What You Can Learn from Zootopia About Setting Realistic MBA Goals

imgresZootopia, one of 2016’s top box office hits (grossing over $1 billion dollars), is an animated Disney movie showcasing impressive visuals, funny moments and a powerful theme of acceptance and inclusion. Seemingly a children’s movie, nods to iconic films and television shows such as The Godfather, Breaking Bad, and older Disney works prove to entertain the whole family.

In this entry, we will use this popular movie to illustrate how to strengthen one of the most important aspects of your MBA application: identifying your ambitious, but achievable, post-MBA goals.

Showcasing Your Achievements
Like many MBA applicants, Zootopia‘s main character, Judy Hopps, has excellent academic credentials (valedictorian of her class) and big goals. Judy also has an idealistic view of Zootopia (the city in which she lives), believing that anybody can be anything. Although she has initial success in becoming the first rabbit cop amongst heavyweight mammals (such as buffalo, rhinos, and elephants), she still faces many struggles in her career.

Lessons Learned:
As you write your MBA application essays, highlighting your various distinctions and achievements – including any barriers you have broken or obstacles you have encountered and surpassed (or hopped over) – will help showcase that you possess the ability, drive and perseverance necessary to achieve your future goals.

Ability to Overcome Challenges
The movie also deftly shows how Judy had to grow through prejudices and biases, both of others and of herself, while still keeping her idealism and her belief that she can make an impact on her anthropomorphic world. Seeing Judy win over the trust of her boss, who doubted her abilities to get the job done, makes us believe even more that she can achieve great things in the future.

Lessons Learned:
Sharing personal, vivid anecdotes of the struggles you have faced and how these challenges have helped you evolve and mature will make your business school application more compelling. Sharing your failures, weaknesses, and realizations will allow the Admissions Committee to understand and relate to you better. Remember, you don’t have to be perfect – nobody is!

Using your essays to showcase your self-awareness, how you have handled adversity, and how you have grown will make it more convincing that your post-MBA goals are not driven by blind idealism, but are grounded in reality and are actually achievable. For example, if your future goal requires working with regulators and big businesses across various industries to create social impact, it would be a good idea to share experiences of the similar challenges you have faced in the past, and how you have effectively collaborated with counterparts representing different agendas.

As you identify your bold post-MBA goals, show that you have the experiences, skills and expertise that are necessary to accomplish these goals.  Be sure to refer to specific episodes in your past that display your awareness of what happens on the ground, and that your path to your goal is based on a well-thought-out plan, with the next step being an MBA at your target program. You could also identify the unique benefits you would gain from an MBA at this particular program, enumerating the necessary steps to achieving your objectives.

Outlining these various details will help convince the Admissions Committee that you know what you are getting into, why you need an MBA, and how you will succeed after graduation.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! And as always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD. 

Playing Up Athletic Accomplishments in Your Business School Applications

For the MBA admissions game, applicants often feel that the content they should be including in their business school applications is limited to their professional and academic highlights. However, impressive personal details – such as athletic achievements and experiences – can also come in handy when building up one’s profile.

Just as a beauty pageant contestant would want to impress the competition judges with both intelligence and physical beauty, an MBA applicant will do well to win admiration from the Admissions Committee with different aspects of his or her personality, as well.

I know you are applying for a top MBA program (and not an NBA team!), but sharing that you are part of a national team or that you hold (or held) regional, age-level records in your chosen sport will still help your application. Apart from differentiating you from other candidates within your same industry, your accomplishments can also be used to show consistent character traits that have been common in your successes, which you can bring with you as you make the move to business school.

For example, you may highlight the leadership skills and drive that have allowed you to excel as captain of your soccer team as the same strengths that have been key to your success as a project manager. This will help you be more convincing when you say that these skills will enable you to be successful at the prestigious MBA program you are targeting. Likewise, accomplishments in competitive sports can also be effective in strengthening your personal brand – they could be additional illustrations of your reputation as an achiever or as a team player.

Sharing interesting personal anecdotes of how a particular athletic event changed your mindset or helped you grow as a person is another way to leverage your athletic background. Rich materials abound in this field – you can demonstrate your ability to collaborate with teammates, your resilience in overcoming personal setbacks (such as injuries or failures), and other positive traits.

One inherent advantage to showcasing your athletic background is that your stories will be easy to visualize (like an ESPN highlight reel), and the Admissions Committee will be able to better relate to the highs and lows that you share. Thus, your stories become effective set-ups for presenting lessons you have learned and how you have become the person you are today. Aside from strengthening your message by demonstrating it across various contexts, this also presents you as a multi-faceted individual.

Lastly, when presented properly, your passion for sports can be an effective “ice breaker” for your interviews or to help you build relationships with your future business school peers. Sharing a keen interest in a particular sport can develop rapport. Being associated with positive qualities such as strength, agility or gracefulness can only help you as you reach for that coveted spot at a top MBA program.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! And as always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD. 

Early Thoughts on Dartmouth Tuck’s 2016-2017 Application Essay Questions

Tuck MBA Application season at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth is officially underway with the release of the school’s 2016-2017 essay questions. Let’s discuss from a high level some early thoughts on how best to approach these updated essay prompts. With all of your essays for Tuck, treat your responses holistically and try to paint a complete picture of your candidacy within the school-specific suite of essay questions.

Essay 1:
Tuck educates wise leaders who better the world of business. What are your short- and long-term goals? How will a Tuck MBA enable you to become a wise leader with global impact? (500 to 700 words)
This essay is Tuck’s take on the common “Career Goals” essay. Tuck returns this year with an updated approach to this essay that asks applicants to hone in on the leadership and impact aspects of their career goals. This is a great opportunity to really show the school how you plan to become a global change agent, and how Tuck is the ideal place to help you manifest this goal. School research is key here, so make sure your school interest aligns with Tuck’s strong value system.

Leadership is not typically an item that is directly called upon in a career essay prompt, so this should be a clear focus in your response. Tuck is looking for candidates who are aspirational and who truly see themselves making an impact on the world around them through a leadership role, so think through how your career goals will do that and make sure to frame your future plans in the context of leadership.

Essay 2:
As a diverse and global community, our students arrive at the same place from many different paths. Tell us about an experience in which you have had to live, learn and/or work with other people very different from yourself. What challenges and/or opportunities did you experience, how did you respond, and what did you learn about yourself as a result? (500 words)
Attending Tuck is a very different MBA experience than one might have at other programs – from the remote location, to the small class size, to the close community, it is your job to convince the Admissions Committee that you are a strong fit for this unique student experience.

In your response, it is important to directly address each point of the prompt while highlighting your strong fit with the Tuck MBA. Tuck is known for their unique culture and strong alumni network, so your evaluation by the Admissions Committee will be based on how well you will fit into their student community.

Don’t limit yourself to just professional examples here; this prompt is purposefully open-ended, so whichever direction you choose to go should showcase a cross-section of both your interpersonal skills and comfort in interacting with people from various walks of life. The experience you select should have a good deal of depth so you are able to address each aspect of the prompt in great detail. Make sure you also connect the dots for the Admissions Committee by detailing the impact this experience had on you, the lessons you learned from it, and how it will factor into your contributions as a Tuck MBA.

Just a few thoughts on the new batch of essays from Tuck – hopefully this will help you get started. For more thoughts on Tuck and its application essays, check out our free Essential Guide to Top Business Schools.

Applying to Dartmouth Tuck or other business schools? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more articles by him here.

Early Thoughts on UNC Kenan-Flagler’s 2016-2017 Application Essay Question

MBA@UNCApplication season at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School is officially underway with the release of the school’s 2016-2017 application essay questions. Let’s discuss from a high level some early thoughts on how best to approach this year’s essay prompts:

 

Essay 1Please describe your short and long term goals post-MBA.
Explain how your professional experience has shaped these goals; why this career option appeals to you; and how you arrived at the decision that now is the time and the MBA is the appropriate degree? (500 words)
This is a very involved career goals essay, so you’ll want to make sure you compartmentalize each component of the prompt to ensure you are properly answering the question. 500 words is generally seen as a lengthy word count among the essays of other top business schools this year, but with all of the components in this essay, it is critical to stay concise with your response and move things along.

