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.
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Like beauty, leadership is often desired but hard to figure out for those who do not have it.
Even among experts, the exact definition of leadership is quite murky, like the exact expert definition of beauty. Entire careers have been dedicated to the study of leadership and it is probably a concept that changes depending on the context. Military leadership, for example, is probably quite a different matter from business leadership or intellectual leadership, despite areas of possible overlap.
In a recent opinion piece in the New Yorker titled “Why Women Should Skip Business School”, author Laura Hemphill argues that, since women are far more likely to experience a career interruption (usually because of having kids) than men, they should work as much as possible while they’re young and aren’t get juggling family obligations. Make money and get far ahead now, she argues, and you’ll have more options later on than you will with an MBA.
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.
There is little doubt that the most prestigious business schools command serious consideration. But alas, outside the top 3 programs (and even then), it makes little sense to select a business school based on rankings alone. Most MBA aspirants do not give enough consideration to some key factors that will have serious impact on their business school happiness and success. Here are some factors that deserve your serious consideration and could swing your decision one way or the other.
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?
Rounding out our look at applications at the top business schools this year, today we break down INSEAD’s application deadlines and essays for the 2013-2014 admissions season. INSEAD has made only very subtle tweaks to its essays this year, and the school has decided buck the trend and not to go the route of significantly cutting down its number of required essays. When a business school only makes subtle changes to its essays, that usually means that the admissions office likes what it’s been getting from applicants.
We can add UCLA Anderson to the long list of top business schools that have cut down their essay requirements for the coming admissions season. Anderson recently released its admissions essays and deadlines for the coming year, and the school dropped one essay prompt, going down to just one required essay for 2013-2014. We can’t wait until next year, when schools go from one essay down to zero. (Just kidding!)
Got Writer’s Block? We are here to help! It can be hard to tell your story in 500 words or less, but we are here to provide a few tips to help get you started in tackling your admissions essays.
Take a look at the Dos and the Don’ts of essay writing and let us know if you have any questions.
Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business recently released its MBA application essays and deadlines for the Class of 2016. Bucking the trend among most top MBA programs, Duke has actually made no changes this year! However, last year the school made some pretty radical changes, so one could argue that other schools are now coming around to some of these aggressive and creative changes. Further, the fact that Fuqua hasn’t made any changes this year suggests that the admissions committee likes what it saw last year, so following their advice and giving them what they want is key.
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.
Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business recently released its MBA application essays and deadlines for the Class of 2016. Tuck has bucked the trend among top business schools and left its essay count and total word count unchanged compared to what they were last year. The Tuck admissions team has made some subtle tweaks to its essay prompts, though, and we’ll dig into those below.
In the cinematic achievement Legally Blonde, loved by all millennials with a pulse, ditsy main character Elle Woods submits a provocative yet clever video as part of her application to Harvard. Elle creatively demonstrates her achievements, her lifestyle and provides the admissions officers with a sense of her personality and potential. The video certainly sets her apart from the other more muted and “stuffy” applicants and earns her a spot in the world’s most coveted university. Ten years ago the idea of submitting a video to admissions officers certainly seemed daring, unconventional and bold. But now, top MBA programs are actually requiring their applicants to do just that as part of the application process, including Yale School of Management and Kellogg School of Management.
So, you are looking to go back to school to earn your MBA and either plan for or facilitate your transition into a civilian role. Here are a few tips on how to leverage your military experience into a successful business school application.
1) Leadership, leadership, leadership
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.
In business school we take classes called “marketing & brand management.” In this class we learn how to create and sell a brand. One of the most important things to do as we manage a brand is to create a unique selling proposition for the consumer which differentiates the brand from the competition by providing evidence of what makes the brand special and necessary.
The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business has released its MBA application essays and deadlines for the Class of 2016. Ross is the latest top MBA program to shed an essay, going from four required essays last year to just three this year. The school has also trimmed word counts on a couple of its essays. However, the school’s most interesting question (its first one) remains unchanged.
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.
Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management has released its MBA application essays and deadlines for the 2013-2104 admissions season. To no one’s surprise, Kellogg is the latest top-ranked MBA program to drop a required essay from its application this year — the school now requires just three essays of first-time applicants. Kellogg has also reduced how many word limits in some cases. What is most interesting is that the essay that Kellogg dropped was a mere 25-word question that appeared on last year’s application. We liked that one, but apparently the Kellogg admissions team didn’t.
With the recent release of the 2014 HBS application, it is clear that shortening the number of essays is a trend that is here to stay for now. With only one essay on the HBS application this year, it is becoming more important than ever to not only communicate effectively and concisely, but also to leverage the balance of the application (and of course the interview) to stand out from the crowd.
UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business has released its MBA application essays and deadlines for the Class of 2016. Haas has not only dropped an essay this year (as many other top-ranked MBA programs have done), but it has also dropped a whole admissions round! Beyond that, the content of Haas’s application has actually changed very little this year, at least compared to the more radical changes we have seen in other business schools’ applications.
Chicago Booth has released its application essays and deadlines for the 2013-2014 admissions season. The Great Essay Reduction continues… Consistent with what we have seen many other top-ranked business schools, Booth has dropped an essay this year. The school has, however, kept its more unique “PowerPoint” question, suggesting that the admissions committee likes what it sees with the responses it gets from this prompt.
MIT’s Sloan School of Management has released its admissions essays and deadlines for the Class of 2016. There are a few big changes this year, including Sloan’s removal of the cover letter that had famously accompanied its more traditional MBA admissions essays over the years. Sloan’s application is now down to just two essays, and they’re both new this year, continuing the trend that we have seen at most of the top-ranked MBA programs.
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.
We often get asked by clients how many times they should take the GMAT before they move on to other components of the application. Of course this largely depends on your score, but if you find yourself disappointed with your initial test results, you will generally want to try again.
Broadly speaking, schools don’t really care how many times you take the test, and will only consider your highest score. Know that they won’t combine separate components into one score, but will consider your best overall score from one sitting as your “application score.” Having said that, it is also generally agreed upon that schools don’t want to see applicants taking the exam a dozen times. This can communicate negative qualities to the admission’s committee such as poor time management skills, slow learner syndrome, or good old fashioned poor judgment or misalignment of priorities.
One question we see from business school applicants every year is “My GMAT score was lower than I expected… What should I do now?” Candidates walk away from their GMAT test date wide-eyed and shocked that their score came in 50 points under all their practice exams.
You will surely hear over and over, that the GMAT is only a portion of your application, albeit a fairly important one. We have seen firsthand that top schools are not always lenient on incoming scores because the average GMAT has a big impact on the schools’ rankings and they can’t afford to slip from the coveted top 10 or 20 slots they so desperately try to hold. Even lower tiered schools are beginning to see their GMAT scores climb, and every school likes to see their average score go up each year. Last year, Stanford’s average topped 729!