There’s no arguing that the world is getting smaller. Technology has finally connected just about any remote part of the globe which until just a few years ago, still operated in many cases as if in the dark ages. Even in the remotest villages of Africa, we now find cell phones and smart phones. Where we once had to fly to client locations to meet “face to face,” we can now meet remotely via telepresence, which has become as easy as finding a mobile connection.
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We get lots of questions from applicants about the best time to return to business school. While this is certainly an individual assessment, and one size does not fit all, from an admissions perspective, there are good seasons and bad seasons to maximize your odds of acceptance.
Six years ago, during a time none of us will soon forget, the air was let out of the economy. A similar rushing sound was also heard in the country’s top business schools, but it was the sound of people rushing in. Applications peaked the next year as everyone ran to hide from old man recession for two years in hopes the job market would come back while they were getting smarter and checking the graduate school box.
Often clients are confused when trying to determine if they have gathered enough work experience to return to business school. Certainly it takes a few laps around the proverbial block to gather enough real world knowledge to be valuable in a classroom discussion—this is why B-schools require you to come with work experience.
Yes you can.
But it becomes statistically less and less likely every year. One thing is certain: there are a lot of folks out there who have cracked the code on the formidable GMAT exam and scores continue to rise to stratospheric levels, pushing the average up of course. Most schools publish the percentages of each level of the GMAT who gain admission every year, but these three schools, often considered the “holy grail” of b-schools, are exceptions.
Business school is perhaps the most unique of all graduate education opportunities, in part because it is the only one which requires substantial work experience to qualify. Think about it—law school, medical school, and every Master’s degree you can pursue, all take students directly out of their undergraduate experience, essentially offering a chance to continue your education without ever working in the “real world.” Business schools on the other hand, rarely (if ever anymore) take students directly out of undergrad, and look instead for applicants who have taken a lap or two around the proverbial block.
Earlier this week, we talked about what it means to be on the waitlist. Today, we’ll go into more detail on what you can do if you’re on the waitlist. Despite the name “waitlist,” there are several things you can do besides simply wait for your dream school to call. From a strategic standpoint, sitting in a state of limbo gives you the opportunity to improve your profile or status as a candidate, and such improvements can and should be communicated to the admissions committees.
This time of year, many applicants find themselves stuck in the waitlist process at one or more schools, which can be a very slow and painful waiting period. Not only are you competing for fewer and fewer seats, you are doing so against everyone on the waitlist all the way back from round one as well as any fresh, new applicants from the final rounds.
Round three is commonly thought of as the most competitive round, where applicants vie for the few remaining seats in coveted programs along with some of the most highly qualified candidates of the season. Because these well qualified candidates know they will be desirable to the adcoms, they often wait until the last possible minute, since there appears to be a correlation between highly successful business achievers and the lack of free time on their schedules to complete applications.
If you have decided you will take the plunge and apply to school in Round three, there are a few things you need to know. First and foremost, you must realize the odds of admission go dramatically down in round three because of the relatively few number of slots that remain. This is simple mathematics—the lower the seat count, the more competitive it is to get one of them—think of it as musical chairs with way more people than chairs.
The final round of the business school application process is often referred to as “no-man’s land,” with scarce slots still left for b-school hopefuls and time literally running out. Still, there are many who end up applying in round three, some who simply put off the process because they were busy in the fall, or perhaps others who were rejected in round one and are trying one last time. But is it a good idea?
Inevitably there are applicants each season who decide rather late in the game to apply to business school. While it’s hard to believe for those who spend months or even years preparing themselves specifically for a run at top schools, due to career focus or simple procrastination, some applicants find themselves with a short window before due dates pass.
Having just completed an extensive overview of MBA interviewing, it occurred to me I forgot to address an area which affects a large portion of applicants: the off-campus interview. While it’s always preferable to do the interview on campus, due to travel and scheduling complications, most schools will make alternatives available, the most common of which being the off-campus alumni interview or the dreaded phone or Skype interview (you can probably tell which is my least recommended option!).
As we wrap up our dissection of the business school interview, we cannot over-emphasize the importance of self reflection. Make sure you are spending time not only recalling your work history and personal experiences, but how they have shaped you and why you have made decisions in the past. Getting to the why is the most revealing part of the questions which may include:
We continue today with another post in our MBA interview series. When interviewing, applicants are generally prepared for the obvious questions, but what about the tougher questions? It would behoove you to ponder some of the following questions, which have been known to trip up even the most prepared applicants:
We always get asked what kinds of questions to expect from interviewers, so I have compiled an introductory list of eleven which you might hear as you sit in various b-school interview sessions as well as what they are “really” asking:
1. Walk me through your resume
Business School admissions interviewing can be nerve-wracking to say the least. Everything you have worked your entire career for is on the line as you sit and sweat, waiting in your target school’s office for the one shot you will have to make a case in person for a seat in business school.
