FITCHBURG, Wis. — More families are seeking the services of college planners to help students make some of their biggest life decisions.

What You Need To Know

  • Students can spend hundreds of hours on college investigation, application and selection

  • Test prep and tutoring are a $70 billion per year industry, according to The Business Research Company

  • More and more families are seeking the services of college planners

U.S. News and World Report, one of the best-known sources for college information, suggests students apply to four to eight colleges. Between investigation, exploration and application, students can spend hundreds of hours on post-secondary planning.

Tom Kleese owns OnCampus College Planning, based in Fitchburg. He and his colleague now serve about 200 students every year. The process looks very different than it did in decades past.

“We only applied to one or two schools, and now our kids are applying to five or 10,” Kleese said. “I’ve had one student applying to 22 schools, another 15 or 16 or something like that. Students today are often much more interested in out-of-state options than they would have been even 10 to 15 years ago.”

Kleese said it’s easy to see how families could get overwhelmed in the process. He said for each college, a student should know why they want to be there, what would work for them and how that college fits their needs.

Testing is part of that preparation.

“It’s really rewarding when kids increase their score a lot,” Kleese said. “That’s just as exciting for the kid that goes from 19 to a 26 as the kid that gets a perfect 36. I take a lot of pleasure in that.”

The piece Kleese enjoys most is working with students on their essays. He said there’s a stereotype that a student with a dramatic, tragic story has a higher chance of acceptance.

“Probably the worst thing you can do as a high school student or a parent is start Googling good college essays, because you’re going to run into the Costco essay, which was supposedly the magic bullet for a girl who got into all the Ivy League schools,” Kleese said. “When you’re sitting across from a kid who may have had a pretty decent life and has been very well cared for, they think that they don’t have anything that’s special or unique about them. And I’ve got kids writing about absolutely incredible things.”

Kleese said that essay is a student’s chance to be more than “just a number.”

“A lot of things in life are just a number. Your GPA is just a number. Your salary is just a number,” he said. “This is a time when you can put something in your application that adds to the picture.”

Kleese recommends students visit as many college campuses as they can, and think critically about why they prefer one school over another.