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During the 2010-2011 application season, I applied to four schools (Ross, Anderson, Marshall, and McCombs) in round 3, received an interview at McCombs, and was denied at all four schools. I worked with an admissions consultant from a company that I will not name out of respect. The consultant was nice, personable, and got my essays into top shape, but looking back I feel that the consultant was simply out to make a quick buck. If I was rating my experience with this consultant, I would give it 2 stars.
Anyway, after I was denied I spent the next two and a half years slowly working to improve my candidacy and preparing to give business school one more shot.
I initially decided to go it alone based on my last experience. After about a week of pounding my head against a wall, I realized I needed help and ultimately chose Stacy Blackman Consulting. I think this is really the key for people debating whether to hire a consultant. If you are organized and can push yourself you can probably do it alone, but I tend to procrastinate and needed someone lighting a fire underneath me. I reached out to SBC, did the intro call with a representative from the company, and was given three options for a consultant to work with. I chose Sarah after reading her bio because I felt her background would be a good match for me.
Sarah was very friendly and more importantly honest. I wanted to do the “all in” aka comprehensive package and thought about a five school deal (Ross, McCombs, Marshall, McDonough, and Kenan-Flagler) that would have cost me over $8500. I asked her straight up whether I had a chance at any them because I had several weaknesses to overcome (low GPA, older applicant, some gaps in my resume, and what I would consider mediocre work experience) and didn’t feel like throwing my money away like I did with my previous consultant. She said that I did with the exception of Ross, which would be a challenge. Ross was my dream school so I had to give it a shot no matter what she said, but her honesty was refreshing. Compare that to my previous consultant who suggested I apply to Booth, Kellogg, and Anderson in addition to Ross, Marshall, and McCombs.
Before I made the hefty investment with SBC, Sarah and I discussed a game plan. Instead of loading me up on five schools, Sarah suggested I pick three schools for round 1 and to use what I learned from her to apply to the other schools in round 2. She could have easily signed me up for all five, but she didn't and I respect that. One of the most helpful things we did was our second phone call that lasted about an hour. She grilled me on a variety of topics: my background, some of my accomplishments, what I wanted to do, stories from each of my jobs/extracurricular, a time where I showed creativity, a time where I learned something, I time where I led, the list goes on and on. She then took all of my responses and came up with five themes known as the “application strategy document”, which became the backbone of my essays. This was a really useful process. It gave my essays a clear message and gave clarity to my career goals. I didn’t do anything like this with the previous consultant.
Once Sarah got a hold of my essays, they changed completely. She pushed me much more so than the previous consultant. It was frustrating and there were times where I just wanted to be done with them, but she kept pushing and pushing and churning out multiple drafts (9 drafts for Ross, less drafts for McCombs and Marshall). Throughout the process, Sarah was very responsive and always had feedback for me within 24-48 hours. She also told me to visit the schools beforehand and to reach out to students to give my essays some uniqueness. This seems obvious but my previous consultant never mentioned it.
I ended up getting interviews at McCombs and Marshall. Sadly, Ross did not show me the love. Sarah worked with me on interview prep (included in the “all in” package) and we did mock interviews for each school. I can't say that my interview at McCombs went well (I'm not the best interviewer). My interview at Marshall went better (but wasn’t great) and I think the end results supported this since I was denied at McCombs and wait listed at Marshall.
Now, you are probably wondering why I am so positive about Sarah. It was upsetting to not get an admit after spending a lot of money, however the waitlist result at Marshall represented progress and without her help there is no way I get waitlisted. Secondly, I ended up applying to McDonough in round 2, interviewed (and had my best interview after incorporating the same techniques I learned from the mock interviews) and got admitted. Although I did not work with Sarah on my McDonough essays, they were essentially the same as my Marshall essays so I have to give her credit for that. And had I taken her advice about Ross, I would have likely applied to McDonough instead and got admitted. In the end, I did manage to get off the wait list at Marshall, so while it took a few months, my goal was achieved. Right now I am deciding on McDonough or Marshall.
Choosing the “all in” package is a big investment if you are doing 3, 4, or even 5 schools. I found some elements of the package to be extremely helpful, (the application strategy document, the mock interviews, the online resource that includes past essays from former clients), and others not so much (the flight test, which sounded good, basically your essays get read by a former admissions representative who then gives you feedback, which in my case wasn’t really different from what I was getting from Sarah and didn’t result in any major changes to my essays). I think you may be able to save some money by going ala carte and picking individual services, but if you are looking for a comprehensive package, I would highly recommend the “all in” package at SBC and I would choose Sarah to work with. I thought I could do it alone, but without her I would have been lost.
Consultant Kevin (SBC)
Due to various reasons, I could only start working on my MBA applications in early December 2013. With most R2 deadlines fast approaching I chose to get the hourly services from SBC. Kevin was the consultant I worked with and he wasted no time in getting an idea of where I was and what would be the smartest way to go about my applications with the time constraints on hand.
A few months later, I am writing this review with offers from McDonough & Olin. I believe Kevin did a brilliant job and helping me in achieving the best possible outcomes in this situation.
He was extremely understanding and helped me a great deal in expressing myself in the best possible manner in my application.
Consultant Caryn (SBC)
There's no question in my mind Caryn Altman @ SBC helped me get into Kellogg and Haas (heading to the Bay area this fall!). With a mediocre GMAT score and no quant in my undergraduate transcript, she engineered a tailored, competitive application strategy that mitigated my weaknesses/accentuated my strengths. She's extremely strategic; she's extremely knowledgeable about the entire application process (Full Time, Part Time, etc.); and last but not least - she's extremely hard working and professional. Specifically, my essays were bullet proof after 6 to 8 rounds with her. She's straight forward and says it the way she sees it (it stung a few times, not going to lie!). But during an extremely stressful and confusing process, you need a trusted partner - someone who can guide you honestly and confidently. Working with Caryn was the best decision I made throughout my application process.
