Leading Firms in MBA Admissions Consulting

by Greg Spielberg on

MBA admissions counseling has become so common that there are now as many as 300 firms around the world with more than 500 consultants helping applicants get into the best business schools. The average MBA applicant applies to 3.2 schools, so someone who signs a comprehensive consulting package with a firm generally pays about $6,000 to get help with applying to three MBA programs.

The explosion of the business is an outgrowth of the Internet, which allows consultants easier access to potential clients, the increasing numbers of people eager to get a prestige MBA degree, and the growing popularity of undergraduate consulting which has made it ever more natural to seek advice when pursuing a gradate degree.

The vast majority of the players are one-person boutiques, such as Sanford Kreisberg of Cambridge Essay Service in Boston who pretty much specializes in helping applicants get into Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton (See “The Rebel Savant of MBA Admissions Consulting.”) But MBA consulting has become such a large and lucrative business that a few highly sophisticated and professional service firms have emerged. These companies have dozens of consultants on staff (usually part-time contractors) and work with clients around the world. The largest of them is The MBA Exchange, with 40 consultants, many of them former admission officials from the top schools.

One advantage these larger firms have is that they match clients to consultants. If you’re from India, you’re more likely to get a consultant who specializes in Indian applicants and may even speak Hindi. If you’re a private equity analyst, you might get a consultant who once worked with PE types and knows how to best position them for a given school. If you’re applying to Stanford, you might get a Stanford MBA or former admissions officer from the school to guide you through the application process.

Here’s a brief and incomplete directory of six of the leading players, which together employ a total of some 120 consultants, in order of the number of consultants they have on staff.

THE MBA EXCHANGE

Dan Bauer, founder and managing director of The MBA Exchang

Dan Bauer, founder and managing director of The MBA Exchange

Background:

Founded by Harvard MBA Dan Bauer in 1996, The MBA Exchange says it has helped more than 2,300 applicants unlock the doors to get into prestige business schools. The company claims a 97% success rate, a number that is verified by an accounting firm that conducts an audit of its client business. Before launching his firm, Bauer’s career includes management positions with Citicorp, MasterCard International, and DDB Needham Worldwide.

Based in Chicago, the firm has some 40 consultants all over the world that includes MBAs from all the top schools including nine MBAs from Harvard, a half dozen from Wharton, and three from Stanford. More importantly, perhaps, among its consultants The MBA Exchange boasts former MBA admissions officials from Columbia, Kellogg, Wharton, Chicago, Michigan and UCLA with inside knowledge of how elite admissions offices work. Its consultants are either fluent or conversational in Hindi, Mandarin, Marathi, Gujarati, Italian, Spanish, and French. One differentiating service is that customers can have sessions with a career coach who had worked with Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

Pricing:

One-application package: $4,400

Two-application package: $5,100

Three-application package: $5,800

Four-application package: $6,500

Five-application package: $7,200

Six-application package: $7,900

Contact Info:

Phone: 888.305.5553

Website: The MBA Exchange

For a free evaluation of your chances of getting into a top-ten school

STACY BLACKMAN CONSULTING

Stacy Blackman, founder and president of Stacy Blackman Consulting

Stacy Blackman, founder and president of Stacy Blackman Consulting

Background:

Founded in 2001 by Kellogg MBA Stacy Blackman, this firm is among the largest in the business, with 30 consultants. Blackman counselors  have worked in the admissions office at Columbia, Fuqua, Kellogg, INSEAD, Tuck and Wharton. Most of the on-staff consultants hold degrees from top MBA programs including six from Stanford and Harvard, five from Kellogg, four from Wharton, two from Booth, and one each from Anderson, Columbia, Haas, Rice, Ross and Tuck.

The firm claims that with comprehensive clients, those who have bought its full package of services from $3,750 for help with a single application to $7,700 for five schools, it has a 92% success rate in getting applicants into at least one of their four top schools (at least in terms of clients it had heard back from).

