I have a confession. Two years ago I don't think that I was aware that the consulting industry existed. MBB could have stood for Making Butts Bounce for all I knew. I remember classmates in undergrad who recruited for Deloitte but for some reason I always thought they were going to do something related to finance or accounting. I did not know that there were companies devoted to giving other companies advice (and pretty power point decks). I learned about this wonderful world of frequent flyer miles, black suits, and power point prowess when I embarked upon the b-school path. I briefly considered it as a potential post MBA career but immediately let the idea go upon hearing about the hours consultants worked. I'm not built for 70-90 hour work weeks. Once introduced to consulting I soon learned that there's a consultant for everything. And when talking MBA there is none more prevalent than the admissions consultant.
I am often asked whether I used a consultant to prepare my applications. Although my initial answer used to be, "no," I am gradually coming to the realization that I most certainly did use a consultant. In fact, I used several. I just didn't pay them (well not all of them).
I am sure that at some point in the application process most people consider employing a consultant's services. This process is overwhelming and the idea of having someone to keep you on track and help assemble all the moving application parts into a coherent "story" can be very comforting. Personally, the comfort of having this assistance did not outweigh the cost. I'm not going to say that I could not afford a consultant, but I did choose not to afford it (if that makes sense). While I used to be staunchly anti consultant because I felt that they provided an unfair advantage to people who could afford them (and also packaged applicants to within an inch of their lives), I have softened my stance in recent months. I am not a fan of all consultants, but there are several who I do think are worth their weight in gold (check out Essay Snark!).
Although I chose not to hire a consultant (well, mostly), that did not mean I was opposed to using their services. When it came time to write essays I was all over sites like Clear Admit, Amerasia Consulting, and Adam Markus trying to find tips on how to begin to answer seemingly impossible questions like, "What matters most to you, and why?" All of them provided an analysis of this year's essays by school and shed insight into what each program was looking for through each question. I spent months trying to figure out how to write Kellogg's career goals essay. "Briefly assess your career progress to date. Elaborate on your future career plans and your motivation for pursuing an MBA. (600 words)" Sounds simple enough. My first attempt resulted in 1400 words detailing my penchant for selling friendship bracelets from my front lawn in elementary school and the first three years of my career. When I hit 1450 words and was nowhere near discussing what I actually wanted to do with the MBA I got the distinct feeling I was doing something wrong. It was the Essay Analyses on Precision Essay's website that showed me how to structure my answer. It was really difficult wrangling 9 years of career into approximately 225 words (the suggested target for the "briefly assess your career progress" portion of the question), but it gave me a great framework within which to work. I wound up using their guidelines for all of my Kellogg essays.
While Precision Essay helped me write my drafts, Essay Snark was instrumental in creating the finished product. Essay Snark flies under the radar of MBA admissions consultants. Everyone applying to b-school knows about Sandy Kreisberg(HBS Guru), Stacy Blackman, and Alex Chu (MBA Apply). Essay Snark is like the hidden gem of consultants. You may not be looking for Essay Snark, but once you find him/her (ES is anonymous) it's like finding buried treasure. I found out about the Snark from another GMATClub member who mentioned him in a thread about essay editing. I followed the link provided to Essay Snark's blog and I have been hooked ever since. ES's blog (or blahg as it is affectionately dubbed) is teeming with advice on everything from essays to the GMAT to resumes and more, all delivered with heaping doses of SNARK. It was love at first read. However, the best thing about ES's blog, beyond all the advice, was the essay critiques. Yep. Public critiques of real b-school essays for all your favorite schools. Everything from CBS's career goals essay to Kellogg's "People would be surprised to know that I..." essay. The essays were stripped of identifying details and then ripped to shreds. Essay Snark pointed out each and every flaw in the essays and then doled out ways to make improvements. Harsh? Maybe. Helpful? Hell to the yeah! So much so that I sent off my Kellogg drafts for critique. One essay was deemed "too good for the blahg," meaning it was in such good shape that posting it would pose a temptation to other Brave Supplicants (BSers as ES likes to call applicants) to potentially pilfer my work. However, not all of my essays received that seal of approval.
