That is the one constant word that comes up in many of the reviews posted by successful MBA candidates who have been guided into their target programs by admission consultants. There’s no question that having an experienced adviser at your side can change your admission outcomes. But which firms in a highly cluttered field of consultants open the doors to elite MBA programs and deliver the best results?
In a highly detailed analysis of the thousands of client reviews at Poets&Quants, nine different MBA admission firms really stand out. All of them boast a large number of highly favorable assessments from candidates who believe the consultants made a meaningful difference in their application journeys. This list of the best firms complements our annual ranking of the top individual MBA admission coaches published in early May.
The reviews in our database from Aug. 15, 2020, to Aug. 31, 2021, allow us to single out three large firms, organizations with more than 10 consultants and at least 50 assessments during the timeframe; medium-sized firms with between five and nine consultants with a minimum of 40 reviews, and finally small firms with two to four consultants with at least 20 reviews. Solo practitioners were not included in the firm analysis. Neither were firms that lacked an adequate sample size of reviews to make a solid examination of their success rates. In addition to our analysis of the data, we also sought answers to several questions from each of the top firms that form in-depth profiles of each organization.
The Leading MBA Admission Firms Getting The Most Positive Client Reviews
|Firm||Firm Size Category||Client Satisfaction Score||# Of Positive Reviews||Coaches With MBA Reviews||% Of Reviewers Left By T-10 Admits|
|Stacy Blackman Consulting||Large||9.83||76||28||75%|
|Stratus Admissions Counseling||Medium||9.85||48||8||52%|
|Personal MBA Coach||Small||9.93||27||2||63%|
Source: Poets&Quants analysis of reviews from Aug. 15, 2020, to Aug. 31, 2021. Click on firm name to see their answers to our questions
The three top large firms are mbaMission, with 168 favorable reviews, more than any other firm; Fortuna Admissions, right on its heels with 167 positive reviews, and Stacy Blackman Consulting, with 76 favorable reviews. All have highly positive customer satisfaction scores of 9.87, 9.86, and 9.83, respectively, on a ten-point scale with ten being the highest possible (see above table).
Standing out among the medium-sized consulting firms are Menlo Coaching, with 42 positive reviews, Stratus Admissions Counseling, with 48 reviews, and Career Protocol, with 42 reviews. Menlo achieved the highest net promoter score among the six firms, with an overall score of 9.98. Stratus was next in the medium-sized grouping with 9.85, and Career Protocol had a 9.74.
The top small firms are Personal MBA Coach, with 27 reviews and an NPS of 9.93, followed by Admissions Gateway and Ivy Advisors, with 41 and 27 reviews, respectively, and customer satisfaction scores of 9.88 and 9.74.
Getting MBA Applicants Into Top Ten Business Schools
Which firms were able to get their clients into Top 10 MBA programs? Our analysis of client reviews during the period found that all the firms were highly successful in their client outcomes, well above the acceptance rates of Top Ten schools. Success rates for a ticket to a Top Ten program, however, ranged from a high of 95% for Admissions Gateway to 52% for Stratus Admissions Counseling. Among the large firms, 86% of the reviewers for Fortuna Admissions told Poets&Quants they were admitted to a Top Ten MBA program either in the U.S. or internationally, while 75% found that level of success with either mbaMission or Stacy Blackman.
Among the medium-sized consulting players, 83% of Menlo Coaching‘s reviewers say they gained entrance to a Top Ten program, followed closely by 81% of the reviewers for Career Protocol, and then the 52% for Stratus.
After Admissions Gateway‘s 95% Top Ten success rate, Ivy Advisors hit an impressive 85%, while 63% of the reviewers at Personal MBA Coach say they were accepted into a Top Ten MBA program. Scott Edinburgh, the founder of Personal MBA Coach, says the Top Ten success rate fails to fully capture the success he has with clients. Some candidates, he notes, do not apply to Top Ten schools but still get into other highly selective programs at such elite institutions as Duke, Michigan, Darden, NYU Stern, and Cornell, a fact that would impact this metric for all the firms. “Last year 100% of clients applying to 6+ schools got in and everyone who was qualified for a T10 got in,” he says. “We took clients who had bad scores and helped them get into some non-T10 but those people likely didn’t even apply to any T10 schools.”
The Top MBA Admission Consulting Firms Can Provide Highly Valuable Guidance
It is difficult to overestimate the value consultants at these firms provide to their clients. MBA candidates are generally effusive in their praise, saying the consultants at these firms help them craft compelling stories for the required essays, bring clarity and value to application resumes, smartly rehearse for mock interviews, provide feedback that is direct and constructive, and demonstrate genuine care about their clients’ personal and professional lives.
Typical is the praise heaped on mbaMission’s Harshad Mali from a Class of 2024 admit to Stanford, Wharton, and Chicago Booth. “He takes the time to get to know you, your interests, your passions, and who you are as a person and makes sure to reflect that in his process to help build out your application,” wrote the candidate. “He will steer you away when you think certain information is valuable to have but is really just fluff (which was extremely useful when trying to meet those pesky word counts!) and push you to write more impact even when you think there isn’t anything left.”
‘She Really Pushed Me To Write The Best Version Of My Story’
Or consider the evaluation from a Class of 2024 admit to Harvard Business School, Wharton and MIT Sloan for Ivy Advisors Founder Lulu Curiel. “From the start, Lulu took the time to deeply understand my story and guided me to think through how to best frame it,” wrote the successful applicant. “I had many ideas and she spent a lot of time discussing each with me until I felt comfortable that I had pinpointed the most authentic story that really drove into who I am. She is incredibly candid in her feedback and really pushed me to write the best version of my story even if it took more iterations. She also helped me think specifically for each school about what I wanted to highlight in a way that captured the nuances of the different programs. Lulu was very accessible, responded quickly, and always had very thorough and well-thought-out responses to my questions.”
