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Do you need an MBA admissions consultant?

Katie Schenk - April 21, 2017

Corporate lady looking at something and smiling

A couple hundred thousand people apply to MBA programmes annually. To service the fraction of students that are admitted (and accept placements), there needs to be a lot of business schools. And, there are.

The 2014 Application Trends Survey Report from GMAC reported data from 469 MBA programmes. That doesn’t include other specialised, non-MBA masters programmes (e.g. Masters in Finance). You simply can’t apply to all of them; MBA applications aren’t a walk in the park - even for top candidates.

Poets and Quants recently reported that it was tougher to get into a highly ranked business school than it was the year before. With acceptance rates being between seven and 24 percent in at top US programs, you’ve got to take MBA admissions seriously.

It’s little wonder then that there are plenty of MBA admissions consultants available to help potential students get into the business schools they’ve always dreamed of. And, it appears that their services are becoming more popular every year; a growing number of MBA hopefuls are using admissions consultants.

According to The Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, 57 percent of MBA applicants hired an admissions consultant during the 2013 intake season. We can only guess what the rate will be this year.

What do admissions consultants do?

If you’re looking for acceptance at one of the top schools, you need to stand to stand out from the many equally accomplished and interesting, but competing applicants.

While the internet has facilitated information sharing, it’s difficult to wade through these waters to determine your best strategy and presentation. Admissions consultants bring your personality into the picture while highlighting the aspects of your work they know ad comms want to see.

Many consultants do more than simply review and suggest – they help to focus you as a candidate. They help you to consider the substance that’s already in you, rather than pushing you towards a window dressing version of yourself.

Admissions consultants vary, however. Some cater to specific schools or just top tier schools. Others work only with international applicants or just local ones. There are those that have worked to become powerhouses in the industry and plenty that focus on bespoke services. Each one approaches their consulting practice from a slightly different perspective.

But, you should not expect them to write your application for you. Admissions consultants provide tailored and expert guidance around crafting your narrative but they will not do it all for you. They’re not a silver bullet for anyone to get into business school. You have to want it and be prepared to put in the hard yards.

Are they successful?

Using an admissions consultant doesn’t guarantee you a placement. Only you, putting in the hard work and your best self forward, can get you admitted. Admission consultants are experts that provide knowledge collated from experience with thousands of candidates across the world.

So, it’s a guessing game as to how successful admissions consultants are. When they report a 97 percent success rate, we don’t know whether that means 97 percent of their clients were accepted into any school or if it was their top choice school. And, even if we did know what one consultant measures, that doesn’t mean it’s the same for all of them.

What we do know is that top schools are incredibly selective and that admissions consultants can swing the odds in your favour.

Deciding which elements and dynamics to present in an application is a difficult process. Consultancies like The MBA Exchange have many years of MBA admissions and marketing experience with customised strategies and tactics to differentiate and distinguish you from your competitors.

What should you expect from your admissions consultant?

Some applicants turn to a consultant for essay assistance or for ensuring that every I is dotted and T is crossed. Others turn to these professionals because they know a lot about each programme, what they are looking for, and how best to tailor applications accordingly.

Given the number of MBA programmes and applicants, you should expect diversity in the services of admissions consultants as well. However, you might expect:

  • School information: When you’re narrowing down your school choices, admissions consultant websites are often a great place to start. Many of the consultants maintain their own school profiles and guides. There are some that offer small dossiers of information, including the type of applicants that would be a good fit for these programmes.
  • GMAT tips: You’ll find a lot of tips for taking the GMAT (and the score you should get for many schools) on just about every consultant’s website. You’ll also find solid recommendations for GMAT tutors or test-prep companies. If you like what you see on an admissions consultant’s website, you can probably trust their tutor recommendations.
  • Essay observations: Not every admissions consultant offers their observations on essay questions for free, but you will find them. Along with tips, explanations of popular essays can focus your thoughts and transform your efforts.
  • Organisation and general MBA admissions tips: Then, you’ve got to portray yourself convincingly and confidently, which is where an admissions consultant can nearly always help. A consultant is an experienced set of eyes to review your material, understand synergies across topics and ensure a coherent and compelling story is woven together.

Full-service admissions packages usually include résumés reviews and direction on recommenders. They offer interview prep assistance and a complete look over your entire application.

Start with a shortlisting consultation

Developing an MBA shortlist together is one of the best ways to determine whether an admissions consultant is right for you. It provides an indication of your skills and theirs. In addition to the schools that everyone knows like Harvard Business School and INSEAD, there are schools such as Chicago Booth and Virginia Darden which offer a better chance of admission, but you may not have considered

Successful admissions consultants can tell you where you are likely to be accepted, where you are a great fit, and even where you could stretch some to attend… within a 30 minute or one hour consultation. For some MBA hopefuls, this information is infinitely more useful than editing assistance.

Should you work with an admissions consultant?

Many factors will influence your decision to work with an admissions consultant, including price, compatibility, and your confidence levels.

Some candidates may want to consider a consultant strongly.

If you’re applying to an international school, then there are likely to be some norms and idiosyncrasies that you might miss in the application. Without someone who understands these unspoken rules, you could develop insecurities that come through in your application.

And, if you’ve got a special case, such as a low GMAT score, it’s also worth considering the assistance, especially if you want to get into a top level MBA programme.

Now, that’s not to say you need it if you fall into those categories. And, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t turn to a consultant just because you don’t fit into these groups either. An extra set of eyes on anything as important as your future is obviously beneficial.

The catch, however, is the cost of using such a service. MBA admissions consultants aren’t exactly cheap. Of course, you can look at it as an investment (just like that wallop of money you’re prepared to pay the MBA programme of your choice), and that’s what many potential candidates do.

Admissions consultants can be expensive, and their prices can rise as much as 13 percent to 18 percent per year, but this they attribute to increased time and attention in helping their clients to strengthen their candidacy.

So, they are not cheap and you’ll want an experienced consultant whom you feel comfortable with and you are both clear on objectives and requirements of working together.

Choosing to work with an admissions consultant is up to you – and your MBA goals. If you do decide to work with a consultant, remember that you’ll need to spend time selecting the right one for you.

What if you don’t want to hire an admissions consultant?

Everyone has a different view of admissions consultants. Some applicants are happy to do it themselves and have the time to do so. Others go the whole hog and begin considering consultants before schools. And then there are those that prefer to do most of the work, bringing in experts only when they need a little extra polish.

Even if you decide to do it yourself, there is a reason to pretend that you’ll hire an admissions consultant… their resources. Each one has a wealth of information and most are willing to share at least a portion of it. You’ll find plenty of these available online and completely free.

In addition, some firms offer a free preliminary evaluation up front. You can still walk away after an initial conversation with an admission consultant and could be a solid start to calm the nerves.

Even if you don’t plan to hire a consultant, considering them as if you would will help you understand the variety of resources available to you. And, you never know, you might just stumble on a consultant that completely understands your needs. When you do, it’s absolutely worth it to take the free consultation offer (if there is one); you might just discover something that changes your application completely.

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