One day in early December I logged on to the blog to find my 2 months in the making career goals essay torn to shreds. All the things I loved about that essay, ES hated or just didn't get. However, his feedback was invaluable because he pointed out inconsistencies, red flags, and issues that I never noticed. I took several shots at revising the essay for clarity before I finally broke down and hired the Snark to do a formal critique. The service for that one essay was insanely cheap (way under a Benjamin). That bought me three pages of detailed feedback on everything from my intro, to the content, to the writing style. Those pages of critique left me feeling so frustrated because ES just wasn't getting my point. He (maybe she) was commenting on ideas that I wasn't even trying to convey. I wound up writing ES a lengthy email to explain myself. Something interesting happened in that email. I actually wrote all of the things I THOUGHT I was saying in my essay in my response to Essay Snark. When ES responded that none of what was in my email was actually in my essay I finally realized that I was being unclear. Essay Snark did not write my essay for me, tell me what I should write, or try to package me. Instead, the Snark helped me get at the heart of what I want to do with my MBA and why. Two days before Kellogg's R1 deadline I scrapped the draft I'd sent to ES and started from scratch. However, this time a question that once took me two months to answer only took 24 hours. Because I finally had clarity the essay practically wrote itself. When I finished the last revision I knew I had written a winner. Nearly two months later that was confirmed when the Kellogg adcom who called to admit me said, "You wrote a very compelling application."
While Essay Snark and Precision Essay played a large role in helping me apply to business school, I found most of the services that consultants offer through my friends. I worked with two friends to get my resume ready. I kept sending it to them and asking if they thought it made me stand out. I incorporated their feedback, changing certain action verbs to convey greater impact and clarifying my achievements without industry jargon. When my best friend, who I spend the majority of my days emailing, said, "Wow! This actually makes me think you do work!" I knew that my resume was ready. Essay Snark wasn't the only person reading my essays. I had a team of friends, those who know me well and others who don't, reading my essays. I asked those who do not know me as well to read my essays without the benefit of the question. I then requested that they identify the question they think I am answering based on the content. This let me know if I was actually answering the question. For the people who do know me I asked them to evaluate whether or not the essays sounded like me. Both of these perspectives were invaluable. I do think I went a bit overboard when it came to readers. 3-4 is fine, 8-9 is too damn many. Some of the feedback started to conflict so I had to make a judgement call on what to leave and what to take. Two of the best resources I had were two friends who both graduated from top MBA programs, one from HBS and the other from Sloan. They were able to see the full picture my essays presented and identify the gaps. They read with an eye that went beyond style and made sure that my essays covered the main aspects adcoms are looking for (fit, clear goals, and desire to go to their program). Honestly, I had an army supporting me.
Although I did not anticipate the help from Essay Snark or finding Precision Essay's website when I first started my applications, I was very sure that I would have all the help I needed when applying. I guess I never saw the need for a consultant because I have friends who would do what a consultant does for free. I would not dissuade anyone from using a consultant, but I will say that a lot of the benefits they offer can be obtained for free or at minimal cost (an Essay Snark critique is well worth the price). Applying to business school is expensive. Between app fees, travel to schools, GMAT prep and test fees, and more you're likely to shell out anywhere from $2500-$5000. Adding an additional $1500-$5000 for consultant fees isn't feasible for many applicants and even those who can afford it shy away from spending that kind of money. The resources are out there for everyone to use. You just have to decide if you want to put in the legwork to find them. For folks with limited time, shelling out the dough for the convenience of having everything you need come from one person makes a lot of sense. If that isn't you then I strongly recommend getting all of the advice/tips you can from the internet (http://www.gmatclub.com, http://www.precisionessay.com, http://essaysnark.blogspot.com). Then assemble your team. Be strategic which friends you seek help from. If you have friends who are either in top schools or are recent alums (within the last 5 years) ask them to join your team. Fellow applicants are also great resources. Bounce essay ideas off of people and don't be afraid when people push you to dig deeper. "Why?" is the best question anyone can ask you. This will help you craft workable drafts (at the very least). If at that point you want to bring in a pro then purchase services from a reputable consultant a la carte (not all consultants are created equal so do NOT just hire anyone who claims to be an expert). With or without a professional consultant just be sure that you have someone (or multiple someones) who can and will help you create a compelling package. They will be the first to celebrate with you when you get the long awaited admit.