To celebrate the 100th of 2009, I have decided to engage in a self-indulgent interview with myself. Hopefully some of my readers will find this interesting as my objective is answer a number of questions I am frequently asked.
ON CONSULTING AND CLIENTS
Question: How long have you been a graduate admissions consultant and how much experience do you have?
Answer: I started working as graduate admissions consultant in November 2001. From 2001 to 2007, I worked for one of Japan's largest test preparation and admissions consulting companies and then, in September 2007, I started my consulting service and this blog. From 2004-2007, I managed the one-to-one consulting at my former employer while simultaneously doing admissions consulting full-time, which was a great opportunity to learn about how much I preferred the latter.
Question: So you like admissions consulting?
Answer: No, I am passionate about it. Which means that I tend to work best with highly focused clients who take the process at as seriously as I do. My passion comes from belief in the value of education, my desire to help others find fit in their own lives, and because I love learning about other people.
Question: Are you good?
Answer: I think so. For me, my client's testimonials, results, and referrals serve as an effective feedback mechanism for me to think so.
Question: Can you get better?
Answer: I hope so. I believe in the value of learning. Part of the way I learn is by thinking about the admissions process and then writing about it. Sometimes, like with my recent Chicago Booth Essay 1 post, I revise my ideas and advice to account for such new insights. New inputs generally results in new observations, so getting such stimulation is the key. The most direct way I learn more is through working with different people.
Question: So who do you work with?
Answer: Well, actually that has changed. From 2001-2007, most of my clients were Japanese. Once I launched my blog in 2007, this began to change. By 2009, 50% of my clients are Japanese and 50% are not Japanese. My clients located in Japan are both Japanese and, like myself, resident foreigners. My clients outside of Japan are from all over the world with the majority in the US and East Asia. I have also worked with a number of clients from the Middle East, various parts of the former Soviet Union, India, Turkey, and Western Europe. I intentionally try to work with a wide range of clients, which is a great way for me to leverage my schedule as well as continually increase my ability to learn from a really diverse and a remarkable range of individuals.
Question: Do you only work with applicants applying to Top 10 MBA programs?
Answer: No. While the majority of my MBA clients are certainly focused on such programs, I work with applicants applying to all kinds of graduate programs. For me, the real issue is not what the school's ranking is, but whether I see a good fit between myself and the client.
Question: Why does fit matter? Don't you just work with anyone? After all, they have the money and you...
Answer: No, I don't work with everyone who contacts me. The reason I do initial free intake sessions is that both the potential client and I can judge fit. From 2001-2007, when I worked for a company with a sales department, I had no control over who I worked with. This was great training for me because it required me to work with a huge range of people, but at the same time, I thought it was an awful way to run a one-to-one service. I believe that effective admissions consulting is a highly individualized counseling service and that fit between the client and consultant is critical. Since I believe in the value of individual choice, I know that not everyone will choose me. I think that is fine because like anyone I am unique and hence not to everyone's taste.
Question: So you don't mind being rejected?
Answer: No way! I think picking the right admissions consultant is important, that chemistry between people is variable enough, and that my own methods are unique enough that they are not to everyone's taste.
Question: So what kind of applicant do you work with?
Answer: My clients are focused on their futures. They are passionate about improving themselves. They understand that the admissions process is hard. They want to win and they are looking for a coach who will work hard to get them to perform to their highest level.
Question: You use the word "coach." Why? Don't you just edit?
Answer: My primary role is to be a coach. Like any successful athletic coach, I know what the nature of the competition is, can assess the strength of my athlete, work to enhance their performance, and generate a win. My methods involve dialogue, feedback on what they write (or what they say in an interview), and, as a very secondary consideration, editing. I don't do rewriting, so my editing tends to take the form of helping with word count or page length issues, eliminating obvious problems, and/or making suggestions for moving the text around to maximize its impact. Sometimes I have to act as a censor when a client writes about a topic that is, for a variety of reasons, damaging. Keep in mind that many of my clients don't need me to edit anything. They need me to make sure that they are presenting the best possible case through both analytical writing (goals essays) and interpretative storytelling (most other essays) that they can. My objective, like any coach, is to teach them a set of skills that they can employ. I am always looking to create a learning curve so that my client is continually improving as he/she moves from essay set to essay set and/or interview to interview.
Question: What is a damaging topic?
Answer: Well that varies from client to client, but basically anything that has the potential to undermine an application. Beyond just being too confessional (Yes, there are limits to what you should tell an admissions committee!), mostly damaging topics are those that could be easily misinterpreted so as to suggest that the applicant is dishonest, sexist, racist, mentally unbalanced(very rare), immature, or mentally challenged. We all write things that have unintended meaning. I am a very good reader and one of the ways I read is to make sure that my client is not potentially sending a fatally bad message. I would consider this as an important, but actually very small part of my work. I spend the vast part of my time talking with and writing to clients about ways to enhance their content.
BLOG NOMENCLATURE, BRANDING, AND READERSHIP
Question: Why do you use the URL's http://adammarkus.com/ and http://adam-markus.blogspot.com/ and not something more directly related to admissions consulting?
Answer: For a very simple reason, I am my own brand. When I decided to go into business for myself, I thought deeply about this issue. It seemed intuitive that there was no reason to hide behind the myth of an organization that I would never build. Based on my past experience, I could easily hire, train, and manage counselors, but the good ones would become competitors and the bad ones would damage my brand. I rejected an organizational option from the very beginning. Since I had no passion to build such an organization, I knew that if I offered quality content and consulting, I would get readers and clients.
