Four years ago, a prospective MBA student to Harvard Business School had to complete four separate essays to apply for admission and submit letters of recommendation from three different people. Today, there’s just one optional essay and only two recommenders.
It’s not only HBS that has reduced its required essays. Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business cut them in half. Columbia, Dartmouth, and many other schools have also made it easier to apply to their MBA programs by eliminating essays and word counts.
Yet, if you were seeking the help of an MBA admissions consultant this year, in most cases you would be paying more—not less—for consulting advice.
FULL CONSULTING PACKAGE PRICES ARE UP 18% TO 13% AT MANY FIRMS
At Stacy Blackman Consulting, the cost for a one-school package is now $4,425, up 18% from $3,750 in 2010. At both Clear Admit and mbaMission, a one-school consulting package is now priced at $3,950, up 13% from $3,500 four years ago. accepted.com now charges $3,700 for a one-school comprehensive consulting engagement, up 53% from the $2,425 it used to charge if you applied to Columbia Business School four years ago when the firm priced according to your target schools. “Comparing our school package today with the Columbia essay package of four years ago is like comparing apples and watermelon,” says Linda Abraham, founder of accepted.com. She says the earlier package offered advising and editing and wasn’t as “comprehensive” as today’s consulting package.
And for his mock interview service, Sandy Kreisberg of HBSGuru.com fame now bills clients $550, up 83% from four years ago. “The mock interview price went up because of the congested period that HBS interviews are now held,” explains Kreisberg, “so you can view it as similar to Uber pricing.”
Most of the price increases in what MBA consulting firms charge have been across the board, impacting everything from hourly consulting rates to the comprehensive consulting packages that include everything from analysis of one’s profile and resume to coaching prep for admission interviews. In the past four years, the hourly consulting rate at mbaMission has gone to $290 with a two-hour minimum from $250, while at Expartus it has increased to $375 an hour from $350. The all-in packages for a single school now range from a low of $2,997 at Expartus to as much as Stacy Blackman’s $4,425 for a single school (see table below).
‘I DON’T THINK THAT FEWER WORDS NECESSARILY EQUATES TO LESS WORK’
How can consulting cost more when there is presumably less work to do?
Admission consultants defend their prices on the basis that consulting is not merely an essay writing and editing service. “That’s a big part of it, of course, but there is much more to it,” insists Stacy Blackman whose consulting firm bears her name. “There’s up-front strategy, developing the stories that play out across the entire application, recommendations, interview, resume, wait list efforts. We have a top notch team and pay them well, and in recent years, there are many more individuals from my team touching every ‘All In’ package: flight tester, social consultant, video interview reviewer and client liaison in addition to primary consultant. None of that is related to word count requested for essays.”
Besides, Blackman adds, when a school drops an essay or two, it doesn’t always mean it’s easier for a client or a consultant. “I don’t think that fewer words necessarily equates to less work,” she says. ” You use HBS as an example, so going with that, an open-ended, ambiguous essay (that could end up being more words) often requires more work than four very specific questions with tight word counts. In some ways the new structure causes a lot more stress in terms of uncertainty, and effort focused on determining strategy and approach.”
Agrees Jon Fuller of Clear Admit: “Despite the fact that many schools have reduced essay word count over the past few years,” he says, “the company hasn’t seen candidates spending any less time overall on their applications. In fact, in many cases, like HBS, applicants are actually spending more time carefully selecting a topic to cover and then ensuring they effectively execute their strategy.”
‘WE’VE INCREASED THE TIME AND ATTENTION TO HELPING CLIENTS STRENGTHEN THEIR CANDIDACY’
Not everyone has hiked their fees. Four years ago, The MBA Exchange used to charge $4,400 for its comprehensive consulting package for a single school. The price is now $4,150, a 6% decline. “Compared to 2012, our pricing is reduced for comprehensive consultations that support one application, flat for two applications, and increased for larger engagements,” says Dan Bauer, founder of The MBA Exchange. “Given fewer essays and recs at some schools, we’ve increased the time and attention we devote to helping clients strengthen their underlying candidacy. As the interview is now more important than ever, we’ve added more mock interviews. And with the introduction of video essays and team-based discussions, we now devote substantial time to those vital aspects of the admissions campaign.”
Some admission consultants don’t even list prices so it’s not possible to tell if they’ve increased their rates. At the Admission Advisory Group, whose three founders include Marie Mookini, the former assistant dean and director of MBA admissions at Stanford Graduate School of Business, not a single price is quoted for any service, whether it’s an hourly consult or a comprehensive advising program which guides MBA candidates through the complete admission lifecycle. “Our policy is to share our rates with prospective clients after we have had a conversation with them,” says Mookini. “Our rates are competitive with those offered by our competitors.”
Master Admissions does not list its prices on its website, either. “Almost every student is different and has specific needs, so we tend to customize packages.” says Betsy Massar, founder of Master Admissions. “We’re definitely within the range, but because we are smaller, we have less overhead (and marketing costs), so we can be more flexible and individual in our pricing as well as our services.”
Rates, however, can vary considerably. Currently the highest priced three-school package costs $8,000 at Aringo, while the lowest priced consulting package for a trio of business schools is $5,200 at Inside MBA Admissions, a firm founded by a former admissions officer at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.