ApplicantLab Review — Is It Worth It?

A story of how I got into a Top 10 MBA Program for less than $300 (And You Can Too!)

Austin Carroll
12 min readMar 25, 2019

I order my groceries via Amazon Fresh. I take Lyfts at least 3x a week, manage my to-do’s in Trello, and delight in listening to my ‘Discover Weekly’ playlist on Spotify.

It’s no secret nowadays technology permeates every moment in our lives. There just may be an app for everything, except, until fairly recently, a web application that can teach you how to navigate the perilous journey of applying to business school.

That’s where ApplicantLab comes in (thankfully!). The service bills itself simply as ‘Admissions Consulting 2.0’ and it comes at an extremely affordable price — less than $300.

When I started thinking about applying to business school in June of 2017(!), I was completely on my own. If asked, I probably couldn’t name a single person who I knew who had gone to, graduated, or even considered going to business school and pursuing their MBA.

This is a dramatic rendition of how I felt embarking on the MBA application process:

Unrequited love and business school applications are basically the same thing. </3

I was an untraditional candidate, having spent my five-years before business school working in hospitality, entertainment, and non-profit performing arts. In other words, my path to Ivy-covered gates was far from the road most traveled by my Consultant, Accountant, and Investment Banking peers.

In June of 2017, I frankly didn’t even know where to start. After a quick Google search, I found myself on several “Free 30-Minute” Admissions Consultant calls the following week. These ‘sales’ calls were meant to sell me on a service, although I was dismayed to find it was at a price I couldn’t even begin to pay (👋 non-profit employee). When they weren’t trying to convince me to hand over my savings, they were using the oldest trick in the book — scare tactics. One consultant told me, in no uncertain terms, there was no way I would get into a Top 25 Business School “if my application wasn’t flawless”.

If that was true, ApplicantLab’s essential admissions advice and easy-to-use platform truly made my business school applications “FLAWLESS”. ✨ In 2018, I was overjoyed to receive acceptances from all 3 business schools I applied to. After each of these acceptances, I quickly sent a thank you note to Maria, Founder of ApplicantLab.

I find it absolutely unbelievable that more people do not know ApplicantLab exists! Then again, behind all the technology, we’re still very much a generation of skeptics. 👾 I know you are probably thinking the same thing I thought all those months ago — “Could a web application truly replace admissions consultants?

That is what inspired me to write this article. So read on for my experience…

In a cluttered and confusing landscape filled with traditional admissions consultants charging more than $5,000 to give you advice on a single school’s application, I couldn’t believe my luck that I managed to find a system that, not only led me step-by-step but empowered me to craft my most compelling business school applications. Unbelievably, all of this for less than the price of a weekend getaway. In fact, with the money I saved using ApplicantLab’s advice to craft my applications, I booked a pre-business school three-week trip to Europe. (Obviously, results will vary).

What is ApplicantLab?

ApplicantLab is a virtual platform with interactive exercises and extensive, tailored videos to mimic the same advice process provided by pricey 1-on-1 consultants. It’s actually a computer-adaptive sequence (kind of like the GMAT) that walks you through everything you need to do to craft a strong application. It’s a much more advanced version of the “free” advice course and articles available elsewhere.

I know it may seem counterintuitive to get MBA admissions advice from a web application. However, it’s actually a major perk! I cannot imagine being deep into an essay question and having to *pause* for up to 24 hours to run an idea by a Traditional Admissions consultant.

On ApplicantLab, all of the advice is there waiting to be accessed at any time from any computer. Whether you’re traveling for work, on your lunch break, or have a 3 am flash of inspiration, ApplicantLab’s expert admissions advice is ready whenever (and wherever!) you are. You won’t waste time waiting for a response the way you would with a traditional admissions consultant. This actually enabled me to write my entire USC Marshall application in about 3 days. An unheard of duration to craft an entire MBA application.

Why Should You Trust the Advice in ApplicantLab?

ApplicantLab is the ONLY admissions service endorsed by the Harvard Business School student newspaper. It also casually was the “Audience Favorite” winner at the prestigious HBS New Venture Competition.

Plus, Maria, the mastermind behind ApplicantLab, has 15+ years of MBA Admissions consulting experience, is an HBS graduate, and was a former AIGAC Board Member (Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants). 👍

How Does ApplicantLab Work?

The ApplicantLab Platform — A Comprehensive View of All The ApplicantLab Modules

ApplicantLab breaks down the MBA application process into 3 Steps:

  1. Identifying how to deal with your weaknesses
  2. Uncovering the key messages and strengths you want to convey
  3. Using very specific experiences and stories as the foundation for everything you communicate throughout the application process not just in the essays, but also in the recommendations, and later during the interview process

ApplicantLab differs from existing online offerings in two key ways: first of all, the content delivered is tailored to each user, based upon the information you enter about yourself. This saves you time so that you don’t need to read through the information that isn’t relevant to you.

