Do people cheat their Way Into Business School?
The $25 million bribery case that has made headlines these past few days is the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department. Some 33 parents, including several M.B.A.s from Harvard, Stanford, Kellogg and Michigan, have been charged with paying an admissions consulting firm to take SAT and ACT tests for their children and to bribe college coaches and other insiders to get their children into the most elite undergraduate schools in the country.
The inevitable question: Does this happen in elite M.B.A. admissions? Admission consultants, after all, play an even bigger role in elite M.B.A. admissions than they do in undergraduate admissions. More than 400 consultants work in the M.B.A. space in the U.S. alone, and some estimate that fully a third of all applicants to top 10 schools now use a paid consultant. Does anyone cheat? Of course, they do. It's commonly accepted that many schools have a "dean's list" of favored candidates, typically the children of big donors or connected parents.
"It happens but it is different," says Sandy Kreisberg, a prominent M.B.A. admissions consultant known as HBS Guru. "At every - school, there are X number of alums/donors who by dint of contributions, status, relations with the school, could have a REAL influence on any candidate they wish to get behind. And in the past, there have been several instances where cheating on the GMAT was widespread and publicly exposed. In one instance, the FBI charged that a single person took the GMAT and the GRE 212 times for other applicants in a two and one-half year period along, roughly once every four or five days.
All told, the exam sitter and his friends were accused of taking a total of 590 exams for mostly business school applicants from January of 2001 to July of 2003."I'd like to believe that it can't happen in the M.B.A. world, but I don't," says Linda Abraham, founder of Accepted.com, an admissions consulting firm. "The M.B.A. world had the Score Top scandal about 10 years ago so it's definitely not immune to admissions scandals.
An admissions site, Score Top, had different levels of membership in which the most expensive allowed access to live GMAT questions, which were copied or memorized by paid test takers on behalf of Score top. That cheating scandal in 2008 led GMAC to void the scores of 84 test takers, some of whom had already been accepted to business school or have graduated. "It wasn't quite as brazen as the college admissions scandal, but clearly, it gave some an advantage that had nothing to do with merit or ability," adds Abraham.