Admissions Consulting Myths: The Experienced Consultant

Launched August 9, 2011
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You're in the market for an admissions consultant... so are we! We've been hiring MBA talent for more than a decade, and in the process we've hired hundreds of consultants. We thought each and every one would be a mind-blowing, top-tier, 100% legit MBA admissions master-otherwise we wouldn't have hired them-but early on that wasn't always the case. We learned that some of the factors we expected to play the biggest role in a consultant's performance didn't matter at all, and some of the most important differentiators were entirely counterintuitive. Let's take a look at one of the most confusing variables: experience.

Say we're choosing between two consultants. Both have an identical background except that Consultant A is a former HBS adcom member (and MBA) who has been doing admissions consulting full time for 20 years, and Consultant B is a freshly minted HBS MBA who has been doing admissions consulting on the side for a year while working at McKinsey. Who should you pick? Always Consultant A, right? Wrong.

It's a reasonable assumption: more experience equals a better consultant. Hell, it's what we thought at first too! But take a closer look at Consultant A, and a few things stand out. First, this guy hasn't been near an MBA classroom in more than 20 years. Things change fast on a B-school campus-when consultant A was on that committee, Japanese students made up the largest international cohort, the video essay was a sci-fi fantasy, and B-schools were under substantially less pressure to diversify their student body. In the intervening years, Consultant A has spent most of his time working with MBA applicants, not MBA students. No doubt many of those applicants were successful, but the fact remains that Consultant A is on the outside looking in at the HBS winners' circle. Consultant B, on the other hand, just spent two years living and working alongside EVERY successful HBS applicant from the class of 20XX. Who is more likely to have a good sense of what HBS is looking for in a student today?

The other nagging question about Consultant A is why he is a full time admissions consultant in the first place. We're proud of our industry, but the reality is that an MBA is not intended to get you a job as an adcom member or admissions consultant. People who do well in elite MBA programs go on to jobs at the commanding heights of business, places like McKinsey. Those folks, people like Consultant B, only have time to be involved in consulting part-time... and many only spend a few years in the industry before becoming too busy to consult at all.

This is not to say that you should always go with youthful rising stars, either! The experience of working with hundreds of clients is very valuable, and a good veteran consultant will do the extensive research necessary to keep abreast of changes on campus. We've hired excellent consultants with decades of admissions experience, and excellent consultants fresh from B-school. In our hiring decisions, we care more about brain power, teaching talent, and "success in the real world" (which can also describe folks who are young, but rapidly trending upward).

That last point is important, because it provides the answer to our hypothetical quandary. We would pick Consultant B over Consultant A, because her role as an MBB consultant indicates to us that she is a more driven, ambitious and successful MBA. In Consultant B, we have a mentor who is closer to where we want to end up. If Consultant A had 20 years of part-time admissions consulting experience while also racking up an impressive resume in business, he would be the clear favorite.

Are there any other admissions consulting aphorism that you'd like our take on? Let us know in the comments!
"Hands down the best MBA admissions consulting firm of all-time, and boy, what an incredible founder!" -- Raj Patil, Founder of Admissionado

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