Bad Karaoke, In-Law Recommenders: All In A Day’s Work for An Adcom

by John A. Byrne on

Former Wharton admissions official Judith Silverman HodaraOver her 10 years in MBA admissions at the Wharton School of Business, Judith Hodara has seen it all: An applicant whose website featured video with horrendously bad karaoke renditions of Michael Jackson tunes, complete with moonwalk. A candidate who had his mother-in-law write a letter of recommendation for him. Even an applicant who left so many blanks in his professional information that the admissions staff was left to wonder what he actually did for a living.

But perhaps the most puzzling of all applications came from an MBA candidate who proclaimed that his greatest accomplishment to date was jilting his bride, pretty much at the altar. “He said that it taught him how to trust his gut in future business transactions,” recalls Hodara, who had been Wharton’s senior associate director of admissions from 2004 until 2009. “We always wondered if he ever did find the right match.”

For the past three years, Hodara, 44, has been doing a bit of matchmaking herself as an MBA admissions consultant. After leaving Wharton in 2009 and moving to Atlanta for family reasons, she initially opened up shop as Judith S. Hodara Educational Consultants. Last November, she joined a new consulting partnership called Fortuna Admissions, a firm that brings together former admissions officers from Wharton, INSEAD, Chicago Booth, London Business School, and UC Berkeley Haas. Their value proposition is clear: to bring to applicants the inside knowledge of the admissions offices that once employed them (see Ex-Adcoms Launch MBA Admissions Consulting Firm).

PREMIUM PRICES FOR INSIDE ADMISSIONS KNOWHOW

That knowledge is deep and broad—and for sale. But it doesn’t come cheap. Fortuna prices its consulting services at a 10% premium to existing market prices to account for the inside knowledge of its consultants. A one-school comprehensive consulting package costs $4,600, while a three-school package is priced at roughly $7,500. Of course, other consulting firms also offer services from former adcom officials but haven’t built their entire firm around that differentiation.

All told, Hodara alone has spent more than 20 years of her professional life in undergraduate and graduate admissions, including her ten years at Wharton. That knowledge has won her plaudits from even rival admissions consultants. “She is very, very experienced as a former admissions officer, and I’ve asked for her admissions advice on many occasions,” says Betsy Massar, founder of Master Admissions, who says she has referred clients to Hodara. “She knows Wharton better than anybody out there.”

At Wharton, Hodara would see 1,000 to 1,500 MBA applications a year as a senior associate. Now Hodara, who guesses that as many as 50% of the applicants to elite business schools are using consultants, counsels between 40 and 50 candidates a year. “I have worked with folks on full applications, only on their interview, or only on school selection,” she says. “There is a huge range. Sometimes seniors in college, ask ‘What do I need to do? How do I get myself ready to apply?’”

‘IT’S ALMOST LIKE HAVING A PERSONAL TRAINER’

Generally, she says, they see two kinds of applicants to business schools. “Those who are awash with information and feel that they are drowning and need a life preserver. They need a roadmap; a strategy and they just need someone to help them make that a reality. The other kinds of applicants are those who are incredibly well informed and have the numbers but they want to shine. They recognize what’s around the room and they are probably applying to a number of schools and want to know how to tell their stories in a compelling way. They want the support of a knowledgeable guide. It’s almost like having a personal trainer in a way, someone who will help you do the heavy lifting and meet the deadlines.”

For Hodara, getting into admissions was something of a lucky accident. When she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with an English degree in 1990, Hodara had fallen in love with the place and wanted to stay. “I was one of those very active undergrads, giving tours and being on panels,” she recalls. “In high school, a campus rep came from Penn and I thought that was a cool job. And then six years later, I was back on the road talking to students about Penn.”

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  • Rnc

    What a great game, first they invent rituals to create an illusion they might admit anyone and collect application cash, and then they switch to consulting to earn money on explaing those rituals. Law-school CV-only approach at least pretends to be more objective.

  • Rnc

    Also, neither myself nor my fellow admitted friends and colleagues “feel good” about the process of jumping the assorted hoops of admission.

  • shaniqua James

    There’s no place where she can hide her head in shame so she just doesn’t bother. Look, she was adcom at Wharton while working for two admissions consultants. There’s absolutely nothing she can say to talk her way out of that one and I’m surprised she wasn’t prosecuted.

    How grueling is the process? Does it have to take nine months? NO. If you’re a competitive candidate, e.g., high GPA, high GPA, reasonable job experience, then you’ll get accepted. The solid candidates shouldn’t worry about getting in and the rest shouldn’t waste their time and effort. There’s nothing unfair or cruel about that. We can’t all be Rhodes Scholars, Supreme Court clerks or analysts at KKR. Success in life means knowing when to give up.

  • Sperry

    Every reputable admissions firm out there has ex-admissions committee members on the team. If Fortuna’s only differentiation is this…then they are not differentiated at all. So they have reviewed applications and made yes/no decisions. Have they actually helped people construct applications?

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