The number of college applicants increased by 24 percent from 2001-2007.

The number of college applicants increased by 24 percent from 2001-2007.

With an average of one counselor for every 500 public high school students in the U.S., college applicants are often left without professional guidance–and so internet-based companies offering admissions advice are hoping to fill the advising void.

A wide range of web sites are aimed at helping high school seniors looking for an upper hand in the ultra-competitive college application process.

Go4College.com, for example, uses analytics that incorporate a student’s GPA, SAT score, and a host of other factors to quantify the student’s chances to win admittance at various schools. The site produces a percentage that shows how likely the student is to be accepted. Other web sites, such as Accepted.com, sell products such as “Submit a Stellar Application: 42 Terrific Tips.”

iAdmissions.com, a California-based site launched in September, is straying from the automated advice model and bringing current and former applications officials to students whose families can’t afford a high-priced personal advisor. Students pay between $129 and $399 for college counseling, depending on the level of application help they want–compared to thousands of dollars for a private counselor.

iAdmissions counselors include admissions officials from Harvard, Brown, and Stanford universities.

“Most public school counselors don’t have the time and resources to do this kind of essay review,” said iAdmissions counselor Jon Reider, the director of college counseling at San Francisco University High School and a former senior admissions officer at Stanford. “It’s very hard to get this kind of advice. … It takes some expertise, and it’s not the same thing as being an English teacher and knowing [how to edit] a writing [assignment].”

Counseling officials said reading thousands of applications every year offers experience that well-meaning parents can’t offer. A college application must grab an admission officer’s attention with concise writing, the officials said, without coming off as boastful.

“You get essays that are quite relentlessly self promoting,” said Andrea Van Niekerk, an iAdmissions counselor who worked as the associate director of admissions at Brown University for a decade. “It can come off as obnoxious and fairly off-putting. The reality is that some kids aren’t good writers and some won’t ever be good writers … but they can be articulate and seem thoughtful.”

Van Niekerk said admissions advice companies have had to establish an online presence in recent years as their target audience has become more reliant on the internet for everything from homework to social networking to shopping.

“You’re dealing with a population that is wired for online work,” she said. “This is how they do everything, through their computer. [Looking to the web] for admissions advice is just a logical step.”

The proliferation of web-based advising coincides with a national jump in college applications and a decline in overall acceptance rates, according to the 2009 State of College Admissions report, released by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling in October.


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