Are MBA Admissions Consultants an unfair advantage – or are they simply leveling the playing field?

Research suggests that over 20%* of MBA applicants hire a consultant to help with their application. We spoke with Admissions Consultant Sam Weeks to learn about his journey, the perceptions of his profession, and why getting accepted into an MBA is harder than ever.

In short

Sam Weeks – Admissions Consultant

From the trading floor to the lecture hall

Sam Weeks was once, as he puts it, “the guy on the trading floor with the two phones and eight screens.” (00:14) He loved the buzz of investment banking and the dynamism of London, yet he cast it aside to pursue an MBA at the University of Oxford Saïd Business School.

Sam learned a lot at Oxford – not least what it takes to get into such a prestigious MBA program. After some friends started asking for advice on their own MBA applications, he realized he was in a unique position to help.

“I had a few people come to me asking: ‘Hey, can you help me with my application?’ I helped them, they got into the various schools that they were applying to and I realized that I was pretty good at what I was doing,” he says. (04:35)

A few people soon turned into an avalanche. Not too long after the first request for help with an application, Sam became a full-time MBA Admissions Consultant.

“I’m peeling away layers of an onion, getting to know them as individuals”

When it comes to applying for an MBA, you have to communicate the essence of you as an individual in a clear and concise way. For applicants with a lot of life experiences, that’s no easy task. It’s Sam’s job to filter out the unnecessary information while still telling your unique story.

“One of my tasks is getting to know people and learning about their profile,” he explains. “I’m peeling away layers of an onion, getting to know them as individuals so I can figure out what it is that we should include in their application and what we should leave out.” (00:58)

If you do make it past the initial application and get invited to an interview, Sam reckons your chances of being accepted are around 50/50. He believes an Admissions Consultant can turn those odds in your favor.

“A Zoom interview with questions you can probably prepare for…it’d be a real shame if [the interview] is what keeps you out of your dream business school.” (09:29)

Challenging the perceptions of an Admissions Consultant

Given that some Admissions Consultants charge around $8,000 for a three-school application package, there is concern that they provide an unfair advantage to wealthier candidates. It’s something that Sam is keen to challenge.

“The thing is, every single person applying for an MBA gets help,” he tells us. “Whether it’s asking your parents to proofread your essays, whether it’s doing a mock interview with a colleague who perhconsultaps works in HR.” (05:18)

“What if you haven’t got, for example, a family that went to university to turn to? What if you’re an entrepreneur and you haven’t got colleagues around you who can do mock interviews with you? Where do you turn?” (06:01)

“This is where admissions consultants come in. I consider what I do a leveler of the playing field in a sense. If they don’t have the network around them already then I provide a way they can get really good preparation for the MBA application process.” (06:15)

“I’ve heard between 35 and 50 percent increases in applicants”

You probably don’t need us to tell you that getting accepted into an MBA is difficult. Some of the world’s top MBA programs have an acceptance rate of less than 10%, and COVID-19 looks like it could bring that figure even further down.

“When the economy falls and unemployment rises, you tend to get a pickup in [MBA] applications. COVID has been no different,” Sam explains. (13:14)

What’s the reason behind this? “People [start to] think that an MBA would be a really nice alternative to spend the time re-evaluating, potentially change career, buy a little bit of time, and hopefully the job market improves.” (13:01)

But the economic downturn is not the only factor at play here. Candidates who don’t want to do an online program are deferring their applications for a year, while social distancing rules are limiting class sizes. It all means that this year is shaping up to be one of the most competitive ever for MBA applications.

“Applications for the big schools are up everywhere. I’ve heard numbers between 35 and 50 percent increases in applicants for this year’s round versus last year’s round,” he adds. (13:25)

Some might say they’re an unfair advantage, but it’s difficult to argue that Admissions Consultants do provide an advantage. In an increasingly competitive MBA landscape, they could be the extra push you need to get accepted at your dream school. And who can put a price on that? Prospective Students Survey Report 2015

Share this article: