Last spring, the Harvard Business School quietly took a step that would have been unthinkable only 10 years earlier: It welcomed nearly 50 for-hire admissions consultants to its leafy campus, treating them to a private tour of the school’s red brick, neo-Georgian buildings and a chance to chat with both Admissions Director Dee Leopold and Steve Nelson, executive director of Harvard’s MBA program.”We were welcomed as fellow professionals,” says Dan Bauer who heads up The MBA Exchange, a firm that helps applicants get into top schools. “It was all civil, cordial and candid.”
That warm embrace by the most prestigious business school in the land marks a watershed for the business of admissions consultants. Not long ago, Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and other top schools regarded these hired guns with disapproval and scepticism. B-school officials often spoke out against the use of consultants, and some schools explicitly forbade applicants from hiring them. They worried that if the practice became widespread, it would be impossible for admissions officers to know if they were evaluating the work of an applicant—or that of a high-priced surrogate. And even if consultants contained themselves to merely polishing essays and helping clients present the best possible image, didn’t that confer an unfair advantage over students who couldn’t afford a paid helper?
Those concerns have largely fallen by the wayside. The relationship between the top schools and the consultants has gone from chilly to positively cozy. The Harvard visit was part of a three-day conference in June organised by the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC). The consultants also met with the dean of MIT’s Sloan School and the admissions officers at the most prestigious business schools in the world including Dartmouth, Yale, and Duke. Columbia, New York University, Michigan and INSEAD even gave a behind-the-scenes look at the admissions process, evaluating three hypothetical candidate profiles for the group.
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