Private guidance counselors weren't around when I was applying to college. I'm not so sure that was a bad thing. I would imagine many families using them are already highly advantaged in terms of grades and income. One study says that 26 percent of "high achieving" students use them.
When high school guidance counselors can't or won't do enough to help students (not enough of them, maybe?), it seems the private counselors would be a wonderful and necessary resource. But they don't work pro bono --it can costs families many thousands of dolloars to hire them.
At least it is good to know that the two associations of private counselors -- the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA) and the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) -- have a code of ethics. The HECA just announced it had instituted a code; the IECA already had one.
Take a look at this review of the codes. If these principles are adhered to, it does put to rest some concerns about the private counselors' role in the admissions process.