Having someone guide you through the arduous process of making your MBA applications certainly sounds appealing. But how much difference can the support of a consultant really make?
Representatives from two business schools told Find-MBA.com they generally have no way of knowing whether an applicant has used an admissions consultant.
Virginie Fougea, director of MBA recruitment and admissions at INSEAD Business School says, “we don’t specifically ask the question” of whether an applicant has used an admissions consultant.
“We know that it’s happening,” she explains, “but we tell our applicants that they can do fine without hiring an admissions consultant.”
“In some cultural regions of the world it’s something that is just part of the admissions process, part of applying to business school,” says Fougea. “In other countries it’s fine not to have any advice.”
At INSEAD, located just outside Paris, French students make up less than 5 percent of an MBA class. What Fougea is able to say is that “the French are less likely to use an admissions consultant than other nationalities,” although the school has not undertaken specific research on this topic.
Rick Doyle, head of marketing for degree programs at ESMT Berlin says he believes applicants from Asia are more likely to use paid admissions consultants than applicants from other parts of the world, but that trend is changing.
But “quite often we don’t even know” if someone has used a consultant.
“If candidates have had help putting together their application, or answering the essay questions, we wouldn’t necessarily know,” says Doyle.
Admissions consultant Duncan Chapple says “the fact that schools aren’t sure which people are using consultants, and which people are not, I think that’s a fantastic testament to the quality of admissions consultants.”
So how many MBA applicants might be using the help of admissions consultants?
“A good rule of thumb is that one candidate in three – at the top schools – is using an admissions consultant,” says Chapple.
Strategically approaching your MBA application
Chapple’s work focuses on helping candidates to be strategic, to identify the schools that best fit their goals and then effectively communicate why they are a great fit in their applications.
“I find that almost every candidate I speak to has the same mistakes and exactly the same biases,” says Chapple. “I think what a lot of people don’t realize is that the unsuccessful candidates have got the same statistics as the successful candidates.”
Chapple says that candidates will often look at students who have been accepted to a certain school, and assume that if they have a similar GMAT score, or a similar level of work experience, then that must make them a competitive candidate.
What they don’t realize, he says, is that “everyone who applies to Harvard has got a GMAT over 700”. Candidates need to be much clearer about what makes them stand out, and which schools would actively seek out these qualities – because it often won’t be the first school they think of.
“A lot of what I’m doing is helping people to clarify their goals,” explains Chapple.
“A lot of people want an MBA because they want an MBA. And that is not a very compelling reason to go to Yale, rather than going somewhere else. The more you understand yourself, the more convincing you will be when you speak to schools about why their schools is the perfect place for you to attend.”
It’s being able to clarify why you and that school are a perfect match that will convince the school you’re the right choice for them, too.
Like putting a square peg in a round hole
Chapple says that when he meets applicants who have had a bad experience with a previous admissions consultant, it’s often because they haven’t gone in with a clear strategy.
“They’ve come to a consultant and said, ‘I’m a square peg. Help me get into a round hole.’ And the admissions consultant says ‘yes. I’m going to help you pretend to be a round peg.’”
Chapple says this can often result in an applicant being admitted to a school, only to discover on arrival that it’s a terrible fit, they’ve lost their deposit and wasted their time.
“A good application consultant can put lipstick on a pig,” says Chapple, “but that’s in nobody’s interest.”
What makes an MBA admissions consultant worth it
“A lot of people come to me after they’ve failed in applications to schools that they love,” says Chapple.
“Changing industry, changing role and changing country: most of my clients are changing at least two of those, and very often three. That means that the question of fit is really important,” he says.
He says if you consider the expected earnings of a graduate from a good business school versus a great business school, “even the best admissions consultants around are going to cost you a fraction of those additional lifetime earnings”.
Michelle Miller, the CEO of admissions consulting firm Aringo, says there’s a common misconception that only candidates who know they’re lacking something will bother employing a consultant. She says, in reality, that’s not the case.
“We know the schools and what they’re looking for,” she explains. “Candidates often do a good job of describing themselves and what they’re looking for, but they forget to draw that dotted line to why Kellogg should care, why [Harvard Business School] should care, etcetera.”
Miller says her company’s work focuses on helping candidates craft a compelling narrative for why the candidate and a particular school are the right fit for each other.
“You need a Columbia narrative and you need a different narrative for NYU,” she says. “You don’t tell each school the same story.”
As well as overall strategy, Aringo and other MBA consulting services offer support with CV formatting, GMAT preparation and interview practice.
‘Why did I get dinged?’
Like Chapple, Miller says she often hears from MBA candidates who have tried to apply on their own and have been unsuccessful.
Miller says every spring she receives many calls from people hoping to figure out why they got “dinged”.
“I would say about one third to almost half of these callers will say ‘I’m completely at a loss as to why I was dinged, because my profile was awesome,’” she says.
“In talking through their application with them, we often discover that because their GMAT score was so fantastic, or because they had great work experience, or went to a great school, we find the candidates didn’t put much effort into the rest of the application,” explains Miller.
In that sense, MBA candidates would be wise to remember it’s about the whole profile.
“Please don’t think that having one great piece of your profile is going to mean that nothing else matters,” says Miller. “Schools really are considering the whole package.”
“Your 770 GMAT score alone is not enough.”
- Berlin Museum Island CC BY 2.0 (cropped)
- Duncan Chapple. Source: Private.
- Michelle Miller. Source: Private.