5/25/12

As someone who applied to undergrad not knowing what the "Ivy League" was, I have always felt that the best application to a school is a raw reflection of the individual (along with all important scores and grades). When I heard about MBA admissions consultants, I put them in the same category as the essay consultants my classmates in high school used to try to get into a school they didn't have the grades to get into. Maybe that was the right category, but I have decided to give them a bit more thought.

The 2012-2013 application season is now upon us. HBS has released their application, officially kicking off the time of year where the downtrodden analysts in the world can start to dream of where they can take their two year break...and way more importantly: what they want to do after their two year break. Although I wouldn't personally consider myself an analyst at this point in my career, I too will be jumping into the fray that is MBA admissions this year. My undergrad GPA was cemented into stone almost 4 years ago exactly. I knocked out the GMAT last summer. Now it is time to take on the actual application.

The process of filing out an MBA application can be exhilarating, challenging, and at times, downright frustrating. I think for a lot of people, especially those in the consulting and finance industries, one of the biggest challenges is distilling our experience and future goals down into eloquent, readable essays.

Over the course of the past few weeks, I have explored a couple different MBA admissions consultants and also spoken with a few friends, now in b-school, that used consultants. I was surprised that in my conversations with the consultants themselves, they brought up multiple aspects of my application that I had not thought about (for instance, my favorite story from my career so far has nothing to do with what I actually am supposed to do at my job). A lot of these things seemed like no-brainers, but nonetheless, I had not thought about them before.

The pros I have identified are: the consultant acts as a task master and basically tells you what to do, you get to spend less time on the foot work of learning about the different pieces of the application, and you get an honest sounding board who is paid to listen to whatever you have to say.

The cons are slightly more obvious: huge cost (usually running 3-4K for 1 school) and to me they limit individualistic expression a bit. I have heard some people call them an unfair advantage as well.

The uncertainty with MBA admissions consultants is that you will never really know if they helped. If you get in, would you have gotten in anyways? If you don't get in, would you have gotten dinged anyways?

I am curious to hear people's experiences with consultants - Did you find them helpful? Was it worth the money? I am also curious to hear from people that are opposed to consultants, and why?(beyond the money of course!)

Comments (13)

5/25/12

In before StaceyBlackman and MBAApply make their pitch.

-MBP

5/25/12

i would have done it if I could afford it, probably would have made things easier, but since I couldn't, I applied and got in on my own.

5/25/12

If you are serious about applying, put in the time and effort into the application process. If you try and wing it, admissions will know instantly. If you do put in the time and really think about experiences that have shaped your career and personality, then there is absolutely no need to hire one of these. If you can't fill out an application adequately, you probably shouldn't be going there in the first place.

5/25/12

Without out seeing any data of a breakdown of client base, I would guess that it is a case of the rich get richer. I would assume that the people that can afford the very expensive consultants are probably more the IB/PE/HF/MC types that already have some of the strongest profiles. I have friends that used consultants and if you get a good one they are no doubt very helpful. I wonder if admissions can read an application and tell if a consultant was used or not.

Any consultants care to chime in about their client bases to validate or refute my assumption?

5/25/12
ke18sb:

Without out seeing any data of a breakdown of client base, I would guess that it is a case of the rich get richer. I would assume that the people that can afford the very expensive consultants are probably more the IB/PE/HF/MC types that already have some of the strongest profiles. I have friends that used consultants and if you get a good one they are no doubt very helpful. I wonder if admissions can read an application and tell if a consultant was used or not.

Any consultants care to chime in about their client bases to validate or refute my assumption?

Yeah, consultants seem to be good for ensuring that great candidates don't screw up (i.e. making sure that the Blackstone associate doesn't come off like a douche in his HBS essays). I don't see how they'd have much of an effect on regular applicants.

5/25/12
ke18sb:

Without out seeing any data of a breakdown of client base, I would guess that it is a case of the rich get richer. I would assume that the people that can afford the very expensive consultants are probably more the IB/PE/HF/MC types that already have some of the strongest profiles. I have friends that used consultants and if you get a good one they are no doubt very helpful. I wonder if admissions can read an application and tell if a consultant was used or not.

Any consultants care to chime in about their client bases to validate or refute my assumption?

I will take a stab at commenting, with the caveat that not all consultants are alike. Here's how I like to think about it --it's like hiring a sports coach. If you were a good ball player, and you had talent, would you try to find someone to help you improve your game? Would you pay them? Maybe yes, maybe no, but if you thought it might help you make an important team, you'd feel like you made a good investment.
Here's another one: would you take a test prep course? Is that a worthwhile investment?

So if you think you might get positive ROI, an admissions consultant may be worth exploring.

