If we had put up this question a decade ago, perhaps we would have drawn several blank expressions. Not anymore. According to a 2016 survey, 45% of applicants to business schools across the world take help from an MBA admissions consultant (Experienced MBA consultant vs friends, for MBA admissions).
What about India you ask? Unfortunately like several other things, there isn’t much authentic data for India. But anecdotally speaking, we can say that the number for Indians won’t be far behind this; maybe even higher given the stiffer competitions we face and the greater dependency on MBA scholarships that can go into tens of lakhs (and free rides as well), making it possible for not-so-rich students to afford an international education (Read Applicant’s views on affordable MBA consultants in India).
Given this statistic, it is becoming an increasingly poignant question, one that you (like several other applicants) would have mulled during the course of your application journey.
In this post, we will present an unbiased (well, we will try at least) view on what things to consider when evaluating this – both before approaching MS and MBA application consultants and when approaching them.
Is hiring an MBA admissions consultant worth it?
Top 5 questions to ask yourself
1. Do I have the time?
Contrary to popular belief, we know that getting a consultant involved more often than not, ends up increasing the time it takes to put in an application. The reason is because of the additional layer of quality control and the ensuing rework this can lead to.
So if you thinking of putting in an application from start to end in say a week or so, it may not be a great idea to invite another person to the party. This also begets the larger question of how you should plan your MBA application timeline.
2. Am I good at writing – have I done it before?
No, I don’t mean to suggest that you should’ve applied before to be good at applications. We hope that you don’t end up being a MBA re-applicant to learn what works and what doesn’t. We hope that you get it right the first time around.
What you should evaluate is how often you write – not just cryptic emails or the occasional blog, but formal business communication. This also depends on the nature of your job and the kind of person you are.
Writing business school essays can be thought of as an extension of say writing SMART goals in your yearly appraisals or even basic things such as minutes of meetings.
But just because you’ve done these doesn’t necessarily mean you are good at it. Look for signs of external validation too as this is perhaps one of the biggest questions to ponder on.
3. Do I know what differentiates me and can I articulate it?
There is an overload of articles and point of view that suggest over-representation of certain pool of applicants (e.g. Indian, IT, Male applicant). So much so that when we get approached by many, they have already branded themselves thus and find it really tough to express the merits their profile/personality in reality has.
We firmly believe that each profile is unique even if there are loads of similarities. This is why we’ve seen folks with seemingly ‘common’ profile crack it.
The point is to first know what your strengths are and then decide what you’ve done on the ground that can help you provide a proof of that strength in action. That is to say, just claiming I am Superman is not enough; you have to be able to say that on such and such date, I flew (as can be seen on Youtube) to save some 100 people from death.
Which then gives rise to the question – if your really are a superhero, why do you need an MBA? We’ve seen that the ‘why MBA‘ essay prompt is often an Achilles’ heel for even the strongest applicants.
4. Are there weaknesses I am aware of and don’t know what do to with?
Weaknesses can be of two varieties. The first would be weaknesses in your skills, soft skills – things that most of the times your recommenders have to elucidate. The other variety are weaknesses that are visible in your application profile.
If these and several such doubts plague you, it is a good idea to seek external help. While many of your weaknesses may not be recoverable/salvageable, a consultant may help you articulate these correctly to parry the blow these may have on your chances of an admit.
5. Can I decide what stories to highlight where?
Or some others may ask, do I have any stories? And, I don’t have anything significant I feel. The two ends of the spectrum here could be those who have too many or too few stories and then there is a big bell curve in between.
In any situation, it is critical to decide which story to use – not just in general, but within the purview of specific school essay questions. You need to understand what a particular essay prompt is asking for and then decide which of your sagas of success can best illustrate your suitability.
This, in our experience, is a pretty tough exercise and one that needs the most help. Some can do it while many others are straddled with self-doubt. Decide which bucket you belong to and take things from there.
Top 5 questions to assess a MBA admission consulting team
1. Are they good?
Simple question, but VERY tough to answer. And of course you cannot (you shouldn’t) just take their (or our?) word for it. So how do you get around it? Well the answer is that you never get around to it fully; but that doesn’t mean you should not even get a partial sense of it. There are multiple ways of doing this.
If you’ve had someone in your network use any and have a positive experience, that’s a great start. But don’t just stop there, for you don’t know what he/she did in terms of research. Check for evidence of quality – both within and without.
Let me explain. By within I mean, check who is in the team and whether they have the ‘right’ credentials. Without means exploring unbiased reviews of the team and their work (a quick Google search on ‘CompanyNameHere reviews‘ should give you enough to start). These will help you finally take that ‘leap of faith’ that will be required however much you research eventually, but hopefully, it will be a guided one.
Read How this candidate chose free MBA admission consulting and lost a year
2. Can I afford them?
There is a HUGE spectrum of choices available here. Right from your friendly neighbourhood GMAT coaching centers to the international consulting companies charging in dollars. Akin to buying a property, most of the time you would end up stretching things here.
But it is important to be aware of the kind of price point your favorite team falls in and put it into perspective in terms of your overall budget for the MBA education that will follow.
3. Who will I work with?
This is an important thing to check since different teams do this differently. While in some cases it is straightforward where what you see is what you get, in many cases, while you think you are working with someone, your essays are being actually worked upon by someone you’d not want inputs from.
How do you check if this is the case or not? It is pretty tough I admit, but at least ask the question and assess basis the response there.
4. Do they have a process?
Unlimited calls, any number of reviews, 24X7 support – all that sounds great. But is it?
The reason it is important to stress on this is because of how business schools view admission consultants who operated on the borderline of ethics. If you are associating with them, by corollary, you too are walking that tightrope.
Be clear to understand what the team will help with and what they won’t. Then assess if that is still correct within the purview of ethics or not. Many candidates might be tempted to just go with the flow here. But stop and ponder on this.
Even if a team helps you put in a ‘winning’ story, if it is not you, chances are that either the admissions committee will call your bluff or at some point in time either you would regret it or can come back to hound you. Best to be safe than sorry here.
5. How long have they been doing this?
I agree that there is a starting problem here; a team may be excellent but may have just begun. Should you put your bets on them? Maybe.
Go back to the first question for that. The easier way is to go with those who’ve been in the business for a while. The reason is because experience in this case can not only help drive quality, but it can also drive some speed to the process. The less surprises you have in the process, better it is.
So there you have it – the blueprint to decide whether to take help or not. This is by no means an exhaustive list but the idea is to provide some guidance which is becoming increasingly important with the proliferation of MBA consulting teams.
May the force (read best MBA admission consultant) be with you!
– UCLA Anderson rejects applicants for unethical MBA essay writing practices
– Don’t just depend on MBA admissions consultant reviews
– Don’t ‘outsource’ to MBA Admission Consultants
– Reapplicant’s story of how she made it into NUS after multiple rejections, with the right guidance
Image credit: meghan-oneill.com