Pricing:

One-school package: $3,750

Two-school package: $4,950

Three-school package: $5,950

Four-school package: $6,850

Five-school package: $7,700

Hourly fees: $270

Contact Info:

Phone: 323-934-3936

Website: StacyBlackman.com

MBAMISSION

Jeremy Shinewald, co-founder of mbaMission

Background:

Founded in 1999 by University of Virginia MBA Jeremy Shinewald, mbaMission works exclusively with MBA candidates. All 19 senior consultants have degrees from top MBA programs including seven from Harvard, three from Wharton and Columbia, two from Darden, and one each from Booth, Haas, Ross and Stern.  Before starting the firm, Shinewald was a speechwriter for the ambassador of Israel and a student member of Darden’s admissions team.

Pricing:

One-school package: $3,500

Two-school package: $4,750

Three-school package: $5,550

Four-school package: $6,350

Five-school package: $7,200

Hourly fees: $250

Contact Info:

Phone: 646-485-8844

Website: mbaMission.com

ACCEPTED.COM

Linda Abraham, founder of Accepted.com

Linda Abraham, founder of Accepted.com

Background:

Founded in 1994 by Linda Abraham, the firm has worked with more than 3,500 applicants to business, law, medical and other graduate programs. Accepted has 14 editors, including founder Abraham. Four of them bring insider perspective from  such admissions offices as Cornell University’s Johnson School of Business and  Duke University’s Law School.

Pricing:

Accepted’s has an unusual pricing approach: its consulting packages differ in price by school. If you’re applying to Columbia Business School, for instance, the consulting fee is  $2,425, while help with an application to New York University’s Stern School is $3,075 and an application to MIT’s Sloan School of Management is $3,625. On two or more applications, there is a $1,000 per school additional fee. For a la carte services, Accepted charges a $260 hourly rate.

Contact Info:

Phone: 310.815.9553

Website: Accepted.com

EXPARTUS

Chioma Isiadinso, co-founder of EXPARTUS

Chioma Isiadinso, co-founder of EXPARTUS

Background:

Founded in 2002 by Chioma Isiadinso, a former Harvard Business School admissions board member and assistant director of admissions, and her husband, Obinna Isiadinso, a Harvard MBA. She spent three years as an admissions official at Carnegie Mellon University before going to Harvard. EXPARTUS is based in New York and serves the MBA market. Isiadinso, a regular contributor to Poets&Quants, is also the author of The Best Business School Admissions Secrets.

The firm has eight admissions consultants, including those with MBAs from such tops schools as Harvard, Stanford, and Columbia. “We don’t take on every client that applies,” says Isiadinso. “I put every prospective client through a consultation to understand their story, ensure there is a fit, before taking them on.” The company claims a success record of 85% to 90% for clients “gaining admission to their dream schools.”

Pricing:

$350 for an initial one-hour consultation

Contact info:

Phone: 212-802-7580

Website: EXPARTUS.com

CLEAR ADMIT

Graham Richmond, co-founder of Clear Admit

Graham Richmond, co-founder of Clear Admit

Background:

Founded in 2001 by Wharton MBAs Eliot Ingram and Graham Richmond, the firm exclusively consults MBA applicants. Four consultants have experience in admissions offices at such elite schools as Wharton, Columbia Business School and Dartmouth’s Tuck. Four of the six members of the senior management team, including founders, have degrees from top MBA programs, including three from Wharton and one from Stanford Graduate School of Business.

The firm maintains an aggressive outreach program around its website, with daily posts that are largely reproductions of press releases from business schools and pick-ups of published stories from both traditional media and blogs. Richmond is currently president of the Association of International Graduate Admissions Counselors, the primary trade association of MBA and other graduate school admissions consultants.

Pricing:

One-school package: $3,500

Two-school package: $5,000

Three-school package: $6,000

Four-school package: $7,000

Five-school package: $8,000

Hourly rate: $275

Contact Info:

Phone: 215-568-2590

Website: ClearAdmit.com

Return to main story: “Suddenly Cozy: MBA Admissions Consultants and Business Schools”

  • HeadedToHBS

    Wow, I’m shocked at how many negative posts are on here. Thankfully I found someone with a lot of experience, and things worked out for me (I’m headed to HBS this fall!). Anyway, I worked with Mark from Admissionado. Being a nontraditional applicant, I had a lot of concerns about how best to position myself in my applications. Mark and the entire Admissionado team immediately seemed invested in my success. I felt like I wasn’t going through the stressful application journey alone. Mark was super prompt in replying to my emails, and he helped me to most effectively position my experiences in a way that would resonate with an admissions committee.

