A Stanford MBA Starts A New MBA Admissions Consultant Platform
ApplicantLab |
July 27, 2021

For this week’s episode of Business Casual, our hosts Maria and John have guests! Meet Stanford’s alumnus Cameron Lehman, the founder of Leland, and Betsy Massar, the founder of Master Admissions (who is filling in for Caroline).

With 6+ years of coaching experience helping applicants earn spots at HBS, GSB, Wharton, Booth, MIT, and Haas, what more can Cameron offer for the MBA admissions industry at large with his newly launched consulting company, Leland?

The team discusses Cameron’s plan to make MBA Admissions Coaching more accessible to all. 

Episode Transcript

[00:00:07.510] – John

Hello, everyone. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. Welcome to Business Casual, our weekly podcast. Today we have a guest cohost, Betsy Massar of Master Admissions, who is filling in for Caroline Diarte Edwards, and of course, back in the Maria Wich Vila, the founder of Applicant Lab. And we have a guest as well to talk to today. He is a Stanford MBA who’s launching an interesting start up in the MBA admissions consulting field. His name is Cameron Lehman. Welcome, Cameron.

[00:00:40.770] – Cameron

Thanks, John. Thanks for having me.

[00:00:42.670] – John

So why don’t we just start off with you telling us a little bit about yourself and why you’re starting this company and what it’s going to do.

[00:00:52.270] – Cameron

Awesome. Yeah. So I’m actually a Stanford double-dipper. So went to Stanford as an undergrad and then was fortunate enough to return for my MBA. And in the years since graduating from business school, have done quite a bit of coaching for young, hopeful MBA applicants. And of course, had done considerable amount of that for undergrads as well in the years since graduating Stanford, but had really started formalizing that practice after getting my MBA and had learned increasing amount about the MBA admissions industry just by taking on private clients and saw a lot of things that I thought were working in the industry and a lot of things that I thought could be improved, specifically around access to services like this. And that led me to a conversation with a current MBA. He’s going to just completed his first year at the GSB and will be in MBA two this coming year. And we ended up connecting via a mutual friend, one of my classmates at the GSB, actually, and he had had similar insights into the MBA admissions industry. He coming at it actually from the deferred MBA side of things, having done most of his coaching very specifically tailored towards those applying while they’re still undergraduates.

[00:02:17.970] – Cameron

So we had different perspectives on the industry, and we sort of put our heads together, started speaking about a year ago, and then decided we wanted to start a company to try and increase access to these sorts of admission services that’s really been the driving force for us. And so we have been building our company. The company is called Leland, building it in earnest, really, since January and very recently launched. So that’s a bit more about us.

[00:02:44.640] – John

And basically, your company is a platform upon which you will sign up individual admission consultants, and then you will take a fee from them who do the marketing and you will kind of get them. Is that correct?

[00:02:59.390] – Cameron

Yes, that’s a great synopsis. I try not to use little phrases like the one I’m about to use, but it’s sort of apt, which will be the Airbnb for MBA applicants so people can aspiring applicants can come to the site, they can fill out a profile, and then they will be able to search on our site for those, as you say, vetted admissions coaches, independent coaches. So we will be the marketplace connecting those two parties.

[00:03:28.970] – John

And so far you signed up. How many coaches?

[00:03:31.730] – Cameron

We have about 40, 45 live right now, ready to take applicants. And then there are about over 100 more interested in the process of onboarding in some state of onboarding right now.

[00:03:48.970] – John

So now how many of them are what I would call professional admission consultants versus students who’ve helped out people or recent graduates who want to just pay it forward?

[00:03:59.960] – Cameron

That’s a great question. So the overwhelming majority are the latter. So we have a significant portion of people who are current students, recent graduates, and in some instances, recent admits to these programs. And then there’s a much smaller minority who are professional full time consultants. And the reason we’re excited about having that mix is because part of the current paradigm with admissions offerings is that they tend to skew on the much more expensive side of things. And if you have individuals from all different backgrounds and all different levels of experience, it will encourage a wider variety of offerings and a wider variety of prices so that there’s just more on offer for more people. So we appreciate that we have a wide range of people interested in signing up as coaches.