But if you do find yourself in this situation, consider yourself one of the lucky ones, since only about 20% of applicants are invited to interview at top schools. The better news is, about 50% of the interviewees are admitted on average! While that still puts you in a precarious tie with a coin-flip, it’s still far better than the low double or even single digit percentage of general applicants who are admitted.
With application deadlines upon us, the question sometimes surfaces about whether or not there is any strategy around when to submit your application. To answer this, you must first determine if your school is accepting applications on a rolling admissions basis or a rounds/deadline basis. A rolling admissions calendar accepts and considers applications as they are submitted, and then they return a decision to the applicant as soon as that decision is made, most often within a few weeks of submission.
In 1966, a professor at Washington University, Sterling Schoen created The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management in order to give African American men the business skills they needed to secure positions in American corporations. Just two years after the Civil Rights Movement, this was a bold endeavor, and one whose impact is stronger than ever today.
It’s getting more and more difficult to stand out these days. It sometimes seems as if everyone meanders through life with the same or similar routine, all doing the same or similar thing, so when it comes time to differentiate yourself in your b-school application, how do you pull it off?
Many schools have become super restrictive on how many essays they allow you to submit. The crushing numbers of applicants has forced schools to streamline the evaluation process and they simply do not have the staff or time to read 1000 word essays from everyone.
Harvard, as an extreme example, actually has no required essays as part of this year’s application! They allow you to submit one essay if you like, but it’s not technically a requirement for consideration as an MBA applicant. While we don’t recommend you submit to HBS without leveraging the essay, this shift in the process highlights the fact that every word does indeed count.
I outlined in my previous post how to frame your stories around some key attributes that all business schools are looking for. But the natural question to ask is, “how can I stand out when everyone is demonstrating the same attributes?” This is where the personal story comes in.
Reverse engineering is an amazing process. Why reinvent the wheel when you can pick apart someone else’s expertise to inspire you or lead you in the right direction? While this concept is largely applied in the technology and manufacturing world, it can be readily utilized in your business school application process as well.
With precious little time between the release of the applications from business schools and the application deadlines in the first round (or even earlier for early decision rounds) we often see clients vexing over whether or not to push off an application to subsequent rounds. This leads to natural questions about whether this is a good strategy, a bad strategy, or a neutral decision.
Now that applications have been released, many clients are beginning to reach out to their recommenders. We often get questions about the best approach to ensuring this portion of your application is the best it can be, so I thought it would be helpful to give you some tips for working with your recommenders so your end result is just that. I have written other articles on how to wisely choose your recommenders, so I will assume you have done that part already.
If you have decided to re-apply to a school where you were rejected, one of the most valuable things you can seek is feedback on why you didn’t make the cut last time. Some schools will actually provide this information if you ask for it, so don’t be shy about reaching back to them.
You have spent considerable time collecting valuable work experience since college and even more time reflecting back on this experience as you prepare to apply to business school, possibly even making notes or an outline on how you plan to ideally relate your story to the admissions committees.
Now that the essay questions have been released, your stomach sinks as you see your target school has put a 250 character limit on describing your post MBA goals, or a 400 word limit on explaining why you want to go to their school. Worse yet, your aspirations for Harvard Business School begin to wane as you see their one essay this year has no posted word limit —is this a trick?
It goes without saying that the GMAT is a challenging test. Weeks of preparation boils down to just a few hours sitting in front of a glowing screen, attempting to demonstrate your aptitude for business school, which is supposedly what the test is designed to measure. Despite your best efforts to get a seven-handle on your score, however, you end up in the mid sixes. Will this be good enough to get into your dream school?
Deciding how many applications to submit is something everyone must do, but what are the criteria you are using to make this decision? Despite a decrease in applications in 2011 and 2012 due to the bad economy, early signs are pointing to a rebound in applications this year, which means the competition will be tough. Yes, even Harvard Business School saw a drop in applications in 2012 (about 4% fewer) but they do not expect this to be a lasting trend. With a couple of years of down applications comes pent-up demand for an MBA, so it is expected that applications will trend upwards for the next several years. The MBA is more valuable than ever, with recent statistics showing only 4.3 percent of people with graduate degrees being unemployed.
