The Revolving Door In Business School Admissions

by John A. Byrne on

Stacey Oyler has taken her experience as a Tuck admissions officer and leveraged it to help MBA applicants

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.”

1 2 3
  • Pinto

    These people are downright unethical. What a shame. Education is being made a mockery of….disgraceful.

  • Dan

    Did a free consultation with a consultant. Wasn’t the best fit for me. Just be yourself.

  • RR

    Dear John — are the schools ok w/ candidates using consultants? Please advise.
    Sincerely, Raj Rantnayake (Colombo, Sri Lanka)

  • JohnAByrne

    Yes. Most schools, in fact, work closely with admissions consultants and see them as helpful in smartly steering applicants to their doors. What the schools dislike are those who write essays for applicants, but none of the consultants in this story or the directory would do that.

  • RR

    Thanks for your response John. Sincerely, Raj Rantnayake

  • Sajany

    Hey Raj from Sri Lanka – Are you related to that Raj Rajaratnam from Wharton, who is now in jail for insider trading? He founded Galeon Hedge Fund.

  • RR

    Raj is a fairly common first name in Sri Lanka. It’s not my family name. I am not related to Raj Rajaratnam. He is a Sri Lankan Tamil, I’m ethnic Sinhalese. Also, I’m in the real estate sector developing commercial properties mainly in Colombo city center but also in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia areas.

  • Sajany

    Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia???…wow!..You make it seem like it is Midtoen Manhattan’s Plaza district…I’m impressed. Can we now say — Donald Trump is the Raj Ratkanye of New York? I think harvard should name its bschool after you.

  • Raj Rajaratham from Jail

    Dear Moderator, this man sajany is chastising me with with his verbal vituperations, innuendos, vitriol, and invectives. I humbly appeal to you to reprimand and censure him with immediate and long-lasting effect. The pursuit of higher education is indeed a noble one. A pursuit that is undertaken to empower one to achieve his dreams. Sadly, this man is belittling, lampooning and humiliating me in a public forum. It is not my intention to reduce this forum into a battle ground for saxicolus sesquipidalians and gasconading circumlocution. Sincerely, Brother of Raj Rantnayake..Raj Rajarathnam from Federal Prison.

  • Dan

    haha! you guys are funny. Lol

  • Dan

    Not sure I agree with you. Like John said — they dont write the essays, they just help you along the way so that you can find your passion and channel your energy more effectively. I see this as an aspiring bodybuilder seeking advice from a professional trainer. End of the day — the trainer is not going to life the weights. The trainer is going to guide you. You have to do the heavy lifting…and without the steroids (or the shortcuts that some unethical consultants use, but not the ones listed above as John said). Don’t be so harsh and judgmental. Seems like if you want an MBA education, you should be more open minded and willing to see things from a broader perspective.

  • VBR

    I almost spit my morning coffee on my laptop reading this. Hilarious.

    Van Bonk, Rotterdam, Holland

  • Dreamer

    I am not using consultant but mostly because I honestly believe they are not going to make a difference in weather I get in or not. I am also fortunate to work in a place with many recent MBAs so i have been able to leverage those relationships. I don’t see consultants as unethical as they are just providing the same guidance that i am just fortunate to have for free. If I did not have that network I will use one.

  • Melanie G

    Stacey Oyler is so photogenic! Love the pic and the article.

  • Stacey O

    Thank you! You made my day!

Partner Sites: C-Change Media | Poets & Quants for Execs | Tipping the Scales | Poets & Quants for Undergrads