[00:04:54.030] – John

So, Cameron, I want to know why you didn’t take the big job with the big money. Stanford MBAs, freshly graduated, are among the most highly compensated MBAs in the world. You chose to actually spend a year case writing, and now you’re launching startup. Why in the world didn’t you go for the big money?

[00:05:13.900] – Cameron

It’s a great question. I personally have always been motivated by building things. Both my parents, they’re doctors, but they both built their own medical practices. So I was sort of around entrepreneurs, so to speak, at an early age. So that’s always really held a lot of interest for me. And I did work at a very large company out of Undergrad. I worked for Anheuser Bush, where I ran a Budweiser brand in a marketing role and learned a lot from being in a large environment like that, but wanted to be a little bit more nimble. And then on top of all that, I really do feel strongly about trying to have as broad a positive impact as I can. And not to say I’m some Mother Teresa or anything, but I really do want my work to have a positive impact on people. And education is the thing I’m most passionate about. And so that sort of inexorably led me to starting something where I’ll have an impact in education. So sort of just a personal Compass thing that led me toward this. So that’s why I’m here.

[00:06:20.360] – John

So, Betsy, what do you think of this idea?

[00:06:22.440] – Betsy

I have to do a caveat is I’m not on Cameron’s platform. Okay. And part of that is sort of because of the nature of what he’s actually doing, which I think is really interesting. So there’s what’s not to like. First of all, I think that the more opportunities candidates have to locate and learn about admissions itself and admissions consulting for the MBA is always a good thing. I think that students I mean, John, to your credit, you have done probably the single most important thing in creating an ecosystem for students to be able to learn about MBA admissions. And that’s through poets and quants the events and everything else that you do. I think that there are what Cameron is doing is creating a way to showcase some of the expertise among people who are not just admissions consultants for a living, but are also people who have gone through experiences, because people who’ve gone through experiences, I think, can give their own interesting perspective. So there is as I think that there is a lot of opportunity for the student to gain a lot. And as far as whether you’re asking me if I’m going to invest in it, that’s a different question.

[00:07:59.710] – John

Now that’s not because you’re a Harvard MBA and Cameron is a Stanford MBA, right?

[00:08:04.560] – Betsy

Well, I have my own Stanford chops, actually. I worked at the school, not in admissions. I worked in the GSB. I worked as a resume coach for first year students. I worked on what’s called the Executive Challenge, which is fun and other sort of communications related stuff. So I know the school and also being from the Bay Area who doesn’t know the school around it, I’m a big fan and always impressed with people who come from the Stanford ecosystem. But I also went to Harvard and have my own loyalty for Harvard. In my own admissions consulting work, I’ve seen people choose Stanford over Harvard, actually, quite a number of times. So that means Stanford. Stanford these days is doing really well.

[00:08:51.290] – John

It always has. In fact. Maria, what’s your take on all this?

[00:08:54.780] – Maria

Yeah, like Betsy said, the more the merrier. I started ApplicantLab with exactly the same mission to expand access. And after experimenting for a while, I realized that the only way to truly scale good admissions advice for me, at least from my perspective, is to do it through a digital platform. Because the quality control with every new person that you add, the variability and quality just starts getting more and more out of control. In terms of the Delta of do you have a real expert or do you have a charlatan? And so in order to account for that at ApplicantLab, that’s why I made a platform of advice that is the same for everyone. It does not get diluted with more people. I think that it’s. Every year I get approached by somewhere between three to five entrepreneurs who are doing something similar. Just this year alone, there’s a similar idea called underdogcoaching.com that’s currently being incubated at Sloan. I love that name. Underdog Coaching and they’re not going to charge. They’re going to try to make money in other ways, and it’s going to be free. And so I’m actually talking to them about trying to figure out ways that they can generate income without charging for the mentoring.

[00:10:04.380] – Maria

And then there’s an incoming Haas student who’s starting mentoraid.me. And so every year people come and there are people who have been doing this for years. There’s my MBA circle, been there mbamentor.org. So every year I see this come up and someone launched with a similar idea. And so God speed, there’s a lot of people out there doing this. And one more person is the more the merrier.

