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A brief survey of the MBA admission consulting market

April 13th, 2009 · Comments

When I applied MBA program eight years ago, there were a few MBA admission consultants. I never used any of them. But, if you search "MBA Admission Consultant " on Google today, it’s mind-boggling how many MBA admission consultants are coming back in the search results.

MBA Admission Consulting is a booming industry. I have to admit that I had a "sticker shock" when I first saw how much those consultants were charging. I’m very curious — how many people are using consultants to gain a competitive edge in the MBA application process? Why are there so many consultants out there? How big is the MBA admission consulting industry? Who are the big players? etc.

I did some research. Below is a brief survey of the MBA admission consulting market. Please feel free to correct me if I missed anything –  I’d like to keep refining this guide to make it more useful for folks.

Product

I have noticed several variations of MBA admission consulting services:

1. "Comprehensive package": a service package that covers all stages of MBA application process, including application essay, interview, recommendation letter strategy, financial aid, etc. 

2. Packaged service focus on one particular area of application: for example, essay review, mock interview, ding analysis, etc.

3. Per hour service: Applicant gets paid on an hourly basis. The service could be essay review, mock interview, ding analysis, etc.

Price

Below is a few examples of prices charged by MBA admission consultants:

 

1 School

2 Schools 

3 Schools

Comments

Veritas Prep

$2,700

$3,800

$4,900

A big player with an army of admission consultants. Also offers GMAT classes in addition to admission consulting.

Stacy Blackman

$3,500

$5,000

$6,250

A "high end, premium" service founded by a former Kellogg graduate. Seems to be quite good at marketing the service and getting media coverage. 

MBA Apply

$2,250

$4,000

$5,750

A one-man “boutique” consulting service by Alex Chu a former Wharton graduate. Alex also has a popular "Ask Alex" thread on the Businessweek.com forum. 

Clear Admit

Hourly rate. 

· 5 hours: $250 * 5 = $1250

· 10 hours: $230 * 10 = $2300

· 15 hours: $220 *15 = $3300

According to web site, “the average Clear Admit client works with us for 12-15 hours over the course of the application process.”

A well established consulting firm. Founders previously helped launched MBA Multi-App and Law Multi-App. Both are Wharton graduates. It also has Alex Brown as one of their consultants. Brown was Wharton’s Senior Director of Admission.

Accepted.com

Charge different amount based on school (e.g. rate for University of Chicago is $2,950)

One of the oldest admissions consulting business (founded in 1994). Founded by Linda Abraham, who is a well known admission consultant. Also has a popular "Ask Linda" thread on BusinessWeek.com forum.

Cambridge Essay Service

$2,400 (essay editing only)

$4,800 (essay editing only)

$7,200 (essay editing only)

Founded by Sandy Kreisberg, the former Director of Communications at the MIT-Sloan Business School. Sandy is the "grand daddy" of MBA admission consulting. He is blunt and direct. You either like him or hate him, but he has great record with top schools such as HBS, Wharton and Stanford.

How big is the MBA admission consulting market?

Here is back-of-envelop estimate: 

Based on Business Week list of top 30 MBA programs, there is a total of 19,536 full-time MBA students (including both first-year and second-year MBA students) currently enrolled in the top 30 programs. Given the acceptance rate of each program, the 19,536 full-time MBA students were accepted out of 106,709 applicants. So, on average, 106,709/2 = 53,354 applied top 30 MBA programs each year.

What percentage of applicants use admission consulting services? According to a Business Week article, "as many as 20% of those applying to top MBA programs are paying up to $5,000 — about $150 to $200 an hour — for consulting services, according to estimates from consultants and some admissions officials." A blogger did a quick survey among his friends, and he "got back a 100% response and found that 15% of them used them". He also mentioned that "a national statistic that shows about 2-5% of MBA applicants use MBA consultants on various parts of their application process." although he didn’t mention the source of the national statistic.

So, let’s assume on average each applicant who uses MBA consultant spends $2,500. We’re also assuming that most of the MBA admission consulting focus on top-30 schools. The MBA Admission Consulting marketing is between $2.7 million (assuming only 2% of top-30 MBA program applicants uses admission consultants) and $27 million (assuming 20% of top-30 MBA program applicants uses admission consultants). If the aforementioned blogger’s survey was correct, at 15%, the market size is about $20 million.

Who are MBA admission consultants?

They’re mostly 

· former admission officers from top MBA programs

· graduates from MBA programs who were part of their schools’ admission committee 

· entrepreneurial MBAs who want to have their own business

Should you use MBA admission consultants?

