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College Planning

How much would you pay to get your kid into Harvard?

Two months before 17-year-old Alexa of northern New Jersey—a national merit scholar, Girl Scout Gold Award recipient and standout soccer player—planned to submit her application to Amherst, anxiety set in. Even though she met all the requirements to land her on the college's competitive playing field, she wanted an independent education counselor (IEC) to give the final nod on her application. It didn't matter that her parents, guidance counselor, coach and teachers invested more than 100 hours steering her through the college process.

Her parents contacted a pricey New York City college-planning service and, after relating Alexa's long list of achievements, they agreed to "fit her in," starting off with a 90-minute consultation and then a six-hour boot camp so a counselor could review her essays and Common App. Price: $10,000.

They signed on the dotted line.