Does an MBA Admissions Consultant need an MBA?

Last week, over a thank-you lunch with a lovely client, who got into 4 out of 5 schools to which he applied -including Harvard- his conversation turned to hiring an MBA consultant. “One of the main reasons I chose you” he explained, “was that you didn’t have an MBA.”

“Touché” I thought to myself. He gets it. (That’s why I liked him right from the start!)  His words were timely, as a day or two earlier I had come across this post from an MBA aspirant on a new website, Poets & Quants, dedicated to the b-school universe: “Should You Hire an MBA Consultant?”

In the post, the aspirant thoughtfully laid out his criteria for choosing his consultant. I was delighted to read how happy he is with his current consultant. (Let me stop right here and say “bravo,” as the consultant’s company is a fellow member of AIGAC, the professional organization co-founded by the owner of, Linda Abraham. AIGAC sets and maintains a high level of industry standards  for graduate admissions consultants.)

I went down his list of criteria, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t, but what grabbed my attention most was his first paragraph, in which he maintained:

“Let’s say I wanted to go to Harvard Business School. I would rather take advice from someone who has been to and graduated from Harvard Business School than someone who hasn’t.  That’s a no brainer right? Well I think there are many consultants out here who have not attended these top schools and yes [sic] feel that they are qualified to advise others on how to get into them. It’s like really… you’re telling me how to get into HBS and you didn’t even get into or go to HBS? What do you know?  in a nice way of course ;-)”

He continued with:

“She’s been through the business school process herself and got into (AND GRADUATED) what I consider the top business school in the world! So that in and of itself makes her qualified to be a consultant in my eyes.”

During my nearly one dozen years in the admissions industry, potential clients have occasionally asked me if the fact that I do not have an MBA allows me to be qualified to help them get one. My answer has never wavered: Each of us has his/her area of expertise. MBA’s run organizations. I do not. MBA’s know how to do financial analysis. My checkbook is not always balanced. But I do know how to tell a story (I also spent 15 years as a journalist.) And helping clients tell their stories in a clear, coherent and compelling way is what I do best. Moreover, not being affiliated with a school (as an alumna) allows me to encourage clients to look beyond stock choices to explore other options at other schools. In short, my clients are the yin to my yang (or is it the other way around?) and there are hundreds out there who got into their dream business schools in spite of, or more likely because of, the fact that I do not have an MBA.

I would also like to point out that many (many!) admissions committee members don’t have an MBA either. But they do know how to evaluate an application, market their school and build a winning team/cohort. Just as business schools make a big deal of seeking diversity, the road leading to those schools is populated by different points of view, different approaches and different backgrounds. Admissions consultants reflect that diversity. In my humble opinion, whether or not we have an MBA is irrelevant in our quest to help clients present themselves in their best light and find the programs that best match their aspirations. The bottom line is results, and anyone out there looking for a consultant should focus on that above all.