  • Anonymous

    I was late to the entire application process, only starting my essays and finalizing my GMAT studies by mid-December for R2. I went with MBA Exchange and under three weeks, including the holidays, was able to get everything done (4 applications) and was extremely happy with the outcome and process. I worked with Kenna and she was able to help me make what seemed to be impossible a reality. Note that I was wait listed and that I believe their strategy truly improved my odds! On that basis alone I would recommend the MBA Exchange.

  • RS

    I used MBA Exchange this Spring for wait list consulting for Tepper. They responded quickly and once I sent in the contract/payment I was quickly assigned to Ori Deckel. He did a great job helping me rethink my approach in getting off the waitlist. He requested a copy of my application and all communications made with the school up to that point and from there gave me a 12 point breakdown of my strengths and weaknesses, specifically how to capitalize on my strengths and address my weaknesses to get off the wait list. He suggested several strategies, although I personally contacted them a bit close to the deadline for submitting additional information to the school, so I wasn’t able to attempt all approaches suggested. He worked with me on my essay in providing feedback and updating version during the week leading up to the submission deadline. It was much more than just grammar and spelling corrections, he really worked with me to craft a well written supplemental essay that allowed me to both provide a professional update as well as a personal statement to the school, which I feel was the major factor in getting admitted from the wait list.

    I do not think that the original approach I had in mind would have had the same results, so from my personal experience I would recommend their service. To reiterate, they were fast to respond, they worked closely with me based on my own specific background and application (not just generic essay advice), and worked with me late into several nights fine tuning my update to the school. I was a bit nervous that I was going to just get generic advice and tips, but I was pleasantly surprised to find the service fine tuned to me specifically. I can’t comment on their application services in general, or speak for other consultants they have, but I would highly recommend Ori from MBA Exchange and am really satisfied with the positive result he helped me achieve.

  • Anonymous

    I had an incredibly positive experience with MBA Exchange. They were highly responsive (with a 24 hour turnaround rule), thorough and realistic about what my strengths were and what gaps I needed to fill. The fact that the consultants are themselves MBA graduations from top-tier schools illustrates their knowledge and experience in helping you shape your story around each school’s interests. My only regret is not having started looking into an MBA consultant sooner, as they provided a lot of feedback regarding how I could strengthen my profile through mentorship, extracurriculars, etc, that was a little too late to consider come application time. Interview prep was also key – they record your mock interview so that you can review how well your responses are and where you need work, which ultimately made the actual interview process that much easier. Bottom line, they will not sugar coat your profile and provide false promises to you, but they will help you prepare your best self to the admissions committee.

  • Guest

    After getting waitlisted at my #1 school, I decided to hire MBA Exchange for their WL consulting service. Once they evaluated my profile, I was assigned to work with Liz Bender. First, we exchanged introductory emails. It was great that she invested so much time getting to know me on a personal level. I think this helped establish a great rapport and definitely made me feel more comfortable trusting her strategies/suggestions. Whenever I sent her an email, Liz’s turnaround time was fantastic and without sacrificing any quality of her response. A few months after working with Liz, I found out that I was accepted! Liz and MBA Exchange were a tremendous resource and provided strategies that I might not have considered on my own. I was very pleased with their service and I would highly recommend them to anyone pursuing their dream school. Also, if possible, you should consider requesting to work with Liz Bender specifically. She is excellent!

  • Glendale1984

    The MBA Exchange was instrumental in allowing me to put forth the best possible application and find effective ways to sell my non-traditional, qualitatively-oriented educational and career background. My uphill battle was compounded by two layoffs within the past five years and subsequent difficulty in maintaining a track record of increasing stature and responsibility in my work positions.

