A guide to MBA admissions consultant services

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“Unethical,” “useless,” “not worth the cost”–MBA admissions consulting is regularly accused of being each/all of these things. The industry continues to grow, though, so applicants must be, as they say, buying what they’re selling.

But what’re they selling, exactly?

In this post, we’re going to give a summary of the more common (and some less common) services offered by MBA admissions consultants. We hope to give you a better understanding of the “worth it” question here, but to get a snapshot of just what kind of cost we’re talking about, take a look at our guide to MBA admissions consultant prices.

Why are we writing this?

We’re not consultants, and admitbrain doesn’t offer any consultant-like services. But, unlike the average consultant, our business is understanding the market for admissions consultant services and passing that knowledge onto our users.

As part of that effort, nearly every profile in our directory of admissions consulting firms includes pricing data, as well as a visual indication of how pricey that firm is relative to the industry. To get that data, we had to read a lot of admissions consulting websites, and this post is a product of that research.

Our hope is that by teaching users the nuances of this fractured market, we can take steps towards making the experience a bit easier (and a lot more transparent) for everyone.

Common services

These services are available at most firms. While we’ll cover the most common configurations of features/limitations, please remember that any firm can set its own policies whenever it wants & remember to confirm any important details before hiring a consultant.

Per-school packages

Standard configuration

Sometimes called “comprehensive,” or “all-in” packages, per-school packages are the “all you can eat” option. They typically include all of the strategy discussions, coaching, essay revisions, project management (deadlines, etc.), and interview prep for each school.

In most cases, the hours a consultant might spend on your application aren’t capped with these packages. Opinions vary pretty widely, but in general, most consultants expect to spend between 15-25 hours on the first school, and 5-10 hours for each school thereafter.

Crucially, at most firms the comprehensive package includes more services & features (like additional reviews of your essay) that aren’t available to hourly clients. This means the benefits might go beyond simply unlimited hours, but just how far beyond depends on the firm.

Notable variants

Some firms offer different tiers of ‘comprehensive’ plans. In some cases, the ‘premium’ tier promises the chance to work with what the firm deems one of their more experienced or qualified consultants (e.g., the firm’s founder, or a former head of admissions).

In a less common variation of the ‘comprehensive’ package, limits are placed on the number of revisions an essay can undergo, or on the timeframe of revision turnarounds (e.g., promising 24 hour turnarounds on the premium tier & 48 hour turnarounds on standard).

Great for you if…

This is a tough one, because it’s most firms’ cash cow & a package they typically push pretty hard. A lot of the marketing can make it feel like this package is for “serious” candidates. We don’t think this is fair–plenty of serious candidates choose different price-points.

Ultimately, we think this decision comes down to math. Decide how many hours you might need, figure out how important the extra features of the comprehensive package are to you, then decide how much risk you’re comfortable with.

If you find you’ll need a ton of hours, really love the extras, or you’re very risk averse & can’t stomach the idea of having to pay more for extra hours later on, this might be your ideal option.

Not-so-great for you if…

If you’re a decent writer, you’ve got a pretty good grip on your story, and aren’t afraid of a few self-managed projects, this might not be the right option. Think about what incentives look like for ‘unlimited’ vs. per-hour services, then choose which feels like the best fit.

Per-hour packages

Standard configuration

Typically, this includes all of the 1-on-1 services you’d get with the per-school package, but billed by the hour instead. Extras, like additional review by other consultants in the firm, are typically not available with this option, but this varies from firm-to-firm.

Some firms, like Menlo Coaching, only offer hourly packages.

Notable variants

The most common variant here is a ‘bundle’ pricing scheme. That is: buy 5 hours at once & save a few bucks vs. buying 5 hours one-at-a-time.

Great for…

If you don’t expect to require a lot of time, or if the extras of the comprehensive option don’t do much for you, and you’re comfortable with the risk of having to pony-up more money later on in the engagement, this is a solid option.

Not-so-great for…

If it’s important to you that multiple sets of eyes see your application, this might not be the most cost effective. Lots of the comprehensive plans include additional reviews, and short of buying more hours of service (which, by the way, is definitely an option), those reviews often aren’t available to hourly clients.

Essay & resume revision

Standard configuration

This is sort of like the per-hour packaging, but normally priced on a per-document basis. Since most reviews take around an hour, in our opinion, this option isn’t much different from per-hour pricing.

Notable variants

Some firms charge different rates for essays of different lengths. This’ll add a bit of complexity to your decision, which is another reason we think the hourly option is better here.

Great for…

If the firm you’ve decided to work with prices services such that this comes out cheaper for you than hourly options, then this makes a lot of sense.

Not-so-great for…

If the nuances of pricing by word count are annoying (e.g., for schools with multiple essays), probably steer clear of this option.

Mock interview preparation

Standard configuration

For most firms, a consultant will prepare for the interview, administer it via Skype/phone (or, rarely, in-person), then provide feedback. At some firms, this service is capped at 60-120 minutes, but for most, there’s no mention of time limits in their pricing documentation.

Notable variants

Many firms offer a special variant of this package for ‘group based discussion,’ like those administered in the Wharton application process.

Great for…

If you’ve opted to skip the consultants for the essays, but want to make sure your presentation’s tight, this might be a solid option. Also a good option for applicants looking to get more mock interview time than their initial engagement structure included.

Not-so-great for…

If you’ve nailed most of the interviews you’ve done, you likely don’t need to sweat it for this one. It is important, but unlike most job interviews, the burden here isn’t perfection. Several famous admissions heads have cited over-preparation as a hazard in interviews, so extensive prep definitely isn’t for everyone.

Less common services

Anxiety counseling

Standard configuration

There aren’t enough options here for there to be a ‘standard’ configuration,’ but in the few firms that offer this, someone with therapist credentials (LICSW, MD, etc.) can help guide you through the complex anxieties unique to the application process.

Notable variants

None we’re aware of.

Great for…

The knee-jerk reaction is to chuckle at the thought of high-strung MBA applicants, but we don’t think anyone should screw around when it comes to their own mental health. If you’re having trouble or looking for someone to talk to, and you can’t find any decent help around you, this could be an option. We doubt insurance can help, though, so it might be best to stick to conventional mental health professionals.

Not-so-great for…

If you’ve got your own therapist, or you don’t feel terribly stressed, this clearly isn’t for you. Alternatively, if you suspect your anxieties can’t be assuaged by a few hours of discussion, consider looking into more long-term solutions, like a conventional non-specialized therapist.

Social media manicuring

Standard configuration

We’ve only seen a few instances of this out in the wild, but ostensibly, this involves a consultant parsing your online presence & looking for inconsistencies, unprofessional bits, etc. etc. The thinking appears to be that admissions officers may be stopping-by your profile, so you’d best tidy it up.

Notable variants

None of which we’re aware.

Great for…

If your social media presence is so vast that it’s impractical for you to clean it up yourself, consider this option. It may be easier, though, to just find some profiles of folks in industries you want to work & mimicking their language, branding, etc.

Not-so-great for…

To be frank, probably most applicants.

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