What is an MBA admissions consultant, and should you hire one?

BY Sydney LakeJuly 23, 2021, 2:00 AM
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Alma Aguilar had long dreamed of going to business school, but didn’t put her thought into action until her daughter was born. While sitting at home one day with their 6-week-old baby in December 2019, Aguilar and her husband discussed what type of parents they really wanted to be.

For years it had been Aguilar’s goal to earn an MBA from a top 20 program. She wanted help navigating the application process, so she reached out to Kaneisha Grayson, who owns The Art of Applying, an MBA admissions consultancy.

“I realized I wanted to be an example for my daughter—that I was not giving up on a really big dream that I had for a really long time at that point,” Aguilar says. “If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right this time,” she told herself at the time.

Grayson is an MBA admissions consultant who started her business while at Harvard University, where she earned both an MBA from Harvard Business School and master’s degree in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School. She works with prospective MBA applicants throughout their admissions processes on anything from brainstorming for essay questions to interview prep.

MBA admissions consultants can be beneficial for number of reasons. Grayson, as well as other admissions consultants like Chioma Isiadinso (founder and CEO of another admissions consultancy, Expartus), act as a resource for MBA hopefuls and help them both discover and articulate their “why business school” story.

Who needs an admissions consultant?

Before hiring an admissions consultant, Aguilar had tried navigating the process on her own. She did her research, took the GMAT and GRE, and even applied to (and was rejected by) one school. She was fixated on her relatively low GMAT score—as compared to student profiles from top business schools—until she realized she could instead highlight a strength in her application to show she could be successful in those programs.

“I could’ve gone and done all of my research on my own and spent all this time, but as a new mom I knew I needed an expert to really help me with the process,” Aguilar says.

Put simply, Grayson says people who might consider hiring an MBA admissions consultant are those who feel edged out by the stats they see online. Grayson and her team of MBA admission consultants specialize in helping what they refer to as “wildcard candidates.” Like many of their clients, Aguilar is a first-generation student who came from a low-income background. 

“I didn’t know what success looked like in terms of an application, so I knew I needed to work with someone who helps people be successful,” Aguilar says. After applying to four business schools with the assistance of a consultant with Grayson’s business, Aguilar earned a spot at University of Texas-Austin (McCombs), which is ranked No. 16 by Fortune. 

What do admissions consultants do?

Isiadinso spends a great deal of time with her clients on what she calls a “personal brand audit.” Essentially, her clients are asked to complete a lengthy questionnaire about their values, motivations, and passions. The idea is that by completing the brand audit, themes will start to emerge that can be used when responding to essay prompts

“In auditing the applicant’s life and the stories they share, if the evidence isn’t there, then it’s pretty clear that that’s not who they are,” she says.

This practice stemmed from the years Isiadinso spent as an admissions official at Harvard Business School

“What I noticed was that the people who are getting in weren’t necessarily the people you would assume would get in based on test scores or blue chip backgrounds,” she says. “So clearly it wasn’t the simple case of academics.”

Instead of a 750 GMAT score and 3.7 undergraduate GPA, what made Isiadinso want to take a second look at an application was the candidate’s story. “They were memorable,” she recalls. “There was something about their application that when you put it aside after reading, say, 20 applications, you remembered them.”

Some admissions consultancies will work with clients to identify their brand, their story, or something that makes them memorable. They’ll also work with clients on interview prep, selecting their recommenders, and some even offer in-house GMAT and GRE tutoring

Aguilar’s admissions consultant helped her look at all of the essay prompts for the schools she was applying to and ensure she was including all of the pieces of her story that were important to her—and not repeating herself. 

Her consultant also held two mock interviews for each of the four schools that she had applied to. The first mock interview was intended to get initial feedback and the second one helped to refine her answers. 

“One thing that’s really important for applicants to know is it’s not about working on each part of the application in sequence. It’s about finding the balance between working on multiple parts of the application process in parallel,” Grayson says. “We provide the structure to make that manageable.”

Is it worth the investment?

Both applying for and attending an MBA program is a huge investment in time and money. Hiring an admissions consultant can be pricey out of pocket, but the potential return on investment could be worth it. 

Most admissions consultancies offer a variety of packages. Some charge by the hour, some charge by the number of schools to which you’re applying, and some offer a-la-carte options based on your needs (whether it be GMAT tutoring, essay editing, interview prep, or the like). Hourly rates tend to float around $300, while packages with more services can cost up to $8,000—but that’s also an investment in your future. 

Expect to save time looking for answers and achieve better results, Grayson says. “When they make that purchase, make that commitment, they should be looking for a return on that investment.”

Isiadinso, Grayson, and Aguilar agree that hiring an MBA admissions consultant is like hiring any other expert. Just as someone might hire a personal trainer to get in shape or a consultant to help with a business problem, an admissions consultant can offer expertise. 

Grayson and her team were able to help Aguilar not only secure her admission to business school, but land a well-deserved, merit-based scholarship to go with it.

“Money is a really important piece,” Aguilar says. “So in my scenario, I got my money back in terms of what I paid—and more.”