MBA Consulting Is Often A Personal Calling That Gets Very Personal
For La Balle and most of her colleagues on the list, helping smart and ambitious candidates get into their target MBA programs is something of a personal calling. They suffer as badly as the candidates when their clients get rejected, and they rejoice with glee when an applicant gains admission to a dream school.
“Every time someone gets dinged I feel like quitting,” concedes La Balle who has been helping MBA candidates for the past 16 years as a solo practitioner. “But there is no one to blame. It’s just part of it. And I hate waitlists. I despise them. I call it wait hell. It is misery. I get why the schools have waitlists but I am on the other side and seeing applicants go through that is real suffering.”
In any given year, La Balle will work with dozens of applicants but estimates that she goes from start to finish with about 12 to 15 candidates annually. Her clients say she is accessible nearly 24/7 on Whatsapp, by email, or by text. “I don’t care if it is a Sunday,” she says. “I am not a bank. If they need me, I am not going to say no. For six to ten months of the year, it is emotionally intense and emotionally draining.”
‘Taking The Mystery And The Misery Out Of Applying To An Elite Business School’
Her approach is simple: “I like to take the mystery and the misery out of applying because it is overly complicated when it shouldn’t be,” she tells Poets&Quants. “This is not a transactional business for me. If I am going to work with you, I am going to invest in you. I am going to follow up. When someone gets into an MBA program, it changes the course of their life, their children, and for their families. So there is an obligation to treat it with a certain amount of respect.”
Like most admission consultants, she got into the field by accident. A freelance writer who authored two travel books on Spain and majored in anthropology in college, she started teaching Princeton Review classes for the verbal section of standardized tests and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) after arriving in the country in 2003. Spain is her adopted home country. As she put it, “I traveled throughout España, gorged on pintxos in San Sebastian & roasted suckling pig in Segovia, danced Sevillanas in Fuengirola, poured cider in Gijón, & biked past medieval buildings in Burgos. I masqueraded at the Carnival in Cadíz, shared minis of calimocho at Semana Grande in Bilbao, & helped harvest grapes in Rioja. I also built a life, a business, and a family in this amazing country that I now call home.”
While helping clients with TOEFL, she discovered her own stride. “People would come to me and ask me to look at their essays,” she recalls. La Balle morphed into a full-fledged consultant in 2006 when there were not much more than a handful of people coaching MBA applicants. Within two years, she quit everything else, including her writing, and focused entirely on admissions consulting under the name MBA Spain.
Over the years, her clientele went from largely Spanish applicants to candidates from all over the world. “The stories I remember the most are ones where young people have been able to transform their lives thanks to the MBA,” she says. One client, she recalls, worked in a box factory and his parents were farmers. “Then he got into an MBA in the U.S. and that took him to private equity in Mexico City. He may be from a family of farmers but there are no farmers in his future. What other degree could do that? Those are the stories I care about the most.”
‘90% Of My Clients Are Reaching For The Sky’
Her pet peeve? “There are a lot of myths about getting into a top school,” she says. “One of them is that you have to do one thing or another to improve your chances. I am bothered by people who change their behaviors because they want to go to Harvard, people who crunch their life into a certain box so they can get to a certain place. And I will not work with people I can’t help. Two days ago I had to tell a guy I couldn’t work with him because he didn’t have what he needed to get into the schools he wanted to.”
Expectations from clients run as high as their ambition. “About 90% are reaching for the sky,” La Balle laughs. “If I had a Euro for every person who said Stanford is my only school, I could retire by now. It makes sense. You want to go to the best you can possibly get. I will tell them you have what it takes but let’s add on a Duke, a Darden, and a Ross. A lot of them will hire me for Harvard and Stanford and if they don’t make it they will use everything I taught them to get into Booth or Columbia. “
After a recent trip to Paris to visit HEC Paris and INSEAD, La Balle is gearing up for the start of the new admissions season. May is typically a month composed of intake calls from would-be clients. “Between May and the end of June,” she says, “applicants will do research on the schools and prep for the tests. You would be surprised how many don’t realize how important school research is. I give them a lot of homework in May and June. By June, they should be writing, particularly if it is HBS or Stanford because those applications are demanding. Starting in July, the phone calls never stop. My clients will narrow their target schools down on specific applications and set up a timeline by month so they can reach the end of round one. You do round one, then wait for interviews, dings, and waitlists. Round two is the worst because it goes over the holidays. I usually don’t get a break until late March or April.”
