As the kids head back to school, the stress of the college application process isn’t far behind. The costs and complexities of college today have some parents turning to educational consultants for help.
For a fee, these counselors help students select schools that fit their talents and navigate the admissions system. This typically involves face-to-face meetings to set goals and deadlines, understand the testing system and reviewing college essays. (Related: Why College May Not Be Worth It.)
Margy Caccia started using College Coach, a division of Bright Horizons, when her daughter, Elizabeth, was a high school sophomore and their son, Joe, was a junior. Elizabeth is now a graduate of the University of Virginia and Joe is in his second year at James Madison University.
Margy, a Virginia teacher and her husband, a lawyer, found it helpful to have an independent third party in the mix. “Having another adult talk to them about their future just seemed to really work and provided an opportunity for our kids to be spoken to as young adults."
Caccia recommends it to other parents. “You have this one-on-one interaction [that] you may not get at the public school level because of the caseloads the counselors."
The cost of a college consultant varies widely by region and can be done on an hourly basis or as a package covering several years. (Related: Lenders Mobilize to Help College Kids Manage Student Loans.)
“Most charge in the $3,500 [to] $6,000 range for a complete package of services” said Mark Skalrow, executive director for Independent Educational Consultants Association.
“The cost of getting it wrong," Skalrow said, is if a student goes to a college that’s not the right match.
"The transfer process is expensive, the time lost is expensive, repeating courses because they don’t transfer over is expensive," he added. "I would even argue that the biggest cost is the student’s self-esteem.”
College Coach has packages that start at $2,000 and offer college essay help for a flat fee.
Elizabeth Heaton, a lead counselor for College Coach, thinks "putting yourself in the best position to get [into college] is such a small tiny percentage of the ultimate cost that you will pay".
"Most of the families that come to us say it’s money well spent,” Heaton said.
Some employers offer college coaching as a benefit.
Some employers offer college coaching as a benefit. These can range from regular onsite seminars to a full service offering — including a telephone helpline and one-on-one counseling.
Silicon Valley based NVIDIA has offered the benefit to its 4,000 U.S. based employees since 2007. The company said so far about 10 percent of the workforce has used the on-site quarterly workshops, homework help for preteens and personalized counseling services. The firm pays a flat fee of $50,000 to cover 75 sessions for its employees and can add more for an additional cost.
Andrea Trudelle, Senior Human Resources Manager at NVIDIA said the benefit helps employees — many who grew up outside of the U.S. “It helps remove a concern about how they are going to educate their children [and] how they are going to navigate the educational system."
Still, there is a plethora of services parents and students can take advantage of without having to pay a private counselor. The Princeton Reviewand College Board are among the firms with online prep plans and tools to find a match. There are also thousands of books on the college admissions topic. (Related: A College Education on the Cheap? Tech Start-Ups Take on Higher Ed.)
—By CNBC's Stephanie Dhue