I think you are assuming that mostly rich or people from rich firms hire consultants. But I haven't seen that in my business. Because I worked in the financial world (sell side first and then buy side marketing), I draw a number of people from the industry. But not a majority.

It's simply a mix of people -- those who want to make sure that they are (spare me from the cliche') putting their best foot forward. I don't only work with great candidates and I cannot get a loser candidate in. I'm safer than a work colleague and more objective than a parent. I've read hundreds of apps, and know which are genuine and which are crap.

Admissions committee members are looking for honesty and authenticity in applications -- really! If a consultant can help the student tell his or her powerful story, then admissions people are happy to know that story is there. So many people hide their good stuff, and if a consultant can draw that out, that's good for the student and good for the school. BTW, this has little to do with writing ability, but ability to tell real stories about yourself.

We are not all alike. We have different styles, and some consultants are more ethical than others. As for me, I love what I do. I love meeting students and getting to know their stories. I love working with the guy who I almost didn't take on because he was too boring, but turned out to be one of those quiet leaders that blow you away. (If you PM me I'll tell you the story, because it's even better than that). I love finding out about the IT guy who waltzes (true! -- Kellogg) and the lady scientist who started her own music business (true!-- Stanford). Would they have gotten in anyway? I don't know. Did they feel at the end of the process that they did everything they could to present themselves clearly in front of the committee? That's my goal.

So to go back to the people with the IB/PE/HF/MC profiles. They are not all universally stellar. They are not all universally going to get in. But some will because they have been exhibiting smarts and leadership skills since high school or before, and that's why they got into those glam firms. And that's why they have a good shot at business school. But they aren't going to be the only ones filling the seats of the next GSB or HBS class of 2015. That I can guarantee.

Happy to continue the dialogue -- and see if I can shed some light on the process.

Betsy Massar
Come see me at my Q&A thread
/forums/b-school-qa-... away!

5/25/12

I think it's a terrible idea..It makes average applicants seem better than they are, and increases the barriers to a good education for poorer people. It's biggest effect is to make it easier for those who can afford to shell out 5k to get into B school, while their less-refined but possibly smarter counterparts get dinged unfairly--this is not good for the people who get dinged, nor the b-school who gets a dumber yet richer applicant...of course this wouldn't apply to all cases, but to me it would seem to be the logical effect.

"Your imagination is your preview of life's coming attractions."
--Albert Einstein

http://davincisdelta.wordpress.com/

5/25/12

i got in without a consultant. HOWEVER, you do need someone to help you. That is, someone to read the essays and give you their opinion. Sometimes we write stuff that we believe are perfectly clear, when in fact, they are not.

5/25/12

Brady will be getting my services, which I conservatively value at $1400/hour, for absolutely free.

Here's my view:

With an application fee of $250-$300 at most M7 schools, you are already spending $2,000 on applications in the first place. Not to mention ~10 hours of your time per application @ $25/hour. So by the time you're done, the application process is a $4K investment.

I am of the view that most people don't need handholding and the whole package deal, but if you're spending $4,000 anyways, it's probably worth $500, maybe $1000, to sit down with an application consultant and work on your weakest areas.

I'm great at writing essays. I'm great at putting a resume together. I suck at interviews. If I'm spending $4000 anyways and $500 for two hours of interview practice increases my odds of acceptance at Chicago Booth or HBS by 20%, this is kinda a no-brainer.

5/25/12

A not-so-well-know resource for essay advice: essaysnark.blogspot.com

The blog's a fun read, too.

IlliniProgrammer:

I'm great at writing essays. I'm great at putting a resume together. I suck at interviews. If I'm spending $4000 anyways and $500 for two hours of interview practice increases my odds of acceptance at Chicago Booth or HBS by 20%, this is kinda a no-brainer.

If you manage to get an HBS interview, you'd damn well better pay the money for an interview consult (hell, I'd probably use Sandy).

5/25/12

I used Stacy Blackman and loved the experience. My consultant was great, and I'm in the process of writing a recommendation for their files. Even if you do just one school, it is great to have someone help create your personal brand and help organize your thoughts for essay outlines. Also, the essay edits were a good experience and I ended up going through 6 drafts for one essay.

5/26/12

Hi,
I wanted to contribute something to this discussion and share my experiences working on my MBA application with Aringo.com:

I had a great (and successful) experience working with my Aringo.com consultant -- and I can honestly say I wouldn't have gotten in if it wasn't for the help I got with the package.

The key thing is making sure you have a chemistry with the consultant -- that's why I think Aringo is better than the freelancers out there; if you're unhappy (or if the consultant is sick / swamped / on holidays and you got a deadline...) you have the flexibility to change. I also like the fact they got the widest variety of MBA alums - so if you're applying to a few programs, you can have an alum of each school check your application package, and you get a chance to speak with alums of all the top programs.

My 2 cents...

5/26/12

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