If applying to business school was as simple as swiping right on the MBA program of your dreams to indicate your interest and waiting for the admissions committee to reciprocate, b-school hopefuls would have a lot more time on their hands.
Alas, the process is much more involved — from narrowing down the list of schools you’ll apply to, to selecting your recommenders, to deciding how to focus your essay responses, there are many decisions to make along the way, and b-school message boards and blogs (ahem) can only give you so much general advice. Just like Googling your strange, flu-like symptoms, sometimes you have to get yourself to the doctor. Or, in this case, an admissions consultant.
The use of admissions consultants in MBA applications is often misunderstood, with some applicants looking for a quick fix, fairy dust, or the state secrets they think will give them an application edge. Others still worry about using a consultant because it’s “cheating” or because a consultant will make them into a boilerplate candidate. As it turns out, a consultant worth her salt is anything but.
We’ll examine some common applicant questions about working with an admissions consultant, with help from two of the most respected and successful admissions consultants to future MBAs: Linda Abraham from Accepted and Stacy Blackman from Stacy Blackman Consulting.
The short answer is ‘everyone.’ An Admissions consultant can help you choose which schools would most fit your current experience and post-graduation goals, managing the application process by navigating rounds and interviews effectively, and helping you shape and present your candidacy.
Although a consultant can certainly help you mitigate your profile weaknesses, even great-on-paper candidates can benefit from working with a pro. “People often think it’s the applicants with low scores or nontraditional backgrounds [that benefit from admissions consulting]. But most applicants who seem to have dream MBA profiles benefit a great deal as well. Good consultants force you to be introspective and to really question what you are doing and why. If you went to Princeton and now work for McKinsey and lead a world changing non-profit – why? What drives you? Consultants can help you to be truly self aware and flesh out all of that,” says Stacy Blackman from Stacy Blackman Consulting.
For MBA hopefuls planning on applying to top programs where they are likely competing for admission spots with similarly high-performing candidates, being able to stand out is key. Blackman compares the process to elite athletes who employ coaches to maintain their edge and rise above their competition. An admissions consultant, especially one with previous experience on an admissions committee at a premier school can help you see your profile from the AdCom side. “A good consultant will help you ask the right questions, connect the dots in your personal story and develop essays that sound even more like the real you. Many applicants submit canned “Joe MBA” types of essays, that sound like everyone else’s. If you let a consultant guide you, they can help develop essays that sound like you and showcase your very real voice,” adds Blackman.
Another short answer: ‘come on!’ “Consultants can’t turn straw into gold. We are excellent at mitigating weaknesses and highlighting strengths. We can also advise candidates on how to improve their profile. But we cannot take unqualified applicants, wave a magic wand, and magically transform them into qualified and competitive applicants,” says Linda Abraham from Accepted.com, whose team works with applicants vying from college seats to competitive medical school spots. What a great consultant can do is help you address obvious weaknesses head-on, so admissions committees don’t draw their own conclusions. “No one is perfect, and admissions officers often are interested in what an applicant learned from a mistake,” adds Blackman.
Reality check: would you let your best friend photograph your wedding or your child’s graduation just because you like their Snapchats? Your best friend can make sure the person you present is truly you, and your mentor can help you highlight professional qualities you may have overlooked, but be careful about asking too many people for advice: “Every person who reviews an essay will have suggestions. Applicants should pick a few trusted advisers and work with them, or their essay could become a watered-down ‘essay by committee’ and show less about them as an individual,” says Blackman. Also consider that even though your friends and colleagues may want to help, giving tough constructive criticism will be difficult for them precisely because they care about you and don’t want to hurt your feelings. This is where an impartial professional can provide that feedback. Abraham emphasizes that “it’s NOT our job to validate [candidates’] views and approve of their essays even when we disagree or feel their essays need improvement.” Look to your consultant for that kind but critical gut check about your application elements.
Both Blackman and Abraham caution against trying to reverse engineer yourself and your application to fit a particular school’s mythical “perfect applicant” profile. We’ve blogged about making sure your dream school is a great fit for you. Be honest with yourself about how you fit in with each school’s mission. “Not everyone is right for a certain school and admissions officers look for fit as much as for qualifications,” says Blackman. Abraham adds that another common mistake is “Writing what [applicants] think the admissions committees want to read instead of what they want to admissions committee to know.”
“The better the work that you submit, the more a consultant can improve upon it,” says Blackman. The consultant-applicant relationship has to be an iterative collaboration, but the consultant depends on your output. You’ll have to put in time to take constructive notes to heart and edit and listen to your consultant. On the other hand, don’t simply accept edits without thinking through them. Take the time to understand your feedback. And speaking of time, “give us the time to do a great job! We’ll do our best when you come to us a week or even a day before the deadline. But we can do so much more to improve your applications and admissions chances when you come to us early in the process, ideally before you start your applications,” says Abraham. The earlier you start, the more your consultant can help polish your application.
If you choose to work with an admissions consultant, remember that they are not a panacea or a scribe, they’re there to guide you, and their work is only as good as the effort you put into the process. Send us your questions about working with admissions consultants and we may feature them in a future post.