I was researching for an upcoming presentation about college preparation and found this article on Harvard's website. It was written by their Admission officers.
"Many of us are concerned that the pressures on today's students seem far more intense than those placed on previous generations. College admission - the chance to position oneself for "success" through the acquisition of the "right" college degree - looms large for increasing numbers of students. Particularly because selective colleges are perceived to be part of the problem, we want to do everything possible to help the students we enroll make the most of their opportunities, avoiding the much-reported "burnout" phenomenon that can keep them from reaching their full potential. ..."
"Professional college counselors (either independent or school-based) appear on the scene early, sometimes in middle school, to begin to structure students' academic and extracurricular profiles for entrance to the "right" college. At its best, such advice can be helpful in assessing talents, goals, and making "mid-course corrections" that can make a real difference in students' lives. From a more cynical perspective, such advice steers students toward travel abroad, community service, or other activities solely to enhance college application essays or interviews. Such services may command thousands of dollars, and assistance in preparing applications ranges from appropriate to plagiaristic. Videotaped mock college interviews are features of some packages, as are guided tours of colleges. An array of services start in ninth grade ("or seventh or eighth grade for no extra charge") for fees of over $30,000. More specific services include Essay Review, which offers "brainstorming session and as many revisions as necessary". Such services can add to, rather than alleviate, the stress of the normal expectations of school, community, and family life. Their "products", such as overly-slick essays, can even hurt a student's admissions chances as they can sometimes be easy to spot in the admissions process...."
The whole article can be found here.