Addressing your response to this prompt via a relevant story that captures your passion for your desired career path is a great way to stand out while still informing the Admissions Committee of your post-MBA goals.

Essay 2: Optional
What personal qualities or life experiences distinguish you from other applicants? How do these qualities or experiences equip you to contribute to UNC Kenan-Flagler? (300 words)
These questions can be difficult for many candidates to answer, but for an MBA application, candidates must be unafraid to highlight what makes them truly unique. Remember, unless you say it, the Admissions Committee will never know, so don’t be bashful here.

Focus on the “distinguish” aspect of the prompt to highlight not only what makes you unique, but also what you could potentially bring to campus. Try to avoid basic responses here – dig deep to think through your personal and professional strengths and connect them to UNC student life and what you could contribute to the Kenan-Flagler community.

Essay 3: Optional
If your standardized test scores are low, or if you have not had coursework in core business subjects (calculus, microeconomics, statistics, financial accounting), please tell us how you plan to prepare yourself for the quantitative rigor of the MBA curriculum (300 words)
Only answer this question if you realistically fall into this bucket. If your GMAT score is materially lower than the average score listed for Kenan-Flagler students, then the school would probably define you as a “low test score” recipient. If you have worked in an analytical function or plan to take pre-MBA coursework, this essay would be a good opportunity to highlight these aspects of your profile to address the potential red flag of your score.

Essay 4: Optional
Is there any other information you would like to share that is not presented elsewhere in the application? (300 words)
This is a more traditional optional essay, so only use it if it feels absolutely necessary (given that the school already has a few outlets to address typical optional essay topics). This essay tends to be a good area to show an aspect of your personality, passion, perspective or professional career that has not been discussed otherwise in your application.

Just a few thoughts on the new batch of essays from Kenan-Flagler that should help you get started for this admissions season.

Applying to UNC or other business schools? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more articles by him here.

Early Thoughts on Yale SOM’s 2016-2017 Application Essay Question

Yale MBA Admissions GuideApplication season at the Yale School of Management is officially underway with the release of the school’s 2016-2017 application essay question. Let’s discuss from a high level some early thoughts on how best to approach this new essay prompt. This year, Yale has made some changes from last year’s prompt, so let’s explore how to best approach this essay:

Essay 1:
Describe the biggest commitment you have ever made. (500 words maximum)
Yale returns this year with a new essay prompt that is one of the shortest among the top MBA programs. Yale only has one essay again this year, so candidates must make sure to really focus on this aspect of their application.

With other similar, open-ended questions like this, your choice of topic will provide the Admissions Committee with a good deal of insight into your character, personality and values, so it is important to choose what you will write about wisely. In addition, understanding that this essay prompt was created in concert with a Yale Professor of Organizational Behavior should signal the layered thinking that will be expected from you in your answer to this seemingly-innocuous question.

The school also references “leadership” and “integrated” curriculum as it describes this professor, which might illuminate the type of interpersonal elements that Yale is looking to learn more about in your essay response. A successful applicant will examine the values that Yale SOM has made the hallmarks of their program and connect these values to a personal and introspective response to the essay prompt. To dive deeper here, you’ll want to use your commitment story to share your own personal values in the same way Yale has done.

The first step to completing this essay will be to really sift through anecdotes within your personal, professional and academic career to discuss in this essay. It’s not enough to just select any old commitment, but instead, you should choose one where the full breadth of your interpersonal skills are on display – the ideal skills to highlight are the ones that jive with the Yale SOM mission. Also, it would be wise to leverage some of the clues within the prompt itself. Use the aforementioned signals as elements of the story you will lean on to make your case. Make sure the example you have selected has a bit of staying power, too – Yale is looking for sustainable commitment, here.

Introspection will be a key element to any successful Yale SOM essay, so remember to relate why this specific anecdote is significant to YOU. Finally, consider if and then how your experience will allow you to make a similar impact on the greater Yale community as a whole.

Just a few thoughts on this year’s essay from Yale – hopefully this will help you get started. For more thoughts on Yale SOM and its application essays, check out our free Essential Guide to Top Business Schools.

Applying to Yale or other business schools? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more articles by him here.

Early Thoughts on Duke Fuqua’s 2016-2017 Application Essay Questions

duke-universityApplication season at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business is officially underway with the release of the school’s 2016-2017 essay questions. Let’s discuss from a high level some thoughts on how best to approach these essay prompts, which have remained relatively consistent over the last few years. The two essays give applicants a great opportunity to showcase their fit with Fuqua, which is a program that really strives to create a cohesive student community built around its values.

Essay 1: 25 Random Things About Yourself
Share with us important life experiences, your likes/dislikes, hobbies, achievements, fun facts, or anything that helps us understand what makes you who you are. Share with us your list of “25 Random Things” about YOU.
Year in and year out, Fuqua’s “25 Random Things” essay remains one of the most creative prompts among the top MBA programs. This Fuqua essay truly strikes at the core of what makes their program unique. Showcasing your thorough understanding of Fuqua’s value will help you determine what “random things” you choose to highlight.

Your list should reflect an honest portrayal of who you are. Remember, the goal of this essay is to uncover some of the elements that are stated in the prompt, so seriously brainstorm some of the unique aspects of your personal, professional and social identity. The most common mistake I see in this essay is when applicants take the exercise too seriously. Now this is a business school essay so it should, of course, be professionally drafted, but applicants should also feel comfortable having a little fun with this prompt and letting their personality shine through.

Consider what perception you want to leave behind for the Admissions Committee after reading your “25 Random Things” and make sure each one addresses some aspect of this positioning.

Essay 2:
Based on your understanding of the Fuqua culture, how do you see yourself engaging in and contributing to our community, outside of the classroom? (2 pages max)
Essay 2 is your opportunity to take the Fuqua research that informed your approach to Essay 1, and share some of the specifics that really resonate with how you plan to have an impact on the school’s unique student community.

Breakthrough candidates will personalize their narrative and avoid generalities, here. Not only should you be specific with your answer, but you should also make sure you identify your future role in each of the activities you plan to be involved in. The contribution aspect of this prompt is also very important, so be sure to identify what individual impact you will have on your chosen extracurricular activities and on the Fuqua community as a whole.

Just a few thoughts on this year’s essays from Duke – hopefully this will help you get started. For more thoughts on Fuqua and its application essays, check out our free Essential Guide to Top Business Schools.

Applying to Fuqua or other business schools? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more articles by him here.

Preparing the Perfect Package for Your MBA Application in 4 Steps

MBA AdmissionsYou have done all the hard work and put in the hours to get to this point. Your GPA, GMAT, work experience, and extracurricular activities are what they are. You have researched schools extensively, even visiting campuses and making an effort to connect with alumni. Now, it is about putting this all together into one application package that will determine whether you get to attend your dream school or not… no pressure.

Here are three ways you can prepare the perfect package for your target programs:

Selecting Stories
As you start sorting through potential ideas for your essays, list the interesting anecdotes that would best present you in a nutshell – think of these as scenes in a movie that would best capture the essence of the lead character. These can help you stand out through your interesting experiences and serve as attention-grabbers that captivate your audience. These stories could come from your personal life, professional accomplishments, or passions.

Recommenders can also add to this aspect of your application by relating specific stories about you that will help substantiate the qualities that you are highlighting. Powerful examples of your leadership and teamwork skills or ability to benefit from constructive criticism will greatly help. Thus, reminding your recommenders of these episodes in your relationship could come in handy.

Presenting Perspectives
Your application essays are also avenues that allow the Admissions Committee to understand where you come from, what motivates you, and where you want to go post-MBA. Sharing your unique upbringing, family values and inspirations will help present a more personal profile. This is not limited to just the positive events or outstanding accomplishments in your life, either – the challenges you have overcome or even the weaknesses you are still addressing also humanize you, making you more relatable so that the Admissions Committee wants to root for your success.

Sharing your personal story and challenging circumstances will also emphasize that you will be able to contribute to the classroom experiences of your future peers. In addition, use your interesting passions or talents that showcase surprising skills to also help you stand out among the other applicants, similar to the way football players singing and dancing to Beyonce’s music make for a memorable bit.

