Every year, 20 million students in America apply for college - including Clear Lake High School graduate Alexis Lopez.

She was accepted to the number 10 ranked university in the country, Johns Hopkins University.

“I’m studying chemical and bio molecular engineering,” she said via Skype.

In high school, the Commended National Merit scholar, played the cello, had 5.2 GPA. and a college consultant.

“(She was) Almost like a second mom,” she said. “She kept me very close, very strict to the deadlines.”

Her coach was Jolyn Brand who operates Brand College Consulting from her Friendswood home. Brand has about 50 clients ranging from freshman to seniors and even has one seventh-grader.

Consultants encourage students to start early.

“In ninth grade you've got a lot of choices that affect your college choices,” Brand said. “You’re picking classes. You’re picking summer activities. You’re hopefully doing community service.”

Consultants make recommendations on all of that, keep students up on SAT and ACT changes, create dashboards for deadlines, edit essays, and help craft a list of "reach,” "match" and "safety schools.’

“If left to their own volition, they will pick the schools that are local and they've heard of or their friends or girlfriends or boyfriends are visiting,” Brand said.

Brand charges $150 an hour or $3,600 for a four- year package. Others can charge thousands more.

Houston based Cram Crew charges $5,995 for the full service. New York-based Ivywise can charge $100,000 for a four-year package that includes tutoring. Supporters say a few thousand dollars is a small investment when a four-year degree can easily cost $200,000.

Brand likens it to buying house and investing in the purchase. What’s the payoff to getting into and choosing the right school?

“They'll be happy and successful and graduate and not come back and sleep on your couch,” Brand said

Is it worth the money? We put the big question to Michael Orr, associate director of Admissions at the University of Texas at Austin.

Thanks largely to online applications, UT Austin gets 48,000 applications each year. A decade ago, it was only 20,000.

Orr makes this analogy saying, “There are some people who clean their own house and there are some people who pay other people to clean their home.”

He thinks coaches can help with how to respond to an essay prompt or putting together resumes.

“That can help a student on the margins but in the aggregate, is it making a difference of who gets admitted and who doesn’t? Probably less that you would perceive,” Orr said.

Orr adds generally what is most important, is how well the student does in the classroom, somewhere a consultant cannot be.

Does Alexis think she could've gotten into Johns Hopkins on her own? Alexis says, “I’m confident I could have done it but.....”

The consultant made it easier.

Brand also helped Alexis’ parents, who were unfamiliar with financial aid forms.

“We had a lot of help applying for financial aid, as evidenced by the numbers,” Alexis said.

Alexis should receive about $200,000 in need based aid over her college career. So, for the Lopez family the consultant was money well spent.

For more information on college applications: The Independent Educational Consultants Association.

UT and other universities have counselors assigned to each Texas high school. Contact them for assistance at no cost.