Admitted to three M7 programs, including Wharton, another Class of 2024 applicant had generous admiration for Fortuna Admissions’ Brittany Maschal. “She won’t give feedback just for the sake of it; instead, she makes sure all critiques address key deficiencies in your work,” wrote the client. “If an essay is ready to go, she moves on quickly to the next, thereby saving you time in the process. Plus, she is incredibly responsive. Countless times I would email her late at night and then wake up the next morning to a response in my inbox. I found my essays to be much sharper after working with her. The results speak for themselves. I was admitted to three M7 schools including Wharton where her expertise with the TBD (Team-Based Discussion) was invaluable. She made me feel totally prepared and at ease, giving me the confidence to perform when it counted.”
Another Class of 2024 candidate says that hiring Scott Edinburgh of Personal MBA Coach was the best decision he had made in applying to business school. He was accepted to Wharton, Tuck, Kellogg, Booth, and Columbia and given scholarship offers for several of those elite MBA programs. “I am deeply grateful to Scott for holding me accountable to deadlines and making me feel thoroughly prepared for every school’s unique application,” he wrote. “Scott provided candid, personalized feedback across all aspects of the application, was extremely responsive, and most importantly, ensured that my authenticity shined throughout the entire application.”
How The Top MBA Admission Firms Position Themselves
Each firm brings a unique perspective to the market. At mbaMission, Founder Jeremy Shinewald notes that when he formally launched his company in 2004, “we made a choice that proved critical in building our firm and professionalizing our industry: we hired elite-MBAs as full-time consultants. Because everyone on our entire team of 23 consultants is full-time—not a part-timer or hobbyist—they are fully committed to their practices and their clients.”
Fortuna Admissions, which is celebrating its tenth-year anniversary in 2022, bills itself as “a dream team” of former MBA admissions directors from the world’s top business schools. “Our team has 40 former admissions directors and business school insiders from 18 of the top 20 MBA programs,” notes Co-Founder Caroline Diarte-Edwards, the former admissions director at INSEAD. “Our DNA hasn’t changed since our founding ten years ago: our goal is to provide inside-track expertise to candidates and leverage the insights of those who truly know the schools inside out. Our clients understand the value of working with a team that has first-hand knowledge of MBA admissions and can demystify the process in order to co-create an informed strategy.”
Stacy Blackman Consulting also boasts of its inside know-how. Among its 72 full-time and part-time consultants, 75% hails from the top seven U.S. MBA programs as MBA graduates and/or former MBA admissions officers, including from Harvard and Stanford. “The SBC team has MBA expertise at every top U.S. and E.U. school, has graduated from the elite MBA programs and understands career paths in every industry, traditional and non-traditional,” says Founder Stacy Blackman, a Kellogg MBA who founded her firm in 2001.
Ivy Advisors Plays Up Its ‘Straight Talk With No Sugar Coating’
In the medium-sized firm category, Menlo Coaching makes no bones about its premium pricing which runs to $16,000 for a three-school package, $5,000 more than mbaMission. To justify those prices, the firm emphasizes its low client-to-consultant ratios that it claims are as much as half the industry standard. “We do not shy away from the fact that we are also well-known for our prices, which are higher than average,” explains David White, a Menlo co-founder. “We want potential clients to understand why our fees are high: delivering a superior experience for our clients requires paying enough to attract and retain the best consultants, and continuously investing in service improvements.”
Ivy Advisors, one of the leading smaller firms, says it is different in three ways: Founder Curiel maintains, “We are all about straight talk, no sugar coating, We focus on providing the best application experience, and we serve a diverse pool of applicants. We have helped applicants from across demographics and backgrounds. Our applicants have undergraduate GPAs ranging from 2.5 to 4.0, and test scores from the low 500s to the high 700s. We focus on getting to know our applicants for the human beings they are and we maximize their potential in the MBA journey.”
Career Protocol takes a different approach. “We’re not admissions consultants,” declares Founder Angela Guido. “We use the content of the MBA application as a training ground for elite soft skills that propel our clients to global leadership post-MBA. The people who work with us are seeking a meaningful growth experience en route to their MBA; they’re not looking for secrets or hacks or for someone to tell them the right answer or who they’re supposed to be in order to be successful. They graduate from their time with us clearer about what they want and more confident in who they are.”
Personal MBA Coach Guarantees Candidates Will Work Directly With Its Founder
Among the small-sized firms, Personal MBA Coach plays up its high-touch service directly from the firm’s founder Scott Edinburgh. “Unlike many other firms,” says Edinburgh, “we have no junior consultants who have just finished their own MBA degrees and work full-time in other roles while taking just a few clients on the side. We are a family-run business and pride ourselves on our detailed project management system that guides our clients step by step through the application process.”
And just as Menlo isn’t shy about its premium pricing, Admissions Gateway is at the other extreme, partly differentiating on its value pricing and results. “With admissions consulting prices soaring to $16,000 for three schools, we not only have the best results but also provide the best value to applicants as we charge $8000 for a three-school package,” says Founder Rajdeep Chimni. “For the class of 2024, 88% of clients who worked with our founder gained admission to a Top-Five school. For the class of 2022, we helped clients gain $8.6 million in scholarships. For every dollar our clients spend, they got $9.60 in return on average in scholarship money!”
What is clear from the many reviews of all these firms is that they at the top of the heap in MBA admissions consulting.
(See the following pages for profiles of each of the top nine firms in admissions consulting).