognize those additional pieces and be ready for the entire process as they reach out to new students. “Gain confidence and contribute your knowledge to the field!
“For former school counselors like me, be ready for the major shift in office politics. If you’re a sole proprietor, there are none! Joining associations and reaching out to new colleagues—and keeping in touch with your former school district—will help you stay engaged, connected and positive as you work with a much reduced (and welcomed) case load!
“Finally,” she adds, “I have come to realize that this is an industry filled with professionals who all want one common outcome: successful students. I have found ‘my people’ who believe as I do that a successful student means one who is forever curious, is a lifelong learner, will thrive on their college campus and will make a meaningful contribution to their community wherever that community might be.”