Getting an MBA is possibly one of the biggest investments of your life. As you ponder a hundred-thousand-dollar-plus investment, there is likely to be a realization that you cannot do something as important as this on your own.
While friends or colleagues may help, rarely do they have the expertise to move the needle much in terms of your chances of acceptance to a top program (even if they are there already), and how much can you really bug them? That is why some half of all applicants use an admissions consultant.
Given that the acceptance rates at most top programs hover around 10 percent, it’s a good idea to have an expert guide you. With that in mind, here are some things to think about as you look to engage your own MBA admissions consultant.
1. Understand what an MBA consultant is going to do for you.
A consultant is far more than just a proofreader or a mock interviewer. A good consultant is part sherpa, critic, life-coach, and expert. A good MBA consultant will help you understand what about you can land you in a top program, while being candid about where you need to improve. Ideally, they will also throw in a dose of reality in terms of which schools are reaches, which are targets, and which are likelies.
2. How well will your MBA consultant get to know you?
Be on the lookout for consultants who don’t spend time getting to know who you are in a personal way. Many consultants will take a one-size-fits-all approach. The best MBA consultants figure out how you are different, interesting, and someone business schools will love to have as part of their community. Without intimate knowledge of you, they can’t help you create an application like no one else’s.
3. How will they help you tell your unique story?
What dooms most good candidates, is that they look like many other candidates. This is particularly true if you are in a competitive sub-pool of applicants. Remember, there is always someone with just a little better GPA, GMAT, or work experience. So you need to make sure that the narrative that you are presenting through your application is uniquely yours and clearly explains why YOU (and not someone else) needs to get an MBA at that particular school.
4. Are they knowledgeable?
Consultants should keep up with the latest developments in business schools and admissions practices. Is the one you’re considering part of the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC)? AIGAC has developed a very close relationship with the business schools and their admissions staff to better understand what the ideal applicant for each school “looks” like. In real terms, this dictates which of your strengths should be emphasized at which schools. It is always important to remember that business schools are not commodities, and they don’t want to be considered as such. Essays for Wharton, Stanford, and Harvard are fundamentally different. Does the MBA consultant know what that difference is? Can they help you craft your essays appropriately?
5. Can your MBA consultant help you find your match?
It is easy to identify the top-10 or so reach schools that everyone knows – just look at the media rankings. But for those of you who are looking for schools beyond the top ten or so, does the consultant have a sense of which of the next 10 – 20 school are right for you? There are MBA programs in the top-20 that are aggressively recruiting women by providing scholarship money. Similarly, there are schools that are looking for international applicants. Can the consultant connect you with the MBA programs that fit your needs?
6. How will your MBA consultant work with you?
All of us have different work styles, and preferences in terms of how we want to communicate, how we are most receptive to feedback, and what sort of hand-holding we may need. Be able to communicate how you want to work and if this is going to be an issue. An MBA consultant that only does email, while you want a touch base call every Monday; or a consultant who only works weekends, while you like fast iterations during the week, is probably not right for you. Remember you’re the client, and they have to adjust to you, not the other way around.
Finally, what can frequently make a big difference in terms of the quality of the final product is whether you and the consultant actually like each other. Are they as invested in the process as you are? Will they cry as hard as you when you finally land that dream acceptance? While it may be hard to tell this upfront, a preliminary consultation call will at least tell if you are going to mesh personally. This can make all the difference when working your way through the challenging, intensive, personal – and ultimately fulfilling – MBA admissions process. After all, if you are engaging an MBA admissions consultant to guide you on your MBA journey, you want a trusted advisor with whom you can have a long-term relationship.