[00:10:34.930] – Betsy

Again, Maria brings up an interesting idea, though. She said the word Charlton. I think that that’s fair. I think we should put that on the table. Cameron said that his organization is vetting, which I think is important in any organization that consultants be vetted in some way. So maybe Cameron, you could get to that. But the other point is a lot of people think that they know what they’re doing, including me. I think I know what I’m doing. But a lot of people think that they know everything because they were either admitted or because they know somebody who was admitted or something like that. I think that if you’re the consumer, it’s really important to shop around, okay, because there are a lot of people who think they know what they’re talking about that are either trying to make money from or even not making money, but just kind of knowing it. And one of the things I want to be especially wary of is, for example, the recent admit has a focus group of one. I think it’s good to ask a recent admit about their experience. And that also I think that a lot of the schools are trying to have you talk to sort of current students and stuff like that.

[00:11:41.690] – Betsy

But I wouldn’t weigh that as the same kind of advice.

[00:11:47.140] – Maria

I was just going to say some people get in despite having lousy essays. Some people are such rock stars that they could submit a crayon drawing on the back of a soggy napkin and they’d still get accepted. I’ve been doing this. I’m entering my 18th year now of giving admissions advice. I started in 2003. And the amount that I know now versus what I thought I knew then I didn’t charge at first because I knew that I didn’t know what I was doing. And so I was like, well, I’m just going to volunteer this. So that’s why I started volunteering at the HBS admissions office when I was a student there. And I kept doing it. The conundrum is to be really good at this work. It needs to be essentially your full time passion because you have to be checking up on the schools and trying to keep up with their changes and trying to visit them and get to know them and speak to the admissions officers. And there’s so much work. And yet if you make it your full time passion in order to make that work as a career, you inevitably end up having to charge something because there are mortgages and children with orthodontics and things like that and food that needs to be paid for.

[00:13:09.170] – Betsy

When we had to visit, when we had met with conferences and stuff.

[00:13:14.700] – Maria

Yeah. The AIGAC Association of Graduate Admissions Consultants. We have an annual conference where we go and we actually meet with admissions officers. We invest a lot of time and money into developing this expertise.

[00:13:29.310] – Cameron


[00:13:29.900] – John

Let’s step back and ask this question of Cameron, which is an important question. Usually entrepreneurs see a gap of backing in the marketplace that they assume they can fill, and there comes the idea or a problem in the marketplace. Cameron, if you were to say what is the problem or the gap or the vacuum that you see that caused you to be passionate about your idea, what would you say?

[00:13:58.130] – Cameron

Yeah. No, I still appreciate the question, and I want to double click first on the issue of the Charlotte images. What a great word. Can we please we just make sure that that is more in our vocabulary. That’s a $5 word. So it’s an A plus for that other I would say on that front. First at Leland, we’re certainly hand vetting every coach, and that entails a very bright line standards that everyone here will be familiar with. But making sure that it’s advice, not any form of writing, any part of the application, merely pining on things, which, again, everyone here is familiar with. And more even than that, we really strongly coach our coaches on the following, which is that even if they’ve coached many people and had great success, unless they’ve actually worked in the admissions office, they don’t know, they don’t actually know how these decisions are made. And so it’s very much here is my experience here’s what I can share with you about what I do know, but being very clear about what they don’t know. So I think that’s a really important distinction to make. And for those who have worked in admissions formally, that’s to their credit.

[00:15:13.130] – Cameron

And Maria, to your point, they have mortgages to pay, and they have accrued that expertise, and that’s through blood, sweat and tears. And they should charge commensurate with their expertise. So I don’t call them for that. Rather, we want to ensure that people are upfront about what they do and don’t know and the actual help that they can and can’t provide. And so we certainly do not support any coaches purporting to be able to do things that they can’t. So that’s a point I definitely want to hammer home on. The point about. John, to your question, the gap that we’ve identified, I think for me, the largest one was that when you go around and you look at the ecosystem and you see who is available and what they’re charging. By virtue of the system that exists right now, the only thing on offer is the very expensive, very highly qualified coaches who have worked in admissions in some former capacity or have been very close to it. They’ve been adjacent to it. And the rates as a result, more or less that you’re able to access. If you’re looking for that high quality, they’re just astronomical.

