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Should You Hire an MBA Admissions Consultant?

mba admission consultant

With competition to land a place on a coveted MBA program at a top business school continuing to grow, business school hopefuls are hiring expert help in the form of MBA Admissions Consultants.

The various entrance exams, essays and interviews make securing a place at a top business school a tough process – and with more would-be MBAs than ever before applying for elite schools, the competition is fierce.

On average, each application takes 15-20 hours, but some candidate spend more than 50 with a consultant, typically in the off-peak season between March and June.

Many consultants are former admissions officers and MBA holders who claim their knowledge of the application process will help candidates land a spot on their dream program. But are they worth it?

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Who should consider an admissions consultant?

There are a number of different groups of applicants who could benefit from using an admissions consultant.

1)      If you aspire to enroll at one of the top business schools like Harvard Business School, The Wharton School, or the Stanford Graduate School of Business (which only admits 5 percent of applicants), you will likely need professional help to gain admission – as competition for spots at these schools is so intense.

2)      If you’re applying to online MBA programs at a top business school like the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University or the online MBA program at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

3)      If there’s a gap between a candidate’s aspirations and profile:

  • Applying to a top-12 school with less than a 3.5 GPA, or less than a 700 GMAT score, or work experience without feeder employers
  • Applying to a top-50 full-time, on-campus program with a GPA below 3.2 or GMAT score below 630, or if your age falls significantly below or above the typical range for full-time, on-campus MBA students
  • If you have communication challenges that could hinder your performance in the application process or during interviews
  • International candidates who are non-native English speakers
  • Well-qualified applicants, especially from underrepresented groups who are likely to win scholarships (helping with the cost of admission consulting)

How admissions consultants help applicants

Admissions consultants claim to help you bring out your personality while also highlighting aspects of your work they know schools want to see.

Good consultants should do more than just review and suggest – they’ll help you focus by understanding what you bring to the table, rather than a window dressing version of yourself.

Some admissions consultants may cater to specific schools or just top-tier schools, while others might only work with international applicants or just local ones.

Some have tailored their expertise to be powerhouses in the industry, while others focus on bespoke services. Different firms and consultants will approach their consulting practice slightly differently, but never expect them to write your application for you.

MBA admissions consultants offer expert guidance to help you craft your narrative, but they won’t do it all for you. You have to want their help and be prepared to put in the graft.

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Are MBA consultants effective?

MBA applicants turn to specialized consulting firms to help give their applicants an edge – but of course that comes at a cost.

Andrew Hasting of Kira Talent – a company that provides video technology to help business schools interview students remotely – said some students spend up to US$10,000 per MBA application.

There are hundreds of consulting firms offering their services today – many employing business school alumni and are in fact set up by former head of universities’ admission departments.

Although it is a pretty steep price tag, MBA consultants do seem to provide results by using their expertise to help students navigate the complicated admissions processes at different top business schools.

Cons of hiring an MBA admissions consultant

One obvious potential drawback is the cost of hiring an MBA admissions consultant. Fees can be from a few hundred dollars for a la carte editing services to several thousand dollars for comprehensive packages targeting multiple schools.

So, if you’re not committed to seeing the process through, it’s a huge waste of money. Try and find out if the firm offers any financial guarantees if you’re not successful.

Some applicants have complained their consultant doesn’t devote enough time to them. Before hiring a consultant, ask about usual turnaround times and how many clients are taken on at once. A full-time MBA consultant could have 20 other clients working towards the same deadline, so ask these questions before you commit.

It’s easy to rely too much on the expertise of an MBA consultant and lose your voice and story during the process. Make sure you’re partnering with the consultant, rather than letting them take on the whole thing.

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How should I select a consultant?

Try to develop a clear sense of your needs and a realistic assessment of your chance for admission at the school you’d like to attend.

Applicants also need to understand the services offered by consultants. For example, MBA admissions consultants won’t write an application essay for a client – and if they do, you should stay away from them; they aren’t legit.

Firms like mbaMission; Stacy Blackman Consulting, Admissions Gateway, Menlo Coaching, the MBA Exchange, Admitify and Career Protocol are great places to start. Ask friends and colleagues for a referral if they’ve used their services before.

Do your due diligence and vet the various consultancy firms you’re considering to find the best fit for you and your needs. Learn about the company’s history, how consultants are selected and trained, and about their experience and track record. You can also ask previous MBA applicants about their experience with a firm.

Most consultants offer free initial consultations – a useful service for candidates but try to book in one of these free sales meetings during the off-peak season from March through June. You’ll get a taster for the quality of the consultant’s work and get a feel for how they treat their clients.

Consider value over price – a comprehensive consultation package ensures candidates address their weaknesses in ways hourly services can’t provide.

Niamh Ollerton, Deputy Head of Content at QS
Written by Niamh Ollerton

Niamh is Deputy Head of Content at QS (TopMBA.com; topuniversities.com), creating and editing content for an international student audience. Having gained her journalism qualification at the Press Association, London and since written for different international publications, she's now enjoying telling the stories of students, alumni, faculty, entrepreneurs and organizations from across the globe.  

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