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Finding the Best MBA Admissions Consultant

When you began your search for the best MBA admissions consultant, the first dilemma you probably encountered was that every admissions consulting firm seemed to have identical 5-star ratings. Will the real Slim Shady please stand up? We’re gonna have a problem here…

Personal MBA Coach [67]
August Academy [51]
myEssayReview [92]
mbaMission [1079]
ApplicantLab [81]
Stacy Blackman Consulting [558]
Amerasia [72]
Vantage Point [65]
MBAPrepSchool [78]
MBA Admit [45]
Fortuna Admissions [147]
Sia Admissions [5]
ARLee Consulting [9]
Prep MBA [65]
Gurufi [2]
Veritas Prep [414]
Stratus [168]

If you’ve already read a lot of reviews, heard conflicting advice from friends and colleagues, and are still struggling to find the right consultant, you know that finding the best MBA admissions consultant is not quite as easy as it sounds.

The truth is that you’ll have to learn a few things about reviews, rankings, and how MBA admissions consulting firms really work if you want to make the right decision.

MBA Admissions Consulting Reviews

Reviews like the ones shown above do have their uses, in the sense that reading them carefully can sometimes produce insights. But did you realize that:

MBA Admissions consulting review

If you want the full details about reviews, see MBA Admissions Consulting Reviews: Are They Real?. TL;DR: you can’t rely exclusively on reviews. And these reviews, with their issues, are the basis for the rankings you’ll see online. To provide more transparency, we offer video case studies and reviews with real former clients at Menlo Coaching reviews. But that’s not the point of this article, which is meant to educate you generally about the MBA admissions consulting industry.

Like anything valuable, finding the best admissions consultant requires effort. If you want to find a consultant who can give you an advantage in the MBA admissions process, you have to learn how MBA admissions consulting firms differ. Because if your consultant is the same as everyone else’s consultant… you can’t expect distinctive results.

So How Do (Most) MBA Admissions Consulting Firms Work?

Menlo Coaching is different, which we’ll get to later, but two common models dominate the industry.

Model #1: Hire MBA Graduates as Consultants

Many MBA admissions consulting firms are founded by MBA graduates, who go on to hire other MBA graduates.  It sounds logical, but is based on a huge assumption that could be summarized as:

I have an MBA, therefore I am an expert in MBA admissions

Think of it this way.  If you’re reading this article, you almost certainly have a college degree.  Are you an expert college admissions counselor? Of course not. Just because a person was admitted to an MBA does not mean that they have a great talent for creating MBA applications. People are admitted to MBA programs for many reasons beyond the quality of their applications, including:

These factors may have helped your consultant, but your consultant’s amazing background won’t do anything to help you win admission. We hire coaches for their fundamental skills in developing others, telling captivating stories, and helping others to write clearly and concisely. Besides the fact that an MBA is not a reliable signal of being a great MBA admissions consultant, you also have to wonder…

Is MBA admissions consulting a desirable post-MBA career?

Let’s put it this way.  Since 2007, we have never met an applicant whose post-MBA career goal was to become an MBA admissions consultant. MBA graduates expect high compensation.  Because an MBA costs $150,000 in tuition, $50,000 in living expenses, and two years of lost earnings, this is only fair. Let’s be generous and assume that your consultant isn’t motivated only by money.  They’re happy to accept $160,000.  (I know some consultants making $200,000.) What does it take to make $160,000 as an MBA admissions consultant?

Most MBA admissions consultants work on a part-time, freelance basis, splitting revenues 50/50 with the company.  You might pay $8,000 for a three-school package, with your consultant taking home $4,000. This means that your consultant needs to take on >40 clients per year to make their target income.  This is too many clients to give you the attention you need.  For those of you who have never coached MBA applicants… 40 clients is a LOT.

We target 20 clients per coach, per year, because we know that having enough time for you is an important part of helping you get your offer.  We make the numbers work through a mix of:

Even so, we still have to charge higher prices to maintain our low ratio of clients to coaches, and we don’t apologize for this.  The financial value of a great application in terms of getting you into a better school (with higher post-MBA earnings) or getting you a bigger scholarship is an order of magnitude larger than this difference in prices.

