When it comes to customer satisfaction, it’s hard to beat Susan Cera, one of the MBA admission consultants at Stratus Admissions Counseling.
After spending nearly a decade on the admissions committee at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, she joined Stratus Admissions Counseling in 2015 and has never looked back. Over the past half dozen years, she has helped her clients overcome the odds to gain acceptance at Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Haas, Kellogg, Booth, and MIT, among many other leading business schools. And judging by her glowing reviews, they are falling over themselves with praise for her efforts.
Just read snippets from Cera’s most recent MBA admits to the Class of 2023:
Susan Cera Helped Me Get Into M7!!
Could Not Have Done It Without Her
She Helped Me Get Into My Top Choices (Wharton and Sloan)
Amazing Experience With Sr Counselor Susan!!!
A PERFECT 10.0 CLIENT SATISFACTION SCORE FROM 15 DIFFERENT CLIENTS IN THE PAST 12 MONTHS
More than collecting raves, however, Cera did something that no other Top 20 admissions consultant achieved in the past year: She racked up a perfect 10.0 score on client satisfaction. While there were other perfect scorers, no one was able to accomplish a 10.0 with as many client reviews. Some 15 clients in the past 12 months could not have been more grateful to her for their outcomes.
Cera, a Fuqua MBA herself, sits atop our fifth annual ranking of the most favorably reviewed MBA admission consultants in the world. Right on Cera’s heels in second place is Fortuna Admissions’ Karen Hamou, with a nearly perfect score of 9.97 over twice as many reviews, while Candy Lee LaBalle in Spain, notched third with a 9.95 based on her 22 reviews. Rounding out the this year’s top five are Menlo Coaching co-founder Alice Van Harten, Gatehouse Admissions founder Liza Weale, and Rebecca Heath Anderson, also from Menlo Coaching.
We’ve singled out the best of the best on the basis of reviews they have received in the past year ending June 1. In the past, we ranked the consultants by the number of positive reviews they garnered. For our 2021 list, for the first time, we are listing them based on their client satisfaction scores. The number of positive reviews still count because every MBA admissions coach in the Top 20 had to have a minimum of 13 assessments to qualify for the list. But each person’s place on the ranking is determined by their overall rating given by the clients who reviewed them on Poets&Quants.
RAJDEEP CHIMNI HAD THE MOST POSITIVE REVIEWS FOR THE THIRD CONSECUTIVE YEAR
If we calculated our ranking as we had in the past, India’s top MBA admissions coach, Rajdeep Chimni, would have won top honors for the third consecutive year. Over the last 12 months, Chimni had more positive reviews than any other MBA coach in the world: 35 in all, scoring an impressive 9.86 in client satisfaction. No less impressive, he has more reviews than anyone: 206 in all in the Poets&Quants‘ directory, the most extensive accounting of MBA admission counselors in the world.
Either way, it’s not easy to make the cut. All told, there are now a record 536 consultants in our directory from 111 firms. And there are more than 4,500 reviews from clients. So making the Top 20 means that every coach on the list is among the top 3.7% in the world. These are the professionals who are most likely to shift the odds in a candidate’s favor. That’s especially true when a consultant accepts a client who isn’t a no-brainer for a highly selective MBA program.
In fact, one recent admit to both Columbia Business School and the Yale School of Management noted that he had reached out to several admissions consultants who, he felt, were not all that keen on his chances before choosing Cera. “Susan was the only one who saw potential in my profile, connected with me at a human level and gave me hope, whilst everyone else just gave me their opinions and were marketing to me,” wrote the Class of 2023 admit. “Susan was there for me every step of the way, pushed me to get the best out of me, gave me tough love when needed, motivated me and cheered for my success at every turn! Susan did not accept anything less than extraordinary from me on any essay, resume or application requirement. Her attention to detail is mind-blowing. I thank my lucky stars every day that I met Susan.”
