Review of Essay Services

[Note by Joey: This is an excerpt of the weblog I have retired. It was probably the most useful portion of the many words that were spilt in writing of my stab at B-schools. The result was acceptance at 5 schools.]


Saturday, March 06, 2004

I really should be prepping for my HBS interview I'll have next week. I'm flying there to interview, since I think that will be more compelling than a telephone interview (unless my breath really stinks or I get flat-top haircut, of course).

I got my Kellogg package this week. It's getting me excited about the place - they even go so far as to give me an email address (jstark2006@kellogg....). However, I've really been thinking about HBS and am almost certain that if they eventually say yes, I'll go there. I still want to see if the climate and culture are as back-stabby as some say.. but most folks I've talked to who actually go there or are grads say that it isn't really all that bad. And I like the challenge of standing before my peers, presenting my ideas, and getting holes blown in my poor logic. What doesn't kill me will make me stronger, right?

Alright - on to the admissions consultants questions. I've gotten a question or two about which ones I'd recommend, so I'll give a very brief overview here and hopefully delve deeper once I get the HBS interview out of the way.

A few Rules of Engagement when you're working with these guys:

Don't sign up for long-term contracts before you work with the admissions consultant you'll actually be working with. If you have a big personality difference (great guy, but he/she doesn't mesh well with you), life will be painful or you'll forego $1000 or so. Usually, you'll get to have an hour consult with them for $125 (as for Admission Consultants) . Or with Cambridge Essay Service, you can talk with the in-house guru for free to make sure you're compatible.

You know what you really want to do: don't let them redefine your future. I had no knowledge of the business landscape. Most folks say that it's helpful to have an admissions consultant if you're a career switcher so that you can help cogently explain your story. Mine still feels somewhat muddled to me, but these guys helped me firm it up some. But I was also told, "You don't want to do that, military guys always go into this!" I thought about doing what they suggested before I snapped back to my senses: I can't build my whole application around a figment of someone else's imagination.

Understand what services they provide. The services vary, read and interview them carefully.

These guys work for you. One of my admission consultants got persnickety when I amped up the expectations on him... but for the price you're paying, expect performance (within reason, of course).

Don't expect anyone to write your essays. You know this already, but it must be said. These guys are coaches, expert witnesses, editors, demystify of the application process, and reality-checkers. They may also be great writers: but they edit and suggest.

Try to understand the focus of the admissions consultant. Please note that some admissions consultants are more focused on smaller changes in your application. I call these word-smithing focused consultants 'tactically' minded: they're focused on the smaller picture. This is helpful if you've got a very good overarching approach and a well integrated marketing position for yourself, but just need some polish. Others are more focused on the larger shifts and changes. These are 'strategically' minded folks that (as the word implies) want to help with your overall strategy. Arguably, the latter is more important: a well written set of essays with zero applicable content or meaningful marketing is deadly. However, a great strategy in which you're marketed well but don't use the exact wording or have a slight grammatical error here or there is alright. Succintly, thought-smithing is more important than word-smithing. But remember that strategic shifts in your plan take time to implement and can require a paradigm shift on your part. This may mean throwing away a planned essay (or a completed essay) in lieu of something that will work better. Working with a more strategically minded consultant can be more painful (workwise and egowise). Working with tactically-minded word-smithers can give you this feeling of confidence ("Hey, they didn't change my wording much and they said I was doing great!"), but sometimes falsely. The worst consultant, of course, is someone who changes a few words on your essays and pats you on the back to get you out the door.

Ok, with all that out of the way, the admission consultants I used are listed below.

Essay Edge Ok, I didn't use these guys as full-fledged admission consultants, but I used them to prepare my letters of recommendation. Why? Because I couldn't have the letters of recommendation be in my tone (I expressly asked them not to use my tone) and I needed some quick turn-around. The guy I worked with was great: he offered some larger, strategic changes (just for each recommendation), implemented some strategic used 'track changes' in word (this is huge in order to save time), and wrote very well. I did find a couple of grammatical errors on an essay I had returned, albeit minor (lack of parallelism in a lengthy sentence). I highly recommend them for editing any single essays if you believe that you've got a good strategic plan. They edited 4 recommendation letters (1 of them twice due to some big changes on my end) for about $700. I'd go back to them. Note that I used Joshua Barnes for all of my essays; I can't speak to the others at this service, but I highly recommend him (you can request your editor by name if you want).

