Jun 21, 2016

On the Use of Admissions Consultants

Last week, Tuck’s Admissions Team had the pleasure of hosting about 35 admissions consultants from the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC). We invited them to Hanover so they could learn more about Tuck, to answer their questions—to answer your questions—and of course, so we could learn more about them too.

There’s one thing that’s clear: There are appropriate and inappropriate ways to engage with admissions consultants and their services. And we should say from the get go, that AIGAC in particular is an organization that’s dedicated to promoting ethical practices in the industry and all of its members agree to adhere to a set of principles.

After lots of interaction, here’s Tuck’s take on using admissions consultants in the MBA application process:

The use of admissions consultants can raise eyebrows in Admissions offices. Why?

Our concern is that the work in your application is not your own. Ethics aside for the moment, how could we possibly assess whether you are a fit for our program or whether you are capable of the work we will ask of you if what you submit in your application isn’t yours? Added to that, the act of submitting someone else’s work as your own is just wrong.

If you use a consultant, it is important that the entire application is your ideas and your work, except the recommendation letters, of course, which should definitely NOT be yours. Be sure that your application reflects who you are.

There are no exceptions to this. None. Ever. Hopefully that’s clear now.

The appropriate usage.

Admissions consultants can be helpful in providing information about programs and acting as a sounding board as you flesh out your school wish list. Reputable consultants have experience with MBA programs and a broad understanding of the variety of schools out there.

Consultants can also assist on the path to self-reflection and discovery. A crucial component of your admissions process is knowing where you want to go. Sometimes we need someone on the outside asking the right questions to help us narrow down our goals and what we need in order to achieve them.

Preparation is key, and the right consultant can help. You should be writing multiple drafts of your essays. Getting feedback is fine, whether it’s from your mother, your best friend, or a consultant, as long as the final product is written by you, in your voice, and reflecting your ideas and ambitions. In preparing for your interviews, you can bounce ideas off a consultant, practice with them, and decompress with them afterwards. But again, the hard work is all you.

The inappropriate usage.

As I said above, all the work in your application should be your own. In the case of the recommendations, they should be the work of your recommenders only. It is a violation of the Tuck Honor Code to submit an application that is not exclusively your work or to submit recommendations that you or someone other than your recommender have written, even if at the request of your recommender.

So…do I need one of these admissions consultants to be competitive?

NO! Many, many people are admitted to business schools every year who do not use admissions consultants. Admissions consultants charge for their services and expertise. You can absolutely do all of this work on your own, using school resources and your personal and professional networks as sources of information and sounding boards.

You might be wondering…

How could you possibly know if an applicant uses a consultant in an inappropriate way?

You’d be surprised. A dead giveaway is when you accidentally submit a draft copy of your essays with the consultant’s notes all over them. Rare, but it happens. More commonly, something in your application raises doubts in our minds. We notice that, although your Analytical Writing Assessment, TOEFL or IELTS score is low, your essays are perfect. You seem to know the questions we’ll ask in the interview before we ask them. Now, you could have done this all on your own, but it gives us pause. In a competitive applicant pool, don’t give the Admissions Committee a reason to weed you out.

If I decide to use an admissions consultant, how do I find one?

Get referrals. Research the consulting firms and individual consultants. Talk to the consultants who make your short list and see if there’s a fit with you. Your consultant may offer a free consultation to make sure this can be a productive relationship. Understand clearly the services they offer and how they charge for their services. Don’t trust anyone who offers a guaranteed admission.

Because of their guiding principles, AIGAC is a great place to start. However, please note that it’s a relatively new organization, and its membership is still growing. Whether the consultants you are considering are members or not, the principles can give you a set of important considerations as you evaluate your options.

(Keep in mind, each MBA program you’re applying to may have a different take on the appropriate use of consultants. You should be aware of the policies of each school.)