If you are applying to top MBA programs and want to maximize your chances of admission and scholarships, you're probably thinking about hiring an MBA admissions consultant—especially if you're targeting highly selective schools or if you have a non-traditional background and need help telling your story in a way that MBA admissions committees understand.
What does MBA admissions consulting cost? And what do you need to know before you can figure out which MBA admissions consulting service might be the best value for you? As an MBA admissions consultant myself (founding partner at Menlo Coaching), I know a lot about this.
This article explains the pricing options offered by MBA admissions consulting companies, actual prices of major firms, and a few sneaky reasons why "cheaper" services are often more expensive in the long run.
But first, a basic question.
A good MBA admissions consultant can help you through the entire business school application journey.
Some steps in the MBA application process begin months or even years ahead. An MBA admissions consultant can help you:
The most time-consuming part of the MBA application is usually the written application materials. Creating great applications is about the quality of the thinking that goes into them—not about the quality of the writing. Don't worry if you're not the next Ernest Hemingway. That said, don't assume that you can fix a bad application through editing. Your career goal and personal story need to make sense before you're in a position to write great applications.
An MBA admissions consultant will assist you to:
You're not done once you've submitted the applications. Even after you receive your offers, the right negotiation strategy can sometimes unlock tens of thousands of dollars of scholarship money.
An MBA admissions consultant will help you:
Now that you know what MBA admissions consultants do, you're in a good position to understand why MBA applicants hire them. Candidates are almost always aiming to achieve the following benefits:
Given the above, most MBA applicants fall into two camps:
It is true that numerous MBA applicants win admission (and even scholarship offers) with no coaching. But because winning admission to a higher-ranked program can translate into hundreds of thousands of dollars of additional lifetime earnings, we advocate strongly for the first approach.
Imagine how you'd feel if you saved $5,000 by hiring a cheaper MBA admissions consultant, but then ended up admitted to a Top 20 school instead of a Top 10 school! The $5,000 would have been paid back within the first year (source: Poets&Quants), let alone the superior long-term career advancement that a more prestigious MBA program can deliver.
So, with this in mind, let's look at the typical pricing structures of MBA admissions consulting firms.
Most admissions consulting firms offer one or more of these three major pricing structures:
On the plus side, hourly gives you flexibility. It also means that if you put your best effort into your drafts, you will save money because they require fewer revisions. Finally, this is the most practical option if your budget for MBA admissions consulting is strictly limited.
On the minus side, most applicants require dramatically more help than they expect. A good MBA admissions consultant needs to get to know you and your background before they can give advice, and this takes time. (You wouldn't want cookie-cutter advice that's not even based on your specific background, would you?)
This means that you may end up spending so much time that hourly billing winds up more expensive than comprehensive services. Or, you stick to a small engagement and don't have the time to fully maximize your applications.
Second, the best MBA admissions consultants rarely offer hourly services—it's a lot of administrative work, and there is no incentive for a consultant to offer this option when the consultant's positive reputation already attracts overwhelming demand for their comprehensive services. So, in some cases, you may find that hourly services are being provided by second-tier consultants.
À la carte MBA admissions counselors allow you to select specific services (e.g. "Resume Review", "Strategy Session"). The pros and cons are similar to hourly pricing—it's affordable and slightly more predictable than hourly services, but if you are not careful you will end up buying a half solution, incurring costs but not actually getting the admissions outcome you want.
The notable exception here is that stand-alone MBA interview prep services are very logical. If you've already secured an interview invite, then you can expect that interview prep services will enhance your chances of admission.
This is what it sounds like: end-to-end help on all aspects of your MBA applications. But be careful–some MBA admissions consulting firms have hidden limits on the number of phone calls, the number of essay iterations, or the number of mock interviews. Make sure that you really understand the definition of "comprehensive" before you sign up.
These prices were collected in March 2020 directly from each firm's website.
Price ranges represent different pricing levels for junior vs. senior staff, the number of hours purchased upfront, or rush delivery vs. standard delivery.
If a consulting firm's clients consistently achieve great results, demand (and prices) will be high for their services.
Does the firm provide you meaningful assistance in answering the big questions, like figuring out your post-MBA career goal and how business school will help you achieve it? Or do they see themselves as an essay-editing service that will simply polish whatever you put in your draft?
As explained in a separate article, 4 Dirty Secrets of the MBA Admissions Consulting Industry, business models differ dramatically among MBA admissions consulting firms.
As you consider your options, ask the following questions:
Asking these questions can help you figure out which MBA admissions consultant can help you to achieve your true goal: acceptance to a top MBA program and career advancement.
Questions or feedback? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
David White is a founding partner at MBA admissions consulting firm Menlo Coaching. His 15-year tech career included executive roles at startups (Efficient Frontier, acquired by Adobe) and publicly traded companies (Yahoo, Travelzoo), during which time he hired, trained and developed dozens of young professionals. He has been coaching MBA applicants since 2012 with a special focus on developing the right career goals.