Should You Hire an MBA Admissions Consultant?

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com With acceptance rates at the most elite business schools ranging from 6.8 to 21.6 percent, a growing number of MBA hopefuls are relying on the …

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com

With acceptance rates at the most elite business schools ranging from 6.8 to 21.6 percent, a growing number of MBA hopefuls are relying on the services of admissions consultants to help them market their candidacy and stand out amid a sea of equally amazing applicants.

The Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT exam, reports that one in five applicants worldwide uses consultants—but a 2013 survey by the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants reports that 57 percent of prospective MBAs used an admissions consultant. The majority sought assistance with their essays, resume evaluation and interview preparation. But it is important to recognize some of the pros and cons of working with an MBA admissions consultant, as it might not be the right move for everyone.

[Avoid these three surprising mistakes MBA applicants make.]

I believe a consultant can nearly always help, whether you are a first-time or a repeat business school applicant, whether you are in the dark or more knowledgeable about the admissions process. After all, both beginning athletes and Olympians have coaches.

The one caveat to this situation would be if the admissions committee at the school to which you are applying is heavily focused on numbers, in which case you may not need a consultant to help flesh out things like your essays or interviews.

On the pro side, a consultant offers a trained second pair of eyes to review your material, help steer strategy and provide a sanity check. Many admissions consultants have years of MBA admissions and marketing experience.

Working with a respected consulting team gives you the ability to leverage the database of knowledge of a collected group of experts who together have experience with thousands of clients in programs across the globe. Input from one friend who applied, or even someone who attended the school, provides only a limited snapshot.

A firm with years in the business has perspective on what has worked – and what hasn’t – over time. Any questions or concerns you have about a particular program can be answered in-house, saving you tons of time researching online or trolling business school forums.

There is a lot of information about the MBA admissions process readily available online for free. Blogs like mine offer application advice, school-specific essay tips, and more.

While you can and should take advantage of free online information about the MBA admissions process, some people feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount out there, and the information is not always correct. I believe applicants can do their own research and still benefit from personalized guidance and coaching.

Detractors might argue that if you’re a strong MBA candidate, consulting services will provide little added value because your stats and profile speak for themselves. I disagree, and have seen many cases of stellar candidates who were shocked when they were denied admission to programs that seemed like sure things.

For example, we worked with one Cornell University graduate who had three years of experience in a top investment bank, a high GPA, a high GMAT score, phenomenal extracurriculars and competent writing skills. However, when he came to us he had zero introspection and was unable to look inward to mine his unique and interesting strengths. He definitely belonged in a top program, but the guidance he gained in how to market himself took his application package from generic to compelling.

Cost is the obvious potential drawback of working with an MBA admissions consultant. Fees run anywhere from a few hundred dollars for a la carte editing services to several thousand dollars for comprehensive packages targeting multiple schools.

If you’re not committed to completing the process, it is a huge waste of money. Make sure you’re ready to follow through, and find out if the firm offers any type of financial guarantees if you’re not successful.

One danger of hiring a consultant is that you might rely too much on their expertise, losing your voice and story in the process. Make certain that you’re prepared to partner with the consultant while not letting them take on the whole journey.

[Try these exercises to help MBA applicants develop a personal brand.]

Another complaint of applicants is that their consultant doesn’t devote enough time to them. Before you hire a consultant, ask about usual turnaround times and how many clients get taken on at once. A full-time consultant may be juggling you with 20 other clients, all vying for the same deadline, so ask these questions before you commit.

Some potential clients think hiring a business school consultant means they don’t have to do any work. A good consultant is not an essay-writing service, won’t do the work for you and is not there to agree with whatever the client says.

This type of relationship won’t work for personality types that have difficulty accepting criticism, coaching and input from others. Only invest in a consultant if you’re ready for a true partnership – not if you want a ghostwriter.

Consultants can push you, point out errors and opportunities and help you submit your very best application. But they still need you on the team.