Question: So, did it work?
Answer: Yes, much better than I had anticipated it would. Within a few months of launching my blog, I had attracted a solid group of readers. At the moment, the blog receives an average of 435 visitor per day. This varies throughout the year from about 200 to 700 hits a day.
Question: How does this make you feel?
Answer: Grateful to my readers! I am happy to know that my blog posts, especially my essay question analysis, are valued. Based on the feedback I receive both from readers and potential clients, I know that I putting time and effort into something that others find value in.
Question: You know, I was looking at some other admissions consultants sites and noticed that they were quite willing to analyze an applicant's profile based on relatively short written description, but you don't do this. Why not?
Answer: There are a few reasons. First, I don't have the time. My blog is a free resource, but counseling individuals is my sole income source, so I am not giving that away. Second, I think it is totally unprofessional to assess an applicant based on limited information without engaging them in a conversation to determine what their actual situation is. Some people look good or bad on paper, but are otherwise in reality. It is the consultant's job to figure that out. Of course certain realities are easily handled. For example, if someone tells you that they are 33 and want to go to HBS, it is easy to say very objectively that their chances are almost non-existent. Beyond, commenting on the merely obvious, I think profiling without actually consulting is professional malpractice.
Question: Adam, your analysis lacks any specific essay examples. Why?
Answer: Well, I see no value in doing so. There are books that provide such examples. The HBS one being the most notable. I think it is useful to see such examples so that you can see that successful applicants approach the process in their own unique ways. Since I know that the unique voice of an applicant can make a huge difference to the ultimate admissions outcome, I want each of my clients and/or readers to find their own way. They can certainly find formulaic template content elsewhere, so I don't think I would be adding any value by including it.
Question: But your analysis can be so abstract...
Answer: Yes, exactly. Given the possibility of great answers being expressed in manifold ways, my analysis is necessarily abstract. At the same time, I hope that I am providing conceptual road maps that enable effective understanding of the question being asked and help to elicit effective answers.
Question: What is at the core of your strategy as an admissions consultant?
Answer: I am principally concerned with two types of fit: (1) The identification by applicant of schools that they think they fit with (school selection) and (2)The fit of an applicant and their application for a specific school. The vast majority of my clients for MBA, Masters of Law, and other graduate programs have been focused on admission to top US and European graduate programs. Without both kinds of fit present, there is no point in making an application. If you can't both find and demonstrate fit, don't apply. My objective is always to help my clients find both kinds of fit, but sometimes in the very process of counseling, a client realizes a particular school is not for them. I think that is a fine outcome because it allows the client to focus on schools where they can find fit with. Fit thus functions not only as a core rhetorical structure in an essay or interview, but as way for clients to best utilize their own resources.
Question: Is fit that important?
Answer: Yes. One of my strengths as an admissions consultant is that I am not necessarily a believer in the inherent necessity of graduate education. In fact my method for helping clients formulate goals is very much based on the assumption that they have no reason to obtain a graduate degree unless they can demonstrate otherwise. Assuming they have demonstrated why they want a graduate degree in a particular field, I next assume that they have no specific reason to attend a particular school unless they can show that they can. Thus helping my clients find fit is at the core of what I do. I work to help my clients articulate goals and find fit so that when they actually submit an application or do an interview, the admissions reader or interview can easily see the fit.
Question: I assume your strategy relates to why so many admissions officers emphasize fit.
Answer: That is correct. Fit is at the core of my strategy because it is at the core of any selective applicant admissions process. Fit is also at the core of my strategy because I want applicants to make good decisions about school selection.
Question: What do you mean by good decisions?
Answer: I mean that those considering graduate school need to think and research deeply about where to apply. Sometimes they make the wrong choices because they don't actually focus on fit. Instead applicants focus on brand name or ranking without a real sense of what their needs are and/or their own relative chances for admission. Fit also means defining a minimally acceptable anticipated ROI. Unless an applicant must simply get into school, say because of company sponsorship, I see no point in going to a school which does not fit an applicant's minimal ROI. The cost of graduate education is usually so high that if an applicant cannot clearly identify why they will benefit from attending a particular school, that is a good indicator not to apply there.
Question: So no should apply to safety schools?
Answer: No, it is simply a question of definition. A school where an applicant can see the fit for their future is always worth considering. A school where they can't see the fit is not. Sometimes I work with applicants who were previously admitted to a "safety school," but actually the school is below their own sense of fit, so it is not really an effective solution. I have noticed that when they apply to a new group of schools, they are far more selective. Sometimes I initiate such a change in strategy, but just as often it is the client who initially comes to me with a better thought out list of options. I think of a safety or backup as one's bottom line acceptable choice. For some applicants that might mean only applying to one school, while for others, it might mean applying to ten or more. Whatever the number of schools applied to, the applicant's objective should be to find fit with all of them.
Question: Anything else you would like to tell us?
Answer: Keep reading my blog. Thank you for doing so. My objective is get another 30-40 posts up by the end of the year, but if it ends up being only another 20, please forgive me. I am getting rather busy. Finally, I hope you enjoyed this post.
Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to. Before emailing me questions about your chances for admission or personal profile, please see my recent post on "Why I don't analyze profiles without consulting with the applicant." If you are interested in my graduate admission consulting services, please click here.
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