SINGAPORE - As competition for places in top universities such as Harvard and Oxford gets more intense, hopeful applicants are turning to consulting firms to gain an edge.
Six such companies here told The Straits Times that demand has been rising as much as three times in recent years.
Most students pay $3,500 to $5,000 for their services, which include consultations with counsellors on which school to select, how to craft essays and brush up on interview skills.
In the last admissions cycle, Stanford University received over 42,000 applications but had space for just 1,700. Its admission rate was just under 5 per cent.
Harvard and Yale took in about 6 per cent of applicants, Princeton about 7 per cent and Massachusetts Institute of Technology about 8 per cent.
IvyPrep co-founder Alvin Foo has seen a steady increase in demand for his firm's services in the last two years.
The cost of its packages range from $1,250 for those trying for British universities to $6,250 for those applying to the top five American universities.
He said students from top junior colleges here seek help as their schools may not be able to give as much personal attention when it comes to applying for university.
Mr Jason Lum, president of US-based ScholarEdge College Consulting, said Singaporeans and Chinese nationals make up most of his international clients.
In the last five years, he has seen a three-fold rise in Singaporean clients, many of whom are seeking a place in Ivy League institutions or other reputable ones like University of California, Berkeley, and Duke University.
He is now working with more than 25 Singaporean students, many of whom come from the Raffles schools.
Ms Natsuko Tohyama, a senior consultant at Aureus Consulting, said there has been 20 per cent more Singaporeans signing up with the company.
They are advised to apply to "a mix of dream, possible and safety schools so they get placed in at least a couple of schools they'd be happy at", she said.
Mr Stanley Chia, co-founder of home-grown educational consultancy Cialfo, said there has been a 60 to 80 per cent increase in demand over the last two years.
Mr Seah Ying Cong, 21, a first-year computer science and statistics student at Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, paid for three months of consultation in 2012.