[00:16:28.840] – Cameron

They’re so high, they’re behind a very strong payment gate. If you’re looking for that personalized coaching, Maria, to your point, your service is accessible to all. And I thoroughly appreciate that. And I would say for the remainder of the industry, when you shop around to these consulting firms, it can be just inaccessible to most. And the Gap, I think, is in providing a suite of offerings that are not all just that highest end offering. Of course, on Leland, we have coaches who completely run the range. Right. We have people who have worked in admissions before. We have people who are those high end offerings and who should and can and will charge accordingly. And I also think there’s an opportunity to serve people who just want to, for instance, have a conversation with that admin and they can afford $40 an hour for that time. And that’s better than nothing. That’s better than them not having access to anything at all, which is sort of the status quo right now. And so the idea is if you create a marketplace for this, if you aggregate more resources in a single spot and you go on volume, that allows us as the marketplace to charge less, that allows overall prices to be lower, you’re going to have more things on offer and you’re going to have more people with access to more information.

[00:17:54.400] – Cameron

And, Betsy, I think you said this really well at the start of the conversation, which is that, generally speaking, more access to information is better. And I think that’s the thing that we all are working toward in our own ways, which is and John, you, of course, perhaps more than any of us, increasing access to information about this. The idea is how can more people have more access to more of this information? So that’s the gap we see in creating a marketplace where people can just access more opportunities to learn about this and in some instances, pay for the coaching they need.

[00:18:30.120] – Betsy

I have a question for you, Cameron. How would the student so how can they really tell through the platform? Okay, so if it’s a platform, how can they differentiate other than price and sort of everyone’s marketing blurb, which should be clear. How can they really tell about the different qualities? Because there are people, at least on that I saw sort of the nonlife version. So it may be different now, but there are people who are charging different rates, some people who definitely should be charging rates because they are experienced. And then some people who are charging like $150 and they don’t have the kind of experience. How does somebody really determine what experiences and how do they know? Is your marketplace creating an environment where people can measure the quality of what you’re paying for?

[00:19:31.360] – John

I love this.

[00:19:32.050] – Cameron

I love the question. So you’re absolutely right that there are coaches who are signing up and they’re experimenting with their prices, and they are figuring out what they should charge. For those professional coaches who have the slots unloaded, they know what their rate is. They know what they should be charging. And for those who join, of course, there’s always going to be a period where they’re determining that, right. They’re figuring that out. And I actually feel the reason I’m so bullish on the marketplace factor of this is that it is a marketplace. Right. Those who do not have the experience and who are charging those higher rates will not get the leads and they won’t get people coming to them at those prices. So they’re not going to get people coming to them, and they’re going to have to adjust their rates accordingly. And so if they have less experience, they will be, by nature of the market itself, forced to work for a lower price until they can gain more experience. So that’s one thing that I’m really actually excited for. I want there to be competition here. I want people to have to work as hard as they can to provide the best service possible to these applicants.

[00:20:34.920] – Cameron

So I think that’s endemic to a marketplace, which is why I’m excited about that. And the second thing is we will, of course, have reviews. So once someone has worked with a coach, they’ll be able to leave a review. And that will be part of that system whereby there’s some measurements and applicants will encourage them to, of course, share the results, which will be another way for them to measure and sort of do their own betting for the coaches. Right now, there are no reviews because we’ve decided not to grandfather in reviews from past work. And I can share more about that decision. So it looks a little bit spare, as Airbnb did in the early days, because they made the same decision not to take reviews from past hostings of different establishments. But once the initial bookings start to come through, you’ll start to see reviews, those will start to populate. And that will only get stronger over time as a metric for people to make an informed decision. But I love the question.

[00:21:36.230] – John

So let me ask this. And this is a more general question about admissions consulting, mainly for our audience. Who, after all our prospective applicants and current applicants, who really needs an admissions consultant who wants to tackle that?