Applying to business school can sometimes seem overwhelming. In addition to working your full time job at a high level, impressing your boss and seeking challenges, you also must be involved in your community and simultaneously prepare for the GMAT as well as write several application essays—not even to mention tracking down the obscure summer semester transcript from that class you took away from your primary institution and also meeting with potential recommenders. For this reason, it makes sense to get started on the process as soon as possible.
We frequently receive questions about recommendations, one of the most common of which is “should I use a professor as a recommender?” The answer to this is not straightforward, and can be best encapsulated with “it depends.”
Most schools require two recommendations, and the typical approach is to use a current and former supervisor to do them. But sometimes this is either not practical or not ideal, in which case it might make sense to approach a former professor. After all, you did well in college and made a good impression. In fact, you recall taking a couple of classes in your major from your favorite professor, who seemed to look favorably on you compared to your classmates. But what if it’s been several years and despite your best intentions, you have not maintained contact with the professor? This is not unusual, and don’t fret. For tenure track faculty, it is likely they are still there, doing their thing, so tracking them down is usually not difficult. Since professors see a lot of students come and go, despite your high performance in their class, it’s best to go visit in person. Make an appointment via phone or email and get back to campus.
If you are a US citizen trying to decide where you want to get your MBA degree, it can be tempting to think about schools outside the USA. After all, the world knows no boundaries thanks to technology and a global marketplace. Spending a couple of years in Spain, England or Asia also sounds like a nice way to see new places and things, and meet new people while you sharpen your business acumen. And since most programs at reputable business schools are in English, you won’t face the language barrier that may have stopped you otherwise.
With the pending release of 2014 MBA applications, you may be considering trying again at a school where you were rejected last year. Schools are generally encouraging with re-applicants, but it’s a good idea to also come up with a plan B for this go-round. It’s fine to re-apply to your dream school, but you if you happen to get rejected again, you need to have a fallback this time—a program you’d be satisfied attending even if it’s not your top choice. Life is too short to spend three years trying to get into grad school, and if you haven’t been able to impress the committee for two years in a row, it may simply not be in the cards for you to go there. Often we see clients becoming enamored with a particular school, when in reality, they could receive the same or very similar education and tools (and networks and contacts and jobs) from another school. We are very much in favor of dogged determination, but at the end of the day, we want to see you get your MBA and not spend half your career applying to school.
This time of year is replete with many young candidates who want to apply to business school directly out of undergrad. Is this possible? In some cases, it is. But it depends on a few factors.
First, you must recognize that business schools are unique compared to other graduate schools mostly in that they generally require real world experience prior to matriculation. If you think about Law School, Medical school or just about any other occupational education, it is most common to simply take on the degree as a continuation of your current academic career. As a potential applicant to business school, however, you likely have noticed most schools have an average work experience figure approaching 5 years.
One thing we generally recommend to clients is to use a matrix to ensure you are communicating a balance of core essentials to the admissions committees. If you use this approach, you will be much more organized as you apply and will also be able to quickly ascertain where you may be coming up short. How does it work? We view the four core essentials of a perfect application as: Leadership, Innovation, Maturity, and Teamwork. These are the four critical areas that all business schools desire to see in their applicants.
Deciding when to apply to school can often get applicants twisted up, as they attempt to inject strategy into the process. We can speak more specifically to this strategy in another post, but it also makes sense to talk about early action. More and more schools it seems have an early action option which throws yet another wrench in the round one vs. round two vs. round three discussion.
This time of year, the biggest question from clients seems to be which MBA programs should they be targeting for application. We understand that with so many choices out there both domestically in the US and internationally, it can be a bit overwhelming. Time and time again, we find ourselves having to remind everyone of the one key word to focus on when choosing schools: FIT.
With a fairly consistent test format for more than fifty years, the Graduate Management Admissions Council has revamped the test with a couple of assessment changes in the past few years. Most recently, the Integrated Reasoning Section, a 30-minute portion of the GMAT made up of 12 questions, was designed to measure one’s ability to discern patterns and combine verbal and quantitative reasoning so solve problems. While the admissions committees at top schools seem to continue focusing on the traditional verbal and quantitative score combination (out of a possible 800), we will likely see an emphasis shift towards these new sections in the future (which also include a 30-minute writing analysis of a topic), since the skills they measure are critical to today’s business leaders.