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Stanford, Synonymous with Satisfaction

Super salary doesn’t equal satisfaction, Forbes reveals in its latest ranking of the most satisfied MBA graduates. While Tuck School of Business, the Wharton School, and Chicago Booth alumni typically receive paychecks in the $200,000 …

Stanford MBA ranking

Super salary doesn’t equal satisfaction, Forbes reveals in its latest ranking of the most satisfied MBA graduates. While Tuck School of Business, the Wharton School, and Chicago Booth alumni typically receive paychecks in the $200,000 range,  Forbes says these graduates gave middling marks on job satisfaction. Stanford Graduate School of Business meanwhile takes the number-one spot for the third year running, and also topped Forbes‘s ROI ranking in 2013.

Forbes surveyed 17,000 grads from the Class of 2008 and heard back from 4,600 last year for its biennial b-school ranking. Their methodology considers satisfaction five years after graduation, when students have had time to reflect on their educational experience and how they compare to other MBAs in the workforce.

Ten 10 Schools with the Most Satisfied Graduates

  1. Stanford Graduate School of Business
  2. UC Berkeley Haas School of Business
  3. Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business
  4. Michigan State Eli Broad College of Business
  5. Indiana University Kelley School of Business
  6. Dartmouth Tuck School of Business
  7. Duke University Fuqua School of Business
  8. Rice Jones Graduate School of Business
  9. Wisconsin School of Business
  10. Chicago Booth School of Business

Both Stanford and second-place UC Berkeley Haas’s top employers are heavy on consulting and tech led by Google, eBay, McKinsey, BCG and Deloitte. Survey respondents appreciated how their schools helped prepare them for entrepreneurship and form global networks they will leverage throughout their careers.

This story appears in the May 5th issue of Forbes, but you can preview the MBA satisfaction rankings by following the link above.

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Answer Our MBA Survey for a Shot at $100 Amazon Gift Card

2014 could be a life-changing year for you. You may already know that you’ll be headed to business school in the fall, or you might be planning to start your MBA journey in the coming …

2014 could be a life-changing year for you. You may already know that you’ll be headed to business school in the fall, or you might be planning to start your MBA journey in the coming months. Either way, exciting things lie ahead.

All of us here at Stacy Blackman Consulting want to help make your dreams come true by giving you a shot at a top program. Or at the very least, by putting a $100 Amazon gift card in your pocket!

So, here’s the deal. We’re asking for a favor: please fill out our one-minute survey. We know how precious your time is—you’ll only have to “check the box” in response to nine simple MBA-related questions.

Click now to fill it out for a shot at the $100 Amazon gift card—the survey will close on Thursday, April 24.

Thanks for your participation,

The team at Stacy Blackman Consulting

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MBA Students on Classroom Diversity

Earlier this week, Bloomberg Businessweek launched a new series called One Question, which will attempt to take the pulse of MBA students here and abroad to suss out what Next Gen business leaders are thinking. …

Earlier this week, Bloomberg Businessweek launched a new series called One Question, which will attempt to take the pulse of MBA students here and abroad to suss out what Next Gen business leaders are thinking.

This week’s subject was classroom diversity, and students from Duke Fuqua, Cornell’s Johnson School, Simon Graduate School of Business, and UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School weighed in on the following question:

Does the curriculum at your business school expose you to a diverse array of leaders and other professionals? (Diversity could mean gender, ethnicity, class, or other characteristics.) What would you like to see more of?

It was interesting to read the comments of current students, many of whom expressed a desire for greater diversity when it comes to issues of gender and sexuality in the workplace, as well as extending the concept of diversity to include a broader socioeconomic range.

All but one of the interviewed students felt their school could improve its efforts in this area. Simon Moore-Crouch, a student at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, commends his MBA program’s strong diversity efforts, which he says are supported by cases, speakers, and projects that typically have an international component.

Check out the original post for a more complete picture of the areas where these students would like to see broader representation. This One Question series sounds like it will be a lot of fun, and we look forward to seeing how Businessweek plans to pick the brains of MBA students on a regular basis!

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Round 3 Update from Harvard Business School

Just two more days, Round 3 applicants to Harvard Business School. That’s right, your fate will be known at noon Boston time, when the admissions team sends out both interview invitations and release notifications. According …

HBS round 3

Just two more days, Round 3 applicants to Harvard Business School. That’s right, your fate will be known at noon Boston time, when the admissions team sends out both interview invitations and release notifications.

According to the latest update by admissions director Dee Leopold, all Round 3 applicants will hear something on Thursday, April 17th. Interviews will take place via Skype, or on campus on April 28th and May 2nd. Decisions on all interviewed Round 3 candidates will go out at noon on May 14th.