Admission Consultants
This is a pretty effective service. I've talked at length with David Petersam, the bossman there. He's seemingly always there, even when I called at 8:00pm to just leave a voicemail. I wouldn't be surprised if he slept there. He'll give you a powerful pitch when you call (and unfortunately talk down about others in his industry - a trait I didn't particularly appreciate). He was very helpful in assigning me to a consultant that was ex-military. I had an hour with this consultant who was very helpful, but we didn't really mesh. Nothing personal, but we didn't 'click', so I sought out another consultant at that firm. I got assigned to Kent Harrill: he was professional, encouraging, and we clicked. He worked with me on three applications for the low-low price of $1600. provides what I see as a good middle ground in terms of strategic and tactical help, though I thought at the time I was getting less strategically minded advice than what I wanted. But since I've gotten into Kellogg and have an interview at HBS, perhaps my starting point wasn't in need of much strategic direction. I should add that Kent used 'track changes' which was helpful on essays, my resume, recommendation letters, etc. He reviewed entire applications and offered insights. We discussed interview questions (but didn't do a mock interview). Also, I bought a 30-minute time period with an ex-Tuck admissions director to discuss particulars of what that school and the admissions team there looks for. This was a little helpful, but since this guy knew I was working with one of his coworkers, he was hesitant to offer much in the way of insight, which was unfortunate.

Brody Admissions
The service here is comparable to Admissions Consultants, though each service explained why they were better than the other (see website and call them for their official marketing spiel). I used Brody for one school at the tune of $700.00. This appears to be a slightly smaller business than AdmissionsConsultants. I worked with Toby. We had the phone discussions up front and then I got sucked into doing other apps. Toby was there emailing me letting me know I needed to get going on the app he was helping me with. While you may not think you'll need baby-sitting, this was very helpful for me: it's was insane to crunch in all the apps I needed to in such a short period of time. I thought his advice was helpful and focused (though I didn't use all of it); he struck a good 'strategic-tactical' balance, if not a little light on the 'strategic' arena (but see comments about this in previous bullet). Bonus: we had a mock interview for an hour and he offered some great feedback and insights which I'm sure helped in my interviews. One detractor (I thought) is that Brody doesn't use the 'track changes' features of MS Word. To ensure they don't cross 'ethical boundaries', they provide edits via paper mark-up and either email the copy back to you or post in on their proprietary workspace. It works well, but track changes would have been nicer.

Cambridge Essay Service
If ever there was an admission consultant you'll either hate or love, it's this one. Others in the industry seem to slam him with abandon. But there's no need to listen to what others (or I) have to say about Cabridge Essay Service: read the 'Ask Sandy' message board at forums. There you'll get a real flavor for what he's like: feelings-be-damned, here's the truth. And it might hurt. I should add that this is his truth, but he'll share it like it's the gospel. He's the priciest of the bunch: $1,800 for a single application. If you do a second one with him, you get a whopping $300 discount off that price. I used him for one app (HBS) and have an interview coming up. One huge reason I went with him is that during our initial (free) phone conversation, he gave me more information than many others did in paid sessions. I also knew I would get some serious objective input in his classic no-nonsense way of delivery. Finally, when I reminded him that $1,800 would buy the same service for three schools by other admissions consultants, he said that it might be best if I went with them. What? No bashing the others in the industry? You're about to lose a $1,800 client! I was on board. Before you go with him (Sandy Kreisberg), you could try his free editing of your HBS essay #1. That will give you the flavor of his edits: very strategic and very large. Don't expect him to change happy to glad, but instead to give you AN ALL CAPS REMARK THAT YOU NEED TO GET AWAY FROM WHAT YOU DID AND WHY YOU DID IT. IE WHAT YOUR MOTIVATIONS WERE AND HOW YOU MADE THE SITUATION BETTER. You'll also get sample essays and remarks from cut-n-pasted emails, etc. Though the information was useful, this all had an unpolished, ad-hoc feeling to it. At first, I was thinking "oh, this is worth $1,800". In retrospect, I saw that these large shifts in essay focus and the almost fomulaic approach he uses as helpful. You may disagree. If so, get prepared to cross paths with Sandy. Perhaps since our personalities are very different from one another, we got a little sideways with one another when I inquired if he had received one of my latest essays. An email glitch caused me not to receive his emails or he didn't receive mine (not sure which) and I was under the gun: so I planned to take my business elsewhere. His response was a well-written idictment of my lack of performance, organization, and planning in getting him essays. If you can't handle some retorts like this, go elsewhere. But if your skin is thick and you want a guy who will give you high-level advice (no detailed essay editing, no 'track changes', no formatting, etc) and you have time to implement his changes, go with Cambridge Essay Service. He may encourage you to make titanic shifts which are somewhat disheartening, but the end result will be better than taking a bad marketing plan and putting polish on it. Though I questioned whether my $1,800 was worth it at the time, I would repeat the painful, but gainful process.

Well, that's it. I didn't do justice to reviewing everything, but I would say that each service was very helpful and I would probably go with each of them. I've listed them in the approximate order of wordsmithing to strategic planning (with AdmissionsConsultants and Brody tying each other). I haven't used EssayEdge's full-fledged service, which may be as helpful as AdmissionConsultans or Brody. My assessment is that none are as strategic and hard-hitting as Cambridge Essay Service.

Posted by JoeyStark at February 11, 2005 04:32 AM | TrackBack