[00:21:53.420] – Betsy

I’ll do it because I’ll talk and then Cameron and remain nobody needs admission. Is that the question? Who needs an admissions consultant. Nobody needs an admissions consultant. I think that people seek admissions consulting because they seek guidance from a professional who is a third party who is incentive to help that person get in. I look at it like any kind of coach. If you are trying to play basketball better for you to just do it by yourself. No basketball team is coachless. And so did the Bucks win last night? I don’t know. I heard something about that. But if you want to be able to shoot better, you have somebody helping you shoot better. If you have a coach telling you sort of the strategy. There’s a whole lot of reasons. So I can go on for much longer, but I get to stop there because that’s just the top line reason why somebody would want not necessarily need. If we want to talk about who really needs one, then that’s a whole other podcast. We can talk about that, and it will be side splitting. Anyway.

[00:23:15.850] – John

Cameron, what’s your perspective on the question?

[00:23:19.390] – Cameron

Thank you. Yes. And Betsy, to everything you’re saying, I would say first, admissions is a team sport. Just to think that anyone does this alone or anyone does it in a vacuum, I think is a fallacy. And that’s not to say everyone should be paying for help, but everyone has someone encouraging them, whether it’s your mom or your male person or whoever people are there to support you, because this is tough. It’s a tough process, and it requires a lot of effort and introspection and time. And so I absolutely think that there is merit in having people in your corner. Nobody does this alone, and I don’t think they should. And so I would say maybe to add on to what you said, Betsy, nobody needs an admissions coach, but I think everyone should be able to have access to help if they want it. And I don’t think anybody does this alone. And again, they shouldn’t. And the second thing I would add is that to me, this also comes back to access, which is that you have something, a resource here that’s an incredibly low supply, therefore very high demand, which is spots at these schools.

[00:24:31.470] – Cameron

And therefore, any time that happens, you’re going to have a market where people are going to try and help the people who want that thing that’s in low supply get that thing right. So this is, again, endemic to just the selectivity of the schools, that you’re going to have a market for coaching. You’re going to have people offering services like that. You’re never going to change that. And the reason I think having access to more coaches and why that’s a good thing is that right now there’s a very limited number of people who can afford the coaching that’s on offer. And so what I would say is let’s increase the number of people who have access to that, because coaching is already a thing that exists in certain circles. And perhaps the people who can afford that kind of coaching are the ones who already have a leg up and probably least needed. So my point would be let’s increase offerings to as many people as possible so that for those who do want coaching, it’s more widely available.

[00:25:30.370] – John

Right. Of course, Maria, one of the premises of your business is that in fact, admissions consulting was too expensive and many people can’t afford it, and therefore, some applicants have an unfair advantage in the process of applying. So your idea was to do a video platform, make it accessible for very low cost, and then have people basically do it yourself with the video guidance and the information that you provide throughout the journey. Is that a good alternative already? A low cost alternative?

[00:26:09.610] – Maria

I mean, I certainly wouldn’t have devoted a decade of my life to building it if I didn’t think it was a good alternative. Dude, I always make the best decisions. But yeah, no, I mean, that’s the way I do. And then also, if you go through the applicant line platform, you can then hire a lower cost admissions consultant who is a graduate of a top ten top 15 program at a much lower cost in the market rate. Because the idea is that if you’ve gone through applicant labs advice, the resume you’re going to send over, the essay you’re going to send over is not going to be the hot mess that it might have been had you just done it by yourself. And so therefore, how I sell it to my coaches who work for me is it’s not going to be as painful for you and therefore, it’s going to take less time and therefore, we’re not going to charge as much. So that’s how I offer affordable admissions coaching. But yeah, what I think sort of a light bulb moment for me was that because I was trying to think, how is this idea, how is Cameron’s idea different from the other people who are already doing the sort of low cost alumni, amateur consultant?

[00:27:14.260] – Maria

Right. It’s like instead of a professional, it’s someone who maybe does it a little bit on the side from their day job. And it costs $80 an hour, $100 an hour instead of $300 an hour, like my MBA circle or been There and all the others who are doing something similar. And I think what’s a little bit different is that you are combining both the amateurs and the professionals in one platform versus the other ones that I just mentioned. Like they are mostly the sort of the alumni recent grads looking to pay it forward, or you go to firms like a Fortuna Admissions, where everyone has admissions industry experience. And so I think you’re sort of like, I’m going to have all of it.

