If you’re applying to business school, you’ve likely wondered before whether you ought to be using admissions consultant. If so, you’re not alone: Many b-school applicants have this internal debate as they apply to programs.

In case you’re not familiar with the term, admissions consultants (we’ll call them ACs) provide people like yourself with advice on your b-school applications based on their years of experience in the industry and what they’ve seen from other applicants. They can offer a wide range of services, from high-level conversations about which schools to apply for to regular meetings about the minutia of a particular application. Sometimes you can access ACs through institutional admissions companies, such as Kaplan and Manhattan GMAT, however, many of them are individuals who do freelance consulting work.

The decision about whether or not to use an AC is tricky: On one hand, they can give you a leg up—especially if you come from a job that isn’t helping funnel you through the MBA admissions process—but they are also expensive and not worth it for everybody. Here’s some important information about what an admissions consultant can (and absolutely can’t) do, which will hopefully help you decide whether one is right for you.


What Admissions Counselors Can Do


Recommend Business Schools to Consider

All of the people I talked to who had used an AC said that their first conversation started with three questions: What was your GMAT score and undergraduate GPA? What organizations have you been working at since graduation? What are you hoping to get out of the business school experience?

A knowledgeable AC can use your answers to these questions to give you an overview of which programs could be a good fit for your profile, even if they’re not big-name schools. When I was applying, I talked to an AC once because I wanted help getting the lay of the land, and I found the experience to be very helpful because he suggested I check out a couple of schools that weren’t on my radar but that had compelling programs.


Help You Craft Your Narrative (Especially if You’re Non-traditional)

Many people use ACs to help them pull together all of the pieces of their application into a cohesive story. It can be difficult to highlight distinct aspects of your personal and professional narratives while ensuring that your application makes sense to admissions committees, and an AC can definitely talk with you about what to emphasize as you write essays and build your resume.

This can be especially helpful if you come from a non-traditional background (like me!), given that, by definition, you have made different professional choices from more traditional applicants. For example, a classmate of mine had held three different nonprofit jobs since graduating from undergrad. By asking probing questions, her AC helped her define the common theme between her jobs and articulate it in her essays.


Be an Extra Set of Eyes

Having an industry insider review your materials is a great extra set of eyes to use during the process. Most ACs will read through your final application before you click “submit,” helping you identify typos and make any necessary final tweaks.

This is particularly useful because most big finance and consulting firms offer extensive admissions consulting services to employees interested in business school—such as mentoring, application review, and a stipend to pay for GMAT prep courses—so working with an AC can help you get access to resources that others in the process will already be utilizing.


What Admissions Counselors Aren’t


Someone to Write Your Entire Application

ACs, along with other people who you work with during the admissions process, can of course review your application materials and give relevant advice. They cannot, however, write your essays or provide other material content. Not only would that be a misrepresentation of who you are, but admissions committees read thousands of applications a year and can tell when something is not written by the applicant. Make sure to keep everything you submit true to your work, regardless of whether you use an AC.


Cheap

This is the major reason most people choose not to work with an AC. They can be extremely expensive—think around $1,000 to work with you on a single application. Some charge a flat rate per application while others charge per hour, but regardless you’ll likely end up dropping some serious cash on their services. Coupled with the charges for the GMAT and school visits, ACs can really drive up the cost of applying to business school.


Able to Guarantee Admission

Perhaps it goes without saying, but no AC can guarantee that you will be accepted into the school of your dreams. I spoke with a couple of people who felt frustrated that they spent a lot of money on an AC but still did not get accepted into their top-choice program. If you choose to use an AC, make sure that you are realistic about what they’ll be able to help you with and what that means for your likelihood of admission to different programs.



Given all of the pros and cons, it can be difficult to decide whether or not to hire an admissions consultant. The people I spoke with who found ACs to be the most helpful came from non-traditional backgrounds and were not familiar with the b-school application process. Of course, if you really have a tight budget, don’t blow it all on an AC. You still have a solid shot at your dream school with hard work—and plenty of research into the admissions process on the web.



Have you worked with ACs that you really liked? Shout them out in the comments section so that other readers can check them out!


Photo of woman studying courtesy of Intel Free Press.