In an earlier blog post, I profiled the unfortunate Mr. D, who paid some well-intentioned MBA admissions consultants a buttload of money during the 2012-13 admissions season. They proceeded to suck the soul out of his MBA application, and he was rejected everywhere he applied, despite an otherwise solid profile. The bottom line is that it’s awfully easy to “over-manage” your MBA applications. Dispassionate, soulless MBA applications are likely to fail, and far too many MBA admissions consultants will “polish” all of the energy and excitement out of your essays. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Mr. D’s admissions consultants were bad, but at the very least, Mr. D should have fought harder to keep his individual voice strong in the application.
And now, here comes a scarier story about a truly terrible MBA admissions consultant—and how you can avoid hiring a similarly crappy one.
I recently met a great guy—let’s call him Mr. K, since he enjoys a good plate of kangaroo tartare—who applied to two super-elite Ivy League MBA programs during the 2012-13 admissions season. The poor man pretty much had no hope of getting in: he's a white American male with a 660 GMAT, solid-but-unspectacular experience with a financial services firm and a tech startup, an undergraduate degree from a solid-but-unheralded university, and nothing particularly special in his extracurricular life. Unfortunately, nothing about his profile shouts “Harvard!”
To make things worse, Mr. K applied during the third round, when relatively few spots remain for solid-but-unspectacular candidates. I hate to say that Mr. K had no hope of getting into super-elite MBA programs, but… well, he pretty much had no hope.
And guess what? An unscrupulous MBA admissions consultant insisted that Mr. K had a great chance of getting into two of the most ridiculously prestigious MBA programs on the planet, and she proceeded to collect several thousand dollars of Mr. K’s money. Of course, Mr. K got dinged without an interview at both schools. He (very understandably) felt deceived by the company’s dishonestly sunny assessment of his chances; unsurprisingly, he wasn’t too pleased with other aspects of the consultant’s services, either.
My point here isn’t to criticize that particular MBA admissions consulting firm: I’ve heard mostly excellent reviews of their work, and I have absolutely zero interest in damaging their business. But I’ve seen a few other companies commit exactly the same sin: blatantly overstating a semi-hopeless candidate’s chances of admission, just to increase the likelihood that the candidate will purchase MBA consulting services.
If you’re shopping for an MBA admissions consultant, the most important thing is to be skeptical of overly sunny assessments of your MBA candidacy. Sure, many admissions consultants are good, honest people who will bluntly handicap your odds of admission—even if those odds are piss-poor. But telling the truth is usually very much against MBA admissions consultants' self-interest. If they tell you that your MBA application is hopeless, they’ll never collect your money. Can you really blame them for stretching the truth and offering an overly optimistic view of prospective clients’ profiles? (And yes, I realize that I could probably make more money if I did the same thing.)
Do yourself a huge favor: if an MBA admissions consultant tells you that you’re a shoo-in for admission to HBS and Stanford, run in the opposite direction. Hardly anybody is a shoo-in at those schools. Do your research before you (metaphorically) hop into bed with any MBA admissions consultant. If dreams of a Stanford admit are dancing through your head, here’s a reality check: at least 60-70% of Stanford MBA applicants are talented enough to succeed there. Fewer than 10% will get in. So unless you’re mind-blowingly remarkable—and keep in mind that the MBA applicant pool is stuffed with remarkably successful, type-A personalities—your odds are crappy. There, I said it. Your odds might be better at other top-10 MBA programs (Booth and Kellogg, for example, have admissions rates above 20%), but if 60-70% of applicants have solid qualifications, your chances still aren’t all that great.
So when you kick the tires on MBA admissions consultants, make sure that they’re telling you the truth about your chances. The mark of a scrupulous MBA admissions consultant is their willingness to walk away from a candidate who can’t realistically be helped—even if it means sacrificing a substantial paycheck. If you’re paying thousands of dollars for MBA admissions help, make absolutely certain that you’re hiring somebody you can trust.
Just remember that getting into a super-elite MBA program is incredibly difficult. Sure, a few of you have unbelievably perfect profiles, and an honest MBA admissions consultant would, of course, say so. But if your profile is that unbelievably perfect, you probably don’t need an MBA admissions consultant anyway, right?