[00:27:57.090] – Cameron

Right. Thank you for observing that. It’s definitely something that we’re counting on having all of that accessibility for some reason, all of my metaphors center on food. So I’ve been thinking about this like a buffet. Right. And if you think about the current offerings, it’s basically all lobster and crab. And what I want to do is make sure that those are still there and then there’s access to everything else. And then the thing that’s really exciting about that for me and where I think we win is in creating community. So already just by creating a Slack channel, for instance, which is like the simplest thing in the world, we have all of our coaches in a single place, networking, asking questions, answering questions. There’s an enormous amount of like to say nothing of that. It’s fun to observe it because there’s all these different generations of coaches in a single place. There’s an enormous amount of knowledge transfer that’s happening. Right. So you have former staffers at these top tier institutions who are sharing their knowledge about how things work and just the sheer volume of applicants they’ve seen. And then you have recent admits who are saying, well, here’s my perspective.

[00:29:03.330] – Cameron

I just went through it, and here’s what it’s like as a current student or I’m a current student. This is my experience. And here’s how I am informally helping people. I’m not charging them, but I’m thinking about it. Right. So there’s an enormous amount of benefit, I think, to mixing all of those different groups which have previously been disparate in a single place. And I think that community creates not only the knowledge and skill transfer, but also the emotional core of the company and why, I think will definitely be a competitive advantage.

[00:29:37.090] – John

So, Betsy, what do you recommend? Someone out there, an applicant who wants to hire a coach. It’s such a confusing thing because in our directory alone, we have close to 550 different MBA admissions coaches.

[00:29:53.590] – Cameron


[00:29:54.040] – John

They’re big firm.

[00:29:56.350] – Betsy

You know what? Then I’m going to make a recommendation because you can’t check. Yeah. If you have 550 admissions because it coaches, then you should have a really robust filtering system and search system. I don’t know if you do, because I actually haven’t looked for an admissions coach lately. But I mean, just really ways to slice and dice your data. The more the merrier. I think that would be good. Okay, I interrupted you.

[00:30:25.030] – Maria

I know, John. It’ll be ghosh for John to plug his own Admissions Consultants directory. So I’ll do it for you, John. The Poets and Quants Admissions Consultants Directory is great. It does let you sort by previous experience, price range. Also, they even have a box for, I believe, for Aigac member or non Aigac member, which is nice.

[00:30:46.750] – Betsy

Yeah. But even more whatever. Even more metrics, I think the more people can sort, the better for because everybody has a different so many people have different criteria in real life. It might even be they want to be able to meet somebody in person. Some people think that that’s the best way that they can do it. You know what I mean? Just other things along those lines. But you had a question. You had a question that I can’t set myself up.

[00:31:17.840] – John

Well, basically, it’s how do you select an admissions consultant? And yes, you can go in. You can search on price, you can search on reviews, on ratings, you can search on industry background. I can search on hey, if I wanted to have a consultant because I’m from banking who actually worked for Goldman or Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan Chase, I can find them in our directory. And if I wanted a consultant who has a Stanford or Harvard MBA, I can find them in my directory. But how do you really basically decide I’m going to spend money with this person who you don’t really know? I mean, you have to go out and do the kind of you know what I’m going to say.

[00:31:57.840] – Betsy

It’s the same way that I actually picked somebody to do my driveway. In all seriousness, it’s about the same amount and that you’re going to have somebody let’s assume it’s a big amount of money. If it’s a small amount of money, then you can experiment with a lot of different people. And that’s fair. But I went through and found a bunch of people who were interested who were interested in my driveway, because not everyone is interested in my driveway, because I am located in an area that might not be in the right area or it might be in a couple of cases, it was too small a job because it’s not fabulously long or whatever. So we try and figure out the same kinds of things. Find people who you think are interested in you that you’re interested in, and then inquire. And then of those who might be available, because that’s the other thing. I have a number of people who inquire now for round one. And as a solo practitioner, I’m not taking anybody more in round one. We’re only six weeks away, and I’m already full, and it doesn’t necessarily work. So there’s all kinds of different things.