‘A PERSON WHO LIVED, BREATHED & DREAMED ABOUT THE APPLICATION PROCESS’
Cera, of course, was hardly the only MBA admissions consultant who won effusive praise for her work. A non-traditional applicant who won admission to Columbia Business School’s Class of 2023 found Fortuna Admissions’ Karen Hamou to be his ideal coach. “Talking with her felt like speaking with a person who lived, breathed, and dreamed about the application process and understood what the adcom would be looking for in a student,” he wrote. “During the consultant evaluation process, there were others who would not work with me because they didn’t think I could pull off admittance to a top program due to my limited quant background and an OK quant score. Karen never wavered in her belief in my ability to gain admission into an M-7 program during perhaps the most competitive cycle in history.”
Yet another MBA candidate with a below-average GMAT score found success with Candy Lee LaBalle in Madrid, Spain. “Having a GMAT score lower than anticipated and with limited time to improve, my focus on having the perfect application quickly became my number one priority,” explained the MBA applicant. “Candy has the unique ability of taking a dull application and polishing it to really make it stand out from the crowd by providing purpose, color, and a clear structure. She has been super helpful and responsive and has always been available for me, no matter the day or the time! After several months of hard work, I was offered a seat in a top MBA program in the U.S. If it hadn’t been for Candy, I would have never made it in.”
A successful admit to Stanford Graduate School of Business, the world’s most selective MBA program with the lowest admit rate, heaps plenty of credit on Alice Van Harten of Menlo Coaching. “I felt paralyzed when we started the essay writing process,” confides the Class of 2023 candidate. “I had no idea where to begin and was terrified of putting pen to paper. Alice was incredibly supportive and called me every week to coach me through the process. She responded to my questions within the hour (even though she was in a different time zone). She was as invested in the success of this essay as I was, and she was never interested in throwing in the towel and settling for an essay that wasn’t groundbreaking. I could not have gotten into Stanford GSB without her.”
FIVE OF THE TOP 20 NOW CHARGE $500 AN HOUR FOR MBA ADMISSIONS ADVICE
MBA applicants who hire coaches at the top end can expect to pay a pretty penny for their advice. The median hourly fee for a Top 20 coach is now $400 for 60 minutes. Five coaches–Liza Weale, Devi Vallabhaneni, Katharine Lewis. Debbie Choy and Lulu Curiel–all charge more than New York City lawyers at $500 an hour. Some consultants don’t even post hourly rates, preferring to sell a three-school package of advice that starts at a price of $3,000 in India. Among the top 20 advisers, the least expensive is Candy Lee LaBalle whose hourly rate is $250.
As high as these rates are, there are other admission consultants who charge even more. Jeremy Shinewald, founder of mbaMission, only works with no more than five clients a year and charges $17,500 for a three-school package. Shinewald, however, also notes that he does a fair amount of pro bono consulting work for a few truly exceptional MBA applicants who can’t afford to pay traditional coach fees. The firm with the highest rates is undoubtedly Menlo Coaching where a three-school package of advice costs $16,000 no matter which consultant is primarily assigned the client. “We have the same rates across all consultants,” maintains David White, a founding partner of Menlo Coaching. “There is no different pricing for me or for Alice. Clients who work with our other coaches often see a bit of me or Alice during the process, anyway.”
Though her hourly rate is $500, Angela Guido, a highly rated admissions and career coach who is the founder of Career Protocol, posts a rate of $16,000 for what she calls a “three-plus-three” school package. “We do three schools 100% hands on and then help our clients outline and storyboard essays for three more schools so they can complete them on their own, enabling them to apply to safer schools without needing to make painful tradeoffs against their top choices,” explains Guido. “I personally take a total of 10 clients a year (five per round), and I spend most of my time training and mentoring my team, guiding our clients through group coaching that we do in addition to our 1:1 coaching so all Career Protocol clients interact with me during the process.”
THE TOP 20 MBA ADMISSION COACHES OF 2021
Notes: Average client satisfaction score is based on the 1,164 verified client reviews published from June 1 of 2020 to June 1 of 2021. * The majority of Kim Leb’s reviews are from her days as a senior consultant at mbaMission instead of her current job at Vantage Point.