As an MBA Admissions Consultant, an Adjunct Instructor at UCLA teaching MBA Admissions, and a college Professor, I am surprised that more MBA candidates applying to the top 20 business schools have not figured out the simple formula I followed when applying to business school 20 years ago:
MBA ACCEPTANCE = STRATEGY & PLANNING.
I see it like this: You are at Point A and you want to get to Point B, what is the strategy to do so?
My first recommendation is that you maximize your success by planning in advance! Most candidates start strategizing the year they are applying to business school. To me, the process of applying to a top business school is a 3-5 year plan.
I’ll tell you my story. As a sophomore in College at a reputable University (top 25, but certainly not top 10), I analyzed “How can I get accepted to a top-5-10 business school?” I am a low-beta person, so my approach may be a bit neurotic, as I made sure to leave no stone unturned; everything I did was strategic.
I read about each school and created a dossier on each and I talked to current students at each and created notes on what it takes to get accepted. What I learned via my due diligence is that my target schools (top-5-10) accept candidates who offer the following:
- Great grades
- Great GMAT
- Depth of extracurriculars and volunteer activities
- Interesting work experience
- Superb recommendations
- Leadership experiences; an innovator and initiator; a candidate that stands apart as unique.
From sophomore year in college until I applied to business school, every choice I made was focused on my goal, Point B, getting into a top-5-10 business school. So, I embarked on a path that started at Point A, where I was a college sophomore, taking step, by strategic step, to reach Point B, Ivy League, top-5 MBA admission.
Grades: My grades were easy, I had always worked hard to be an A student, but I chose to do an Honor’s thesis, which won the top thesis in my department. I also chose to double-major, and double-minor, adding depth to the strength of my grades.
GMAT: Not so easy! I have never been a great standardized test taker. My SAT was much lower than my grades. So, I studied, and I studied, and I studied. I took a course, I got a tutor, and I made darn sure that my GMAT score was solidly within the range of the average GMAT score at my target schools.
Extracurriculars and volunteering: I had played two years of college basketball and softball. As a Junior in college I retired from my athletic career, and instead ran for student government and one a leadership position, I was on the Chancellor’s Leadership Committee, worked as a Teaching Assistant, to name only a few. In each activity I took on leadership roles and worked to bring new ideas to the table. I brought Desmond Tutu to campus to speak. When I graduated, I moved to Washington DC, and promptly became the President of the alumni club in DC, and I created and hosted a 500 person Capitol Hill Day for Alumni (twice), and created and led a children’s group at the local soup kitchen.
Work Experience: Post-undergrad I had offers at investment banks, but I instead took a unique position in the United States Government, one that had very few recent college grads. My thought was that I could do something I loved while doing something unique from my peers, thereby differentiating me.
Recommendations: All the while, I knew that I would need recommendations. I cultivated real, and deep relationships with people who would be good candidates for writing my references. I let them get to know me well. Don’t get me wrong, I built genuine relationships, and am proud to say that today 20 years later these people are all still my friends and professional references.
Leadership, innovator, initiative: In all of the above, I made sure that my roles set me apart, gave me leadership experience and added-value via innovation and initiative. I was conscious at all times that what I was doing showed that I am unique, that I would add-value to the classroom (and that was before I knew the term value-added).
In sum, my point is this, if you are reading this blog and you are a few years out of applying to business school, write out your strategy now. Write down every single thing you need to do to ensure success and start ticking each item off the list with focus and determination. Business school is a huge investment of time and money. You want to maximize your chance of getting into the best school you can, so help yourself by preparing and writing your strategy. It worked for me, with 3 top-5 acceptances; and 2 more in the top-10; one denial (darn you Stanford); and one deferral.
Are you planning to apply this year? Don’t worry – you still can do so successfully! For best success, focus on controlling what you can right now, including:
- Getting your highest possible GMAT score
- Securing exemplary recommendations
- Preparing for you potential interview with intention
- Thinking critically across your application about that which differentiates you as a superb candidate in terms of leadership experiences, innovation and being an initiator- dig deep to find that which makes you unique. I recently worked with a candidate applying to college who after applying told me she was a SAG actor with many credits, this would have been a great plus to a college application. I recommend that you go through your life year by year and critically analyze what you have done that makes you stand out, and then apply your best of the best to the application and interview.
Best of luck!
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Courtney Jane is a Veritas Prep Admissions Consultant for the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Before going to Dartmouth, Courtney graduated from the University of California, San Diego with a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and Political Science. After 20 years in business with positions at Young & Rubicam, Disney, Americorp Funding and Merrill Lynch, Courtney currently works as a business undergraduate Professor at the Los Angeles Film School and Argosy University.