    More than anything, what the MBA Exchange brought to the process was perspective. My consultant Seth challenged me to bring everything about; placing my story, crafting my niche, and selling that to the audience. This applied to every aspect of the application, above and beyond the essays. Seth brought the essential reviewer/reader’s perspective and his input enabled me to refine and emphasize certain points to make the essays more focused on highlighting the qualities that admissions committees want in their incoming classes. Anyone who is applying to a top business school is somewhat versed in that, but given my situation and the degree of compeition it was wise to seek a set of experienced eyes. Additionally, with my qualitative, writing-heavy background I found my tendency to be verbose as a hindrance to writing essays that cover a lot of ground within the confines of 300 words. Seth and the team at the MBA Exchange are craftsmen of the English language and will give you great ideas to shorten your essays without reducing the effectiveness or substance of the story, therefore allowing you to write another sentence or two that could reveal another personal quality to the reader.

    Finally, Seth always made himself available. Despite being COO of a startup, he responded to every e-mail, text and phone call within 24 hours in addition to giving ample notice of times that he would not be available. This contributed to a more organized and therefore enjoyable experience. I will be starting at Cornell Johnson in August, and I thank Seth and The MBA Exchange for helping me get there.

  • Glendale1984

    The MBA Exchange was instrumental in allowing me to put forth the best possible application and find effective ways to sell my non-traditional, qualitatively-oriented educational and career background. My uphill battle was compounded by two layoffs within the past five years and subsequent difficulty in maintaining a track record of increasing stature and responsibility in my work positions.

    More than anything, what the MBA Exchange brought to the process was perspective. I My consultant, Seth Gilmore, challenged me to bring everything about; placing my story, crafting my niche, and selling that to the audience. This applied to every aspect of the application, above and beyond the essays. Seth brought the essential reviewer/reader’s perspective and his input enabled me to refine and emphasize certain points to make the essays more focused on highlighting the qualities that admissions committees want in their incoming classes. Anyone who is applying to a top business school is somewhat versed in that, but given my situation and the degree of compeition it was wise to seek a set of experienced eyes. Additionally, with my qualitative, writing-heavy background I found my tendency to be verbose as a hindrance to writing essays that cover a lot of ground within the confines of 300 words. Seth and the team at the MBA Exchange are craftsmen of the English language and will give you great ideas to shorten your essays without reducing the effectiveness or substance of the story, therefore allowing you to write another sentence or two that could reveal another personal quality to the reader.

    Finally, Seth always made himself available. Despite being COO of a startup, he responded to every e-mail, text and phone call within 24 hours in addition to giving ample notice of times that he would not be available. This contributed to a more organized and therefore enjoyable experience. I will be starting at Cornell Johnson in August, and I thank Seth and The MBA Exchange for helping me get there.

  • Kate

    I highly recommend The MBA Exchange. I had a very average GMAT score (640) but interesting experience that my lead consultant, Jessica Burlingame, helped me to capitalize
    on. I am based abroad with a very demanding work schedule and Jessica was extremely patient, worked with my tight deadlines (and procrastination), asked all the right questions to ensure my essays were solid, gave me confidence before my interviews and really could not have been more supportive, kind and helpful. I really felt like I was working with a team and that she was just as excited as I when I was accepted to Booth. While it is quite
    expensive, in my opinion, it was worth every penny.

  • Jason

    Wow, looks like we should register today! C’mon guys what are you waiting for?

  • 2016MBA

    I am extremely pleased with the service I received from The MBA Exchange. From my initial contact with the firm everyone I dealt with was professional and helpful. The team at The MBA Exchange has been in this business for a long time and has developed a number of useful and effective toolkits. I cannot go into more detail on this as these are proprietary and confidential but I found them to be extremely useful. As a firm, they seem to have thought of everything one needs to manage through the process, they even have a social media audit service!

