Getting an MBA is possibly one of the biggest investments of your life. As you ponder this $100K-plus investment, you are likely to realize that you cannot do something as important as this on your own. Although friends or colleagues might be able to help, rarely do they have enough expertise to move the needle much in terms of your chances of acceptance to a top program (even if they are current students or alumni), and how much can you really bug them? That is why half of all MBA applicants use an admissions consultant, according to the Association of International Admissions Consultants (AIGAC).
Given that the acceptance rates at most top programs hover around 10%, it’s a good idea to have an expert guide you. With that in mind, here are some things to consider as you look to engage your own MBA admissions consultant.
1. Understand what an MBA consultant is going to do for you.
A consultant is far more than just a proofreader or a mock interviewer. A good consultant is part guide, critic, life coach, and expert. A good MBA consultant will help you understand what about you can land you in a top program while being candid about where you need to improve. Ideally, they will also throw in a dose of reality in terms of which schools are reaches, which are targets, and which are likelies.
2. Dig into the details of the consultant/applicant relationship.
If you are interested in all-in packages with consultants, understand what they include. Do you work with just one person, or are several people supporting you? If a consultant says you will work with a team of advisers, what does that really mean? Will your consultant informally check in with a colleague regarding your materials, or are there formal touchpoints for others to weigh in? Do you get passed around from consultant to consultant, or will you always work directly with one person? Do they charge extra for others to review your work?
3. How well will your MBA consultant get to know you?
Be on the lookout for consultants who don’t spend time getting to know who you are in a personal way. Many consultants will take a one-size-fits-all approach. The best MBA consultants figure out how you are different, interesting, and someone business schools will love to have as part of their community. Some consultants try to fit applicants into a predefined box: consultant, ibanker, nontraditional. Take the time to find a guide who will start from scratch and help you figure out YOUR unique story. Without intimate knowledge of you, they can’t help you create an application like no one else’s.
4. How will they help you tell your unique story?
What dooms most good candidates is that on paper, they look like many other candidates. This is particularly true if you are in a competitive sub-pool of applicants. Remember, there is always someone with just a little better GPA, GMAT, or work experience. So, you need to make sure that the narrative that you are presenting through your application is uniquely yours and clearly explains why YOU (and not someone else) needs to get an MBA at that particular school.
5. Are they knowledgeable?
Consider the consultant’s background. Have they gotten an MBA or worked in admissions? Do they understand where the degree can take you? Consultants should keep up with the latest developments in business schools and admissions practices. Is the consultant you’re considering part of the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC)? This organization has developed a very close relationship with business schools and admissions staffs to better understand what the ideal applicant for each school “looks” like. In real terms, this dictates which of your strengths should be emphasized at which schools. It is always important to remember that business schools are not commodities, and they don’t want to be considered as such. For example, essays for Wharton, Stanford, and Harvard are fundamentally different. Does the MBA consultant understand their differences? Can the consultant help you craft your essays appropriately?
6. Can your MBA consultant help you find your match?
It is easy to identify the top ten or so reach schools that everyone knows—just look at the media rankings. But for those of you who are looking for schools beyond the top ten or so, does the consultant have a sense of which of the next ten to 20 schools are right for you? Some top 20 MBA programs are aggressively recruiting women by providing scholarship money. Similarly, some schools are looking for international applicants. Can the consultant connect you with the MBA programs that fit your needs?
7. Are the consultant’s motivations aligned with yours?
When choosing a consultant, be sure to determine whether this person has your best interests at heart. Some consultants tell applicants not to apply to School X because they won’t get in. If a consultant is being measured by admit percentages, they are more likely to discourage their clients from applying to stretch schools. Similarly, some consultants want to promote their admit rates, so they will recommend lower-ranked schools. The consultant should understand that their job is to help you reach your dreams—and you want to feel like the person you’ve hired wants you to reach your goals as much as you do.
8. How will your MBA consultant work with you?
All of us have different work styles and preferences in terms of how we want to communicate, how we are most receptive to feedback, and what sort of hand-holding we may need. You should be able to communicate how you want to work and determine if your preferences are going to be an issue. Some consultants schedule an initial call with a client and then do not speak to them in person again. An MBA consultant who only does email while you want a touch-base call every Monday or a consultant who only works weekends while you like fast iterations during the week is probably not right for you. Remember that you’re the client, and they should adjust to you—not the other way around.
Finally, what can frequently make a big difference in terms of the quality of the final results is whether you and the consultant actually like each other. Are they as invested in the process as you are? Will they cry as hard as you do when you finally land that dream acceptance? Although it may be hard to tell this up front, a preliminary consultation call will at least indicate if you are going to mesh personally. This can make all the difference when working your way through the challenging, intensive, personal—and ultimately fulfilling!—MBA admissions process. After all, if you are engaging an admissions consultant to guide you on your MBA journey, you want a trusted adviser with whom you can have a long-term relationship.
We invite you to participate in a free 30-minute consultation to learn how Stratus’s team approach can help you earn admission to your top-choice schools.