For all the adulation and flak that MBA rankings get, they do serve a purpose. With a humongous number of business schools across the world to choose from, rankings allow candidates to filter down the list to a manageable number.
While there are plenty of MBA rankings (broken down into full-time, part-time executive formats), university rankings and also Bschool professor rankings, there’s not much that allows aspiring business management students to rank the other service providers – primarily test prep companies (GMAT, GRE) and MBA admissions consultants – who play an important role in preparing students for the big league.
And thank heavens for that!
Lack of transparency: This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But most consulting firms are privately held and there’s no obligation to share internal data with the world, unless it works in their interest.
Comparing apples to oranges: Pretty much like bschools, each essay editing and application consulting team has its own uniqueness. A ranking tries to force everyone into the same slot.
Lack of useful insights: General motherhood style rankings for MBA consultants will end up similar to MBA rankings. They’ll rely more on quantitative factors that are easier to measure and rank.
It would be counter-productive to have some third party (like a leading publication) take on the task of evaluating consultants based on their (often controversial and flawed) methodology and telling you which team to engage with.
However MBA Application counsellors – who help in selecting business schools, reviewing / editing essays, and preparing for MBA interviews – play a key role in the admissions process.
It is still an important task that every applicant planning to hire a professional MBA consulting firm has to go through.
Taking a cue from the popular MBA rankings, we thought it would be helpful for MBA applicants to use some sort of a methodology to evaluate and rank MBA application consultants.
As with any ranking, the relevance of each parameter considered in the evaluation may change for each candidate. So rather than providing any rigid formula or assigning fixed weights to individual dimensions, we just list down important aspects to consider before signing up with any international MBA counsellor.
Create a excel sheet with a grid (with business school admission consultants in rows and ranking factors listed in columns), and start filling it up with values (on a 5 point scale: 1 – Pathetic, 2 – Poor, 3- Average, 4 – Good, 5 – Excellent). Add ‘em all up and you’ve got your ranks.
Among all the consultant ranking parameters, we’ve placed this at the top for a reason. All the jazzy marketing material and advertisements mean nothing if the MBA consultants haven’t earned the goodwill of folks who’ve worked with them. Reviews are a good way to know that.
There are three ways you can find out how good a consultant is: MBA consultant reviews on their own sites, on other forums and word-of-mouth feedback. The first two can be ‘managed’ by essay editing consultants. The last one would be the most authentic, specially if it comes from someone you already know.
What to watch out for: Often you’ll find some teams hogging the limelight on various forums, while other deserving teams are completely missing. This is because popular MBA sites charge a fee for premium listing and promotions. Not all teams may be willing to pay that fee.
How MBA Crystal Ball stacks up: We don’t pay other sites to promote us or our reviews. Instead, we ask successful applicants to share not just a short review, but their whole application journey on our site so it can benefit applicants who aren’t planning to hire consultants. Read this related post – Should MBA admission consultants reveal their best kept secrets?
With bigger teams, you’d have a bigger choice of consultants to work with. There may be someone specialising in one-year MBA programs in Europe (or India). Or you might want to work with someone from a specific (under-represented) industry that most consultants may not be familiar with. The flipside is that you’d just be another name in their huge list.
With smaller teams, you’d get more personalised attention. However, the choice of consultants will be low. There will be capacity constraints, specially as the MBA application deadlines draw nearer. Last minute requests would be more difficult to accommodate.
What to watch out for: Don’t get dazzled by the sheer brand power of the company. The size of the team is less important compared to the credentials of the consultant you’d be working with.
How MBA Crystal Ball stacks up: Our MBA consulting team is very small. We follow a specialised boutique model. Our focus is primarily on MBA programs, though we do occasionally help with non-MBA applications (like MS, PhD, MiM etc).
Consultants price their services based on multiple factors. Apart from the effort required to execute the service, there’s the cost of marketing (including paid advertising, premium membership on other forums) and client acquisition (complimentary review of lengthy questionnaires, profile evaluation phone calls).
Keep in mind that there’s no free lunch. If you talk to 10 teams that offer the popular 30-minute ‘free’ counselling call, and decide not to sign up with them, some other poor guy is going to pay for the time that the consultants spent on you.
It works the other way as well. When you sign up with a consultant, what you end up paying includes all the overheads that the consulting company absorbed during the pre-marital courtship.