Tweaking the Tone
Apart from the theme and the great stories you choose to showcase in your application, fine-tuning the overall tone of your presentation can go a long way in delivering a powerful message. Having the perfect mix of displaying your strengths, humbly admitting your weaknesses, and showing fit between your target program and career goals is critical. However, be sure to show personal accountability for, and general reflection on, your failures as you plan your next steps – make sure your choice to pursue an MBA at this time in your life is displayed with clear purpose for the Admissions Committee.

Delivering these details with a personal tone and a positive vibe shows your ability to collaborate and be in sync with a select group of star performers as you apply for a coveted slot in a top-tier program.

Fitting Finale
Take some care to end your application on a positive note, carefully considering the last impression you want to make, just as the last song of a musical has to be well thought-out and excellently executed to deliver a fitting finale.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! And as always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD. 

How to Tackle Kellogg’s 2016-2017 Video Essays

Kellogg MBA Admissions GuideNorthwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management has double downed on the recent trend of video essays, bringing back their video essay for another year. Kellogg has continued to tweak the questions and format over the years but the general premise and ways to succeed in this aspect of their application have remained consistent.

As far as the operational aspects go, you have a week to complete the video essays after submission of your application – the video essays themselves are pretty straightforward and should be approached as such. I believe that these video essays are genuinely used so that the admissions committee can “get to know” the candidate on a more personal level. Therefore, the applicant should try to be friendly and open about the questions (while still being appropriate, of course) rather than overly stiff and formal.

The video essays can also be used as another way for the Admissions Committee to get a little glimpse into the personality traits of applicants. This is not something that will be really tricky or challenging, such as a mini-case – it is much more personal.

Kellogg is looking to see how you come across in an unscripted, conversational moment. The important thing to remember here is to convey calm confidence and answer the question directly within the time allotted. The good thing about these video essays is that you have a bank of 10 practice questions to prep with, so utilize this to get a feel for the questions and the technology. I would also recommend practicing a few responses for timing purposes to see how long or short a minute really is.

This is the kind of thing where I think over-preparation could potentially backfire, since you don’t know what the questions will be (outside of video prompt #2, which the school has made publicly available to all). Remember, the objective of the exercise is to be yourself and have fun, so be ready to be flexible in your responses to what you are asked. Your personality should be consistent with who you have portrayed yourself to be in the application (which should be in line with who you really are) while factoring how the Admissions Committee perceives you (young candidate, international, brain, etc.).

Prep some responses to common questions under each of the prompt categories, but keep in mind that these questions are not meant to be brain teasers, just personal questions you should have sorted through about yourself and your interest in the school prior to completing your application. One question will be Kellogg-focused, another will be more personal and the last will exploring a challenge you have faced.

Finally, try and have a good structure in your responses to the questions – communication is obviously one of the major elements being tested here, so stay poised and show off that executive presence Kellogg values so much.

For more thoughts on Kellogg, check out our free Essential Guide to Top Business Schools.

Applying to Kellogg or other business schools? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more articles by him here.

How to Explain Work Gaps in Your MBA Applications

ChecklistIf you have a prolonged gap in activity – either at school or at work – on your resume, you probably already know that explaining it can be difficult. Being open and ready to address this “hole” in your profile with the Admissions Committee will greatly benefit your application. Let’s examine the two major ways you can tackle work and education gaps in your business school essays and interviews:

Be Open and Ready
Be prepared to answer questions from the Admissions Committee regarding your gap. Being ready to discuss your gap will allow you to be composed when asked about it during your interview. An honest demeanor will help keep the interview on the right track, while allowing you to explain the context of the gap. Addressing this openly in your essays also gives you the chance to take control of the message and show your character, personality, and purpose.  

Over the years, I have had successful clients who had gaps in their educational or professional history be admitted to top programs. Reasons for these gaps have ranged from choosing to take a break to explore other countries, to taking care of the family business, to recovering from illness. Being forthcoming about the reasons for these interruptions helped demonstrate their authenticity and made it easier for the Admissions Committee to appreciate their personal growth.

Add Another Dimension
Explaining the reason for your breaks will also allow the Admissions Committee to gain more insights about your personal life story and your priorities. For instance, an applicant who had to overcome personal issues to eventually complete his undergraduate degree reflected thoughtfully that his struggles at that key point allowed him to build resilience and empathy – the same qualities that have formed the foundation of his leadership principles. Communicated sincerely, a message like this will come across powerfully, especially when supported with the context of applicable leadership activities you may have taken on during, or after, your gap.

Another applicant had to take over the family business due to his father’s illness while he was still studying. Doing so helped shape his sense of responsibility at a young age, and his maturity served him well in taking on early leadership roles. Experiences such as these are attractive, as business schools look for applicants with strong leadership potential.

Additionally, your travels can be used to show your international motivation, openness to new experiences, and ability to relate to diverse cultures. Sharing your involvement with worthy organizations while you are on break will also give a peek into the causes you hold dear. Highlight this whenever possible, as it will show your personal enrichment and act as a unique addition to your profile.

To conclude, don’t be too secretive about your education or work gaps. Instead, use your gap as an opening to connect with the Admissions Committee on an even deeper level.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! And as always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD. 

Early Thoughts on MIT Sloan’s 2016-2017 Application Essay Questions

MITApplication season at MIT Sloan is officially underway with the release of the school’s 2016-2017 essay questions. Let’s discuss from a high level some early thoughts on how best to approach these new essay prompts.

This year, Sloan has made some changes that echo prompts used in the past. Let’s explore how to best approach your responses:

Cover Letter:
Please submit a cover letter seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA Program. Your letter should conform to a standard business correspondence and be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Senior Director of Admissions. (250 words)
This year, Sloan brings back its “Cover Letter” essay, which it retired a few years back. Sloan was one of the schools that ushered in this recent trend of non-traditional essay prompts. Your response here is limited to only 250 words so it is important to be even more concise as you address the prompt.

Given the word count, it may make sense to leverage a story-like narrative to touch on a few relevant personal accomplishments that distill your goals, passion, values and interests. The key here is to orient your response around Sloan’s core values that have always been heavily influenced by the ability to problem solve and drive impact. So with these factors in mind, really think about what you can uniquely bring to the student community at Sloan.

Do not limit your impact just to the Sloan community – MIT alumni have impacted the world in many different forms so think about how the school can be the impetus for you to do the same. This is where research comes in handy, so do your due diligence. Keep in mind, with the tight word limit you don’t want to stray far away from the prompt, so stay focused on the type of support you choose to include in your response.

Similar essay prompts in the past have asked applicants to “describe accomplishments” and/or “address extenuating circumstances,” so keep these elements in mind as well as you structure your response.

Optional Essay:
The Admissions Committee invites you to share additional information about yourself, in any format. If you choose a multimedia format, please host the information on a website and provide us with the URL. (500 words or 2:00 minutes)
Not all optional essays should be considered optional, and in this case I suggest candidates utilize this essay accordingly. This essay is a really an opportunity for Sloan to get to know you, and with so few other touchpoints in the application process, you should make the most of this space.

Sloan gives candidates a pretty good runway on this one with a lengthy word and multimedia count (as far as “optional” essays go), but you will still want to keep things focused. Use as much of the real estate as you need for your answer and none more. You should really use this space to get personal; it is a great opportunity to differentiate yourself so make sure it is not something you have previously covered elsewhere in your essays.

Just a few thoughts on the essays from Sloan – hopefully this will help you get started. For more thoughts on MIT and its application essays, check out our free Essential Guide to Top Business Schools.

Applying to MIT Sloan or other business schools? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more articles by him here.

3 Business School Essay Mistakes That are Easy to Make

EssayBefore even reading the essay questions and prompts for their MBA applications, most business school candidates have made a checklist (written or mental) of the accomplishments, highlights, and goals that they want to share in their essays. While this is very helpful in mapping out your stories to share and the overall profile you want to present, be very careful of these common mistakes in your essay responses:

Not answering the questions!
As an example, take a look at the prompt below from one of the top MBA programs:

“Describe the achievement of which you are most proud and explain why. In addition, describe a situation where you failed. How did these experiences impact your relationships with others? Comment on what you learned.”

