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You can find a better version of my blog at http://www.adammarkus.com/blog/.

Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

July 25, 2008

Why I don't analyze profiles without consulting with the applicant

Dear Adam,
I wonder if you could tell me what my chances to get to get admitted to HBS, Stanford, Wharton, Haas, Tuck, and MIT are. My scores are... My GPA is... I have worked for...

I receive requests like the above via email to analyze someone's profile to determine their chances for admission. Of course, I have a FAQ that states that I consider it unethical to provide such information and that I only provide individual advice to my clients, but I don't think that many people read my FAQ. And those who make such requests want free information. I don't blame them from trying to get what they can, especially because there are other admissions consultants who will provide such "advice."

Frankly, I consider such "advice" to be both unethical and unprofessional because the information that is provided by the applicant is usually far too limited to really be the basis for a useful assessment. I only provide such an initial assessment when a talk with a potential client. Even then, much really depends on their application, their interview, and the admissions process.

While I can certainly tell someone that their chances for admission are probably below the acceptance rate if they are outside of the 80% for a program's age, GMAT, TOEFL, and/or GPA requirements, the person should, if they are not too lazy to look up the most basic facts about a school, be aware of that already. Usually, of course, the issue comes down to those who are in the 80% range (or perhaps outside it in one category) and it is especially at that point that I simply think it is wrong to provide such an assessment. There are two main reasons why I think this:

1. Since 2001, I have worked with or known of applicants who, if judged by their profile might not look like ideal candidates, but who were admitted to top programs. If they had followed the advice of someone who simply focused on their profile, they would not have achieved their impressive result(s). I am thinking of those admitted to HBS and Stanford with GMAT scores significantly below 700. I am thinking of a couple of applicants with secretarial level experience who were admitted to multiple "Top 10" MBA Programs. I am thinking of a client who was recently admitted to a top program with a relatively low TOEFL score. I am thinking of one of my blog readers who was admitted to a top program this year with a GMAT score significantly below the 80% range. I am thinking of a client admitted to Haas with a GPA below 3.0. I am thinking of the guy from a couple of years ago who I never thought would have a chance to get admitted to HBS (I did not tell him that!), but was. I am thinking of all these people and then I think of those whose experiences were similar whom I never had the opportunity of knowing and I become humble.

I become humble because I know the admissions process is one that rewards individual effort and often punishes those that lack it. I know of applicants with great profiles and weak applications (I do reapplication counseling) who wonder why they were dinged. I know why they were. But the thing is, when someone sends me an email with a bit of information about them, I can't say whether they have any chance at all because I don't know them. I don't know their passion, the real nature of their experience, their ability to handle an interview, or any of the other things that I learn about an applicant through talking with them. Maybe somebody thinks applicant assessment is a science, but I tell you it is an art.

2. Top MBA programs do judge applicants based on applications and interviews, therefore I consider it wrong to judge an applicant based on anything else. (Please don't send me your applications because I will not read them. That is what my clients pay me for.) Assuming an applicant is in, or is close to the 80% range in terms of core numbers (test scores, GPA, age, years of work experience), to me it is utterly pointless to judge an applicant's overall chances based on anything other than the application.

I know when an application is competitive, but given that I don't know the rest of the applicant pool and don't know who specifically is going to be reading the application, I can never be absolutely certain of the outcome.
Once we add in the interview element, the level of uncertainly only increases. It is my business to know what admissions committees are looking for, but that is different from knowing the person initially screening an application or the person interviewing an applicant. Given the turnover among admissions staff and changing criteria when a new admissions director takes over, even an admissions consultant who worked in a specific admissions office will within a relatively short amount of time be making their judgments based on old information. For example, admissions at Stanford GSB under Derrick Bolton and Chicago GSB under Rose Martinelli have dramatically changed, so that anyone providing advice based on working in admissions at those offices previously is providing either out of date "inside" information or new information that they (like you or me) obtained externally.

Schools make very different judgments about applicants. For example, every year I have had clients who were admitted to their top choice school and dinged at one that was lower ranked.
Sometimes the explanation can be found in the differences between admissions rates, but sometimes it simply defies an explanation. We might attribute it to "fit" but sometimes it simply is not subject to an obvious explanation. Some will be unhappy to read this, but admissions is a human process subject to chance. My job is to try and help someone mitigate that risk, but I can't eliminate it. No admissions consultant can. And if an admissions consultant can't know whether you will be admitted or dinged when they read your application, they certainly can't when they don't read it.

My approach to admissions consulting is client focused. That is to say, I need to know my client first before making any ultimate assessment about their application. It is only by knowing the person that I can effectively determine whether the application represents them at their best. I am confident enough about my own abilities to know that I add the most value to my clients by utilizing this method.

Even before a client pays me, I make an initial assessment based on talking with them. Two things are happening when I initially consult with someone to determine whether we should work together. First, the potential client is determining whether they want to work with me. Second, I am determining whether I want to work with the client. Fortunately I am in a position where I can afford to reject those I don't want to work with. It is my assessment of the person that determines whether I want to work with them.

I typically reject working with applicants who demonstrate a lack of commitment to the admissions process, a clear lack of maturity, and/or simply because I don't get a good feeling about them. I don't reject working with someone because of where they are applying to or because their chances for admission maybe low because of test scores or some other factor. I work with my clients to help them determine how much risk they want to take. For some, a high-risk strategy is reasonable because the ROI on going to a lower ranked program makes no sense. For others, their need to get admitted means we need to determine the right mix of schools to maximize their chances of admission to get into the best program they can. In either case, as long as someone is realistic, that is what matters to me.

I know my approach to applicants and applications is not for everyone, nor can everyone afford to use services like mine. One of the reasons I write this blog is to help those I can't advise personally. I know it is no substitute for working with an admissions consulting professional, but I do hope it helps.

Finally, feel free to get the "advice" of those who will do a free profile assessment, but do keep in mind that you get what you pay for. And also don't be surprised if the "advice" you receive is consistently hedging. After all, it is easy to tell someone their chances for admission might be a bit low, especially if they are applying to programs with low rates of acceptance. Also, if someone tells you that your scores are a little low or that you might be a bit too old, just do a bit of research to confirm what you are being told. Unless it is a very clear-cut case, it never hurts to check with admissions first. If admissions tells you that your chances are low or non-existent than I would suggest you consider other options. On the other hand, if you get no specific advice from admissions, but really want to go to the school, I suggest you apply. Just think about the overall portfolio of programs you are applying to and determine how much risk you want to take. Everyone wants a sure thing. That is human nature. If you want to attend a top MBA program, I suggest embracing risk. Life is too short to play it safe.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to.
-Adam Markus
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