Tag Archives: Harvard

Beware of smiling MBA admissions consultants

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?

snarky Yale college advice, 1975 edition

This has absolutely nothing to do with the GMAT, MBA admissions, or GMAT tutoring. Just warning you.

I was wandering around NYC with some visiting friends this weekend, and we decided that it would be fun to take them to Strand Bookstore, which is one of my favorite places in New York. Eighteen miles of books (supposedly), many of which are piled on sidewalk carts for $1 each. If you’re from somewhere else and you come to NYC, the store is worth a visit.

My bizarre little $1 treasure for today was tattered paperback copy of The Insiders’ Guide to the Colleges, written by The Yale Daily News in 1975, long before college rankings became such a huge national obsession. I was curious to see how top schools were perceived more than three decades ago.

I’m not sure that I learned all that much, but I had a good laugh. The writers are snobby and snarky, and definitely have some Ivy League bias.

I reflexively opened to their commentary on Stanford, my alma mater: “There is a certain trendiness in the air which often stifles any serious attempt to approach an academic problem. The school’s California provincialism can be extremely irritating.

“One manifestation of the student body’s provincialism is their penchant for calling the school ‘the Harvard and Yale of the West,’ or even for terming Harvard and Yale ‘the Stanfords of the East.’ The analogies simply aren’t true.

“…There are also a huge number of students who only care about getting good grades… and another, almost equally large percentage who aren’t really interested in doing anything…. If you want the best education (and the most heterogeneous student body) available anywhere in the country, look to the Ivies.”

Lest they be accused of east-coast bias, the goofballs who wrote this book crapped all over plenty of other schools. In their commentary on Tufts, they said this: “Everybody knows, of course, that it is the goal of most high school students in the Northeast to go to college in Boston. That way you can get a lot of hippie, loose-moraled girls if you are a guy, or a lot of radical committed free guys if you are a girl… and you can get a good deal of dope to tide you over the bad times.”

Fordham: “Fordham University is a Roman Catholic institution, and therein lies its problem.” (!!)

Davidson: “The fact is, many of the students have never been north of the Mason-Dixon line, and occasionally those in the administration and faculty act as if they haven’t either–and what’s more, they don’t care.”

Harvard: “The college atmosphere sometimes seems to ruin those personalities that weren’t warped to begin with.”

Columbia: “…Columbia is unbeatable. But the decision whether to take that beating should be made very carefully.”

Hilarious, right? Of course, the Yale dorks who wrote the book included a glowing four-page review of Yale itself. Not exactly an unbiased piece of writing, but highly entertaining. I’d love to see somebody write a similar book about MBA programs now–can you imagine the lawsuits?