[00:33:12.330] – Betsy

So find a few, make a short list like you would for your schools, and then interview people who are available to be interviewed and invest in the time to find somebody who’s the right fit. And also, of course, I think reviews can be a little look, I got a lot of reviews, and some of them are very good. But what if somebody really told the truth about how mean I can be? I think it’s important for you if you talk to your friends or your family or whatever it is, can I say something that Cameron, I’m going to go back to everybody as well?

[00:33:53.640] – John

Yeah, sure.

[00:33:54.180] – Betsy

It’s true. I actually get students who are like kids of my friends, cause my generation because kids of my friends because my friends come to me and say I can’t talk to my kid about this. Right. So it’s like, you know, parents. Wait a minute. I think that there might be somebody in John Byrne’s family who actually said that to me that parents and kids have a hard time. So it’s good for your parents to be involved sometimes, and sometimes it’s a terrible idea. And having somebody who is more objective is a better idea. So I just want to get to that point. It’s nice all of those things. So that’s my recommendation is spend some time interviewing the coaches or at least finding the people who have the capacity and are right for you. Also, I have people who sometimes contact me, and I do have capacity, but I really don’t know anything about their industry. And I say I’m afraid I don’t know it. I don’t have that much experience now. That’s the way I run my business because it’s a small practice. But if I’m trying to sort of backfill all of that, then in a consulting firm that has a lot of different consultants, then maybe it would be somebody like this person that has that kind of experience and this person has that kind of experience, and I can’t speak to that.

[00:35:15.920] – John

So let me ask each of you to make a guess, and I know it’s a guess because you don’t know the answer to this question. Neither do I. What percent of the applicants, the top ten business schools in the world. So let’s include INSEAD, London Business Call, just for the sake of this, are using an admissions consultant for all or part of their application process. Cameron, what would you guess the number is?

[00:35:45.410] – Cameron

Yeah, just based on the rough information that we’ve looked at and obviously my co founders at the GSB, that’s my network as well. We have an escewed network. I would say it’s at least half are getting some kind of I don’t think that’s the full soup to nuts. I don’t think everyone’s doing that. But I think there’s at least half of people and are seeking that kind of help. And I think that number is increasing. I think that percentage is increasing. Again, I don’t think that’s everyone’s going to be going for the lobster and crab to bring that analogy back, but I do think that number is going up.

[00:36:24.800] – John

Why do you think it’s going up?

[00:36:26.540] – Cameron

I think there’s an increasing awareness that this is an option. Just the longer it’s out there, I think more people learn about it. And I think with that awareness, there’s an understanding that this is extremely competitive. And as I said before, anytime you have a very scarce resource, you’re going to have competition for that resource. So people are going to seek ways to try and improve their chances. And I also think there’s just the obvious fact that the schools themselves are becoming more selective because they have more applicants, and that tends to be how things work. Right. These schools continue to gain and grow in popularity and therefore just have to be more selective based on the numbers. So I think those two things going in concert mean that you’re going to just have more and more people learning about this and seeking it out.

[00:37:20.070] – John

Maria, what do you think?

[00:37:21.690] – Maria

Yeah, I think the pie is going to get bigger. But I also think the good news is that there are a number of nonprofits that are also we haven’t touched upon the nonprofits that provide this sort of advice. So the Riordian Fellows program out of UCLA that helps first Gen applicants, the Forte Foundation, Forte launch program for female applicants, service to school for veterans even admit me, that, which is a for profit consulting firm, is launching sort of a not for profit branch to try to provide this advice. So if you take into account people who get access or who get advice sorry, from even those, I would say it’s probably 75% in terms of people who pay for it, probably 50%.