This prompt may seem simple at first – all applicants are able to identify the achievement they want to play up and can extensively set up the details regarding it (even going so far as to fill in unnecessary details). This results in a having a very limited space to discuss the failure aspect of the question. Surprisingly, even with the great care taken to reflect, review, and revise, more often than not, applicants forget to address the question about how these experiences impacted their relationship with others.

Applicants will often get fixated on one or two parts of a longer prompt and totally miss out on critical aspects of the question. This is a very basic mistake committed during the essay-writing process, and it can happen no matter how much time and effort you have invested. Thus, be mindful of the need to the match each aspect of the given prompts with your responses before clicking the submit button.

Not showing how!
You know that you need to share awards, distinctions and accomplishments to strengthen your application chances, however, just as importantly, you also need to identify how you were able to earn these. Relating the specific actions you took and your outstanding personal qualities to these accolades will help demonstrate your potential to do the same in the future.

So, take your essays as opportunities to showcase the key factors that led to your successes, and choose the ones that would also be applicable to your future endeavors. For example, you may have inherently physical gifts, such as extraordinary hand-eye coordination, that allowed you to excel in multiple sports, but it might be better to highlight qualities such as focus, drive and leadership skills, as these would be more applicable to the endeavors you’re sure to take on during your post-MBA career.

Not explaining why!
Another chance to connect with the Admissions Committee on a deeper level is to explain your motivations, both for what you have done in the past and for your future plans. Whether explicitly prompted to or not, sharing more of yourself by explaining your background, values and interests in a reflective and honest way will help you put forth an engaging application package, and will allow the Admissions Committee to get to know you better.

Sounds easy, right? Avoiding these three simple mistakes will surely raise your chances for a homerun application.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! And as always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD. 

Early Thoughts on Berkeley Haas’ 2016-2017 Application Essay Questions

UC BerkeleyApplication season at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business is officially underway with the release of the school’s 2016-2017 essay questions. Let’s discuss from a high level some early thoughts on how best to approach the essay prompts, which are essentially the same as the prompts from last year. There are three full essay questions for Haas, with Essay 2 providing the applicant multiple options to choose from.

Essay 1:
If you could choose one song that expresses who you are, what is it and why? (250 words)

The most important thing about what song you choose here is that the song you choose does not matter. The fact that the school does not care what language, culture, or even what the lyrics are should signal this to you. It is all about “why” this song is so important to you, so when selecting a song think long and hard about a song that provides some insight into who you are. The more authentic the better, so use this as an opportunity to really let the Admissions Committee in so you can stand out from other candidates.

Essay 2:
Choose one:

  • Describe an experience that has fundamentally changed the way you see the world and how it transformed you
  • Describe a time when you were challenged by perspectives different from your own and how you responded
  • Describe a difficult decision you have made and why it was challenging

(250 words)
There is a common theme between these three potential essay prompts, so it can be difficult for applicants to decide on which one to pick. Overall, with all three of these prompts, Haas is looking to understand how you have handled uncomfortable situations in the past. Again, which prompt you choose does not really matter for this essay – what is most important is to dive deep and be vulnerable and reflective on the experience you choose to share.

Essay 3:
Tell us about your career plans. How have your past experiences prepared you to achieve these goals? How will Berkeley-Haas help you? (500 words)

Essay 3 is the longest of the three essays and is by far the most traditional. This is your opportunity to really connect the dots for the Admissions Committee and help them understand how a Haas MBA will uniquely position you for success in your future career path. Spare the generalities here and get specific – highlight how your past, present, and future all link together with the Haas MBA. Hint: Haas’ “Defining Principles” are a great place to start!

Just a few thoughts on the new batch of essays from the Haas School of Business – hopefully this will help you get started. For more thoughts on Berkeley and its application essays, check out our free Essential Guide to Top Business Schools.

Applying to Berkeley Haas or other business schools? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more articles by him here.

Early Thoughts on NYU Stern’s 2016-2017 Application Essay Questions

NYU CampusApplication season at NYU Stern is officially underway with the release of the school’s 2016-2017 essay questions. Let’s discuss from a high level some early thoughts on how best to approach these essay prompts that have remained relatively consistent over the last few years. The two essays Stern requires are structured to give applicants a chance to showcase both the professional and personal sides of their applications.

Essay 1: Professional Aspirations
Why pursue an MBA (or dual degree) at this point in your life? What actions have you taken to determine that Stern is the best fit for your MBA experience? What do you see yourself doing professionally upon graduation? (750 words)
This is a very multi-layered prompt provides applicants with a great opportunity to share their professional game plan and why Stern specifically is a key part of this. This prompt differs from other more traditional “career goals” essays by including multiple questions that will tease out many details of your planned career trajectory.

Keep your approach simple here and consider addressing each aspect of the question in order. The wording of this prompt signals that you should touch on the past a little to provide context for the factors that have brought you to this point in your professional journey. Make it clear that you are self-reflective and have a deep understanding of where you have come from and where you are going professionally.

Don’t shy away from honestly assessing why now is the right time to pursue your MBA. Whether it is personal maturity, industry changes, desired promotion or something else that is motivating you, the impetus of your timing is important to have pinned down.

The second aspect of the prompt involves “fit.” Stern is really looking for specifics here, so don’t shy away from the detailing your research of schools and how Stern in particular has stood out for you from other MBA programs. The more you can personalize this aspect of your response, the better.

The rationale and  likelihood of reaching your identified career goals post-MBA is also a key aspect of how Stern will evaluate its applicants. Connecting your personal development goals to Stern’s unique offerings is critical to showcasing true fit with this program.

Essay 2: Personal Expression
Please describe yourself to your MBA classmates. You may use almost any method to convey your message (e.g. words, illustrations). Feel free to be creative.
Many programs have begun to move towards more open-ended and creative essay prompts such as this. The goal of this prompt for Stern is to get to know who you really are. Unique to most other MBA programs, Stern provides various multi-media options for candidates to use to convey their message. This allows you the opportunity to have a unique and creative approach in answering this prompt.

Keep in mind that the use of more non-traditional media can really stand out in a typically text-heavy process. Think creatively about how you plan to share your response, even if you are only using words. Creativity is not only limited to the medium – how you structure and organize your response could be another interesting way to stand out.

This essay is an opportunity to balance out the heavy professional focus of Essay #1 with elements of your unique personality. Make sure you share details that would be relevant to someone who you are potentially about to spend a lot of time with over the next 2 years. This essay is a great place to showcase your interpersonal skills as well as how you plan to utilize them while working with your future classmates.

Just a few thoughts on the new essays from Stern – hopefully this will help you get started. For more thoughts on Stern and its application essays, check out our free Essential Guide to Top Business Schools.

Applying to NYU Stern or other business schools? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more articles by him here.

Early Thoughts on Chicago Booth’s 2016-2017 Application Essay Question

Chicago BoothApplication season at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business has officially kicked off with the release of the school’s 2016-2017 application essay question. Let’s discuss from a high level some early thoughts on how best to approach this essay prompt that remains relatively consistent from last year:

Essay 1:
View this collection of shared Booth moments. Choose the moment that best resonates with you and tell us why.

  • Choose the format that works for you
  • Determine your own length

I would think of your approach to this essay in three buckets. First, you want to identify the story you want to tell to the Admissions Committee. Second, you want to identify the image that best allows you to paint this picture in the most comprehensive and all-encompassing way. Finally, you want to select the medium that allows you to best bring your response to life in a vivid and clear fashion.

Let’s explore each bucket in greater detail:

Story Identification:
Who will you be to the Admissions Committee? This prompt really seeks to understand the candidate who is applying to Booth, and it is your job to identify the aspects of your background that best connect with the mission of the program. Theoretically there are many things a candidate could focus on as a theme – be authentic here, but make sure you are highlighting a narrative or anecdote that aligns your personal and professional strengths with qualities that will endear you to Booth’s admissions team.

