“We got along great on the phone.”
“I really liked how she sounded.”
“Well, he seems too demanding.”
When asked why they chose to work with – or not work with – a particular MBA admissions consultant, those are some frequent answers from business school applicants. While rapport and likeability are important considerations in any relationship, when it comes to the high-stakes world of MBA admissions, there are other, equally important criteria to consider that could make the difference between admission and rejection. An admissions campaign is not a prom date, a slumber party or a camping trip. It’s a serious collaboration with one specific, tangible goal – getting accepted by your targeted business school. So, when picking an advisor, there’s a lot more to consider.
10 key considerations for astute applicants
Based on nearly 20 years of working with thousands of applicants at The MBA Exchange, we present 10 essential considerations – beyond “personality” – when selecting an admissions consultant:
No candidate wants to work with a rookie advisor. So, you’ll want to confirm that a prospective consultant has advised prior applicants with profiles and objectives like yours. This way, you benefit from the lessons learned by the consultant from previous client engagements.
2. Admissions Process Knowledge
It can be advantageous for some applicants to be paired with a consultant who served previously as an admission officer, admissions committee member, admissions evaluator or interviewer. While such credentials don’t automatically translate directly into consulting effectiveness, they can add value in some instances.
3. Professional and Personal Background
Having an advisor who is currently working, or previously worked, in the same industry as you can be a big plus. He or she understands the real-world issues you face and can help you translate jargon to help admissions committees better understand your resume. The same is true in terms of geography and culture – a consultant who has lived and worked in same region as you can help clarify experiences that differentiate a candidacy. And another possible advantage comes from working with an advisor who shares some of your personal interests and hobbies. So, scrutinize published profiles and have a 1-on-1 phone chat with the top choice to learn more about your proposed consultant before you accept a match.
4. Accessibility and Responsiveness
Applying to business school is stressful. Even the most talented admissions consultant is not truly committed if he or she doesn’t reply to you within 24 hours or less, 7 days a week. So, it makes good sense to confirm in advance that the consultant is obliged to get back to you within that timeframe, even as the application deadlines approach. Note: this doesn’t mean that “full-time” consultants are always better than “part-timers.” The former can be overloaded by a larger number of clients whereas the latter can be more in control of his or her own day and thus more responsive to a smaller roster.
5. Proprietary Process and Tools
Efficient and effective admissions campaigns can’t rely solely on unstructured brainstorming sessions. There needs to be a proven structure and framework in place so applicants can organize and prioritize their efforts and drive quality at every step. So, the admissions consultant needs the skill and understanding to customize and leverage proprietary tools to benefit you throughout the engagement.
6. Constructive Communication
This aspect of a consultant’s presence is different than just having an appealing “personality.” A successful consultant must listen, speak and write with confidence, clarity and actionability. Clients may not always like what they are asked or told, but it’s essential that they understand the questions and trust the guidance presented by the consultant. Furthermore, the applicant must feel at ease in expressing doubts, fears or uncertainties. The client and consultant are a team, in every sense of the word.
7. Work Load
It’s important to the applicant that his or her advisor is not supporting an excessive number of clients, each of whom assumes “infinite” support. This can lead to burnout and unavailability that puts your candidacy at risk. So, it’s wise to look for a limited client roster and a liberal time allocation for each engagement that ensures you’ll get all of the attention and support that your campaign needs at each stage of the engagement.
8. Emergency Backup
Life can have surprises. If your admissions consultant has an unexpected personal emergency, what happens to your admissions campaign if he or she is suddenly unavailable? That’s why it’s essential to engage a consultant from a firm where another highly qualified, fully committed consultant can step in and advance your campaign, smoothly and seamlessly.
9. Support Specialists
The most effective consultants are those who see the big picture and can help you frame a strategy to conveys your most compelling candidacy. However, there are tactical aspects to a campaign that also require expertise – social media audits, career coaching, essay editing, video essay development, etc. In most cases, those activities are supported better by dedicated specialists than by an admissions consultant.
10. A Choice of Candidates
There’s no reason for an applicant to accept the one and only consultant that an admissions firm presents. The more options you have to compare and consider, the better decision you can make. So, ask for a “short list” of qualified, vetted candidates so you can then identify those you feel would be the best possible match.
Of course, “personality” remains an important consideration when evaluating a potential admissions consultant. In fact, The MBA Exchange offers all of our prospective Comprehensive Consultation clients the option for a “chemistry chat” with their potential lead consultant. However, decisions based solely on rapport are not likely to produce the positive outcome – MBA admission – that motivated you to engage a consultant in the first place. So, we advise you to use this 10-item “punch list” to make certain you get an advisor who is likely to deliver the attention, advice and satisfaction you deserve.