[00:38:05.950] – John

Yeah, I think those are pretty good. Guesses we started posting Quantum eleven years ago. The first series of stories we did was actually on the admissions consulting business. I think we did about a half dozen different stories from every possible angle. And back then the gas was and I’ll say the guest is no way to know with great certainty it was about a third of the applicants, the top ten school. But again, it’s often how you define it because some people may do it themselves and then get a Ding analysis. Does that mean they use an admissions consultant, or some people will have someone read their professional, read their essays? And is that really a soup to nuts kind of thing? That doesn’t really compare with someone who’s charging $12,000 for three applications to three schools. So it’s hard to get a real handle on it. But certainly a substantial percentage of people are using the admission consultants at the high levels. And I think it’s because the stakes are so high and it’s so hard to get in. And the truth is, either all self selecting pools, and if you really looked at them closely, probably 80% of the applicants in any given pool are fully qualified to go to a school and do well.

[00:39:23.270] – John

And then 20% probably they just don’t know what’s going on and they’re sending Hail Mary and it’s likely to get spiked.

[00:39:31.330] – Betsy

Metsy elephant in the room. Business school is expensive. How much does it cost, John? So if you’re willing to go through the process for the privilege of paying a quarter of a million dollars to an educational institution, the cost of getting into the right place ends up being a fraction of that. I mean, maybe that is a screwed up way of thinking about it, but I think that the business itself becomes more interesting to a candidate the higher the stakes. But also the smaller percentage of an investment of the overarching investment it ends up being.

[00:40:20.770] – John

Yeah. And the other issue here, of course, is there’s a tremendous amount of scholarship aid available at all these schools. And I would even harbor guess that the chances are that if you employ an admissions consultant, you may very well be more likely to get a discount on the tuition bill by virtue of a scholarship of one kind or another. I mean, after all, Harvard Business School alone is giving out $38 million a year in scholarship aid to MBAs. 38 million. Yeah, but they do say it’s need only I don’t believe it.

[00:40:53.530] – Betsy

I understand that. But that’s their thing. Maria is rolling.

[00:41:00.170] – John

Stanford said as well. And Incidentally, someone hacked into their system a few years ago one of their own students and discovered that that was not true, Interestingly enough, which was incredibly embarrassing for Stanford. But it also raised questions about the Harvard policy. Nonetheless. I think to me, there’s a real benefit if you come from an industry that’s not an MBA industry, if I’m already working at McKinsey bank, BTG or Goldman or even Google, and I’m surrounded by other MBA’s who can be my friends and who can look over my shoulder at my application and give me some advice for free, you’re in a different place than you are. If you work in an office where there aren’t many MBAs, you don’t really know them. And if there are, they may not be recent graduates, so you’re not going to get much help from them, in which case, it may very well be a really good investment and you may actually get a return on it based on the scholarship that you get immediately, never mind the long term reward of getting into a really good program with a good ROI for the degree. So thank you all for a great, interesting discussion.

[00:42:15.660] – John

Really appreciate it. Cameron, good luck with your venture. And then if anyone wants to check it out, it’s Leland.com, L-E-L-A-N-D.

[00:42:25.300] – Cameron

I’ll jump in there. It’s Join. Leland. J-O-I-N. Leland. Yeah, joinleland.com. But thank you.

[00:42:31.440] – John

Tell everyone why you picked that weird name.

[00:42:35.990] – Cameron

For most people, it will be just a name, and I really appreciate that. And then there’s a little Easter egg there, which is that it’s the first name of the kid after whom Stanford is named. So that’s just a little nod to the school. But we don’t actually have any affiliation with the school except that we love them. And I went there twice. My mom went there. Both my sisters are at the GSB. Actually, my grandma was a librarian there. My co founder is an MBA, too. So we have a lot of love for the school, and we want to continue that mission of increasing access to education.

[00:43:12.590] – John

All right, Cameron, thank you. Good luck with your adventure. Betsy, thank you for filling in with for Caroline today. Really appreciate it. And always good to hear you and see you. Of course, people who are listening and cannot see us. We can see all of ourselves largely so we don’t step on each other during the podcast. And Maria, as always a pleasure.

[00:43:37.160] – Cameron

Thanks for having us, John.

[00:43:38.720] – John

All right. Hey, this is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. You’ve been listening to Business Casual. Thanks for tuning in.

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July 27, 2021


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