Can You Bribe Your Way Into Business School?

‘LESS WIGGLE ROOM TO MARK PEOPLE AS VIP CANDIDATES IN AN MBA PROGRAM’

Betsy Massar of Master Admissions

MBA classes, moreover, are a mere fraction of the incoming undergraduate classes at colleges and universities. “There just aren’t as many ‘VIP’ applicants,” notes Adam Hoff, a co-founder of Amerasia Consulting, which specializes in MBA admissions counsel. “So there is a lot more wiggle room to mark people as ‘VIP’ candidates  (in an undergraduate class), such that they get favorable treatment.  I’m not saying that it is impossible for someone to get hooked up and admitted to HBS or Wharton, but there just aren’t that many spots and so if you were to admit people based on favors or a winking pay-to-play situation, that would get tricky in a hurry.”

“And beyond the numbers game, there is also the reality that a ‘favor’ admit would stand out more like a sore thumb in a B-school class,” says Hoff. “With college, you certainly have to absorb the grades and test scores of someone who might not be as deserving, but almost all other admissions factors are subjective or qualitative. With business school, the programs are building class profiles that include not only GPA and test scores, but also years of experience, industries, and even firms in some cases. I just don’t think there is nearly as much ‘buying your way in’ going on, whether we are talking about the technically legal (donating money to the school and so forth) or the blatantly illegal variety. Whether there should be a distinction is a whole different conversation.”

It’s also true that parents play less a role in graduate admissions. “It’s less about the parent, and more about the students themselves, so perhaps you can make the argument that the students are less likely to get involved in bribes,” thinks Betsy Massar, founder of Master Admissions, an MBA admissions consultant. “But as for cheating on tests or taking advantage of accommodations for extra time, or falsifying a resume? Of course.  Do students sometimes write their own recommendations? Of course. And yes, there will always be the ‘my parents bought the building’ to get the student in. That’s going to happen, too. I’d be naïve to think it doesn’t happen.  The shocking thing, though, is the sneakiness of the whole operation, and that’s what’s sickening.”

‘THIS WEEK’S BEHAVIOR IS CONSIDERED SUCH AN INCREDIBLE OUTLIER’

jeremy shinewald mbamission

mbaMission’s Jeremy Shinewald

Many admission consultants also insist that Edge College & Career Network, the firm at the center of the scam, was a rogue actor, hardly representative of what goes on in the business of helping applicants present their best self to schools. “I do believe that a high percentage of consultants are good and fair actors, and that this week’s behavior is considered such an incredible outlier,” ” says Hodara of Fortuna Admissions. “It is in no way reflective, as you know, of the ethical standards that we all believe in- as we help students, and their families navigate the admissions processes.

“Admissions counseling for so many of us is a calling. It calls for patience and understanding, being a good listener, an enthusiastic cheerleader, and yes, “the heavy” on occasion. You need to really like getting to know someone and to understand what keeps them up at night- to be there when they are thrilled about an outcome, or dejected after a deny.”

Most admission consultants agree it would be impossible for a fraud as widespread as the one currently in the news to occur in the MBA field. But they do acknowledge that the damaging headlines will have an impact on what they do and how they do it. “Unfortunately, this type of negative event ratchets up anxiety and likely spurs interest in consulting for the wrong reasons, both legitimate consulting and illegitimate firms who cheat the system,” says Shinewald of mbaMission.

‘THE MBA PLAYING FIELD IS ABOUT AS LEVEL AS WE WOULD EXPECT IT TO BE’

“An event like this gives many applicants and their families a sense that entitled individuals are working in ways that they simply cannot compete with, but they will still try to do whatever they can to compete regardless because doing nothing seems futile. My main concern is that some qualified individuals will feel so discouraged by the perceived level of competition that they won’t even bother applying.

“Over the years,” adds Shinewald, “we have seen literally tens of thousands of qualified people with no connections at all get into top programs. Those with true merit should be heartened to know that we have seen very well connected applicants – children of major donors – who are completely unqualified get rejected. We have certainly seen many qualified children of donors get accepted as well, but the truly unqualified are weeded out. I am satisfied that the MBA playing field is about as level as we would expect it to be.”

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About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.