How admitbrain handles MBA admissions consultants' price data

📅 written

What is this?

We’re rolling out a series of new pieces of data in the next week or two, most of them aimed at helping users understand admissions consultants’ prices. With 70+ consultancies and no standardized way of packaging/pricing services, digging into the data in order to report back was no trivial task. In this post, then, we’ll try to explain some of the peculiarities in the pricing data on admitbrain, and step you through some of the assumptions we’ve made in order to even make it possible to present prices in a semi-uniform way across the consultancies.

But price doesn’t matter, does it?

There’s an old chestnut in the MBA admissions echo chamber, and it goes something like: “You can’t worry about cost when it’s your future!”
Well, if that resonates with you, you can skip this post & hand your money to the highest-priced consultant you can find. But for the rest of us, price is an unavoidable factor here, especially with purchases amounting to more than a half-year’s rent (in some area codes). We’ll leave the question of the cost:quality relationship to another post, but suffice it to say that we don’t believe the two are necessarily linked. That is: good things can surely cost, but costly things aren’t necessarily good. This should be self-evident, but we thought it bore mentioning.

The trouble with pricing data

Pop quiz: if you buy an “all-in” package with an MBA admissions consultant, you can go back-and-forth on essay revisions for as long as you want, right? Like all complex things, the answer is that “it depends.” You see, much like “all natural,” the phrase “all-inclusive” isn’t much more than hollow marketing-ese, with no stable definition. This alludes to the first challenge with pricing data: the goods we’re evalutaing aren’t standard from vendor-to-vendor. So, how can you compare two consultancies’ pricing on a “comprehensive” 3-school package if they come with different degrees of “comprehensiveness?” We won’t bullshit you: we haven’t found a great solution to this problem. It’ll be some time before we’re able to standardize consultancy packages in a way that makes them easy to compare.

Comparing apples to different kinds of apples

In the meantime, though, we’ve tried to be transparent here. More than half of consultancies offer a package we’d call ‘comprehensive,’ and while the nuts-and-bolts of that package might vary a bit, we’ve tried to make it clear. For instance, a consultancy might offer a ‘comprehensive 3-school package’ for $ 7,000. But, they might offer a “premium comprehensive 3-school package’ for $ 9,000. In those cases, admitbrain hasn’t catalogued all of the differences for you (yet), but we have tried to make it clear that a consultancy has so-called 2-tier pricing.
A consultancy with single-tier pricing
A graph of how pricing might look for a consultancy with 1 tier of 'comprehensive package'
…and a consultancy with two-tiered pricing
A similar graph, but one where a firm has two separate tiers of pricing for a 'comprehensive package'
The second graph is what a 2-tiered pricing model might look like. For each package size (1-school thru 10-school), we’ve presented the pricing side-by-side for each package. The crucial thing to remember is that, at any time, you can click on the name of the package in the legend to read more about it (its inclusions and omissions, etc.), but, as a rule of thumb: expect that an ‘all-inclusive’ package from a firm with 1-tier pricing is very likely closer to the ‘premium’ offering at a firm with 2-tier pricing. In other words: most firms seem to mean it when they say that their top packages are ‘all-inclusive,’ so assume that lower-tier packages in 2-tier firms are a sort of ‘redux’ version. This isn’t to say they’re a bad deal, mind you–just that it’s hard to out-premium a package that’s already so comprehensive at its baseline. Some features we’ve seen that firms use to differentiate their multiple pricing tiers:
  • Pair you with (ostensibly) more qualified consultants
  • Allow more revisions on an essay (not all are unlimited revisions!)
  • Guarantee a shorter turnaround on essays (e.g., 24 hr vs. 48 hr)
Again, we can’t emphasize this enough: take full advantage of the links we provide to read-up on each agency’s packages. As a matter of course, nothing admitbrain says should be viewed as more authoritative than the agency’s own webpage.

Comparing apples to ghost apples(!)

This might not surprise you, but many consultancies don’t provide all the data you might wish they did (okay: “ghost apples” was a bit dramatic, but I chose a theme & I’m sticking with it). We generally encountered two types of missing data: non-disclosure (which we’ll adress later on) and non-exhaustive. By ‘non-exhaustive,’ we mean that the consultancy didn’t provide enough data for us to build a pricing table for 1-10 schools/hours, as we’ve tried to do with each firm. In these instances, we generally took one of two tacks:
  1. If the firm provided data we could piece together (like a cost for ‘additional schools’, or pricing only for 3x, 5x, and 7x schools), we did our best to arrive at the lowest explainable pricing for all 10 schools/hours. In other words, we tried to arrive at the same conclusion a rational consumer might’ve given the information present.
  2. We left it blank. You can see an example of this in the above graph, where we simply didn’t have enough data to fill-in each tier of pricing. You’ll see this a lot in the 6-10 school portion of our charts, mostly because very few people seek these packages.
None of this should change the overarching advice that you should check the consultancy’s website, but hopefully you’ll have more context now in which to evaluate the data we’ve given.

As for non-disclosures

We respect a consultancy’s right to omit pricing information (though we wish they wouldn’t!). In these instances, we simply make it clear you on the consultancy’s profile that they’ve chosen to do so. In a few instances, consultancies have chosen not to disclose their pricing, but the pricing data has become public in major publications (e.g., Poets & Quants). We’ve made the decision in those cases to include the pricing data, but we’re receptive to any consultancy’s request that we remove it.

Our goal for this post was to peel back the curtain a bit and give users insight into our thinking on this data. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be adding more & more by way of features to help users understand how each consultancy compares to its competitors. Transparency is one of the reasons we’re building admitbrain, and we hope to provide as much of it as possible into our own inner workings as we go. If you’ve got any questions, or an idea on something you’d like to see covered, leave drop a line to heyteam_at_admitbrain_dot_com.

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