The Revolving Door In Business School Admissions

‘IT’S GOOD TO HAVE A DREAM, BUT YOUR EXPECTATIONS NEED TO BE REALISTIC’

A petite, soft-spoken extrovert with a nurturing personality, Oyler says there are limits to what a consultant can do for a client. “If you have a 600 GMAT and one year of work experience, you’re not getting into Harvard, no matter who you hire as a consultant,” she says. “It’s good to have a dream, but your expectations need to be realistic.”

Like many, Oyler found her way into the business of admissions by accident. In the early fall of 2003, she was a trailing spouse, following her husband, Creighton, a former consultant for Deloitte, to Tuck where he was about to begin the MBA program. By October, she was offered a position as an assistant director of admissions. “It was a steep learning curve, but I loved the job,” she says.

On behalf of Tuck, she traveled all over the world as one of the school’s admissions ambassadors, doing information sessions, interviewing applicants, and showing alumni some love. Shortly after joining Tuck admissions, she was asked to pack her bags and go to Turkey and Greece with a day’s notice. She often traveled to Canada and Mexico, to the West Coast and through the South. She was in New York City nearly every other week.

ADMISSIONS CONSULTING CUT OUT ALL THE TRAVEL

When her husband graduated with his MBA in 2005, Oyler landed a job with the prestige consulting firm McKinsey & Co., helping to recruit people from Tuck she actually admitted. “When I left McKinsey in 2009, I had a child and the thought of hitting the road in September and coming back in November wasn’t going to work. This was a way to get back into admissions but without all the travel.”

Oyler, who now has two children aged give and three, typically works with six to eight clients at a time. In any given admissions season, she can counsel as many as 50 to 60 when you include applicants who hire her only to prepare for an admissions interview. Virtually all the contact with clients is via email, Skype and phone. In the four years she has worked with Clear Admit, Oyler has only met with five clients face-to-face.

Yet, she can spend as many as 40 to 50 hours with a single client. “I now get to know them at a much deeper level,” she says. “It’s not just reading a file and spending half an hour interviewing someone. I’ll spend weeks or months with a client. I get nervous for them. When someone doesn’t get into a school they want, I take it very personally. It makes me sad. I just can’t say, ‘it’s all them.’ It’s me, too.”

A TYPICAL ENGAGEMENT STARTS WITH A FREE 30-MINUTE CONVO

An assignment usually starts with a free 30-minute conversation over the phone during which Oyler will ask an applicant to walk her through his resume, why he wants to get an MBA and what schools he is targeting. If the candidate wants to become a client, he will fill out a detailed questionnaire intended to help define one’s overall positioning strategy for the application process.

Oyler then spends hours writing up a detailed strategy document, analyzing everything from the applicant’s employment history, future goals, to list of potential recommenders. The analysis is sent back to the client in advance of a phone call to finalize school selection, set a timeline of deadlines, perfect the resume, prioritize the applications, and brainstorm the essays.

Each client is encouraged to come up with two to three ideas for each required essay before Oyler weighs in on what she thinks might be best. A typical draft essay might get 20 to 30 comments from her and go through three or more rewrites. Oyler will also work with their recommenders to get the best possible recommendation from each, go over an admissions interview strategy by doing mock interviews, and finally help with the decision once a client is accepted.

REFUSING TO WRITE ESSAYS FOR CLIENTS

Only once, Oyler says, has she been asked by a client to actually write his MBA essays. “I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ And then he asked me to recommend someone who would and I refused.” Instead, she sees her job as helping to shape an applicant’s story and helping a candidate decide where the best ‘fit’ might occur. “A lot of people can’t see beyond Harvard, Stanford or Wharton. They are obsessed with the rankings and the forums. They don’t know what business schools are looking for. They think everything in an application should be about work. But everyone can tell the story about a disastrous meeting with a client or staying up until 3 a.m. to meet a deadline.”

Still, you can never predict how candidates might follow through with advice.  Once, she recalls, Tuck received an application from a candidate with all the edits and comments from a consultant visible on his essays—and the consultant’s bill still tacked onto the file. “Clearly, he lacked attention to detail,” she says. “He didn’t get in. That was a big mistake.”

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