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How to Select an Admissions Consultant

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Admissions consultant

Over 50% of applicants to the top 10 MBA programmes globally hire an admissions consultant to make sure they really maximize their chance of admission.

At least, this is the estimate given by some of the leading consultants. Competition for a place in the top business schools’ classes is fierce. Applicants are in the thousands, and the admission rate is really tiny – about 10-15%. Most of the applicants for the best b-schools have a 700-plus GMAT score, so this is not a differentiator which you can count on.

The only solution then is to focus on your application portfolio and craft it so that it portrays you in a way that encourages the schools to include you in their incoming class, and later on their alumni list. Needless to say, your profile has to reflect your true identity, not a make-believe person. The art here is to uncover and touch on those important details and nuances which make the difference and are relevant to your development as a business leader.

An important prerequisite, however, is to have selected the schools which are a good match for you, your goals and profile. If school selection is not adequate, then you are yourself diminishing your chance of success. Remember that there are thousands of business programmes around the world and those which appear in the rankings are really just the cherries on the cake. There are many other excellent MBA programmes which do not appear in the rankings. This is due to various reasons, not necessarily related to the quality of the experience or the value of the diploma which you will take away from the programme.

When to hire an admissions consultant

Working with a professional by your side, like with a coach in sports, is worthwhile when applying for admission to any programme which seems a challenge for you. This may be a top 10 or a top 250 programme, a top 5 programme internationally or a top 1 locally. If you have made an informed decision that the school is a good match for you, and if you are committed to competing for a place in the next class, then employ professional help to maximise your chances. In this way you will be confident that you have done everything possible within your control.

Professionalism and ethics

It has to be said right away that there has been debate about the role of admissions consultants. Some extremists have even claimed that it is akin to cheating to seek help with your application. If the final product is not your own authentic work, then this is of course true. Honestly, cheating is not worthwhile: you cannot pretend to be someone you are not, because if you are admitted you will be who you are. Even if you present a perfect essay as part of your application, yet can’t deliver written work of the same standard during your studies, neither you nor the school will ultimately be happy.

It is a matter of ethics and professionalism both on your side and on the side of the consultants. There are professional associations of admissions consultants which are busy building ethical standards. One such example is the US-originated Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, which “promotes high ethical standards and professional development amongst graduate admissions consultants”. Among the principles to which AIGAC members adhere is to “insist that clients write their own essays, and to advocate that clients’ recommenders write their own recommendations.”

How to select your consultant

Consulting is one of those services that are best provided face-to-face, but are now widely accessible globally due to communication technologies. Nowadays, you can hire a consultant in another continent and communicate via Skype or other interactive teleconferencing tools, as long as you feel comfortable in this environment. This makes the choice frankly unlimited. Here are some tips on how to identify a good consultant.

Step 1. Within your budget.

Of course, price is often a limiting factor. Most consultants still determine their fees according to their major market (US or Western Europe) or serve only applicants targeting top schools (up to top 25) and keep the fees high because of the high stakes and return on investment when students obtain admission to such programmes. For initial orientation alone, the average international consulting fees are about EUR 150 per hour, and the full coaching for application to one school takes about 10 hours of the consultant’s time. Many consultants offer packages for application to more than one school, which reduces the per-hour cost. Using stand-alone services (i.e. help just for the essays) is not recommended when you are applying to highly challenging programmes.

Step 2. Experience with your targeted calibre of schools and similar applicant profiles.

It is not a must that the consultant has success stories with getting applicants admitted to your targeted schools. There is always a first time! However, it is important that he/she has had success with applicants to similar schools in terms of selectivity. If you are considering working with an international consultant, it is recommended that he/she is familiar with your culture and has worked with applicants with similar profiles.

Step 3. Suited to your profile.

Many consultants select their clients on the basis of whether their help will be effective. Consultants would like to have a high success rate, so they will not be ready to work with just any applicant. If a consultant sees clearly that he/she cannot take you where you want to go, then your interest in hiring him/her may be declined. Ultimately, this is fair and mutually beneficial. Why spend your time and money working with someone who does not believe you can make it?

Step 4. Check their ethical standards.

When it comes to choosing between several consultants, check their professionalism and ethics. It is not necessary that they are a member of a professional association such as AIGAC. However, you should check whether they follow similar principles. Also, please remember that no one can guarantee you admission to the programmes. Admission is a multifaceted process in which many factors are taken into consideration by the admissions staff and the members of the committee.

Step 5. Trust your intuition

Consulting is a process which involves a lot of trust, and human chemistry also comes into play. Trust your sixth sense when making the final choice. You have to feel comfortable with your consultant for the process to be effective.

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