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February 10, 2006

The Boston Globe ran a story on MBA admissions consulting in its February 6 edition that has stirred much interest and comment among admission counselors, essay editors, and b-school applicants. The following article, which has been submitted to the Globe as an op-ed, expresses our point of view on this controversy.

Ethical Consulting Is No Threat to B-School Admissions

by David Petersam
Founder and President, AdmissionsConsultants

As founder and head of AdmissionsConsultants, an educational consulting firm with consultants and clients across the globe, I was, naturally, intrigued by the Boston Globeís February 6 article on MBA admissions consulting.

The article addresses a minor but unpleasant trend in MBA admissions. There are unethical consultants who try to 'game' the admissions process. They claim to know from statistical and anecdotal evidence what type of applicant admissions committees are looking for, and coach applicants to feign experience and values that match that composite profile.

Applicants who fall for this pitch might be excused as under-informed and over-enthusiastic. Who can blame them for wanting an MBA that badly? An MBA degree prepares students for a challenging career that will satisfy the right people in a way no other vocation can.

These consultants, however, have no such excuse. If they actually know anything about business school admissions, they should realize that their model is nonsense. Admissions committees are not sizing up rushes to a Greek letter organization. They're looking for business leaders. Consultants who treat MBA admissions like a fraternity rush are badly misleading their clients.

I agree that these consultants are obnoxious. I cannot, however, see them as either a threat to the quality of MBA education or as grounds to institute the kinds of measures described in the Globe article, such as proctored admissions essay writing sessions. Those measures would only penalize the majority of b-school applicants, who are genuine, honest, and thoughtful in their approach to MBA admissions.

Ethical admissions consulting poses no threat to business education. What we do for our clients is similar to what lawyers do for their clients. We draw on our knowledge of business careers, business schools, and MBA admissions to help clients navigate an unfamiliar process with potentially life-altering consequences.

We clarify expectations of what an MBA education is and of what it can lead to. We help clients look beyond the rankings to identify the schools that best suit their interests, goals, and personalities. We demystify the jargon of admissions rounds and GMAT scores. And, yes, we give clients feedback on their admissions essay drafts. (Essays always come up in discussions of admissions consulting because they are such a big part of MBA applications. Someone applying to three different MBA programs will probably write a dozen different essays, ranging from 250 words to 10 pages. That is an intimidating task for anyone, let alone a professional who works 60-plus hour weeks and who hasnít had to write a personal essay since college.)

Just as a lawyer will help a client prepare testimony that will make his or her best case before a court, we help our clients prepare applications that will make their best case before an MBA admissions committee. It's a service that is valued by our clients Ė and that merits some appreciation from business schools as well. We're helping people to understand their options and make wise choices.

I'm a businessman. I believe in markets. I respect the capacity of markets to serve people's needs and, over time, to thrash out the bad and leave the good. I believe that holds true in the market for business school admissions just as it is does in the market for anything else.

AdmissionsConsultants thrives because we provide our clients with a quality service of value to them. We will continue to thrive as long as we stick to our standards and ethics. Consultants who engage in unethical practices will, by contrast, be exposed by the market for what they are. In fact, we've already seen some such firms come and go over the nearly 10 years we've been in business.

The best way for b-schools to deal with unethical consultants is to grin and bear the nuisance they cause for the short term. As the saying goes, time wounds all heels. In due course, unethical consultants will either be forced to conform to the standards of the business school admissions market, or be swept away.

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