Wharton | Mr. Digi-Transformer
GMAT 680, GPA 4
Stanford GSB | Ms. 2+2 Tech Girl
GRE 333, GPA 3.95
Stanford GSB | Ms. Healthcare Operations To General Management
GRE 700, GPA 7.3
Chicago Booth | Ms. CS Engineer To Consultant
GMAT 720, GPA 3.31
Kenan-Flagler | Mr. Engineer In The Military
GRE 310, GPA 3.9
Ross | Mr. Automotive Compliance Professional
GMAT 710, GPA 3.7
Chicago Booth | Mr. Oil & Gas Leader
GMAT 760, GPA 6.85/10
Stanford GSB | Mr. Seeking Fellow Program
GMAT 760, GPA 3
Wharton | Mr. Real Estate Investor
GMAT 720, GPA 3.3
Cornell Johnson | Ms. Chef Instructor
GMAT 760, GPA 3.3
Harvard | Mr. Climate
GMAT 720, GPA 3.4
Wharton | Mr. New England Hopeful
GMAT 730, GPA 3.65
Berkeley Haas | Mr. Bangladeshi Data Scientist
GMAT 760, GPA 3.33
Harvard | Mr. Military Banker
GMAT 740, GPA 3.9
Ross | Ms. Packaging Manager
GMAT 730, GPA 3.47
Chicago Booth | Mr. Private Equity To Ed-Tech
GRE 326, GPA 3.4
Harvard | Mr. Gay Singaporean Strategy Consultant
GMAT 730, GPA 3.3
Cornell Johnson | Mr. Electric Vehicles Product Strategist
GRE 331, GPA 3.8
Columbia | Mr. BB Trading M/O To Hedge Fund
GMAT 710, GPA 3.23
Columbia | Mr. Old Indian Engineer
GRE 333, GPA 67%
Harvard | Mr. Athlete Turned MBB Consultant
GMAT 720, GPA 3.4
Ross | Mr. Civil Rights Lawyer
GMAT 710, GPA 3.62
Stanford GSB | Mr. Co-Founder & Analytics Manager
GMAT 750, GPA 7.4 out of 10.0 - 4th in Class
Cornell Johnson | Ms. Environmental Sustainability
GMAT N/A, GPA 7.08
Cornell Johnson | Mr. Trucking
GMAT 640, GPA 3.82
Ross | Mr. Low GRE Not-For-Profit
GRE 316, GPA 74.04% First Division (No GPA)
Harvard | Mr. Marine Pilot
GMAT 750, GPA 3.98

The “Arms Race” to Get An Elite MBA

Shelly Kagan, an ethics professor at Yale University, doesn’t see a problem with admissions consulting. “Remember Chariots of Fire?” the story about two British runners, he asks. Harold Abrahams seeks help from a personal coach, an idea that went against the cultural rules of sport and competition. In 1919, the move was unsportsmanlike. Now, of course, the average athlete has a personal attaché of specialized personnel, and the idea of a coach is quaint. “What strikes us as distasteful is largely a matter of how much of it has been going on,” Kagan says.

As far as admissions consulting, there’s a lot going on. Insiders estimate that 25% to a third of all applicants to the top ten business schools use consultants. For international applicants, it could be as high as 50%. That’s a distinct advantage for students who can afford hourly fees of up to $900. To Kagan, that’s just a part of capitalism in America, where wealthier people can attend better schools and accept low-paying summer internships to make themselves more attractive candidates. Why attach a stigma to B-school consulting when high school students seek help, and college and universities provide their own students with guidance counselors, he asks.

“It’s no more illegitimate for Student A to get [paid] advice than Student B who’s at a school that provides it,” he says, noting that Yale helps out students applying to Rhodes and Marshall scholarships all the time.

Kagan does wonder, though, what the cozy relationship between consultants and admissions officers might lead to. “Access and accommodations come in a million forms,” he says. Friendships, he adds, have natural, unconscious effects on decision making. Studies show doctors prescribe more drugs for companies who dine and entertain them. There’s also the issue of school officers who recommend loans from companies in order to secure kick backs.

THE APPEARANCE OF A CONFLICT-OF-INTEREST.

In 2008, Inside Higher Ed reported that Wharton’s associate director of admissions Judith Hodara and Kenan-Flagler dean of admissions Sherry Wallace were on the board of a Japanese admissions consultancy while holding their official admissions jobs at the schools. Agos Japan is a highly-touted firm frequently used by Japanese corporations sending employees abroad to grad school. Hodara’s involvement was pre-approved by the University of Pennsylvania, and Agos sent her a list of clients applying to Wharton so that Hodara could recluse herself from those applicants, she said in the article. Shockingly, Kenan-Flagler deemed Wallace’s relationship to be okay, and she stayed on the board until Agos dissolved the relationship with admissions officers. Tadashi Yokoyama, Agos’ chairman of the board, says in an e-mail the “relationship “received attention in a way that we felt was not beneficial to all involved.”

Hodara also had also been running IvyStone Educational Consultants, a firm for undergrad applicants, since 2004, and was a member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association. Wharton asked her to resign from Agos due to what it said was the “appearance of a conflict-of-interest,” and Hodara shut down IvyStone after her board position came to light. Hodara, who now runs her own admissions consulting business based in Atlanta, could not be reached for comment.

Kagan thinks MBA consulting has become something of a two-way arms race. Students are better equipped to get into a top program with the help of a consultant, and schools can more easily access top applicants with the help of consultants. On the other hand, not having a connection to someone who can offer you the inside skinny on how to get into an elite school is becoming a disadvantage. “That’s the nature of arms races,” says Kagan. “At the end of it, no one is better off except the arms dealer.”

Return to main story: “Suddenly Cozy: MBA Admissions Consultants and Business Schools”