A New York firm is promising to get Canadians students acceptance letters to top U.S.colleges, for a consultation fee of up to $30,000.

IvyWise is a for-profit firm of educational consultants that guides students through the college admissions process, beginning with what courses to take and how to choose the right college.

Founder Kat Cohen says as the college application process gets more competitive, students need a hand in making the right impression.

“It is tough for Canadian students and international students in general to get into U.S. universities. Oftentimes the U.S. university is going to cap their international student body to about 10 per cent,” she told CBC’s Lang & O’Leary Exchange.

IvyWise is staffed with former admissions officers, who help at every turn, from tutoring potential Ivy Leaguers how to write entrance essays to how to answer interview questions.

Cohen claims 90 per cent of the students who go through the process with IvyWise go to one of the top three schools of their choice.

She advises Canadian students hoping to study abroad to start thinking about preparation as early as possible.

“If you know that you are going to be thinking about a U.S. university, better to start earlier, because U.S. universities are going to be looking at four years. It’s unlike the Canadian system, that might only be looking at the end of your high school tenure,” Cohen said.

The kinds of courses students choose in high school, how they spend their summers and whether they volunteer can all have an impact.

Counsellors begin by talking with the student and their parents to assess their abilities and help choose an institution that is the “right fit”, she said.

There are 3,000 U.S. colleges and universities, and that initial assessment is critical, Cohen said.

“You’re looking at everything from what you want to study, what to focus on academically, you’re also looking at the social environment. How big do you want your community to be? How diverse do you want it to be? What kind of internships are offered? What are the career services like?” she added.

IvyWise counsellors also work with students applying to nursery school, elementary school, high school, boarding school, and graduate or professional schools. It operates in 30 countries.

With undergraduate costs in the U.S. above $15,000 annually in 2011 and more than $32,000 for private institutions, U.S. college is an expensive proposition.

It's one that's becoming more and more exclusive. U.S. data shows poorer Americans are being priced out of higher education.

Students from the bottom 50 per cent of the income distribution comprise just 14 per cent of the undergraduate population at America's most competitive universities.

About 25 per cent of poorer students received grants to help them attend. But the number of higher-income students in college is climbing and almost 23 per cent of them received grant money.