20 Tips for Selecting a Graduate School Admissions Consultant

by Dr. Kristen Willmott

The time for graduate school admissions is in full swing with December, January and February deadlines approaching. As a result, we are fielding lots of calls from parents and prospective graduate students who are seeking help in the process.

As the Director at Top Tier Admissions, and utilizing my experience as adjunct faculty at several institutions and as a former Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Admissions and Financial Aid Officer, I frequently tell parents and students to do their homework when it comes to chatting with graduate school admissions consultants. There are many to choose from, but there are also important things to know and questions to ask.

I’ve created the following key things to know before hiring a graduate school admissions consultant AND the top 20 things to ask a graduate school admissions consultant before hiring.

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Key Things to Know Before Hiring a Graduate School Admissions Consultant:

  • As the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants 2015 MBA Applicant Survey results confirm:]:
    • 50% of applicants use an admissions consultant.
    • 30% of applicants begin working with a graduate admissions consultant more than six months before applying to programs. You will be competing against applicants who hired professional help.
  • All graduate admissions experience in the field is not equal.
    • Does the admissions consultant you’re considering have experience working as an Admissions Officer, Admissions Director, tenured or tenure track faculty member on the admissions committee etc. at a top ranked graduate program?
    • There are many graduate admissions consultants who have not actually worked in admissions at all. There are also many graduate admissions consultants who were “admissions readers” for a short time or sat in on admissions committees once or twice, or worked as staff assistants at graduate schools. I would argue that this experience is not fully beneficial to a graduate school applicant seeking admittance to a top ranked graduate degree program.
  • There are no guarantees in graduate school admissions. Be wary of anyone who offers you one.
  • It is a conflict of interest for a graduate school admissions consultant to confer with a current admissions officer about his or her students. I can tell you this having been an admissions officer. Every year I chat with parents and students who have just hung up the phone with admissions consultants who preached the benefits of their connections with current admissions officers at schools the student is targeting, framing these relationships as a leg up in admissions. These are promises that are not only false, but impossible to deliver on.
  • For graduate school admissions consultants, there are very few professional associations, but one is the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC). It is not imperative or needed that your graduate admissions consultant be a member, but the takeaway are the principles that these members adhere to. Some key principles that your graduate admissions consultant should uphold include:
    • Put the interests of the clients and prospective clients ahead of their own.
    • Advise applicants to explore career goals before applying to school. Support applicant introspection.
    • Encourage applicants to research schools and their programs while providing information and resources.
    • Insist that clients write their own essays.
    • Advocate that clients’ recommenders write their own recommendations.
    • Maintain client confidentiality. (See more here)
  • Be wary of an admissions consultant who sugarcoats anything for you. If you’re applying to a top graduate program in your field, the competition is fierce, even for those with near-perfect GMAT, MCAT, GRE or LSAT scores and 4.0 GPAs.
    You need an admissions consultant who can be honest about:
    -your odds in the admissions process
    -any shortcomings in your application package
    -quantitative checkpoints you need to achieve (GPA, test scores)
    -specific strategies In the process you need to follow

    Flattery in an admissions consulting relationship can only hurt the applicant in the long run. It is much better to know about weaknesses in your application and your odds at a program well in advance.  Find a consultant who understands (and has the knowledge and experience to accurately state) your odds at your targeted programs, and who will be truthful with you.

  • Factor in value more than price if you can. Saving money by selecting a less than qualified admissions consultant will likely only hurt you in the long run.
    • Examine the cost of your number one graduate degree program (tuition, fees, room and board, books, etc.). Quality admissions consultants are pricey for a reason; they have invaluable experience that carries a cost to access. Your admissions consulting relationship will be quick, but the benefits gained from it, and the degree and diploma you earn will follow you and your resume for the duration of your career and beyond.
  • It is important to find a graduate admissions consultant who is focused on allowing your voice to shine through in your applications.

    • Those who are passionate about their work, and successful at placing students in top graduate programs, are consistently focused on helping you hone your story and present your skills, background, and experiences to faculty and the admissions committee in a way that demonstrates you, your aptitudes, and what you’ll ultimately contribute to a graduate program.
    • Your voice is key; it must be represented in all pieces of your application.

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So, now that you know some key guidelines before hiring a graduate admissions consultant, it’s important to know the questions to pose to one you’d like to hire. My suggestions are the following –print these out and take notes on them when you have your free introductory call!

Top 20 Things to Ask a Graduate School Admissions Consultant Before Hiring:

      1. Do you offer a free introductory call so that I can learn more about your company, my assigned consultant and your program? AND May I have the free introductory call with the consultant whom I will actually be working with?
      2. What information should I send you before this introductory call?
      3. Do you outsource any of the admissions consulting work that you do?
      4. What is your experience in admissions and in my targeted field?
      5. What types of graduate school applicants do you work with? (MBA, Master’s, PhD, EdD, Medical School, Law School, etc)
      6. How long have you worked in admissions and admissions consulting?
      7. Where can I view a list of the graduate programs that your recent students have been accepted to?
      8. Where can I view testimonials or referrals from past or current clients?
      9. Do you have any free programs or tips that I can view before I commit to paid packages at your company? (blogs, PDF tips files, guides, webinars, etc.)
      10. What is the method of communication for consulting? Phone, email, Skype, etc.
      11. What is your availability in terms of dates and times?
      12. What is the response time that I can expect?
      13. What is the turn-around time on essay edits? What software/programs do I need to use?
      14. What is the cost, how is it paid, and is there a payment plan? Are there any discounts or coupon codes I may be eligible for?
      15. What differentiates you from your competitors?
      16. How do you select clients to work with? How many do you work with at one time?
      17. What is the timing of how this process will work given my targeted programs and field?
      18. Which of your programs do you advise for me and why?
      19. How can your program help me boost my acceptance rates at my targeted programs given the introductory information that I’ve told you about my credentials?
      20. What’s the next step and whom do I contact with follow up questions before committing to your program?

Good luck in your admissions journey. If you would like to set up a complimentary introductory call, please contact us at Top Tier Admissions. I look forward to chatting with you.