Our Screen For Making It On The Top 20 MBA Consultant List
To make our annual honor roll of top MBA admission consultants, every counselor’s review had to pass a rigorous two-step process. Unlike some other pay-to-play and unverified lists on the Internet, where advisers actually have to pay a fee to allow reviews on their profiles, this is a pure journalistic endeavor, not a pay-to-play model. In our database, you’ll find both positive and negative assessments of consultants and firms (if you have had a bad experience, we strongly encourage you to share it with others so that they can avoid those issues). Whether positive or negative, no review is published unless it passes through a fine screen.
First, every published review up until our deadline of August 31st had to be independently verified by Poets&Quants with both the client and the service provider. Secondly, every appraisal was then painstakingly reviewed so that only MBA consulting assignments were counted. Eliminated from the count were reviews for undergraduate or Executive MBA applicants, free introductory consultations, career counseling, and case prep advisement, and group sessions for such organization as the Forte Foundation. Those restrictions often brought down the number of favorable reviews for the top consultants and kept others off the list.
Skeptics may argue that consultants who rack up the most positive reviews are merely more assertive in encouraging their clients to write favorably about their experiences. Or that the list would exclude part-time counselors who could be just as good as full-timers but aren’t exposed to as many clients. But MBA applicants who take the time and effort to write their expressions of praise are the ultimate endorsements of superior consulting work. The more reviews any consultant has, the more credible and authoritative the result. When a client writes a positive referral for a consultant, that action goes beyond customer satisfaction: It becomes a measure of customer loyalty.
Reviews From Clients Offer Up Convincing Detail On The Value Consultants Provide
The addition of an actual client satisfaction rating also puts the focus more on the quality of a coaching assignment and less on the quantity of them. Publishing what amounts to a net promoter score, something every MBA will ultimately learn in marketing, also allows the spotlight to shine on excellent consultants who prefer to give more hands-on attention to fewer clients or who make admissions advising more of a part-time endeavor.
The reviews, moreover, often go into the kind of convincing detail that reveals the extent of a consultant’s commitment to client service. Admits to leading business schools generally convey how important it was to get honest, candid feedback on their efforts, to have a coach, mentor, and cheerleader in their corner at every turn of what is often a grueling journey to a highly selective MBA program where the vast majority of applicants are routinely rejected.
They praise their advisors for gently leading them through an introspective examination of their personal and professional lives and for drawing out of them the most compelling narratives and the lessons drawn from them. (You can search our consultants’ directory by the number of reviews a counselor has received from clients. Just go to search parameters in the left rail of the directory and click under candid reviews to “highest number of reviews.” Consultant profiles will pop up in order of the number of assessments from clients each has received).
Not everyone can afford to hire an MBA admissions consultant, of course, and many candidates certainly don’t need one. Despite the high costs, however, few of the clients who have written reviews show any remorse. One after another, their testimonials often support the notion that they would not have gotten into their target schools without the guidance and help of a admissions professional.
Other MBA Admission Consultants With Perfect 10.0 Scores
|Consultant||Firm||Positive Reviews*||Hourly Rate|
|Melisa Prevost||Stratus Admissions Counseling||9||$10,700 (3-school package)|
|Carin Nelson||ApplicantLab||8||$1,699 (3-school package)|
|Maria Wich-Villa||ApplicantLab||8||$1,999 (3-school package)|
|Caryn Altman||Stacy Blackman Consulting||7||$365|
|Heidi Granner||mbaMission||7||$9,200 (3-school package)|
|Kate Richardson||mbaMission||7||$9,200 (3-school package)|
|Deanna Moen||Stacy Blackman Consulting||6||$365|
|Greg Guglielmo||Avanti Prep||6||$275|
|Harold Simansky||mbaMission||6||$19,200 (3-school package)|
|Jen Kedrowski||mbaMission||6||$9,200 (3-school package)|
|Lindy Gould||Ivy Advisors||6||$340|
|Obinna Arizor||Menlo Coaching||6||$500 an hour|
|Rebecca Heath Anderson||Menlo Coaching||6||$16,000 (3-school package)|
|Yaron Dahan||Menlo Coaching||6||$16,000 (3-school package)|
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