What to watch out for: High consulting fees aren’t necessarily an indicator of quality. Similarly, going for the team with the lowest MBA consulting prices may not be the best strategy. Keep a budget in mind for reference and shortlist candidates based on the other parameters.
How MBA Crystal Ball stacks up: We don’t spend money on advertising. We don’t spend time and effort on aggressively chasing clients with freebies (like 30 min counselling calls). That allows us to focus on service execution rather than promotion. That helps in keeping our overheads low and our pricing reasonable for the quality we offer. We aren’t the cheapest Indian MBA consulting team around, but neither are we the most expensive. We’re trying to provide international quality at Indian prices.
The website might have colourful flowcharts and infographics depicting a lot of idealistic things. But are you sure you know what you are signing up for?
Will the team help with test prep, or essays, or recommendations, or interviews? What if you want support on some but not all aspects? Is there a possibility to customise the services, or are you stuck with a one-size fits all model? What will the team not do (e.g. funding / visa assistance)?
Does the team’s approach make you more knowledgeable and independent along the process, or just keep the dependency growing?
Before you get floored by the enthusiasm and optimism of the consultant, get the scope clarified.
What to watch out for: Complete flexibility (e.g. unlimited reviews and phone calls) may sound very appealing at first, but it can also leave things open-ended. In the name of flexibility, when the consultant and candidate are both going around in circles waiting for some magic to happen, discipline and focus can get compromised.
How MBA Crystal Ball stacks up: We’ve clearly outlined the pricing and scope for each of our MBA application consulting services. While we are flexible to a reasonable extent with the scope, we try not to deviate significantly from our tried-and-tested model. We don’t help with test prep, visa counselling or MBA abroad loans.
Some questions to ask: How experienced is the consultant? Has he himself worked in challenging leadership corporate roles to bring in practical insights into the discussion? Has he worked with applicants from a range of backgrounds (industries/roles)? Does he have an understanding of the popular post-MBA career goals to suggest what might work best for you? Does he have the analytical insights into the mind of the Admissions Committee?
This last question is interesting. Some teams employ MBA essay editors who’ve served as Admission Officers in the top bschools. But what does that guarantee? Nothing.
For one, being a reviewer is different from being a creator. How many movie critics have become successful movie makers?
With due respects, Adcom is an HR role. Application writing requires operational / managerial / leadership experience as well, to be able to connect the dots well and build a compelling story.
What to watch out for: If you are being assigned to a (faceless, anonymous) consultant and you have no clue about their credentials, track record or style of working, tread with care.
How MBA Crystal Ball stacks up: You can read more about our MBA abroad counsellors.
Does the consulting team take up every request, or are they selective?
Sounds odd to mention this one, when most MBA consultants would take on any candidate who’s willing to pay the fee and sign up.
In the MBA application consulting business, it’s about selling the consultant’s time. Bigger companies have more than sufficient bandwidth to take on the Round 1 and Round 2 spikes without hitting their capacity limits.
Smaller teams can afford to be more selective. But not all would do so. When a lot of teams (big and small) are struggling to get client leads, it doesn’t work in their interest to reject clients.
What to watch out for: If a higher education counselling company has made it too easy to sign up (possibly with an online payment process where you can sign-up without having any interaction with the team), that’s a clear sign of zero selectivity.
How MBA Crystal Ball stacks up: We don’t take up every single assistance request. We ask for profile details and get an idea of the candidate’s overall expectations first. We send across the sign-up note only when we feel we can add value to their application (and not just to our bank account).
There you have it. A basic list of ranking factors that you can expand based on what else is relevant for you. We’ve also shared some inputs about the MBA Crystal Ball services and consulting team to help you fill in one of the columns in your excel sheet.
While we are on the topic, we have to admit that the success track record for MBA Crystal Ball is not 100%. We’ve had our share of failures. Here’s one such story.
Time to move on to the other teams now and see which one suits you the best. There are many capable consultants out there doing good work. Reach out to a few to see if they match your scope / pricing / quality expectations.
Good luck in finding the right partner for your career. It can make a huge difference not only to your MBA application, but to your longer term professional direction as well.
And of course, there’s more than enough free knowledge on this site on a range of topics (applications, business schools, scholarships, careers) that you could use to work independently.
Image source: Halogensoftware.com