The myth of the perfect applicant

Have you ever considered how some of the world’s professions started out? When was the first time that someone decided that the world was in dire need of curse tablet makers, water organists and chicken sexers (yes, these are all real professions).

I’ve recently started with MBA applications and in my search for useful tips was surprised to learn that an entire industry has been established to help candidates submit their “perfect” application. I was even more surprised to learn that almost a third (some stats say 50%) of top-tier business school applicants use the services of these consultants with costs ranging between $5000-$10000. While this cost is minimal compared to the cost of a MBA, are these applicants allowing the Admissions Committees to get a view of who they really are?

As an ex-consultant, I know that we can sell just about anything quite convincingly but my question is, are these consultants taking advantage of people’s desires? Many of these consultants served on Admissions Committees and start with a gap analysis of areas that are missing on an applicants resume and help extract relevant life experiences and fine-tune essays. Now I agree that those essays are probably the most important 1500 words and months of preparation goes into ensuring that the perfect words are chosen but in my mind those words are meant to represent who YOU are and let these schools know your story. Can that really be achieved by a consultant?

Many b-schools previously condemned the use of admissions consultants but are now opening up to the idea purely from the understanding that they’re not going anywhere. I still find this an ethically grey area with two schools of thought.

The first, you were going to get peers, colleagues and/or mentors to review your application in any event, so how is using a consultant any different? My thinking behind this is the individuals reviewing applications in a personal capacity don’t stand to gain from it and know your background so any advice is more on a support basis whereas the use of a consultant is meant to tailor your application to the point where you may not be portraying a true representation of yourself.

The second (where I think I fit in), is that you sign off on an application confirming that all information is your own work. Can this really be the case if there was an external party trying to extract information that resulted in the “perfect” application? Also, I don’t think one would get the same sense of accomplishment of being accepted into the b-school of your choice if it wasn’t all of your own doing.

I’ve learnt that MBA applications have a knack of making you feel somewhat inadequate at times and leave you with a lot of questions but is the eco-system surrounding it just capitalizing on and creating unreasonable hype? Also, if you choose not to go down the consultant route, does that mean you want this any less?

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments – I’d love to get different views on this or answers to some of my questions.

“It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not.” ~ Hanoch McCarty

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