Image Selection:
The school wants to know what aspects of the Booth student experience you most viscerally connect to and gets you the most excited. A big part of this is research, so conducting primary and secondary research into the program to really understand the symbolism of each image is a major key to success in your response here. Using your “story” to inform your choice is a really smart way to go – pick the image that best aligns with your tale and allows you to communicate the most robust narrative.

Medium Choice & Length:
This aspect of approaching the Booth prompt tends to give applicants the most trouble. In the past, Booth limited responses to four slides; these limitations on both the length and medium of an applicant’s response made candidates’ approaches much more straightforward. Now, with the more open-ended prompt, applicants are left with a bit of anxiety when deciding on an approach. One thing to always keep in mind during the application process is when a school states they have no preference, take them at their word. Select the medium that you feel will best illustrate a clear, cogent, and passionate response to the prompt.

This is a great opportunity to leverage your writing or visual skills to help you stand out. On the length side, many schools have been moving towards shorter essay length requirements, so keep this in mind and try to communicate your response in a concise and direct fashion. This is really a judgement call, but think of every element used in your deliverable and evaluate whether it is actually building or diluting your argument.

Just a few thoughts here on approaching this year’s essay prompt from Booth – hopefully this will help you get started. For more thoughts on Booth and its application essays, check out our free Essential Guide to Top Business Schools.

Applying to Booth or other business schools? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more articles by him here.

Early Thoughts on Ross’ 2016-2017 Application Essay Questions

MichiganApplication season at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business is officially underway with the release of the school’s 2016-2017 essay questions. Let’s discuss from a high level some early thoughts on how best to approach these essay prompts.

The essays this year are fairly similar to last year’s prompts, however with a few tweaks:

Essay 1:
What are you most proud of outside of your professional life? How does it shape who you are today? (400 words)
This is a traditional “accomplishments” essay, and Ross has tweaked it this year to really have applicants focus on accomplishments outside of the professional arena. Coming from a very culture-focused campus, this nuance should come as no surprise. Ross has always had a very active student community, so highlighting an example that shows your prior engagement – preferably in a leadership capacity – will show your fit with the program.

Dig deep to identify the topic you are going to discuss; these types of open-ended questions really give applicants the chance to differentiate themselves from other candidates. Make sure, however, you are direct in your approach to answering this question, as Ross’ Admissions Committee has emphasized in the past the importance of answering their question as directly as possible.

Also, keep in mind that you will have time to talk about your professional career and even highlight some of your past accomplishments through the second essay, so keep this first essay tightly focused on your life outside of your professional career (unless your professional career was somehow shaped by this accomplishment).

Finally, don’t assume that if your accomplishment does not involve saving a beached whale or climbing Mt. Everest that your response will not be well-received. What makes your response to this question relevant is the impact this accomplishment had on YOU.

Essay 2:
What is your desired career path and why? (250 words)
This is a typical “career goals” essay and should come as no surprise to any candidate applying to business school. In fact, your answer to this question should be what initially drove your interest in pursuing an MBA in the first place, so Ross will be expecting a fairly polished essay here.

What will separate you from the competition as a breakthrough candidate will be how personalized your essay reads.  Like many other MBA programs, Ross wants students who are truly passionate about their school and who want to be there. With this in mind, they will be looking for you to combine your well-thought-out career goals with details on how you plan to utilize their unique program to reach these goals.

In addition, if relevant, try to connect your goals to an underlying passion you have for the role or industry you are interested in. This will highlight other underlying elements of your personal story and make your goals more tangible to the Admissions Committee.

Hopefully these thoughts on the new batch of essays from Ross will help you get started with your own essays.

Applying to Ross or other business schools? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more articles by him here.

Early Thoughts on Wharton’s 2016-2017 Application Essay Questions

Wharton AdmissionsApplication season at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business is officially underway with the release of the school’s 2016-2017 essay questions. Let’s discuss from a high level some early thoughts on how best to approach these new essay prompts. This year Wharton has added an additional required essay question (as opposed to last year’s one required essay and one optional essay).

Essay 1:
What do you hope to gain both personally and professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)
The Wharton School has brought back its “growth” essay again for another year. The biggest potential pitfall in this question is to treat it like a typical “career goals” essay, and I caution against simply recycling your responses to similar essay questions from other programs. This prompt implores candidates to address both their professional and their personal fit with Wharton. Given the many opportunities to explore the professional side of your background throughout the application process, don’t be afraid to put some additional focus on the personal side here.

This prompt is also asking you to think broadly, so don’t minimize your vision. Breakthrough candidates will utilize a very personal narrative that uniquely captures the essence of why Wharton is the ideal fit for the applicant’s development goals. Wharton is looking for specifics here about why their particular school is the best one for you, so avoid general statements that could be harbored by any candidate. The personal element is what makes this question a bit more unique, so consider growth vectors that include others to showcase yourself as the leader a top business school like Wharton is looking for.

Essay 2:
Teamwork is at the core of the Wharton MBA experience with each student contributing unique elements to our collaborative culture. How will you contribute to the Wharton community? (400 words)
This prompt is all about “teamwork” and “impact,” and a successful essay will really align these two elements. Hone in on the unique aspects of your profile that relate to these to showcase how you will make a positive impact on the Wharton community – whether it is through academic, professional, social, or diverse means, think through what you will contribute and how this will positively affect others at Wharton.

Your ability to translate a past teamwork experience to your planned future contributions at Wharton is a good approach for this essay. Past performance will add additional validity to your claims if you can effectively connect the dots for the Admissions Committee. If you can specify which aspects of the Wharton community you will influence, that would be even better. The pillars of the Wharton MBA are clear, so align your narrative around impacting the school’s most important focus areas.

Just a few thoughts on this year’s essays prompts from Wharton – hopefully this will help you get started. For more thoughts on Wharton and its application essays, check out our Essential Guide to Top Business Schools for free, here.

Applying to Wharton or other business schools? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more articles by him here.

Early Thoughts on Columbia Business School’s 2016-2017 Application Essay Questions

Columbia UniversityApplication season at Columbia Business School is officially underway with the release of the school’s 2016-2017 essay questions. Let’s discuss from a high level some early thoughts on how best to approach these new essay prompts. There are three full essay questions and one shorter prompt for Columbia, which leaves this school with one of the lengthier application packages around.

With all these essays, it is crucial that applicants present their candidacy in a very clear yet non-redundant fashion. Let’s take a look at each of the essay questions Columbia is asking this year:

Goal:
What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters)
Given the tight character limit to this prompt, keep your response here short and sweet. Most of the context you would normally provide in such a response will find a home in your response to Essay 1.

Essay 1:
Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals going forward, and how will the Columbia MBA help you achieve them? (100-750 words)

This is basically the same prompt for Essay 1 as last year, but with greater flexibility on the word count, which now spans from 100-750 words as opposed to last year’s 500-word limit. Do not feel it is absolutely necessary to hit the upward bounds of the new word count just because you have the option – efficiency and impactful messaging always reigns supreme in business school essays.

Columbia’s first essay question falls into the typical “career goals” essay category – the key difference here will be a focus on the future and your post-MBA career, so avoid placing too much of an emphasis on your past professional career. Remember, the Admissions Committee will already have your resume and thus, some sense of your past, so avoid rehashing your background (outside of providing any necessary context).

With this in mind, presenting both your short-term and long-term career goals in a well-aligned and clearly articulated way will be key to executing this essay successfully. Probably even more important, (given the ubiquity of your career goals), is the “fit” aspect of the essay. Breakthrough candidates will cite specific references to Columbia’s professional, academic, and extra-curricular programs that will support their development goals. With so much competition between business schools, it is critical to make a strong case that you will fit well with Columbia’s particular MBA program.

Essay 2:
Columbia Business School’s students participate in industry focused New York immersion seminars, in project based Master Classes, and in school year internships. Most importantly, they are taught by a combination of distinguished research faculty and accomplished practitioners. How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”? (100-500 words)

Columbia comes back this year with a slight tweak to Essay 2 with the ultimate prompt effectively being the same. Columbia is uniquely positioned at the heart of business in NYC, which has lured many applicants to this top program for years. Use this essay as an opportunity to avoid generalities about NYC that other applicants may make, and get specific about how Columbia’s unique location in NYC will serve as a clear advantage in your personal and professional career, and specifically during your time on campus. This essay can also be used to build upon your response to Essay 1. 