I have no doubt that admission consultants will be helpful, given that most of them have a lot of experience in reviewing applications for top schools. But, I have to say that it’s very expensive. Personally, I have helped many of my friends applying business schools, and they’ve gotten into HBS, Stanford, Wharton, UCLA, Kellogg, Haas, etc. without getting help from paid consultants. 

I think if you have access to friends who have successfully gone though the application process and who is willing to spend time to help you, you don’t need to spend the money. 

However, if you’re "desperate" and want to get into a top school by all means, then go ahead to spend the money. :-)

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Tags: MBA

Viewing 8 Comments

    • ^
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    This is a very good comparison! We have created a list of interview experience blogs for each school written by current applicants, students and alumni. If an applicant goes through few blogs, s/he can understand the interview process and prepare well for it. You can go through the list here:

    http://www.interviewbay.com/in...

    Best of luck!

    • ^
    • v

    For international Student (as I am) Admission Consultants are more useful because they give you an insight on the US culture that we may be lacking.
    I hired one and help me indeed! Could I do it without one? Perhaps, but I prefer a certain shot... Obviously, in my national currency, the prices above are prohibitive for me.
    My 2 cents.

    • ^
    • v

    Hope.

    Thats what it is. You have a bunch of applicants who are not too sure about where they stand, how competitive they are and then they see these fancy ads of Admission Consultants. These Consultants do add value because they have seen the process closely, but is it right? I dont think so.

    I am a below average student (Academically/ GMAT). No admission consultant would dare suggest me the school that I am at but I made it because of my confidence and motivation. And in some ways, this is what the MBA is all about. An MBA is supposed to change your outlook, on both professional as well as personal level. If an applicant doesnt go through the process by himself, then he is missing out on a great learning experience. Of course it might not pan out well but not everything in life is supposed to work out right.

    What about unfair advantage? If I pay 10 grands to a professional writer to come up with my motivations for MBA then is it fair to the next person who cannot afford these services?

    At the end of the day, this is a game. Admission Consultants sell hope to the gullible. I might be being harsh here but this is my honest 2 cents.

    • ^
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    Hi Konfused,

    I am very impressed with your achievement here. Would you mind giving me some advice here?

    I am above average (academically /GMAT). But I have a fatal weakness, my age. Several consultants I talked to simply told me go to EMBA which I am not that interested at all as I am a career switcher. After he reviewed my resume and my last year app, one consultant told me not to apply because I literally have no chance for top programs. I would like to hear your opinion if you don't mind or maybe share some of your story.

    • ^
    • v

    Thanks for this nice overview of our industry! I am the Director of MBA Admissions Research for Veritas Prep, and just wanted to add one more free resource that is available to anyone who is just starting the MBA application process. Our Business School Selector (http://www.veritasprep.com/sel... is a fun tool that allows an applicant to input his application "stats" and see what his approximate chances are of getting into a top MBA program. Keep in mind that this tool is mainly just for fun, and isn't able to account for many other extremely important attributes that impact an applicant's chances of success. But, your readers may find it useful, so I wanted to share it here!

    Best regards,
    Scott

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    • v

    Dear GeekMBA360,

    This is an interesting piece - thanks for putting it together! If you have a moment I'd love to chat with you about the article and provide you with some further background information on the admissions consulting industry. I currently serve as the President of AIGAC (the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants - http://www.aigac.org), a non-profit that sets ethical standards and serves to regulate the industry. I am also the co-founder of Clear Admit, one of the firms that you cited in your piece. You can email me at grichmond AT aigac DOT org. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Regards,

    Graham

    • ^
    • v

    Thank you for putting the overview together - I will link to it from gmat club. Just wanted to add that many of the Admissions consultants offer free advice on many of the internet bulletin board, including gmatclub and business week. You can get an "initial" or "mini" series of MBA admissions consultations absolutely free of charge and many people have - you can also read their stories, advice that was given, and often the end result, allowing you to compare performance.

    There is definitely enough data out there and an ever-increasing number of bschool Admissions consultants...

    • ^
    • v

    Good analysis, nice chart! Admission consultants now have their own association: The Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) which launched a couple years ago. They're 'committed to upholding the highest ethical practices in graduate admissions advisory services'. All the consultants you mention above are members except for Cambridge Essay Service.

    We interviewed 4 of the leading admission consultants, who are all on your chart above, to find out what value they bring to different types of applicants. Read/hear it here: http://www.mbapodcaster.com/MB...

 
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