MBA Admissions Consultants vs. Business Schools

Posted by: Louis Lavelle on September 17, 2010

There’s an interesting story today on the b-school web site Poets & Quants (started by former Bloomberg Businessweek editor John Byrne) about the increasingly cozy relationship between for-hire admissions consultants and admissions staffs at top MBA programs. The article estimates that as many as a third of the applicants to top 10 business schools now use consultants to improve their chances for acceptance, paying anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 each.

How cozy is cozy? The story details an event at Harvard Business School last spring when 50 consultants visited the campus as part of a three-day conference. They met with deans and admissions officers at MIT, Dartmouth, Yale, and Duke. Columbia, New York University, Michigan and INSEAD even evaluated three candidate profiles for the group.

Just a few short years ago, all this would have been unthinkable. Admissions officers viewed consultants with distrust, and some schools made them officially off-limits for applicants. The spit and polish, they said, made it difficult to discern the applicant’s strengths and weaknesses. And if you couldn’t afford a consultant? Well, then you were just out of luck.

So why the détente? To read the Poets & Quants story, you get the impression that the consultants just wore the admissions folks out. For one thing, there are a lot more of them then there used to be (the association that represents them now has 93 members in 11 countries) and they're working for many more applicants. Many consultants came to the business from the admissions offices (or the MBA programs) of top b-schools. The schools themselves seem to view the consultants as a way to learn more about applicants and their experiences.

One question not really addressed in the story is the impact that consultants have had (if any) on the class profile of the modern, top-tier business school--and with it the collective leadership of the world's foremost business enterprises. Thoughts?

Reader Comments

gfasdof

September 21, 2010 1:36 PM

I hired one of the leading admissions consultants in the US and still got rejected (I did not receive any interview invites) by all the schools that I applied to. The next year I applied to another top school without using a consultant and although I was ultimately rejected, I was initially shortlisted for an interview and then waitlisted. What I have learnt from this is that Bschools most strongly care about one thing: the GMAT. My GMAT score was poor but I had tremendous essays, life experiences, work experience etc.

HighestGMATscore

September 28, 2010 4:43 PM

@Gfasdof - What was your Gmat score if you don't mind me asking with and without the consultant?

jj234

October 6, 2010 3:02 PM

I used an admissions consultant and thought it was the best move I made during the process. I started out scared, feeling like I couldn't compete with the other applicants and not knowing where to start. My consultant (from Stacy Blackman) was great, she helped me focus and find my strengths to highlight in the application. She really led me through the process step by step and I ended up with a great application that was far better than what I would have come up with on my own. It's nice that these consultants have close relationships with b-schools because they know what they are looking for in an applicant. I'd use an application consultant again if I had to do-over the process, which luckily I don't because I got into the school I wanted to go to.

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