Back to the other firms, even this super-high client load still doesn’t make admissions consulting the most lucrative post-MBA job in town.  Which brings us to the real question…

Why else do MBA graduates become MBA admissions consultants?

Because they want the flexibility to balance admissions consulting with other commitments, like bootstrapping a startup, or even a full-time corporate job.  Will your applications really be the #1 priority for such a consultant?

Some firms market their “full-time” consultants, but they might define this differently than we do.  For example, we met one “full-time MBA admissions consultant” who also held a Director-level role at a media agency, and another who was running a family office that invested in real estate.

At Menlo Coaching, we work full-time, year-round in the same physical office (with a few exceptions — when we relocated, we didn’t fire the staff who couldn’t move with us), and we welcome you to visit us and work with us in person. We do it this way because coaches for whom MBA admissions is a career, not a side hustle, work harder and do a better job.

Model #2: Hire Former MBA Admissions Officers as Consultants

This is the alternative to hiring MBA graduates, and firms that go this way often promise that their consultants will have “insider secrets”. But is the hard part of MBA admissions knowing what a great application looks like, or is it knowing how to create it?  To say it another way, if you wanted to cook a great steak, would you ask a restaurant critic or a chef?

MBA admissions advice: critics vs. doers

Creating a great application from scratch is totally different from judging the quality of a finished application.  Some admissions officers may have the fundamental skills to become good admissions consultants, but it’s not because they have “insider secrets from MBA admissions gatekeepers”.  As Pascal Michels, Admissions Director at IESE, told us in an interview, what admissions officers want is simple: students who can handle the coursework, get a great job, and help their classmates along the way.

“Matching” You to an MBA Admissions Consultant

Some firms make a big deal about matching you with a consultant who “fits” your profile, but the importance of “fit” pales in comparison to the importance of quality.  Here’s why you should (mostly) ignore the usual theories of “fit”:

Susan Went to Your Target School.  She’s a Great Fit!

This sounds logical: your consultant knows all about the programs at your target school.  But not so fast.

First, schools change quickly.  Try using Google to find any traces of the “Wharton Entrepreneurship Program (WEP)”, which was one of the school’s flagship programs back in 2016.  As I write this page in 2019, I see a few traces on YouTube, but otherwise the replacement of WEP by the Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship program is complete.

Second, the schools are dying to offer you information about their programs.  For free! Every major school offers campus visits, class visits, information sessions online and in major cities, and most of them have a group of MBA student ambassadors who have volunteered to speak to prospective students.

You’ll need to do your own research anyway — telling the stories of your interactions with students and alumni is a core part of the application.

John Works In Your Target Industry.  He’s a Great Fit!

In this case, there is a grain of truth here.  A consultant who knows your industry can quickly understand your professional background and future career path.  But might a working professional be… busy?

Finance, tech and manufacturing executives

Furthermore, consultants with full-time corporate jobs simply don’t see enough applications to develop their judgment.  Like private equity or venture capital, MBA admissions consulting is a deal flow business where you have to see a lot of cases to develop your judgment.

If the consultant is a former professional in your target industry, that’s nice.  Just don’t forget who you’re writing for: an admissions officer who doesn’t know your industry or its jargon.

Matching and “Fit” Are a Myth.  Quality is King!

Finally, this brings us to the crux of the problem: what SHOULD you be evaluating when you hire an MBA admissions consultant?  Asking the right questions will help you identify a coach who can deliver a good result for you.

Does Your MBA Coach Care About Your Results?

Any responsible coach wants their clients to succeed.  MBA admissions consulting is effective, but it’s not magic that can get any applicant in at any school.  A responsible consultant will always pre-screen clients to check that their goals are basically reasonable.

This does not mean that you need to be an elite applicant.  Even if you have some weaknesses, you can still succeed, and at Menlo Coaching, we have worked with applicants who were unemployed, ones who had failed out of college, ones with criminal convictions, and more.  But these clients had other incredible strengths that made up for it, and we laid out a realistic picture of their odds up front.

