Vanessa Ellingham finds that Hiring a consultant to help with your MBA applications can be worth it, for some candidates.
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?
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”.