How To Select An MBA Admissions Consultant

Keytodoor“My consultant was a complete scam. She’s really money grubbing, obsessed with Coach products, and her positioning did not help me get into an Ivy League business school. It was a waste of $7,000, and she had the audacity to give me a discount rate to try again next year.”

An unhappy customer, for sure. The applicant worked with a major MBA admissions consultant and came away believing he was ripped off. He’s not alone. What complicates a good match between an applicant and a consultant is the fact that most of the larger firms in the space employ their advisers on a freelance basis. So the quality of those contractors can be inconsistent. It’s like that old saw about the Boy Scouts or the Girl Scouts. If you have a terrific scout master, you’re likely to have a great experience. If you’re stuck with a so-so leader, you’re likely to sour on the whole idea of scouting.

Selecting the right firm and the right person isn’t easy. Exact numbers are hard to come by, but there probably are as many as 300 firms with more than 500 MBA admissions consultants around the world. Overall, consulting to MBA clients alone is a business with annual revenues of at least $35 million worldwide.

Applicants to business school are the most likely graduate students to use consultants, far more than law or medical school applicants, says VeritasPrep co-founder Chad Troutwine. More than a dozen consultants estimate that a quarter to a third of the applicants to the top ten business schools now use their services. At Harvard, Stanford and Wharton, as many as half of the applicants now pay for advice at between $5,000 and $10,000 a pop.

Dan Bauer of The MBA Exchange

“Some applicants are instantly attracted to the most visible firms, assuming that the ability to produce daily blogs, hourly tweets and $10 “inside secrets” books correlates to achieving admissions success,” says Dan Bauer, founder and managing director of The MBA Exchange. “Other applicants are drawn to smaller boutique admissions firms that promise one-on-one care, but lack the depth of resources and breadth of experience to add real value and provide 24/7 access.”

Of course, a consultant is not a must expense. The majority of applicants to B-school do perfectly fine on their own. Chioma Isiadinso, who offers advice to applicants at Poets&Quants and founded EXPARTUS after a stint as the assistant director of admissions at Harvard Business School, puts it this way: “In my mind there are three types of applicants,” she says. “One, do-it-yourself candidates (pick up a few good books, do their homework and hit the grounding running); Two, candidates who need a bit of help: these candidates start off doing a lot of the heaving lifting on their own and then hire consultants for a little bit of polishing, essay editing, etc; and three, candidates who need a lot of work: These candidates want help across all aspects of the application and are very thorough and unwilling to leave anything to chance. They typically want strategic and editing help. The key is knowing which kind of a candidate you are and planning ahead—this will save you a lot of time and wasted effort.”

How do you increase the odds of a successful match? We turned to several prominent admissions consultants and asked them to give us their advice on how to hire the right consultant. Linda Abraham of Accepted.com suggests that would-be clients review a consultant’s website and offerings. Abraham says you should ask these questions: “Do you like what you see? Do they provide clear descriptions of services and prices? Do they offer want you want? How long have they been in business? What are their qualifications?”

She further advises that you talk to a member of the company’s staff, preferably the one you will be working with. Find out how the firm works. “Will you work consistently with one consultant or will you be shunted around to different ‘specialists’? What if your consultant gets sick? Is there back up? Request references if you do not know someone who has used the service.”

Bauer, who has an audit firm independently measure his success rate with clients, has an eight-point checklist:

    • Require independent, documented proof of past admissions success and client satisfaction. Why invest your future in someone who can’t prove their claims?
    • Choose a consulting firm whose consultants have experience in both admissions and business. That’s the combination that will help you build and then present your most compelling candidacy.

  • APPLYMBA.CO

    Before we launched this website, we spoke to several MBA applicants, the resounding message we got was that while selecting MBA Admissions consultants the problems they faced were 1. credibility – how credible were the reviews mentioned in their website? 2. Cost Vs Quality – Big firms charged $3k upwards for a single school package but several felt that consultants working with them were not committed enough. Also many applicants wanted to work with consultants who maybe came from similar background and were a fit with them but with big firms there was no clarity on the profile of the consultant they would be working with. We thus launched ApplyMBA to address this problem. We are a discovery platform for top MBA individual admissions consultants. Our consultants come from varied backgrounds and are MBA graduates from top B-Schools. Applicants look at various factors mentioned in the consultants’ profile e.g. Pre-MBA industry, Post-MBA industry , fees, school they have graduated from and the schools they consult for. Based on these criteria applicants can take an informed decision and hire a consultant of their choice. Our reviews are independently verified by our team. Also we have a level 1 in-built verification system, someone who has not hired a consultant cannot review him/her , so that in itself stops self generated reviews. We also have several free resources in the site to help applicants. If you are an applicant do visit our site and have a look around. We would love to have your feedback on what more you would like us to add to the site.

  • Chester

    I used The MBA Exchange previously, a complete waste of money and time. I’m sure the audit result of Bauer’s success rate are completely biased because no one has ever asked about my dissatisfaction regarding the firm.

  • Adrian Defta

    Hi,
    It always puzzled me how the billing model is so disconnected from the results your coach provides.
    If I pay by the hour – there is no way I can understand upfront how much will I end up paying. Moreover, if the result is me being dinged, I lost a tone of money with zero results.
    If I pay by school, one problems gets solved – I know exactly how much I will pay. However, the second remains – what if I will not get into my school? I will lose the money.
    Don’t you think that the fee should incentivize both the coach and coached person to work together towards the common goal – to get an admission?! At least for me it seems pretty obvious that the coach should take a hit if no result. Most of the services these days came with the “money back guarantee”. How come we don’t have such a model for coaching?
    Yes, some would argue that it is not entirely up to the coach if the student gets admitted or not. Which is completely true! However, the coach should be able to see if he/she can help the student and what are the chances. More and more coaches takes almost impossible missions and fail. Who loose in this case? The applicant. First, he loses money. Second, he will have to wait another year to apply to other schools.
    Don’t you think the time has come to shift this mentality from billable hours to money back guarantee price model?