Essay 3:
CBS Matters, a key element of the School’s culture, allows the people in your Cluster to learn more about you on a personal level. What will your Clustermates be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (100-250 words)

This question is a great chance to let your personality shine through. This is the shortest of the three full essays so every word counts – take advantage of this more open essay prompt and really try and give the Admissions Committee some “behind the scenes” insight into the type of person your classmates will meet in the Fall of 2017.  Use this essay as the platform to differentiate yourself, and remember to keep your tone light and authentic to give the school a better understand of who you are and how you will fit as a member of their incoming MBA class.

Just a few thoughts on the (not so) new batch of essays from Columbia Business School – hopefully this will help you get started with your own application. For more thoughts on Columbia and its application essays, check out our Essential Guide to Top Business Schools for free, here.

Applying to Columbia or other business schools? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook,YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more articles by him here.

Early Thoughts on Harvard Business School’s 2016-2017 Application Essay Question

Harvard Business SchoolApplication season at Harvard Business School is officially underway with the release of the school’s 2016-2017 essay question. Let’s discuss from a high level some early thoughts on how best to approach this year’s new essay prompt. HBS is mixing it up again this year with a slightly different essay prompt that maintains the same spirit of last year’s essay question. With only one question, it is critical that applicants make the most of the limited real estate available, here.

Essay 1:
As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA Program? (no word limit)
Open-ended prompts such as this are often the most stressful type of essay question MBA applicants receive – couple that with the inherent pressure that comes with applying to Harvard, and this essay may be viewed as one of the more nerve-wracking questions of the application season. The challenge here for many will be just the sheer simplicity of this question. This essay prompt is a good example of why it is important to really just pay attention to the advice the HBS Admissions Committee offers:

“Don’t overthink, over-craft and overwrite. Just answer the question in clear language that those of us who don’t know your world can understand.”

HBS has really gone out of its way, particularly through Dee Leopold’s blog (soon to become Chad Losee’s blog), to emphasize a desire for authenticity and transparency in the essay-writing process. Candidates who are able to channel their approach in a compelling and natural way will stand out from the flock of impersonal, inauthentic and overly-curated essays the school is bound to see.

This approach tends to fly in the face of what the expectation is at other business schools, but in this case, candidates who are unable to adhere to the guidance provided by the school will struggle with securing admission to HBS. Breakthrough candidates will answer this specific question posed in the manner the school has outlined – your response should be brief, conversational, and really provide the Admissions Committee with insight into aspects of “you” that are not currently represented elsewhere in the application.

Harvard has set the tone of an almost casual “blog-style” approach to their essay, and last year, even focused their prompt around having candidates write from the perspective of communicating with their future classmates. Even though the prompt, itself, is a bit different this year, maintain the spirit of this communication style to really make your essay stand out. At its core, this question is honestly about getting to know you, so don’t miss the opportunity by trying to craft a seemingly “perfect” but dispassionate answer for the Admissions Committee.

These are just a few thoughts on the new essay from HBS – hopefully this will help you get started. For more thoughts on Harvard and its application essay, check out our Essential Guide to Top Business Schools for free, here.

Applying to Harvard or other business schools? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more articles by him here.

Our Early Thoughts on Stanford GSB’s 2016-2017 Application Essay Questions

Stanford UniversityApplication season at Stanford GSB is officially underway with the release of the school’s 2016-2017 essay questions. Stanford comes back with the same slate of essays from last year. Let’s discuss, from a high level, some early thoughts on how best to approach the essay prompts:

Essay 1:
What matters most to you, and why? (750 words)
For years, Stanford’s infamous open-ended essay prompt has been one of the most dreaded aspects of its application process. Stanford is one of the MBA programs that has ushered in the movement of using more “open” essay prompts in evaluating applicants – a trend that has taken hold among many other top programs.

Stanford, as much as any other program, seeks out candidates who can be introspective, self-reflective, and authentic when responding to their essays. The school provides clear guidance on how best to approach these, and it’s not meant to trick you or confuse you, but instead to do the opposite.

As communicated by the school, the “why” of your essay is much more important than the “what.” Stanford truly wants to know who you are, so keep your narrative personal and focus on the experiences that have truly shaped your reasons for applying.

Avoid the temptation to resort to common business school stories around work accomplishments, and instead focus on the things that have had the most impact on your life. Breakthrough candidates will utilize structured storytelling to craft a compelling narrative that brings the Stanford Admissions Committee deep into their world.

Essay 2:
Why Stanford? (400 words)
Essay 2 is the more traditional essay of the bunch, but even so, with Stanford you will want to avoid the typical boilerplate response and dive a bit deeper.

You will want to think about this prompt as really answering two questions: “Why an MBA?” and more specifically, “Why a Stanford MBA?” Be specific here – connect both your personal and professional development goals to the unique programs Stanford has and explain why they are crucial to your success. Breakthrough candidates will not only showcase their clear, well-aligned goals, but will also connect these goals with their personal passions to make their candidacy feel bigger than just business.

Stanford has historically clung to candidates that hold a more mission-based approach to their careers, so if there is some underlying passion inherent in your goals, do not be afraid to leverage that within this essay. Now, this does mean you should stretch the truth – keep your response as authentic as possible, but also keep in mind that Stanford has traditionally held a track record of looking for something special in their candidates.

Just a few thoughts on the new essay from Stanford – hopefully this will help you get started. For more thoughts on Stanford and its essays, check out our Essential Guide to Top Business Schools for free, here.

Applying to Stanford or other business schools? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more articles by him here.

Tips for Completing Your MBA Application Form

Applicant SurveyApplying to business school can be cause for major stress and anxiety for many applicants, and the majority of this anxiety tends revolve around the more time-consuming application elements required of them, such as their GMAT scores, essays and even recommendations. Most applicants spend hours upon hours in these areas in an effort to craft the perfect application.

Business school is a huge personal and financial investment, so to the well-informed, this time commitment should come as no surprise. What may come as more of a shock is that candidates often do not utilize this same level of diligence and focus when it comes to completing the application form itself.

By application form, I am referring to the actual online form in which candidates are required to input relevant details of their personal, academic, and professional profile for consideration for admission. (Application components like essays or recommendation submissions are aspects of this as well, but are typically submitted via attachment or external upload, and so are not the focus of this discussion.)

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you work through the often-overlooked MBA application form:

Do Proofread:
Proofread! Proofread! Proofread! Did I mention it is really important to proofread? As I mentioned above, the application form tends to get overlooked, so don’t make the mistake of investing too little time in completing this. It is important to make sure you avoid making crucial little typos like wrong dates or misspelled words that could potentially send the wrong message to the reviewing Admissions Committee.

Don’t Wait:
Many applicants will leave filling out the application form until right before the deadline. Do not make this mistake! Typically, when you leave something until the last minute it is because you deem it less important – avoid this flawed way of thinking and put this component of the application process on the same footing as the others. It does not need to be the first area you tackle while completing your application package, but it certainly should not be your last. The application form is surprisingly time consuming, and thus, should not be rushed given its relative importance to your future business career.

Be Honest:
The application form often puts many candidates in difficult moral situations. Certain questions around past mistakes, arrests or honor code violations can be difficult to confront. Even more simple moral quandaries such as accurately reporting salary or awards tempt many an applicant to stretch the truth.

Keep this part of the application form simple by being honest. It is not worth risking a potential admission for something that is probably very minor in the grand scheme of your candidacy. Business schools take this aspect very seriously and seek to maintain the integrity of their honor codes at a very high level.

Remember, the application form is just as important as every other aspect of your MBA application package, so follow these tips and give this form the attention it deserves.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more articles by him here.

3 Basic Last-Minute Checks for Your MBA Essays

EssayHave you ever noticed that there are always more last-minute details than there are minutes to fix them in? You have put in months (or even years) of work to fit all your experiences at school, work, and life in general into the perfect MBA application essays, and now it is time to finally upload them into the application form. However, no matter how much time and effort you have put in, some additional details always come up.

