A 2019 updated version of this article can be viewed here.
Waitlisted at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business in 2016, the MBA candidate was clearly frustrated with his outcomes. So he turned to an admissions consultant for advice. David White of Menlo Consulting agreed to go over all of his previous application materials and came to a simple conclusion for the less than positive reception he had received.
White believed the candidate, an engineer, delved into too much technical detail in his applications. Instead, he had to present himself in a one-dimensional way that would make him more appealing to admission officials. In a last-ditch effort to get the candidate off Booth’s waitlist, White helped the applicant put together a video that provided a more well-rounded portrayal.
Ultimately, the attempt didn’t work. The candidate was dinged by Booth. But White’s advice, including his recommendation to retake the GMAT to get a higher score and target several other top schools, finally paid off this year. This time, the applicant was not only accepted by Booth, but also by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, Yale School of Management, the University of Virginia’s Darden School, and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
NEARLY 500 MBA ADMISSION CONSULTANTS ARE IN THE P&Q DIRECTORY NOW
“Two things stood out about David,” the candidate told Poets&Quants. “He was genuinely interested in my success and that showed by the level by the level of interest he took and the candid discussions we had…(and) unlike other consultants, in my experience, he wasn’t trying to make a ‘sale’ at any time. He wanted me to get to business school in a way that would be most logical and would work best for me.”
The kicker to this story? When the applicant reapplied to Booth and other schools this past year, White couldn’t even take him on as a client because he was already booked up. Nevertheless, the candidate says, White provided more advice and the applicant’s fortunes changed dramatically.
That level of service—reflected in the candidate’s enthusiastic praise for the consultant—has helped make White, along with Paul Bodine, the most favorably reviewed MBA admissions advisers in Poets&Quants’ sprawling directory of consultants. Since the launch of the directory in 2016, some 36 clients have sung the praises of both White and Bodine in reviews, all independently verified by Poets&Quants. That’s more than any other individual consultants in the directory, even though there are nearly 500 advisers listed.
‘I DON’T THINK I GOT MY MONEY’S WORTH’
There’s no doubt that some applicants have horror stories to tell about their consultants, with experiences so bad that they have actually demanded refunds. They’ve been swayed from dream schools, put up with long response times, and even mediocre advice. “We hear horror stories about firms whose coaches work with over 30 clients for each round, and end up confusing first names, the companies they work for, who volunteered for this or that,” says Matt Symonds, a co-founder of Fortuna Admissions, a leading admissions consulting firm which limits its coaches to no more than eight clients per round.
One applicant recently rated her consultant, Meenakshi Dash of Veritas Prep, two stars on our five-star scale, believing the advice she received wasn’t worth the cost. “I don’t think I got my money’s worth,” the applicant wrote in an assessment that was verified by Poets&Quants. “I don’t think she had a lot of faith in me, and she was a bit slow in responding when we got closer to the application deadlines. Also, I didn’t get the feeling that she understood what made each school unique and that’s what I was hoping to get the most. Ironically, I was admitted to the schools that I didn’t seek help on–and they were higher ranked!”
Another Veritas consultant, Martene Phelts, also came in for a critical review. A recent client, who rated her consultant just one star, said flatly “I regret choosing Martene as my consultant.” The client’s review charged that Phelts made her question her achievements and ability to get into a top MBA program, was given feedback on essays that wasn’t all that helpful and failed to clean up a few grammatical errors from the client, a non-native English speaker, after her review of the candidate’s essays. “I would not recommend Martene to anyone,” the applicant concluded.
Veritas Prep takes issue with the negative reviews. “Those comments are not representative of the work our firm does,” says Cody Solomon, head of marketing at Veritas Prep. “It’s unfair to take them from a small sample size.” Many other Veritas consultants, of course, have positive reviews. Among them is Jennifer Foster, a Stanford MBA and former Stanford admissions staffer, who has racked up a total of ten five-star raves. “Jennifer was the ideal consultant to support my application,” wrote a Class of 2019 applicant. “She was a helpful thought partner in brainstorming ideas, a decisive and insightful critic of my essays, and a reassuring voice throughout the process.”
Yet another client was dissatisfied with David Thomas of Foster-Thomas Inc. “I seriously regret spending money on David’s services because he made zero time for me,” the candidate wrote. “Not only was it extremely difficult to get on his calendar (so much for being a boutique firm that doesn’t take on too many clients), when we did speak over the phone, he kept getting interrupted with other things, rushing to get off the phone, and generally did not feel present. I got zero helpful advice from him in terms of strategizing my list of schools. He refused to provide input into my holistic application process and only helped with the schools that I indicated I would work with him on, which is off-putting and unrealistic because everything in your process is interrelated.”
ONLY FIVE OF THE ORIGINAL 11 CONSULTANTS ON LAST YEAR’S LIST MADE THE NEW TOP LIST
Not so with the counselors who received the most positive endorsements. So who are the world’s most favorably reviewed MBA admission counselors. Poets&Quants has been soliciting client reviews on the nearly 500 consultants in the directory for more than two years. All told, some 140 consultants have gained reviews from more than 780 clients, a rich database of customer satisfaction. These days, in fact, as many as 10 reviews a day are vetted by our editorial staff.
Last year, also in late April, we compiled a top ten list of the most extraordinary members of the club, the select few who have garnered the most raves from highly satisfied clients. A full year later, we thought it was a good time to update our list of the top ten.
In the first iteration, White, a former tech executive with Yahoo and Travelzoo who began consulting in 2012, was ranked fourth behind consultants at Fortuna, Bodine Consulting and The MBA Exchange. Paul Bodine, who has been counseling applicants for more than 20 years, was ranked second. Now, supported by 36 rave assessments each from clients, they are at the top of the list. Last year, by the way, it took only a dozen favorable reviews to claim first.
Only five of the original 11 consultants on the list (two tied for tenth with the same number of reviews each). That makes six counselors newcomers to the top ten (this year there is also a tie for tenth place): Jessica Shklar, Harshad Mali and Kate Richardson of mbaMission, Betsy Massar of Master Admissions, and Caryn Altman and Sherry Holland of Stacy Blackman Consulting. The current group of the top group of 11 consultants alone have received 294 individual reviews from clients.
Last year’s frontrunner, Fortuna’s Melissa Jones, fell off this year’s list, but not because of any other reason except that this remarkable coach spent much of the year on maternity due to the birth of her third child. Another extraordinary counselor, Angela Guido, also is absent from this year’s list, largely because she left mbaMission, where she had been a coach for years, to start her own firm, Career Protocol.
The Top Ten Most Favorably Reviewed MBA Admission Counselors
|Consultant||Firm||Hourly Rate||Earlier Work Background|
|1. David White||Menlo Coaching||$400||Tech exec at Travelzoo, Yahoo|
|1. Paul Bodine||Bodine Consulting||$299||Author of six admissions books|
|3. Alice van Harten||Menlo Coaching||$400||Bain consultant|
|4. Jessica Shklar||mbaMission||$325||JPMorgan, Amex|
|5. Caryn Altman||Stacy Blackman Consulting||$315||PepsiCo|
|6. Betsy Massar||Master Admissions||$300||Goldman Sachs, Barclays|
|7. Jessica Burlingame||The MBA Exchange||$360||Healthcare consultant, i-banker|
|7. Sherry Holland||Stacy Blackman Consulting||$315||Duke Fuqua admissions|
|9. Alex Leventhal||Prep MBA||$345||Consultant, life sciences tech|
|10. Harshad Mali||mbaMission||$325||Entrepreneur, engineer|
|10. Kate Richardson||mbaMission||$325||Management consultant|