Should You Work With an Admissions Consultant?

Written by Stephanie Small, Edited by for - November 2013

Planning to apply to grad school this year? It’s important to know the odds. While some schools are easier to get into than others, some receive thousands of applications per year, and accept only a fraction of the hopefuls. For example, Duke University received 8,171 applications for Ph.D. programs beginning during the 2012-2013 academic year. Only 994 offers of admission were extended, and while 6,600 students applied to Stanford’s business school for the 2011-2012 academic year, only 7% were accepted. What’s a prospective grad student with Ivy-league stars in her eyes to do?

Enter the world of admissions consulting. Invest anywhere from a couple hundred to over ten thousand dollars, and a consultant will custom-tailor the application process to your needs, from matching your interests and resume with prospective schools to crafting a beautiful and cohesive application (in general, the more you pay, the more services you receive). It’s a high-end service, no doubt. And arguably creates an unfair advantage over hundreds of excellent candidates that simply can’t shell out that kind of dough. Bottom line, though – is it worth it? Because if it is, it may be worth that chunky credit card debt. Here are some things to consider:

Do you stand a pretty good chance of getting in on your own? Top applicants typically have:

An excellent GPA from an accredited institution

Passable social skills,

Solid writing skills,

Relevant experience/coursework,

Glowing letters of recommendation,

And standardized test scores ranging from the “very good” to “exceptional”.

If you meet these criteria, congratulations! Unless you’ve got a skeleton in your closet or totally flub the interview, you may stand an excellent chance of being a top pick at the graduate school of your choice. This, however, is not an assurance of admission – even if you think you have a great chance of being admitted into your top choice of graduate programs, you may still want to consider whether an admissions consultant could help you make your application more polished than it already is.

However, if your application a little rough around the edges, you may want to seriously consider enlisting the services of an admissions consultant. Perhaps you’re more of an average applicant that could use professional guidance to stand out. Or perhaps there’s a really obvious red flag in your past – you dropped a number of classes, some of your grades aren’t great, your standardized test scores are blah – that requires damage control. In that case, someone trained in the fine art of graduate school application processes could probably help.

Do you know where you want to go? One role of admissions consultants is to match the applicant to the right schools: they have intimate knowledge of graduate programs and can give you the insider scoop. If you’ve already got your heart set on particular programs, you might not need the guidance. But for others who are unsure – deciding among several types of programs, or not clear on their chances for admissions – consultants can provide a wealth of information.

Do you have the time? One advantage to admissions consultants? If you’re strapped to the max – long hours at a demanding job, or family responsibilities – it might be super-helpful to be able to pay a qualified professional to do the legwork for you. Which brings us to…Do you have the cash? One popular admissions consulting company charges $200 per hour. Another offers packages starting at $3600 for unlimited consulting around admission to a single school (rates are higher for multiple schools).

If you don’t have the cash, should you go into debt for it? This is a question only you can answer, and it involves looking at the big picture. If the cost of an admissions consultant is the only thing standing between you and the school of your dreams, consider the salary you’ll make when you graduate. When you consider the potential financial advantages down the road, it may help justify the cost.

…And if you decide to work with an admissions consultant, follow these three rules:

1.  Do your research. Pick an individual or organization that has a stellar reputation.

2. Interview your potential consultant at length about his or her experience and success record.

3. If you’re not satisfied with your experience, don’t wait until the last minute – immediately contact the head of the consulting firm and relay your concerns.



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