Use the following last minute checks to address some of the most common business school essay mistakes before you hit “submit”:

1) Make sure you really answered the questions.
At this stage, your essays have probably already gone through several revisions. Most likely, you started by answering each of the essay questions directly, and then filled in your highlights as much as you could. Finding out that you went past the word count limit, you stopped or cut down on your writing and, in the process, some key parts of the essay’s prompt may have been left unaddressed. For instance, an applicant might write about his or her lofty post-MBA goals in detail, but not show how the program they are applying to will help them achieve those.

Thus, make sure you match each part of the essay question or prompt to your essay and ensure that you have addressed each one adequately. If not, edit accordingly. This does not mean you need to completely re-write your essay – changing two to three sentences could be all you need.

2) Be careful with spell checking and transferring content.
As tempting as it is to click “Change All” when you complete spelling and grammar checks on your computer, this can be very risky, especially for the use of proper nouns (for instance, “INSEAD” is often autocorrected to “instead”). Therefore, it is necessary to take the time to actually review spell checker suggestions one by one.

At this stage, if you have to choose between accepting all of the spell checker’s changes blindly or skipping spelling and grammar checks altogether, you would be better off skipping them. This is because the mistakes that remain in your essay will most likely be minor or understandable typographical errors, which is better than having the name of the school you are applying to accidentally autocorrected to something else.

In addition, doing a simple “copy/paste” from your word document to the online application form sounds very basic and routine, but errors can (and do) happen here. Make sure you are pasting your answers to their corresponding questions, and at the very least, check that the word count matches and that no paragraphs are accidentally truncated by looking at their last words (although a more thorough final check of your essays before you officially submit them is always recommended).

3) “Control F” or “Command F” can save you from embarrassing slip-ups.
Imagine you are applying for a job, created a fantastic cover letter, and accidentally wrote in the name of one of the company’s competitors that you are also applying to work for. That is probably the equivalent of writing up your MBA application essay, praising your target program and declaring why you are a great fit for them, only to use the name of another school. This is a common mistake for recycled essays – where you use an essay that you have already submitted to another school and merely edit a few details or sentences.

A quick way to eliminate this risk is to use the “Control F” or “Command F” find functions. For example, say you are working on your application for Wharton and you have also already applied to Columbia and Stern – search for the two latter schools in your Wharton essays as you are proofreading them! This is an easy way to double-check that there will be no embarrassing name slip-ups (although hopefully, you have customized your essays in terms of content and not simply changed the school names!).

Any other tips? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD. 

Build Your MBA Profile Like Angelina Jolie

writing essayAngelina Jolie is known worldwide as both a glamorous movie star and an advocate of several worthwhile humanitarian causes. Even more impressive than this amazing image is how she has managed to accomplish so much while simultaneously battling with substance addictions, social controversies, and failed relationships. By building your MBA profile like Angelina has built her career, you can also overcome any potentially negative components of your application.

From “Wild Child” to “World’s Most Admired Woman”
Growing up an unpopular schoolgirl and then becoming an unsuccessful model struggling with an eating disorder, drug addiction, depression, and flops after flops, Angelina’s rise to success was not as easy as one might assume. Early in life, she made the news more often for the wrong reasons than she did for any positive accomplishments.

The turning point, she says, was adopting her son, Maddox – his entry into her life made her commit to ending her self-destructive ways. Around this same time, the filming of her blockbuster hit “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” in Cambodia opened her eyes to the worldwide humanitarian crisis, leading to her involvement as a United Nations ambassador.

From her image as a wild child, to being named the World’s Most Admired Woman in 2015 by YouGov, Angelina Jolie has ably managed her public image to benefit her career and make an impact on worthwhile causes.

Lesson for MBA applicants:
Just as early missteps did not define Angelina – and have even proved to make her story interesting – MBA applicants can build their profiles even with previous failures or mistakes. Identifying turning points and key events that allowed you to mature and fulfill your  potential will allow the Admissions Committee to better understand and relate to your early vulnerability, redemption, and success.

Images of Refugee Camp Visits
Striking images of Angelina’s well-documented visits to refugee camps in Kenya, Lebanon, and all over the world, are also helpful in presenting her awareness of, and commitment to, her cause in a way that is both credible and powerful, such that her reputation as a humanitarian is able to drown out accusations that she is may be a “home-wrecker.” (Apologies to Jennifer Aniston’s fans, if any are still reading up to this point!)

Lesson for MBA applicants:
Sharing stories complete with vivid images that will favorably surprise the Admissions Committee or counteract negative perceptions or stereotypes about your background will be very useful for your MBA essays and your overall profile.

For instance, private equity analysts could be seen as mainly doing desktop research and not getting exposed to the outside world. Thus, an applicant of this background would do well to richly relate the experience of inspecting the mines or interacting with people in the factories. In contrast, an applicant from a very poor country would do well to highlight global leadership experiences and personal exposure across different nations to help assure the Admissions Committee that he or she will do well in a diverse top-tier MBA program.

Building a well-rounded profile like Angelina Jolie will be essential to gaining admission to a top-tier business school; showing that you are someone who can “hit the ground running” wherever you go is the type of candidate MBA programs are truly looking for.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD. 

3 Ways to Fit the Most Details Into Your MBA Essays

help - wordsDo you have too many “knick-knacks” and seemingly unrelated, but interesting, details about your MBA candidate profile? Are you unsure of where to use them in your essays, how to fit them into the limited word counts you are given, or if you should even include them in your application at all?

Frequently, I see business school applicants who have accomplishments that they are very proud of – such as winning a competition at their undergraduate university, excelling on a sports team, or holding a long-running passion for performing arts – but that do not seem to fit into the context of their answers to the essay prompts they are given.

Some schools have essays asking applicants to share outside activities or interesting personal facts, but most of the time, you will need to deliberate as to how these attributes will fit in your essays as you address the questions.

Below are three suggestions on how you can find space to share these details in a way that will help make your essays both more personal and powerful:

1) Draw Parallels
As is true in many aspects of life, in your business school essays, showing, instead of simply telling, is often the best way to get your point across.

For example, trying to convince your reader (the Admissions Committee) of your ability to persevere and work hard by mentioning the number of hours you spend at the office may not be all that effective. Instead, you could say how your work habits formed by years of training as a ballerina, and how this experience prepared you to understand the blood, sweat, and tears required to achieve great successes.

Drawing these parallels will put personality into your essay – creating an image for the Admissions Committee, while also reinforcing the character traits you want to highlight by showing how you demonstrate them in another context.

2) Use Your Interests as Examples
Another great way to mention seemingly unrelated, but still impressive, activities is by using them as examples in the context of addressing a question.

For instance, if you are discussing your initiative to improve your time management skills, you may mention that apart from being able to accomplish your responsibilities at work, you have also created time to enrich your life with engaging activities, such as mountain-climbing or performing with a band. This will help show your range of involvement across diverse interests and present you as a multi-faceted character, while still allowing the Admissions Committee to better relate to you.

3) Pivot From a Common Point
In writing your essays, you may also identify a common thread that ties all of your varied interests together. This could be in the form of emphasizing a strength, by giving examples of your involvement in different activities that leverage a particular trait.

For example, you could identify your ability to adapt as a major strength and give examples of your experiences as a student leader working with international students, a volunteer working in the community with refugees, and your current position handling global clients. Relating these activities to each other through a common point will allow you to mention many details without needing to describe them in great detail.

MBA programs want to see applicants who are adaptable, multi-dimensional and interesting. Using your wide array of experiences in the aforementioned ways can help you accomplish this, while also allowing you to express yourself and to submit an application that truly shares your personal stories.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD

Steps to a Stronger MBA Profile in 6 Months

RecommenderOnce you have finally decided to pursue an MBA, you will naturally start assessing your chances of actually being admitted. Undergraduate academics and GMAT score aside, most business school applicants will fret as to whether their extracurricular activities and overall profile are impressive enough for their dream schools, especially as these aspects of an applicant’s profile are not as straightforward to quantify and compare.

