Discounting Hits MBA Admissions Consulting

by John A. Byrne on

Want help applying to the MBA programs at Harvard, Stanford and Wharton?

Stratus Prep, an admissions consulting firm, has been offering would-be clients a 10% discount off its standard $6,500 three-school package that would include HBS. mbaMission, one of the larger players in the MBA admissions consulting, is dangling a $100 discount in front of applicants who enroll in its MBA application writing bootcamp. And, which has been counseling applicants since 1994, is also offering to shave 10% on all non-rush MBA admissions consulting and editing services booked by the end of July.

After several years of declining MBA applications, the discounting that has been rampant in the GMAT prep business is now starting to hit the highly competitive MBA admissions market. At least nine firms alone are advertising discounted services on GMATClub, an online community of GMAT exam takers. Among them, Aringo Consulting Group is promoting a rather massive 30% cut in its admissions consulting fees.


Is it a sign that the market for MBA consulting has peaked? Or is it just too many competitors chasing too little business? Two years ago, when Poets&Quants published an in-depth series on the business, there were as many as 300 firms with more than 500 MBA admission consultants around the world. Overall, P&Q estimated they were racking up annual revenues of at least $35 million.

Since then, however, even more competitors have cropped up and the business of some of the firms has exploded. Two years ago, for example, Chicago-based The MBA Exchange listed 40 active consultants on its website. Today, the firm has 67 consultants, including former admission officials from at least eight schools, including Harvard, Wharton, Kellogg, Chicago Booth, Columbia and Dartmouth Tuck. Virtually all of the consultants have MBAs and the majority of them worked with admissions when they were students.

“I think that discounting is an indication of how challenging it is for those who are battling it out using commodity channels like Google Adwords to get their names out,” says Jeremy Shinewald, founder and president of mbaMission. “The barriers to entry in this business are low, but the barriers to actually getting clients are now quite high.”


Stacy Blackman, founder and president of Los Angeles-based Stacy Blackman Consulting, agrees. “I think that many of the firms out there are trying to find ways to differentiate and be competitive, but that is not how we operate,” says Blackman. “We have never sold our services based on low pricing. It’s hard to say whether business has peaked.  All I know is our experience, and we do turn clients away due to capacity issues every year.”

Linda Abraham, founder and president of, says her 10% discount during the month of July is no big deal. “Actually, we’ve offered a July special for years,” she says. “The reason behind it: by getting applicants to start early we help them and we help ourselves.
This a very seasonal business. If they start in July we will serve more applicants total. If they all start in September, we and the clients go crazy, and we end up simply being available to fewer applicants. They also will produce better, more thoughtful applications if they start early and don’t do the last-minute slap-together that so many end up doing. We work with those too, but not at a discounted rate.”

Notwithstanding the discounting by some firms, the vast majority are holding already hefty consulting fees steady—if not increasing them (see table for going rates at some select firms). The going rate for a four-school package at most top firms is about $7,000, though they range from a high of $7,599 at Clear Admit to $5,400 at Inside MBA Admissions. Hourly consulting rates range from $375 an hour at EXPARTUS to $244 at Veritas.

“As with any professional service, there’s a wide range of pricing available
in the admissions consulting marketplace,” says Dan Bauer, founder and managing director of The MBA Exchange. “Applicants who are ‘shopping’
firms should consider the value proposition behind the price. For example,
verified admissions results, documented client satisfaction, and a long-term
 reputation for integrity are some important factors for any serious

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  • Derekblue710

    Dan, it’s getting tiresome hearing about your “verified” results, seeing as those “results” are almost 10 years old.  I was in high school back then, it’s feeling irrelevant.

  • Greg

    John – We just don’t really care about these stories on MBA consultants. There are too many of them.

    Please more smackdowns, profiles and content that made this site a great resource.

  • PaulSBodine

    Paul Bodine Consulting’s rates are $7,100 for 4 schools, $3,200 for 1 school, and an hourly rate of $250, which drops down to $200 for 10 hours. Paul is the author of Great Applications for Business School as well as five other admissions books and has been quoted/featured in Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report, Bloomberg BusinessWeek and PoetsandQuants. Our testimonials are worth a look: 

  • 2014Applicant

    Vanessa Gil at Stratus Prep is the best admissions counselor anyone could ask for!

    Here is how I came to work with her. After interviewing Stacey Blackman, Clear Admit and Stratus Prep for MBA admissions counseling, Shawn O’Connor, the founder of Stratus Prep, convinced me to use his firm.

    I had obtained a 720 on my GMAT which was good, but below average for the 2 schools I had targeted: Stanford GSB and Harvard Business School.

    Knowing those were the schools I wanted to apply to, Shawn placed me with a counselor who was an alum from both schools (NOT VANESSA).

    And here I was… getting into the annoying process of business school applications. The first deadline was HBS in early September (Round 1). The counselor and I spent 3 months working on positioning, outlines and essays for Harvard. However, she and I didn’t have the same perspectives at times. Every time I came up with a creative idea for my essays, I got turned down. I felt my application was going to be pretty standardized. Another thing she would do was coming back to me with edits within 10 minutes of me sending my drafts. This annoyed me as I had paid a pretty big amount to get her advice, and I felt I wasn’t getting the level of attention I deserved. I was disappointed and thought I would ask Shawn for another counselor. However, I had less than 2 weeks left before submitting HBS and I thought I wouldn’t that risk so close to the deadline so I decided to stick with her and apply to HBS.

    The day after I submitted HBS, however, I asked Shawn to reassign me with a different counselor for my Stanford app which was due 3 weeks later (early October, Round 1). By doing so, I also thought I would diversify and increase my odds of getting into at least one of the two.

    Shawn understood my concerns and paired me with Vanessa Gil. And here comes Vanessa. I didn’t know it at the time, but working with Vanessa was the best thing that could have happened to me. Vanessa and I got along immediately. I told her about my concerns with my former counselor and she gave me the ability
    to be my true self in my applications. She and I spent hours on the phone discussing the most detailed items of my application from positioning, wording, approach, what works and what doesn’t to what Stanford specifically likes in candidates. Literally everything. She was so accessible, nice, competent and open-minded. It was night and day.

    Vanessa and I worked hard in those 3 weeks I worked on my GSB application. I found out later on that she had a lot more clients than I thought. Yet I felt like I was the only one she was working with. The level of attention she gave me was unparalleled. She understood who I was as a person, what I stood for, and what I wanted to convey in my applications like no one else. Her perspective was invaluable.

    Vanessa and I finally submitted Stanford early October.

    Mid-October, I found out I got declined from HBS, without an interview.

    Early November, I got notice that I got an interview with the GSB. Vanessa and I prepped for it in a rigorous manner with 3 mock interviews and detailed question by question feedback. I went into the interview feeling confident, and aced it.

    Mid-December: I found out I got into my dream school, the Stanford GSB :)

    The bottom line is that none of this would have been possible without Vanessa. Her trusted advice, intelligence and amazing personality made this stressful process an enjoyable experience. When you think about it, Vanessa only helped me with one business school, and it turns out that the school is actually the hardest one to get into. With Vanessa, my hit rate was 100%. I know, “impressive” you would say. However, the minute you meet her, you will realize it’s not all that surprising. Vanessa is an unbelievable person who simply gets it. If you’re driven, focused and dedicated, she will get you into your dream school. That’s what she does, and she does it better than anyone else in the industry.

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