Secondly, almost the entire platform is interactive — you do the strategizing, brainstorming, branding, outlining, and writing exercises directly in the browser. For example, one of the first steps is an interactive tool to guide you on how to address weaknesses in your profile.

One of my favorite ApplicantLab “Modules” — An interactive look into what the Adcom’s may think of your profile.

The early exercises establish a strong foundation and help you develop your specific stories from which all of your application materials will be built. You’ll then move through various steps to write your essays, craft your MBA-specific resume, work with your recommenders, and ace the interview.

This ‘brainstorming’ process is very similar to what you would do with a traditional admissions consultant — without scheduling 10 hours of lengthy phone conversations. #WhoHasTimeForThat

Does ApplicantLab Have Real People You Can Talk To?

Short Answer: Yes!

When I was working on Emory University’s Goizueta Business School’s application, I found that Emory had last-minute switched the secondary essay to a video essay and the advice wasn’t yet updated in the lab. I quickly emailed Maria asking for advice.

No joke. Two hours later, Maria had emailed me back an entire page of notes, suggestions, and unparalleled advice for this new video essay question. ApplicantLab really is like having your own personal virtual consultant.

Extra Help:

Not only is Maria and other members of the ApplicantLab team available to answer your questions via email, but ApplicantLab also provides ‘Extra Help’ for those that want one-on-one feedback.

As a member of ApplicantLab, you can assess the following services through ApplicantLab for an additional fee:

  • “Sanity Check” Consultations: A member of the ApplicantLab team will review your overall application strategy, answer any of your admissions questions, and give you feedback on things like your career vision, ‘Why MBA’, resume, essay outlines, and much more. Cost: $200–300
  • MBA Resume Editing Services: Through a partnership with Admissionado, you’ll get a discounted price on their resume editing services to make sure it fits on one page, displays your accomplishments, and conforms to what the schools expect. Cost: $200
  • MBA Essays Editing Services: Through a partnership with Admissionado, you’ll get a discounted price on their essay editing services to make sure your stories shine. Cost: $225 (includes all of the essays for a single school)
  • Mock Interview Practice: Practice responding to interview questions in a live setting with a member of the ApplicantLab team. Afterward, receive a recording of your answers and get feedback to make sure you’re on the right track and as prepared as possible. You can purchase practice for both “blind” interviews (common at most schools) and “non-blind” (HBS, MIT Sloan, Oxford Said). Cost: $400–550

The best part about ApplicantLab is you likely don’t even need the ‘Extra Help’ upgrades. If you’ve gone through all of the advice in the Lab, including watching the videos, reading the advice, etc., then you may not need additional guidance.

That having been said, running things past a trained admissions consultant could be a worthwhile investment to ensure you’re on the right track or simply just help with peace of mind. I didn’t end up purchasing the ‘Extra Help,’ but I did use economical proofreaders on Fiver to make sure my essays and resume were grammatically sound.

How Much Does ApplicantLab Cost?

Unlike Traditional Consultants that goad you into multi-school packages with surprise add-on’s like mock interviews and interview prep, ApplicantLab’s pricing module is simple.

ApplicantLab charges only $299 for the full system, 1-year access, and advice on an unlimited amount of schools. Not only do most admissions consultants charge more than $300 for just one hour of their time, but they also charge you thousands more for advice on each school. With ApplicantLab, you can access advice for dozens of schools for the same price.

Already applied to business school? ApplicantLab offers access to just the Interview prep modules for just $50. The MBA InterviewLab offers step-by-step guidance on how to answer all of the top questions you are likely to face in the interview. ✅

What Schools Does ApplicantLab Support?

Each year, ApplicantLab provides current in-depth admissions advice for the top 25 full-time MBA programs in the U.S., the top part-time and executive programs, as well as leading programs abroad (LBS, Oxford Said, IE, CEIBS, etc.). If client demand is great enough for a new school, they will even add new schools!

A handful of the almost fifty top business schools ApplicantLab has supported in the past.

Here is the complete list of school’s supported with up-to-date application and essay advice in the Lab.

Is There Anything I Don’t Like About ApplicantLab?

Just like there is no perfect MBA applicant, there is no perfect MBA Admissions Service. *GASP*

Although I’ve waxed poetic about all of ApplicantLab’s great features, there are a few things I wish could be improved.

In particular, ApplicantLab attracts a self-starter user and, if those people are anything like me, staying organized and on schedule is a way of life. I really wish ApplicantLab offered a Downloadable Plan that broke down a timeline for each of the modules whether your MBA deadlines were 6-months out or 1 month. EmpowerGMAT offers a similar download to work through their online GMAT prep modules in the form of ‘Study Plans’ in 3 Month, 2 Months, and 1 Month “Rush” variations. For now, though, you just have to move forward through the modules at your own pace.

