Financial adviser Letha Costin has spent several weeks this year doing something most other advisers don't: She has been working with a dozen college-bound 11th-graders in Raleigh, N.C., on the admissions process.
Using software from ApplyWise LLC, Ms. Costin helps find the right college for each teen and prepares them for admission through three to six personalized coaching sessions, for which she charges $95 an hour.
Response to the business has been "excellent," according to Ms. Costin, who added the coaching service a year ago to Raleigh-based Innovative Advisors, the firm she runs with her husband, Miles Costin. "We're seeing a big demand for this kind of service," she said.
Business is also brisk for College and Retirement Solutions LLC in Chatham, N.J., which works with families on the admissions process.
"We've seen admissions becoming significantly more important for families over the last two years," said Nancy Ziering, president of the firm.
"There have been a record number of students applying for college, and colleges are giving less financial aid," she said. "We help clients find schools that will reward students based on their achievements so the cost can be affordable."
"If done properly, admissions work can be a very useful tool," Ms. Ziering added. "We try to educate parents so they don't pick a school just because their child wants to go there. They have to understand what schools are looking for so they match their child to the right school to create leverage."
According to Liz Hamburg, chief operating officer of ApplyWise of New York, several advisers a week from all over the country are signing up to use her web-based software about the college admissions process.
"I don't have specific numbers on how many advisers are currently using ApplyWise," she said, "but it has been growing rapidly. Many advisers have begun to offer some form of admissions advising in addition to financial planning. Advisers are hearing the same questions over and over again about where to apply and how to apply. There's a demand for expert advice."
Advisers and planners don't necessarily have to be experts in college admissions, said Troy Onink, co-author with Lloyd Paradiso of "Strategy and Simplicity for Private School and College Funding," which will be published next month by his company, Russell, Pa.-based Stratagee Corp. The book includes a chapter on refining the school search.
Still, Mr. Onink believes that advisers would be "well-served to provide some information about affordability and the right fit for a student."
Advisers should be able to help guide parents to schools that are "within an affordable price range," he continued, "with the understanding that many private colleges have the ability to provide the student with aid that in the end may make the cost of a private school the same as a public school."
Others think advisers should stick to financial planning.
"There's a lot of great information about college admissions that's easily available," said Peter Miralles, Dunwoody, Ga.-based president of Atlanta Wealth Consultants LLC. "Planning is where I can help my clients."
"Planners should be involved in how to pay for college, not evaluate which colleges to pay for," said Peter Mazareas, vice chairman of the Washington-based College Savings Foundation and chief executive of Nahant, Mass.-based Strategic Advancement Group Inc.
But according to Mr. Costin, who concentrates on college funding as well as financial retirement planning at Innovative Advisers, clients who receive admissions coaching from his wife "are more likely to hear what I have to say, and take the next step."
E-mail Charles Paikert at firstname.lastname@example.org.