  • MBAFriend

    Successful entrepreneur and admissions consultant. Duke Undergrad, Sloan MBA , Harvard MPA. Will read your application and essays and provide constructive feedback for free. Contact me at jasonharvard@post.harvard.edu

  • Sam

    “I am an executive leader with 13 years of executive management experience who applied to several EMBA programs only to be denied two years in a row. I was very discouraged and frustrated when a friend recommended I contact Stacy Blackman Consulting. I contacted SBC and found everyone in the firm kind and helpful. During the first phone call with my consultant, Sherry Holland, I was sure that she is the one who going to make it happen. Her support, expertise and guidance were impeccable. She was a confident and a secure base for me as well as a knowledgeable consultant who put all her time to ensure my success. This year with Sherry’s help and rigorous preparation for my interview, I sailed through it with confidence and was admitted to my dream school without even having to take the GMAT!

    Without Sherry’s help, I know I would not have been admitted. I recommend SBC and Sherry Holland if you want a true professional who will support you and always be honest with you. She always said: ” I am going to tell you what you need to hear, not necessarily what you want to hear in order to make you a stronger candidate.It is proven to me that no other consulting firm understands the admission process like SBC dose.”

  • JohnAByrne

    Wow. That’s quite a story. Thanks very much for sharing it. I think it also gives hope to a lot of people who apply to a top school and are disappointed in the outcome. The lesson here: Don’t give up–and pick the right consultant! Would you mind telling us which consultant you ultimately worked with and got the better result?

  • MBAguy73

    I had a really bad experience with AdmitAdvantage. As an international MBA candidate, I really had no clue about the admissions process, hence I decided to use a consultant. During my initial call with Kofi Kankam, I was quite impressed by his “depth” and “breath” of knowledge, and I decided to sign up for their services. During this call, I was told that he (Kofi) would be my “secondary consultant”.

    My primary consultant had excellent credentials, however, he hardly knew anything about the admissions process. During our “strategy sessions”, for no apparent reason, I was constantly pushed to apply to schools ranked below 25. My consultant hardly gave any inputs regarding the essays I used to send him, and everything according to him was up to the mark. Besides a few edits here and there, he hardly contributed. Moreover, my “secondary consultant” never even read my essays.

    I was dinged to every school I applied to that year. And, after wasting 3200 USD and a year, i was left to fend for myself. The next year, I took the onus on me to make things work: I talked to at least 50 odd people while crafting my essays. I also hired a consultant with whom I clicked. Eventually, I was accepted to a top-5 program. In the hindsight, the additional year I spend worked in my favour. However, I am still socked by how any admissions consulting company (who proclaim themselves as admissions gurus!) could grossly misguide someone by asking them to apply to a non top-25 school, when he eventually ended up getting into a top-5!

  • RecentlyAccepted

    I worked with Margaret at Stacy Blackman and had a great experience. I was referred to her by a friend who worked with her and got into HBS. Margaret was very detail oriented and took the time to understand my story and how to best communicate it. She was also very flexible in terms of scheduling and responsive. It is expensive but worth it in my view. I got into one of my top 3 choices and am on the waitlist at another.

  • Sara

    I had a terrible experience with MBAPrepAdvantage
    and would definitely not recommend them. The owner, Michael, charges by the
    hour and my bill was up to $2 or 3K after just a few essays (which I didn’t
    even think were that great). Worst of all, he’s really rude and completely tore
    down my confidence. I ended up stopping services with them and applying on my
    own (I did well, got into a top 5 program though not Harvard or Stanford). I
    would advise applicants to avoid this company and either apply on your own or go
    with another company (perhaps one with package-type pricing).

  • MBA Applicant

    Also used MBA Exchange services and had unsatisfactory experience to say the least, they were rather unprofessional in handling the situation as well. Would NOT recommend retaining them. Stay away!

  • MensaMember

    I had the worst experience with the MBA Exchange. I am surprised with such an awful consulting they are still alive. I would advice anyone to stay away from them.

  • Ranjit,

    Yet. Put the title of the article in the search box and it will come up on an index page with the publication date clearly noted.

  • Ranjit

    Hi John,
    Is there a way to find out when the different articles on your website were written? I don’t a see a date next to the title and authors name.

  • Sarah,

    I would go to the principal of the firm–the person whose name is either the firm’s name or who is president–explain your situation and ask to be assigned a new consultant or get a full refund so you can go elsewhere. Then, I would name the consultant on this website so others don’t get stuck as well.

    Best,
    John

  • Sarah

    Hi John – Thanks for putting together such a terrific website. Hypothetical scenario that might be worth an article:

    Suppose you are 1-2 months away from three application deadlines and you realize your $6850 admissions consultant is not committed to the success of your application process – e.g., taking 6+ days to respond to emails, mixing up phone call appointment times, answering application strategy questions by saying “well, the easy/quick way to do this is…”.

    What are the chances of this happening at one of the firms you mentioned in your article? What incentives/oversight exist within a larger consulting firm to prevent one of their remote consultants from developing these types of behaviors? And if an applicant finds himself in this scenario, what is the best course of action?