The Revolving Door In Business School Admissions
Stacey Oyler can recreate the scene as if it were yesterday. As an assistant director of admissions for Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business in the mid-2000s, she recalls the grueling process of deciding on the fate of a seemingly endless parade of applicants desperate to get an MBA degree from the school.
With a seven of her colleagues, she would hold up in a conference room, surrounded by stacks of application files and a fortifying supply of cupcakes and cookies. Spreadsheets that dissected every applicant by their undergraduate colleges, work backgrounds, GMAT scores and country or state lay before each staffer. Then Admissions Director Kristine Laca sat at the table behind a laptop, inputting the committee’s decisions.
From 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., over a three-day period, the group would debate the merits of every applicant. Each decision—whether to admit, deny or waitlist—had to be unanimous. “You got a little crazy locked in that room,” she laughs. “I remember we had a major debate over whether a military candidate actually flew a plane or was merely on the plane. You couldn’t tell for sure from his application.”
As the pilot of the plane, Oyler and her colleagues reasoned, he would have been in a significant leadership role, with a great deal of responsibility on his shoulders. That experience would have been in his favor. “Finally, someone just said, ‘Pick up the phone and ask him.’ We did.”
Over a 21-month period, from October of 2003 to July of 2005, Oyler lugged an L.L. Bean bag overflowing with applications through too many airports, read about 800 files from candidates, interviewed hundreds of them in hotel lobbies, and, by virtue of those locked-down meetings, participated in every admissions decision for two full classes of admits to Tuck.
LEVERAGING INSIDE ADMISSIONS KNOWLEDGE AS A CONSULTANT TO HELP APPLICANTS
For the past four years, the 36-year-old Oyler has taken that inside knowledge of elite admissions and put it to work for clients on behalf of Clear Admit. Her stint in the admissions offices of an elite business school, followed by three years as a recruiter of MBAs for McKinsey & Co., has given her the credibility and the knowhow to smartly advise applicants who want to get into top business schools.
“I know people think I went to the dark side when I became a consultant,” she says, “but I don’t do this for the money. I like working with people. I’m just a coach, but I love what I do. It’s fun, and I’m not cheating.”
Oyler is just one of dozens of former admissions officials who now work the other side, helping clients brave the steep odds of admission to business schools that once paid them to evaluate applicants (see “MBA Admissions Consultants Who Once Worked On The Inside“). Indeed, in recent years, there has been a revolving door of B-school staffers turned consultants, not dissimilar to the hordes of legislative aides who later become lobbyists on Capitol Hill. They come from every top school in the world, including Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, London, and INSEAD.
GETTING THE PERSPECTIVE OF SOMEONE WHO HAD BEEN AT THE B-SCHOOL ADMISSIONS TABLE
Their expertise with the inner workings of an admissions offices, the nuances of how applications are read and graded, the tricks that make a file stand out from the pile, the mistakes that can torpedo an applicant, are all highly valuable to a jittery and anxious group of MBA candidates. When applicants hire former business school admissions officials, “they are getting the perspective of someone who has been at the table where the admissions decisions have been made,” says Chioma Isiadinso, who had been an assistant director of admissions for Harvard Business School before founding EXPARTUS. “They’ve been privy to how admissions boards think, how they make decisions, and their idiosyncrasies. Some individuals can have a soft spot for particular profiles or even individuals from certain schools or even firms.”