    My assigned lead consultant in particular, Maria Spaulding is a star. At the point of engaging the firm, there was very limited time before the schools’ deadlines but she was able to assist in coming up with an effective work plan in a very short space of time. She
    helped me to navigate the entire process and I noted that she was truly invested in my success. She also uses her marketing/branding background to strongly position her clients to a highly selective market (admissions committees). I was admitted into an elite program (top 3!) with a substantial scholarship, I would not have been able to realize this goal without her help.

    I will definitely recommend The MBA Exchange and Maria Spaulding to my colleagues and friends who are planning to apply to top MBA programs in future.

  • MBA Admit

    Hi all, I’d like to share my positive experience with MBA Exchange.

    About me: 34 years old, 690 GMAT, international career and quite poor GPA.

    I had three European target schools: IMD, INSEAD and LBS, and I got an offer from 2 and a Waitlist from one, so I consider this an excellent result, especially considering my not-so-brilliant academic record.

    My consultant has been Saurabh Dhingra and he has been consistently helpful, responsive, insightful and understanding.

  • Jaewoo Jung

    DreamMBA consultant worked on my MBA essays from scratch and I am super happy with his professionalism. My consultant provided me a very personalized service. I really appreciate his professionalism and hospitality.

    I was late in the admission process and I wanted my essays to be completed only in 4 days. Not only did DreamMBA team accepted my request for last minute help but also they calmed me down by quickly converging to high level storyline and creating first drafts.

    I am not a native English speaker. DreamMBA editors helped me refine my storyline using very accurate and concise wording. I would recommend everyone to try them out. I am totally impressed by the services provided by DreamMBA.

  • John

    Are the comments here real? they look a bit fake to me…
    (I love the ones saying they applied to 10 schools, got into none, and then with XXX got into 5…)

    I worked with Aringo. they were spot on… they have a separate strategy team, then you work with a consultant, then someone else QAs your material, then an alumni test drives it.. and when I got an interview, I did two interview preps…
    got accepted to two schools, Booth with scholarship and Kellogg…

    Good luck to everyone!

  • topdogmba

    Hi there! I thought I’d add my experience with Admissionado.

    I’m a re-applicant so writing this from the perspective of someone who has been through the pain once before and didn’t want to make the same mistakes the second time around.

    I first learned about Admissionado as their founder, Jon Frank, hosted a free webinar about ‘Dealing with a Ding’. I was one of the lucky few chosen to be critiqued in the webinar and, while not a pleasant experience, I really appreciated the straight talking, no nonsense approach employed by Jon.

    This isn’t a service for those of you wanting someone to praise you constantly and tell you what a good job you’re doing – this is tough love! My consultant was a former Admissions Fellow at my top choice b school. We had a great free Skype session which overran the allotted time, but I just had a lot of questions and she was in no hurry and didn’t rush me.

    After the call, I tried to imagine finding time to not only figure out my strategy, but also to write my resume, essays, manage my recommenders, all while having to check my own work and try to find friends who would help me out and review it. I decided I wanted a paid consultant, someone I could jump straight in and start discussing my stories with, someone who was always available and would push me to do more and better.

    The Junior Deluxe package was great for this, it wasn’t cheap but was in line with other leading consulting firms. Best of all, I could bolt on additional services like Skype calls and urgent reviews of my essays (sadly, I did have to resort to this once or twice!), all in a very transparent way.

    If I had any negative comments to make, I’d say that it took several days to get comments back on essays. This is because not only my consultant was reviewing them, but also an editor who added a lot of comments on how to improve the writing style, what else I could talk about, how to build the story more effectively etc. It was only a problem because I was busy for weeks at a time (with non-MBA stuff) and when I was free I liked to focus in on my essays for days at a time.

    If you’re like me, then just make sure you spread the essays out – one school on Monday, another on Tuesday etc. – once I figured this out it was easy to adjust my schedule. Like I said, this is really not a major issue but I struggle to think of anything bad about Admissionado.

    And, now for the results: well, I applied to three schools and got three interview invites. One is converted into an offer(!) and the other two I’m still waiting to hear from. Could I have got the same result on my own? Possibly, but why take that risk for the sake of 1-2% of the cost of your MBA programme!?

    Thanks to Admissionado I am going to be doing my MBA next year, no matter what.

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