How Many Applicants Use Consultants

by John A. Byrne on

Have you used an admissions consultant to help you with your MBA application?

Seems like a relatively harmless question, right? Well, that depends on who asks it.

For the 2011-2012 admissions cycle, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business asked all of its MBA applicants if they used the services of “an agency or a consultant to guide you through the application process.” Only 5% of Fuqua’s pool of nearly 3,500 MBA applicants decided against answering the optional question. Of the remaining 95% who provided an answer, less than 10% admitted to using a consultant, says Liz Riley Hargrove, associate dean for admissions.

QUESTION DID NOT IMPACT AN APPLICANT’S ADMISSION CHANGES

The question was asked merely for informational purposes. “We’ve been hearing for years from students and alumni about the number of applicants using admission consultants, but we didn’t have any real data to understand the percentage of our applicants who were getting help,” says Hargrove. “We did get a number of applicants who were a bit anxious in answering the question because they assumed it would be factored into the admissions process.”

Hargrove was as surprised as anyone by the rather low percentage of applicants who admitted using consultants. “The groundswell made me feel that the majority had been using consultants. The reality is that a very small percentage said they used a consultant or an agency. The naïve part of me would like to assume that everyone answered honestly. I’d like to believe it is an accurate reflection of the Fuqua applicant pool.”

If it is accurate, it would be well below the one in five estimate by the Graduate Management Admission Council. Last year, 20% of respondents in a global survey by GMAC said they had used an admissions consultant to help them with their MBA applications.

 DUKE NUMBER SHOWS BIG GAP BETWEEN ESTIMATES BY MBA ADMISSIONS CONSULTANTS

The estimate culled from answers to the question is also far below estimates by several admissions consultants. Some now estimate that as many as 80% of the international applicants and 30% to 50% of domestic applicants to the top U.S. schools are now using admission consultants. Estimates vary wildly, of course, because they are informed guesses by consultants. Dan Bauer, founder and managing director of The MBA Exchange, believes that a third of all applicants to top 10 schools now use a paid consultant, ranging from full-service to basic essay editing.

In 2009, Stanford Graduate School of Business did a more informal survey of students who had already been admitted. The survey, by Admissions Director Derrick Bolton, found that about 15% of Stanford’s enrolled students admitted to using consultants.

Just how honest Fuqua’s applicants were in answering the question is anyone’s guess. The school’s MBA candidates did not know how the admissions would use the data and at least some worried that a candid answer could backfire on them.

CONSULTANTS BELIEVE FUQUA’S APPLICANTS DIDN’T TELL THE TRUTH

“I would assume that number is low,” says Jeremy Shinewald, founder and president of mbaMission, one of the larger players in the MBA admissions business. “Some would be fearful of admitting it.”

Linda Abraham, founder and president of Accepted.com, agrees. “I am guessing that applicants are reluctant to disclose consultant use, much like they may be reluctant to disclose tutoring they received in college, use of college writing centers to help with papers they had to write, test prep they took to get to the score they ultimately apply with, use of a career counselor, or hiring of life coach to advise them on major life decisions,” she says.  “I wonder why schools don’t ask about those professional services or why they don’t ask about non-professional help candidates receive during the application process from bosses, colleagues, professors, friends, and family. If these questions are going to be asked, why limit them to admissions consultants?”

ONE CONSULTANT COACHED A FUQUA APPLICANT THROUGH THE PROCESS

At least one consultant contacted by Poets&Quants walked her client through a process that ultimately resulted in her client not admitting that he used their firm. Jana Blanchette, founder and president of Ann Arbor-based Inside MBA Admissions, said that after a lengthy conversation with her client, he decided not to check the box on the application that would indicate the applicant got help from a consultant. I asked him questions like, “Do you feel this material is yours?  Did you create this?”

He responded, “Oh, my God, yes.”

“Then that is how I would check the box,” I said.

“We’re coaching them through the process,” reasons Blanchette. “We are not doing the process for them. It is a tricky question for clients to answer, because the use of admission consultants is not widely accepted and it is not clearly stated if this will be used against them in the admission process.”

Hargrove says that Fuqua will ask the question again this year and explain to applicants that the answers will not be used to evaluate their candidacy for admission. Based on conversations at the recent GMAC conference in Chicago, Hargrove also believes other schools are likely to ask the same question during the 2012-2013 application season.

MORE B-SCHOOLS EXPECTED TO PUT THE QUESTION ON THEIR APPLICATIONS THIS YEAR 

“I can’t imagine there won’t be a number of schools this year,” she told Poets&Quants. “It’s good to get the data. It doesn’t mean we don’t expect applicants to use admission consultants. But lots of schools are reevaluating their application process so we can get the best possible representation of a candidate. Before we put a process in place to protect against it, we want to know how many applicants are getting help.

“We also get tons of requests for interviews, guest blogs and information from a lot of admission consultants and we wanted to know which agencies our applicants were using to better manage some of the requests we were getting.”

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  • MBA_Quest

    While I agree consultants provide a valuable service to some applicants the Inside MBA Admissions example really doesn’t paint a positive picture. It’s a simple question: did you use a consultant for help? If yes, you check the box. The question isn’t whether or not you feel the material is yours or how you feel. I strongly disagree with this being a “tricky question for clients to answer.” Answer the question truthfully and let the chips fall where they may. It’d be pretty ironic if the applicant was rejected after being admitted for lying on an application………..when advised by an admissions consultant.

  • LizRileyHargrove

     As a point of
    clarification, the admissions consultant question on the Fuqua application is
    optional and reads “In preparing your application, did you utilize the services
    of an agency or consultant to guide you in the process?”  The admissions
    committee is not making the assumption that utilizing an admission consultant
    equates to a fabricated application.  If an applicant employs the services
    of an admission consultant and attests that they did not, they are being
    dishonest and jeopardizing their admission to the program.  This is an
    optional question – applicants can abstain from responding and thus keep their
    ethics intact.

  • Cecilia Reve

    We advised our clients to answer honestly. One reason is because we’ve been in touch with Fuqua admissions staff and believed that they are quite open-minded about admissions consultants; the other reason is because we felt confident that our clients’ applications reflected their true selves. In the end, 2 out of 3 of our Duke applicants were admitted, with their acceptances reflecting their qualifications for and fit with the program. 

    Regarding how widespread the employment of admissions consultants is, as someone who’s been working in this field for over 10 years, I would say that a 10%-15% estimate is *extremely* low, especially in the international market. A more neutral survey (not connected to one’s application) would yield more honest answers though; I doubt that many applicants would dare tell the truth to a school whose judgment they’re counting on.

  • guest

    is it 15% of Stanford applicants use a consultant and 7% of applicants are accepted? I wonder what percent of the accepted applicants came from the 15% using consultants?

  • Qkhan70

    After reading an articlehttp://www.thehomeofknowledge.com/mba-2/real-life-skills-for-prospective-mbas.html, I am disappointed with all business schools. Do they really deliver? Or is it just branding oneself only an “MBA” ?

  • Qkhan70

     Sorry for the missplling above. Here is the article

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