EmpowerGMAT’s Study Guide Downloads

However, since I last used the Lab, the ApplicantLab team has actually added a To-Do List feature. This is probably helpful for identifying at a glance what you have already done. Plus… it’s always very satisfying checking off a to-do list. (I would know.) ✅

Is ApplicantLab Right For You?

If you work hard, tend to be a self-starter, and like to take your own future in your hands, you must be an aspiring MBA student. 😉 Seriously though, most aspiring MBAs will find that ApplicantLab is the perfect fit for their busy schedule, goal-driven nature, and confidence.

ApplicantLab can be used any point in your MBA application journey. You can start planning your application stories six+ months in advance, use ApplicantLab just for essay-writing a month out, or take advantage of the MBA InterviewLab up to a day prior to your interview.

No matter who you are, even if you are an untraditional applicant like me, ApplicantLab’s can help you leverage your own unique stories to create your most compelling application. Yes, that means ApplicantLab can help you even if you:

  • Have No Quantitative Experience
  • Have a Low GMAT/GRE or Have a Low GPA
  • Are part of an Overrepresented Applicant Pool (i.e. “The Indian Engineer,” Consultant, or Banker)
  • Don’t Have a ‘Blue Chip’ College or Employer on your profile
  • Too Young / Too Old
  • Have no Formal Work “Leadership” / Have no Community Service
  • Are a Reapplicant

However, ApplicantLab is not a perfect fit for everyone. If you desire a more one-on-one experience with a consultant or you are an international student without a strong grasp of the English language that needs extensive polish work on your essays, you may want to look into more traditional consultants. Of course, if you don’t have much luck with computers or are unable to connect to the internet: 1. How are you reading this article? 2. ApplicantLab is probably not for you.

Is ApplicantLab Really Worth It?

ApplicantLab is truly one of a kind. There is simply no other way to access MBA admissions advice this good, this comprehensive, at such a reasonable price.

ApplicantLab Includes:

Advice For Every Top 25 School School & Every Essay (Pictured: Columbia’s Brainstorming Module)
  • School-Specific Essay Guidance: Access a wealth of advice and extensive, tailored videos for each of the Top 25 Business School’s essays and even hidden mini-essays in the application forms (from Duke Fuqua’s ’25 Things’ to Stanford’s ‘What Matters Most?’)
  • Video Essay Guidance: Learn how to edit and produce a good-looking admissions video (looking at you UW Foster and MIT Sloan 👀)
  • Advice for Creating Your ‘Why MBA’ and ‘Career Vision’ Rationals: According to Maria, the #1 reason otherwise competitive candidates get rejected is due to a career vision / “why this degree?” rationale that is weak, vague or bores the AdCom into a coma. The “Career Vision” and “Why MBA?” modules work hand-in-hand to help you create a strong rationale that you will use across every application.
ApplicantLab walks you step-by-step in creating your ‘Career Vision.’
  • How to Find Your Strongest Stories: ApplicantLab helps you brainstorm your most powerful stories and gives you a framework to analyze and judge them so you can best match each story to each school you’re applying to.
  • Letters of Recommendation Advice & Template: ApplicantLab provides you with a wonderful downloadable template to give your recommenders that you can fill in with your STAR stories.
  • How to Create a Perfect 1-Page MBA Resume: The resume is actually more important than the essays (!!!), and you cannot simply recycle the same resume you used to get your last job. This module walks you through, step-by-step, key “do’s” and “don’ts”. Hint — It’s about the accomplishments and not your duties.
  • How to Fill Out Those Pesky Application Forms
  • A Strengths & Weaknesses Diagnosis Report: Find out what Adcoms may think of your profile with just a 1-minute quiz. (This was my favorite part)
  • And much much more…

Final Thoughts.

In conclusion, when I was applying to business school ApplicantLab made me feel:

Not to mention, confident! Throughout the application process, I felt like I had the entire ApplicantLab team behind me every step of the way supporting me and willing me to succeed. I am so excited to be attending my dream business school in the Fall and I really owe it all to ApplicantLab for teaching me and empowering me to present my stories in a way that stood out and was authentic!

With dozens of five-star reviews on GMAT Club, ApplicantLab is certainly worth a try as you consider how you will build your MBA applications next year.

Luckily, ApplicantLab offers a risk-free FREE trial of the full platform and the MBA InterviewLab with no credit card required. Sign up today!

About The Author:

My name is Austin and I currently attend Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business (Class of 2021). This article is sponsored in part by ApplicantLab. However, all opinions and ideas depicted in this article are entirely my own. I really used ApplicantLab to get into Duke Fuqua (and I would do it again)!



Austin Carroll

Hello! My name is Austin & I am a product manager, career coach, and podcast host.