Leopold also says the Class of 2017 application will go live in mid-June, but we can expect to see the essay and recommender questions in advance.

Good luck to all the Round 3 applicants out there, as well as those on the HBS waitlist.

You may also be interested in:

Round 3 Myth-Busting by Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School Enters Online Learning

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Getting Accepted to Grad School (Again): Tips for Applicants Who Already Have a Degree (or Three)

Guest post by admissions expert Ryan Hickey For some students, college is just the first step on a lengthy higher education journey that includes multiple stops and sometimes-abrupt changes in direction. This may be part …

Guest post by admissions expert Ryan Hickey

Red Die Job Money etc shutterstock_142147552-1

For some students, college is just the first step on a lengthy higher education journey that includes multiple stops and sometimes-abrupt changes in direction. This may be part of a planned education path that requires a terminal degree like a Ph.D. in addition to a bachelor’s and master’s. In other cases, however, returning to graduate school is necessary to completely change fields or open new job opportunities.

If you have been in school for most of your adult life, the term “career student” and its often-negative connotation can become a burden as you think about pursuing any degree after a bachelor’s. This can be baffling to applicants. Why would someone undertake the time, work and financial commitment required to earn a degree without good reason? Why should educating yourself further in a discipline or making the difficult choice to change careers be considered a negative thing?

While most know full well that setting out toward a second, third or fourth degree shouldn’t be a knock against an applicant, the myth of the aimless lifelong student persists in some corners of the higher-education world. If this isn’t your first time applying to graduate school, consider these four tips to avoid falling victim to that characterization.

1. Change Happens

Things don’t always go the way you originally or ideally plan. That’s life. What you considered your dream career in your twenties may no longer be fulfilling when you hit your thirties. Just because you start down a particular path does not mean that you must remain on it for the rest of your life.

In both essays and interviews, be honest if your interests and priorities have shifted. You were not wasting time in your previous degree program or career. It was simply the right focus for you at that time, even though it isn’t today. Don’t be ashamed of or try to hide those experiences. Instead, emphasize how you will apply the skills they helped you build to your next academic undertaking.

2. Dig Deep

With myriad education and career experiences, applicants who already have a graduate degree often make the mistake of trying to pack too much into their essays. By covering everything in brief to cram it all in, they never get to the deeper, more intimate content that resonates with admissions officers.

Instead of taking that shotgun approach, identify the experiences most relevant to your current target program and dive deep. You’ll be much better off if you can draw meaning out of several carefully selected stories rather than generally stating many more. By doing this, you can show the reader your applied passion and sense of purpose in applying to this particular program.

3. Non-traditional? No problem!

Non-traditional: this term doesn’t solely refer to applicants with distinctive demographic details. Instead, take it as meaning that you have the ability to bring a unique set of experiences or skills to a program.

For example, lack of maturity is often a major complaint voiced by both admissions officers and professors. They value applicants who will take the program seriously and behave professionally from the get-go, rather than those who require time to adjust or “find themselves.”

Demonstrate how your background, both academic and professional, has helped you build experience working as part of a team, moderating interpersonal disagreements diplomatically, effectively managing your time and balancing diverse aspects of your life. In other words, let admissions officers know that your prior academic endeavors have helped you learn how best to succeed from the start in a new university setting.

4. Career Focused

Why are you going back to school? Admissions officers always want to know, so be prepared with a clear and thorough answer.

Here’s a hint: there’s only one right response, particularly if this isn’t your first trip to graduate school. Given your current career aspirations, there are gaps in your knowledge and experience that can only be filled with further education. While details will vary from applicant to applicant, that basic theme should hold true for you if you’re seeking another graduate degree.

Make direct connections between what each specific program offers and your career goals. Ideally, show that you have short, mid and long-term career plans that can only be accomplished with the help of this particular degree from this particular program.

Knowledge, maturity and professionalism are essential when it comes to getting things done in the real world. As you complete your application, don’t apologize for prior education and work experiences, whether you’re now changing paths or diving even deeper into your chosen field. Previous success as a graduate student is a tangible demonstration of your ability to complete high-level academic work and should help, not hurt, your chance of admission.

***

Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson’s and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.

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