Jan 29, 2011

How to select the right MBA Consultant?

Selecting the right MBA admissions consultant is a critical decision during your business school application process, one that can sway your career and life in one way or the other. It can also be pretty expensive. Good MBA consultants work with you more as friends, candidly highlighting the strengths in your profile while addressing the concerns from your background. They bring their knowledge, expertise, experience and perspective about the admissions process to help you present your candidacy to the adcom of your target business schools in the best possible light. On the other hand, a bad MBA consultant cannot just waste your time and money but also takes away the core of your efforts - to get the admission to the school of your choice.

Ask Questions-

A search on on MBA admissions consultants will probably bring more than tens of thousands of results. While many aspirants are instantly attracted to the most visible consultants, thinking that the skill to generate hourly blogs, tweets and 'insider secrets' handbooks correlates to their success in the admissions process. Other candidates get attracted to smaller MBA consultants that offer editing et al but lack the experience and knowledge to add a real value to your applications. Many consultants boast about their tenure in this industry. Experience can be helpful but not a guaranteed success indicator. To play a devil's advocate, ask yourself - Who can be a better advisor? One who is in the industry for a very long time but out of B school for years or the one who graduated few years back and has worked in the admissions committee of his/her school and thus, is better aware of the admissions process? Do not get fooled by the advertisements. Ask some tough questions (look at the sidebar) before signing that fat check. Just because a consultant is all over B school forums, twitter, internet advertisements, publishes "how to" books, or charges a premium, doesn't make him/her the best in the business. Do not to forget that many may charge exorbitant fee, often less for the actual service and more for supporting the visibility they generate through their marketing efforts!

Substance over Make-up -

Do not use MBA consultants who offer editing the essays at a rate that looks amazingly attractive compared to some other good consultants. Think for a moment about what the Adcom members of all the top business schools are screaming out loud : Content, Content, and Content. While a good language structure and choice of words helps, essays without substance have absolutely no value, even if Shakespeare writes them. You need an advisor who not only get the language and structure right, but package your application's core message and maximize the impact of that message. If you come across someone who claims to edit your essays, without knowing your goals and without asking for your resume, it should immediately raise a red flag.

Fee: Expense or Investment?

The fees of a good MBA consultant will naturally be more than that of a bad one. It is for the same reason why you have to BUY your Bose headphones while you get a generic one for free at many airlines - QUALITY. Keep the big picture in mind. Don't forget that you will probably be spending more than $130K AND around two years of your life in the MBA school. Hence, it is critical that you get into the best school you could possibly get into. This is not the best place for bargain hunting. Quality matters here. Go for a good consultant, even if that means spending a bit more. As far as the cost is concerned, the payback on the fee of a good consultant will break even, even before you graduate (just compare the average internship salary of a tier 1 school v/s a tier 2 one) ! Start thinking like an MBA now.

However, it also does not mean that you need to pay through your nose. Understand the market segments that various MBA consultants are catering to. For e.g. An average Indian aspirant may not be the real target customer of these expensive consultants who charges $7000+/applicant. It is a different matter that if you want to shell out that much, you become one. It is critical for these consultants to maintain a high visibility and hence, you will find them all over the internet such as on Business Week forum and on the websites that work just as storage boxes for essays and deadlines of various business schools so that aspirants stumble upon their websites, even if by chance.

It also does not mean that you have go to your local jack-of-all-trade consultants who may look very attractive because of low pricing when compared to $7000+ fees but hardly bring any value to your application (Read the section below to know why, with Indian market as an example). As we said earlier, ask tough questions. Put money where you feel you think you will get the maximum value.

Indian Applicants -

Stay away from so-called consultants who offer consulting for everything from CAT to MS to MBA for few reasons -

- Most of these consultants themselves are not the MBAs from any of the top international B schools to really understand the business school admissions process. They may have expertise in CAT or MS admissions but offer MBA admissions just to create another vertical in their business, without any expertise. If you hire these consultants, you will be just wasting your money.
- Most of these consultants are completely focused on CAT or GRE/MS candidates because that's where the volume is. Simple demand-supply concept. They don't have a separate specialized MBA process for business schools and for them a B school essay is no different than a MS's Statement Of Purpose.  They just try to form-fit your application to that of the MS admission's templates. Anyone who understands the business school admission well will know that this notion can not be more false!
- Essays are probably the most important part of B school admissions. If your consultant is ready to proofread/edit your essays without knowing your background and goals, it should immediately raise a red flag. A good consultant will talk to you, flush out your goals and stories, and then helps you present them in a manner that is not only effective but also logical and compliment other parts of your application.
- Most probably, you will not be working with the main consultant and will be assigned to someone who is actually no more than an admin staff! We have seen few applications from these consultants, and they left a lot to be desired. If you are one of those who used their services, you'd know first hand what are we talking about.
- They may be comparatively cheap, and for the reasons mentioned before. Ask yourself what is more important - Few thousand rupees or admission to the school of your choice?

We recommend that spend some money and use a consultant who himself/herself is a B school graduate and knows the B school admissions process inside out. Stay away from those who are willing to just edit essays because all they'll do is just change the structure a bit, rearrange the sentences, a nip here and a tuck there. What you need is not a flowery language for your essays, but the content that is supported by the right language to bring substance to your application and have the maximum impact. 

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