I received a question from someone today who reads my Blog regarding admissions consultants. My response was surprisingly long. I concluded that it might be a good idea to put it as a Blog entry so I don't have to re-write it again.
Do you have any advice / recomendations about essay services. There seems to be a lot of mixed advice on the boards about these services.
As of May 2012, you can find all the Admissions Consultants Reviews on GMAT Club: Admissions Consultants Reviews.
Good question. When I started my app process, I had the same question. Here is what I did and I hope my learning experience helps you. I also have a link there to a Blogger who provides a review of many of them.
The first thing I did was send an e-mail to 20 people who are currently in the top MBA schools. I asked them if they had used them. I got back a 100% response and found that 15% of them used them. There is a national statistic that shows about 2-5% of MBA applicants use MBA consultants on various parts of their application process.
The boards are full of idiots and insecure people. 90% of whom never make it to a top business school. Misconceptions are rampant regarding essay consultants. First of all, they don't write your essays. They don't lay it all out for you. Their purpose is to help you create an application package that does several things. 1) Craft an essay that reflects who you are at the core of all that you stand for which is what MBA Schools want to hear 2) Comment on where you could improve the essay in a way that is far more appealing to the admission boards 3) Make sure you stay on track in answering the question in the best way possible. 4) Serve as a mentor. 5) Help you to think through in a structured way your reasons for getting an MBA.
They'll even suggust what schools to apply to and tell you which schools may be a stretch for you. They'll also help you strategize your application appeal by suggesting that you take classes if necessary to improve your chances. Moreover, they'll help you to reign in your expectations to be optimistic, yet not lose sight of reality in choosing the schools you'll want to consider applying to based on the reasons why you want an MBA, background and your GPA/GMAT stats.
Clear Admit has a questionnaire that you fill out before working with them. It's amazingly extensive and very difficult to fill out because it asks tough questions which are in line with what you should be thinking about when you write your essays. Reviewing it together helps you to think through your application reasons and helps them to get to know you better. They also comment on what is appropriate and inappropriate to mention on applications.
Many of the Admissions Consultants are MBA grads or better yet, were previously associate directors at a top MBA school. Clear Admit for example has two staff members. Graham was a Wharton Associate Admissions Director for 8 years before starting the business with Ingram.
As I see it, you can write your essays on your own, but you HAVE to do a lot of homework on your own to make sure you understand the app process and what each school is about. Moreover, you have to have a lot of confidence that you can write your essays well and know the difference between things to address such as having to deal with particular weaknesses or ignoring them altogether. Sometimes what we consider a weakness, the schools don't care. For example. If you're 35. It doesn't matter that you're older. Rather it matters what you did with your life during that time. Actually, whether you use them or not, you should really do your homework.
Working with an admissions consultant means you are getting your essays read by two admissions committees. If your consultant really likes it, then consider that a thumbs up approval of an admission committe. Moreover, if they were a previous admissions director then you have a huge advantage over other's that are writing in the dark. I have a cousin who graduated from Harvard Business School last year. He informed me that he may not be a good source to review essays as everyone he helped did not get into HBS. So students may not be the best source for essay reviewers. But with an admission consultant who has reviewed and likes them, your chances of acceptance are greatly improved. I have ABSOLUTELY no doubt about it. On the other hand, having people who have written good essays that were accepted to those schools you are interested in is a great resource. It's a good idea to have people that know you very little to review your essays as the admission committe members won't know you either. Getting a fresh perspective on your essay's from strong MBA candidates or from those who have been accepted are one your best resources for feedback. I've done that and have received great feedback. In fact their feedback has been instrumental in moving my essays up another notch.
It may be a good idea to use an admin consultant with your initial strategy and planning stages. However, I haven't used them for my essay's because I have done enough research and I feel comfortable with how my essay's have turned out thus far. Who knows.. that may change.
Having said all this, a big factor is obviously price. At anywhere between $130 to $200 / hr it's not cheap. A strategy review session alone will cost you $600. I say, if you can afford it, do it. But, you can get some info from them for free. For example, Linda of Accepted.com answer questions daily on www.gmatclub.com. Graham answers all the questions for Clear Admit on Business Week. You can call them too and get a few questions answered. Cambridge Essay also provides a one time feedback of your first essay with them for free. You may want to check them out. Although, they charge by the hour generally, you can negotiate with some of them to lock in a package price of a set number of schools and essay's that you'll be applying to. That way, they are guaranteed your business, but you won't have to pay as much without the agreement. www.mbaapplicant.com is one company I've heard that will that negotiates prices, but so do many of the other companies.
The number one rule when using them though is that you have to feel that they have your best interests at heart and that they will go to bat for you. What I mean is.... will they respond quickly and will they provide a quick turn around when you really really need it despite their own busy schedule. It's probably a good idea to talk with them a bit too to see if you can detect the X factor chemistry thing as well. More importantly, you have to see that they are being brutally honest with you, but aren't out to leave you devestated.
In summary, admission consultants are highly useful. They provide strategic mentoring targeted at improving ones chances... not handing it to you. There are never guarantees. There is only improving ones chances in the application race. However, I have not yet heard of anyone who has used an admissions consultant who hasn't gotten into at least one of their choice schools. Although I'm sure there are those that don't get in even after having used one.. it's definitely a very small percentage.