"There are so many steps in the admissions process that I wanted a guide, somebody who knew what needed to get done," said Schlossberg, 23, of Langhorne.
So he hired an admission consultant from Kaplan — the company famous for SAT preparation — who helped him choose a school, craft his personal statement and complete the seemingly endless piles of paperwork.
Schlossberg applied to Florida International, Temple and Widener universities, and exchanged e-mails and phone calls with his admissions coach, mostly regarding his personal statement.
"She helped me to realize that I needed to focus on myself more," he said. "Everybody writes, 'I want to go to law school because I want to help the world.' She told me to make it more unique, and it'll help me stand out from the thousands of other applicants."
Since he never met his consultant face to face, Schlossberg believes that the experience mimicked the real acceptance process, as many schools judge an applicant without a one-on-one interview. Kaplan offers packages from three hours for $469 to a more comprehensive, 15-hour package for $2,029. It also provides a Webcam for easier communication, and offers one-on-one sessions in Boston and New York City for several hundred dollars more.
Freelance counselors can charge much higher fees, but work with your child to help ensure placement.
Eventually, the consulting paid off, as Schlossberg started his first classes at Widener this week.
Admissions consultants, or "college coaches," have become a cottage industry, especially among applicants at the undergraduate level. While some students hire a consultant if they have their hearts set on getting into Harvard or somewhere else in the Ivy League, others just want someone who can help them choose the right school, guide them through writing the personal essay and assist with comprehending all the different aspects of the application process.
The competition to be accepted into college has grown stiffer for numerous reasons. In 2003, for example, 85 percent of adults age 25 and over had completed at least high school, an all-time high, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
"Colleges are on cloud nine — they can get the best of the best," observed Tina Heiman, 59, an admissions consultant with Kaplan. "It makes it more competitive at all levels."
Mary Beth Kurilko, associate director of admissions at Temple, said that the university is much more selective on the undergraduate level than ever before, and that it sees 20,000 applicants for 4,000 spots.
The sheer numbers alone have put admissions counselors in much greater demand of late.
"It was unheard of years ago," admitted Kurilko. "What we see more and more is independent counselors coming to college fairs. It is an industry that is definitely growing."
Heiman further noted that, for high school kids, the process can prove to be quite difficult.
"It's a tense time. It can be a wonderful experience, but can also be a difficult time to have a meeting of the minds between parents and students," said Heiman, who hails from Wilmington, Del., but works with clients all over the country. "The consultant is removed from the situation, and can be kind of a buffer to get them [all] on the same page."
She also felt that she can provide more personalized attention than a high school guidance counselor. "Guidance counselors in schools are overwhelmed with so many students," said Heiman. "Plus, they deal not just with college but with other problems," such as behavior problems or emotional needs.
She acknowledged that the written essay usually provides the most anxiety for students, and thus helps them brainstorm ideas, though is careful not to write anything for them.
"Sometimes, when you actually get the student to start writing, it's not so bad," she said.
Many Jewish families will also take into consideration Jewish life on campus when choosing a school, said Heiman — whether there's a high percentage of Jews on campus or a strong Hillel.
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism details some of the considerations for a Jewish family to weigh through its Koach College Outreach program, which provides workshops and one-on-one counseling for high-schoolers.
Director Richard S. Moline said that Jewish families should look at things like the availability of Shabbat services, whether there are mandatory classes on Jewish holidays, whether the student body has supported Israel in the past, and whether Jewish fraternities and sororities exist on campus.
And he took into consideration other things, such as food.
"Is there a kosher meal plan available?" posed Moline, or will your child be content with being a vegetarian for four years?