MBA Admission Consulting Claims: How Credible?

GIGGLING AT SUCCESS RATE CLAIMS

Regardless, some question the credibility of the success claims. “I giggle, about some of those stats,” says Sanford Kreisberg, of HBSguru.com, a firm which concentrates on HBS, Wharton and Stanford. “In my HBS interview practice, which already starts with kids who have been granted interviews by Harvard, I work with about 100 candidates a year, and of those, about 70% to 75% percent get in. I am ashamed to say that’s not all that much higher than the baseline number of about 60%  (HBS admits about 1000 kids of the 1800 interviewed to get to a class of 900). So anyone who is claiming a better success rate at HBS, or even an over 50% success rate, from the get go at HBS, is really straining credulity.”

But what makes Ivy MBA Consulting’s overall—versus its detailed—success rates stand out is that the firm says its claims have passed the muster of an independent audit by a major accounting firm, Deloitte. Few admission consultants who boast highly successful results back them up with independent verification. Generally, the claims are simply made with no third-party support or verification.

Co-founder David says the firm hired Deloitte and paid it $10,000 to lend credibility to its claims. “To get the stamp from Deloitte was not an easy thing to do,” he says. “They went thru all our bank accounts to see if were hiding unsuccessful clients. Being audited by Deloitte sends a signal to candidates that this is a serious company. Unverified statistics I would take with a grain of salt.”

The MBA Exchange says it was the first to have its results independently verified by a public accounting firm in 2004 but that audit is now eight years old. “After becoming the first firm in the industry to have independently reported admissions results in 2004, our plan was to re-engage the CPAs every five to ten years for an update,” explains Dan Bauer, managing director and founder of The MBA Exchange.  “As no other firms did the same, we’ve relied on internal audits since then to track annual admissions success. Having experienced a record last year in number of clients served, and with several clients still on waitlists, we have the CPAs working now on our 2011-12 season performance report.”

MANY FIRMS SHY AWAY FROM PUBLICLY REPORTING SUCCESS RATES

Most firms, including Stacy Blackman Consulting, Accepted.com, Veritas, mbaMission and Clear Admit, do not publicly report success rates. Stacy Blackman, a Los Angeles-based MBA admissions consultant, says she has always shied away from citing statistics on assignments with clients. “Numbers are extremely easy to manipulate, and make things sound different than they really are,” says Blackman. “I slice up our data a million different ways and still cannot keep up with all of the statistical requests. I do it because clients ask and I want to be as transparent as possible about our services, but I am never comfortable relying too much on the stats because they constantly change and can be misleading – good or bad.”

Blackman says her success rate is about 94% for the past season, with some results still coming in. But she points out that her firm provides a refund to anyone not admitted with a four-plus school package. “So it’s a pretty good incentive to inform us of results,” she adds.

Even firms that don’t publish success rates, however, acknowledge that the issue is on the list of questions they are most commonly asked by potential customers–and increasingly the questions have become more targeted on the schools that applicants want to attend. “Every year I used to be asked my success rate, but now I’m getting asked for my success rates by school,” says Jana Blanchete, president and founder of Inside MBA Admissions. “They ask how many people did you get into Harvard or Stanford last year. I think there is a bit of skepticism over admissions consultants out there because you can have a success rate of 97% but force clients to apply to Georgetown, Marshall and some tier-two schools to get a rate that high.”

That’s a point backed by many admission consultants who were contacted by Poets&Quants. “Someone with a 550 GMAT and 2.5 GPA will never get into Harvard, Stanford, Wharton,” says Chioma Isiadinso, CEO of EXPARTUS and a former HBS admissions officer. “So either you only accept WOW (Walks on Water) candidates to ensure those stats or someone isn’t being transparant with their numbers.”

WHAT A CONSULTANT CAN DO AND WHAT A CONSULTANT CAN’T DO

Truth is, there are real limits to the impact any consultant can make on an MBA application. As Kreisberg points out, “A consultant to an applicant at HBS, Stanford or Wharton can only do so much. He can make you stand up really, really straight, but he cannot make you taller. If you need to be six feet tall to get into HBS and you are 5’9, I don’t care who your consultant is, you are not getting in.

“It is possible that a consultant might be able to do more once you drift down to Kellogg and Chicago and Michigan, where there is a lot of congestion in the middle of the pack. But even those schools know what they want, and the consultant part of the application is rarely ‘outcome making.’ It’s more of a check against making a mistake than a way to get you a positive advantage. Although sure, a slightly more focused goal statement, some hepped up recommendations, and some spin on an essay, in 10% of cases could flip an outcome.”