Handholding the hopefuls

Anusha Subramanian        Print Edition: Nov 14, 2010

In 2009, while working as a product development professional with Adobe Systems in Delhi, Ankur Seth sought admission to several top flight MBA institutes but failed. "The quality of my applications was poor. I was not able to articulate my achievements well," says Seth, a B.Tech from ITBHU.

He then turned to Apphelp, an admission consultancy firm, for help. Apphelp first identified schools that met Seth's requirements and then guided him through the entire application process, besides coaching him for the interviews. He applied to two foreign schools and was selected by one - Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.

Deepak Punwani of The MBA Exchange: Showing the way
Deepak Punwani of The MBA Exchange: Showing the way
Seth is part of a growing tribe of MBA aspirants that is seeking professional help to get into the best business schools. The intense competition for admission to the Indian Institutes of Management, or IIMs, and Ivy League schools abroad is forcing aspirants to search for that edge over their rivals.

MBA admission consultancy is already a flourishing business in the United States, with several established names such as Stacy Blackman, Clear Admit, Kaplan Inc. and The MBA Exchange. In India, this is a relatively new phenomenon and there are just two big names -Apphelp, launched in April 2008, and The MBA Exchange, which came to India a year later. "Over 20 per cent of the applicants to top-tier schools globally engage a professional advisor," says Daniel Bauer, Founder and MD of The MBA Exchange, and an alumnus of the Harvard Business School. These consultancy firms are managed by MBA graduates. All the consultants of The MBA Exchange in the US, for instance, are Harvard graduates.

Similarly, Apphelp's staff has several MBAs from the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, and the IIMs. These consultants, though, prefer to assist candidates with work experience and a CAT or a GMAT score to get into the regular programmes or the one-year executive MBA courses offered by leading Indian and foreign institutes. Says Sulabh Mangal, Founder of Apphelp: "Students are aspiring for the top B-schools globally."

The consultants assess the aspirants and give suggestions on how they can strengthen the personal, academic and professional aspects of their résumé and application. To begin with, the consultants shortlist the best B-schools for a candidate based on his or her CAT or GMAT score, work experience and the preferred stream of specialisation - finance, marketing or human resources. After the application process, the candidates are assigned a full-time consultant.

How it works

  • Students can enlist with a consultant a year before the admission cycle
  • Candidate must have work experience and a valid GMAT score
  • Consultants evaluate a candidate's profi le and suggest ways to improve the resumé
  • Candidates are coached on all aspects of the application process - resumé writing, essays and interview

"Many do not realise that along with their professional achievements it is also important to highlight their personal and academic achievements well," says Bauer. The services of these consultants do not come cheap. At Apphelp, the cost of applying to a single school is Rs 9,000. The MBA Exchange charges nearly Rs 40,000 per application. A fourschool application with comprehensive consultation could cost an applicant anywhere between Rs 2.5 lakh and Rs 3 lakh. But these consultancies say that their record justifies the steep fees.

Apphelp has in the last one year advised 400 students, of whom around 150 have secured admission to some of the best B-schools such as IIM Ahmedabad, ISB, France's INSEAD and the Harvard Business School. Apphelp also has one dedicated site, goISB.com, which has more than 2,000 registered users. This year Apphelp expects to advise at least 600 aspirants. The MBA Exchange has advised over 150 students and claims that 90 per cent of them have gone to B-schools such as Harvard, Stanford and Wharton.

Telephony and the Internet are the soul of this business. Most consulting happens over the phone, e-mail or through Internet chat. Personal interaction is limited and only happens if the applicant and consultants are geographically close.

Apphelp and The MBA Exchange do not advertise their services in the media. Web searches and client referrals bring them the desired volumes, they say. "Applicants across Asia, who might otherwise be unaware of the value we offer, can interact with us by a single click," says Deepak Punwani, a consultant with The MBA Exchange who has MBAs from Mumbai's Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies and INSEAD.

According to The MBA Exchange, less than 10 per cent of the applicants to the world's top B-schools manage to secure admissions. That is serious competition for the aspirants and a big opportunity for the consultants.

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