If you see a “Buy it Now” button on an admissions consulting website, this is a bad sign.  It means that the company cares more about their income than your results.

What is Their Success Rate?

This is actually a trick question.  Results are incredibly important, but how could you ever verify a firm’s claims?  Good luck finding current audit reports for any of the “CPA Verified” statistics.  If it sounds too good to be true… it probably is. Furthermore, success rates are easy to manipulate in two ways:

Instead, you should be asking the consultant about YOUR chances, which helps you to judge…

Is Your Coach Honest?

If you’re hearing something far too optimistic — “Yeah, with a great essay, you could definitely be admitted to HBS” — they’re telling you what you want to hear, not what you need to hear.  Most candidates at HBS or Stanford will be declined.  This is not a bold statement given the schools’ acceptance rates of around 11% and 6% respectively.

You might also hear something overly pessimistic.  If you have a great GMAT and GPA, early promotions at work, and leadership in extracurricular activities, but your potential consultant is telling you that you’d be lucky to win admission even to a lower-ranked school, and you need all the help you can get… they’re probably trying to set you up to be grateful for an average result later.

You want to hear a realistic assessment, which requires you to have at least a basic understanding of “What are my odds of being accepted?”.

Another way to judge whether a firm prioritizes your success is to evaluate:

Is the Service Designed Around Your Needs or the Firm’s Needs?

Some firms prioritize time saving for themselves when designing their process.  Each of the italicized phrases was copy/pasted from a major firm’s intake document:

Please review the Essay Writing and Personal Statements chapters in the ______ MBA Admissions Guide

Just what you needed.  Reading “The 90-day Step-by-Step Plan to MBA Admissions (now with extra footnotes)” before you start work! At Menlo Coaching, we provide instructional materials that fit your busy schedule:

Please do not send your brainstorming document to your consultant without including the essay prompts AND your initial ideas for potential topics for each essay

At Menlo Coaching, our administrative staff retrieve the essay prompts and recommender questions for you. Brainstorming begins with a call to hear your personal background.  This takes more time, but writing a great MBA application is a creative process, and it cannot be reduced to any template, formula or worksheet.

Please refrain from adding redlined, highlighted, or colored content or inserting comments in document.

Who is working for whom here?  At Menlo Coaching, we are clear on the fact that we are working for you.

What’s in the Package?

Our packages are unlimited because:

Some firms have formal or informal policies that limit the number of phone calls, iterations on an essay, mock interviews, or similar, and you may or may not hear about these before you become a client.

Unlimited really means unlimited, though we’ll tell you bluntly what’s optimal for your chances of acceptance.  After six mock interviews, we told one applicant that continuing to practice the same questions could leave him sounding too scripted.  And with another applicant, by the time we’d reached v38 of the essay, we reviewed it as a team and told him that everything after v30 had harmed the essay’s quality and recommended strongly that he revert his changes.

Were the Coaches Hired For Their Fundamental Skills in Coaching and Writing?

Our coaching team includes:

In short, everyone was recruited for their skills in writing, storytelling and developing young professionals like you.

Do the Coaches Work as a Team?

At Menlo Coaching, we work together in the same physical office, which allows us to discuss cases on a daily basis.  You get the benefit of having multiple experienced coaches review your materials, but you have the security of a single, dedicated contact who knows everything about you.

Menlo Coaching office

Some firms may use a team approach in which you work with different people for different steps of the process.  You might work with “the strategy guy”, “the school guy”, “the essay guy”, “the resume guy”, and so on. A team of specialists leaves you with no one who has the full picture about you and your applications.

Other firms that work remotely may do their best to coordinate and share experiences, but if you’ve ever worked with clients or colleagues in a different office, you know that it’s just not the same.

Yet other consultants are one- or two-person operations, and simply don’t have anyone to ask for a second opinion.  It’s only human nature that everyone, including us, can have blind spots, and this is why we work as a team.

Ready to Begin?

If you find yourself agreeing with a lot of what we’ve written here, and want a coach who is focused on doing everything possible to maximize your chances of MBA acceptance, contact us today to save your spot.  We look forward to speaking with you.