Consultant Margaret (SBC)
I am an international applicant, an older candidate and a re-applicant. Though I had a decent academic profile and GMAT score, I was unable to secure admission in my initial attempts. I was desperate and had decided that this was going to be my last attempt at Full time programs.
I decided to look for a consultant, and decipher what it was I was doing wrong. After contacting a few firms, I liked SB for their prompt and detailed response. I also had a talk with Margaret, who was my primary consultant, and felt happy to work with her. She is encouraging and straight-forward. I also liked the fact that SB and Margaret have been working in this field for a number of years, so there was some history there. I had a clear idea of the schools that I wanted to apply to, in light of my interests and age and we started from there.
I had some basic ideas for the essays which we used, but our discussions really helped emphasize the human side of my stories. We also worked on my resume, and I think we went up to 8 or 9 drafts, before it got b-school ready. All of this was really helpful, because I was able to portray a complete picture of myself.
Working with her also ensured that I was completing everything way before the deadlines. This gave me sufficient time for school research and filling out the actual electronic application, things I had neglected previously. Overall, I was very happy with the quality of my applications, and was also quite prepared for my school visits and interviews.
Of the 4 schools I applied to, I got into 2, including my top choice. I will be joining an M7 program this year, and am very happy with the outcome.
Ultimately, a consultant cannot help you gain experience. You have to do it yourself, and depending upon your candidate profile, be realistic about where you should apply. But if you have done that properly, Margaret and SB can definitely ensure that your candidacy is highlighted in the best possible manner and make sure that all parts of your application package are perfectly developed so that your application is in the best shape it can be. My only regret, I should have worked with them earlier.
Consultant Bill (SBC)
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Bill@StacyBlackman for all his advice and guidance he provided during the application process which was invaluable and instrumental to my Kellogg’s admission.
I intuitively felt the connection right after the free consultation. Bill was in fact the deciding factor for me to go with Stacy Blackman Consulting (SBC). Bill was honest with me. As mentioned by one of the previous applicants I couldn’t agree more -- “Bill was indeed a saint”. Bill not only was calm but also made me feel relaxed especially when I was getting ahead of myself.
Bill's approach towards the application process was methodical, thorough, prudent and he was extremely patient. Bill was very prompt responding to all my emails irrespective of the time, day or the week. Besides being prompt, his responses were very clear. The most important thing for me was he believed in me.Without any doubt Bill is invaluable asset SBC can have.
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I was waitlisted by one of my top choice schools. As I have to go back to school this year, I was eager to find help and support. Through referral, I chose Stacy Blackman for my waitlist support.
My first connection was with Esther Magna (she is the just contact person, not my consultant). She was nice over the phone. Since I had question regarding service fee and all other stuff, I emailed her afterwards. After a few email exchanges, she got annoyed and her tone sounded very angry. In one email, I felt like I got yelled at. But I was confident with the consultant she recommended and there was a lot of good reviews for the consultant, so I still chose Stacy Blackman.
After I paid the fee, she disappeared and I never heard a word from her. To me, I have contacted a few consulting services, and none of them are like her customer service. Just a piece of advise, if you are not patient and nice enough, people can feel it and the only harm is to the company you work for.
Maybe Stacy Blackman is great, but she needs to pick the right person to represent the company.
Regarding the consultant I work with, I have nothing but good about him. Patient, smart, and dedicated. My experience will be so much better if I only worked with my consultant from the minutes I signed up.
Esther's so sorry that she came off that way. Email can be tough - sometimes it's hard to interpret tone. However, I am thrilled that you were happy with Andy and I agree that he is a terrific consultant, very dedicated, thorough and talented. Esther's great too - so we regret that her email was interpreted in a way that you felt yelled at. We wish you the best!
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Consultant Andy (SBC)
The MBA application process - with the help of my excellent SBC consultant Andy Pelletier - was incredibly revealing and rewarding in terms of self-discovery - regardless of the school I ended up choosing. With Andy's probing, pushing, and constructive criticizing, I learned so much about myself and the person I want to become - which not only helps me personally define my goals and a pathway to get there, but also helped immensely with crafting my applications.
I did the hourly service, and Andy was attentive and timely. He responded to my drafts very quickly (usually less than 1 hour, including off-hours and weekends). His advice was effective & efficient - he always started high level with what messages/themes are most valuable to get across to AdCom, then dove deeper to help me organize my thoughts around that central message.
I am on the young end of the MBA spectrum, so I wasn't really sure if an acceptance anywhere this year was feasible (I was half expecting to have to reapply next year). Clearly Andy's help worked, as I got into Berkeley Haas (one of my top choices!!) and received a $100k Forte Fellowship to Cornell Johnson! I am also on the waitlist at MIT Sloan, and Andy quickly and thoroughly helped me craft a campaign to improve my chances of getting in off the waitlist.
Andy legitimately wants you to succeed. I would definitely recommend working with Andy Pelletier at SBC on your MBA admissions applications!
Consultant Lisa (SBC)
They matched me up with Lisa because of her knowledge of the schools I was applying to. Lisa was great! She was very helpful and responsive and I liked that she gave me honest feedback. My process took longer than average and she didn't get frustrated with me and she really made me believe in myself and my story. I don't have a very unique background but she helped me think of little things to add that extra touch to my essays.
Stacy also helped calm my nerves whenever I had some freak out moments when I thought my essays weren't good enough or too boring. She assured me that I was answering the questions asked and gave me helpful advice for adds/tweaks. It certainly worked!