How then can you improve your profile in the last six months?
Should you rush to get registered in additional community organizations? Should you learn a new language or a musical instrument? Should you go on a trip to the wilderness or join a religious mission?

As a rule, the Admissions Committee will consider the length of time and level of involvement with the activities you participate in when they weigh these as part of your profile (just as any potential employer would during a job interview). On your end, you should consider the limited time remaining towards the deadline, and the demands of polishing up your whole application package while focusing on fulfilling your current work and personal responsibilities.

Below are some practical tips to strengthen your profile:

1) Do More with Current Involvements
You may feel that your current activities are not as impressive as they really are and, thus, do not make you stand out as an applicant. One way to address this is to look for the chance to introduce something new to your profile that would make your potential future contributions to the school unique.

For instance, you may be the leader of your undergraduate alumni branch – from this, you can find an innovative way to link up across other chapters, and strengthen alumni engagement and knowledge transfers across your entire network.  Or, you may be involved with donation drives for the less fortunate; try to find new ways to boost your funds or at least organize activities that can better showcase your leadership and teamwork skills.

Initiatives such as these give more credence and value to your current activities, without having to start from scratch.

2) Do the Same Thing for a Different Audience
This should be relatively easy to do – look for some opportunities to leverage your long-running interest or hobby to demonstrate more involvement and impact on the community. As an example, you may be singer who performs regularly at a club. You may use this talent and volunteer to sing for several worthwhile causes. In this way, you can enrich your stories about your singing talent (or at the very least, the audacity to perform in front of an audience!) and make them more interesting for the Admissions Committee. 

Taking this point further, let’s say your lack of international exposure is perceived to be a weakness – look for ways to at least show how open-minded and internationally aware you are by getting involved with the expatriate community, nearby refugee camps, or by performing with multi-cultural groups.

Use these tips to help strengthen your business school applications and set your current activities apart from those of other MBA candidates, and to further your own personal development, as well.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD.

How to Discuss Individual Work Experience in Your MBA Applications in 4 Steps

Successful ApplicantAccomplished individual contributors in highly specialized fields – whether from finance, science, or technology fields – often face the challenge of sharing the scale of their responsibilities and the impact of their accomplishments. In this entry, I’ll share four tips on how MBA candidates in these situations can maximize their backgrounds while writing their application essays:

Pause…
Out of habit, your first essay draft will likely be littered with jargons (industry terms that only few would actually understand). Often, the examples you choose to showcase – whether it’s leveraging a sophisticated financial instrument or introducing an advanced manufacturing process – are even more advanced and complicated than you realize, so that even those with a basic level of knowledge regarding your work will probably not comprehend the scope of your activities. Thus, remind yourself that you are not writing a paper for peer review or for your immediate superior, but instead, you are communicating to people without your level of expertise.

Share What Got You There
How can you communicate your expert abilities if the limited space you are given for your essays does not allow you to take non-industry readers through the minute details of your work experience? One way to do this is to show how rare it is for someone to get to your role. Highlighting selectivity and how qualified you are is a good way to show your career progress and accomplishments.

In this way, your story can flow naturally from academic performance, to previous successes at work, and, finally, to why you were entrusted with such a challenging role – saving on word space while still tying in the personal and professional components of your application profile at the same time.

Use Analogies
Often, I find that applicants attempt to answer essay prompts that ask for examples of accomplishments and failures with stories involving the most complex, technical issues they have dealt with. This is understandable, as these examples are probably the most memorable and impressive in the applicants’ professional lives. However, the limited essay space also poses a problem, as as one’s essay must then be divided into setting up the situation, the action the applicant took, the results achieved, and the lessons learned.

One quick and effective way to handle this issue is to use analogies (quotations from leaders in your field could also be used) to describe the situation and demonstrate its complexity, probability of success, or scale of impact. This will make it easier for the Admissions Committee to understand the challenges you faced and complement your general description – think of this the same way you would make friends and family members at a dinner party understand what you have been up to.

Highlight the Impact
Lastly, validate the importance of your work by relating it to impact, both at the qualitative level, and in terms of quantifiable numbers (if possible). Use examples of personal stories and paint vivid pictures to touch the emotions of your audience (the Admissions Committee) and help them appreciate the impact of your work. Numbers such as profitability, processing time saved, or potential customers impacted are also helpful to substantiate the context of your role.

Following these tips can help you show yourself not only as just a brilliant individual contributor, but as someone with the ability to communicate like a future senior leader, making your unique profile stand out and be appreciated.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD.

Applying to Business School With a Non-Profit Background

NonprofitIf you’re applying to business school from a non-profit background, then congrats! The richness of the student community at many top business schools is due to the diversity of their student’s unique backgrounds and perspectives, so do not run from your non-profit experience – embrace it!

MBA programs have historically been filled with students from more traditional feeder industries, such as consulting and finance, but this does not mean these are the only industries Admissions Committees are looking for. There are a few factors to keep in mind, however, as you apply to top MBA programs from a non-profit background:

Academic Transcript
What type of coursework did you take as an undergraduate student? Was it primarily quantitative or more qualitative? These factors play a big role in how ready your candidacy appears for the predominantly analytical core curriculums found at most business schools. This issue is heightened even further if you also have a low GPA or poor performance in past quantitative classes, given that your non-profit work experience may not be perceived as analytically rigorous as other traditional MBA feeder industries. 

GMAT Score
Your GMAT score plays another important role in the viability of your candidacy. Your ability to achieve a competitive score, particularly on the Quantitative Section, could help dispel any doubt about your ability to perform in your first year at business school.

Interpersonal Skills
Although the non-profit sector still remains a relatively small industry for MBA applicants to come from, the transferable skills schools look for in candidates from this field are relatively similar those from other, more traditional industries. Showcasing your leadership and teamwork abilities will be critical to highlight your potential to make an impact on campus and as a future alum of the school.

Career Goals
Like many other applicants, non-profit candidates often pursue business school as an opportunity to switch careers – sometimes this career switch is a complete turnaround from their prior work experiences, and other times it’s just a subtle tweak to their career trajectories.

In both respects, it is important to identify the transferable skills that you have gained during your time working in the non-profit sector and how these skills will be able to be utilized in your future industry of choice. If there is a personal passion that drove your initial interest in your non-profit, try and connect that in some way to your future career goals, if relevant. Having a commitment to something that has a broader impact on the world around you has always been viewed positively by the Admissions Committee (when authentic).

Keep these strategies in mind as you plan out your approach for applying to MBA programs from your non-profit background.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more articles by him here.

How to Answer the “Post-MBA Goal” Question in 3 Steps

GoalsOne daunting, yet common question every business school candidate must answer at some point during the MBA application process is, “What are your post-MBA goals?”

In many cases, applicants do not have a concrete answer to this question – they just know that they don’t like where they currently are, but do not have clear post-MBA goals in mind. This kind of applicant will usually answer this question with something like, “I’ll explore my options during the program and go from there.”

While this is understandable, answering the question in this way could make the applicant come across as being unfocused, and doubts would arise as to whether the applicant has thought about his or her MBA goals properly. In these cases, it would be better for applicants to research likely post-MBA career paths with respect to their experiences and interests. This will allow them to state realistic post-MBA options, while also explicitly showing fit with the business schools they are interested in.

All things equal (as Econ professors love to say), identifying specifics will be the best way to go when discussing your future plans. Let’s examine 3 ways you can better define your post-business school goals to the Admissions committee:

1) Identify Career Fit with Your Personal Background
You would want to identify a goal that an MBA can help you achieve – that investing in a particular business school will create real value for you. In line with this, the Admissions Committee will evaluate how worthwhile and realistic your goal is given your previous experiences, current skill set, and potential future path with the school. This could include your academic potential, international exposure, work experiences, network, and personal passions.

Highlighting your unique qualities, track record of accomplishments, and resources you can leverage to make your future goals a reality is part of convincing the Admissions Committee of the feasibility of your post-MBA goal.

2) Showcase Your Knowledge of the Job Market
Identifying potential roles and the target market for yourself post-MBA, in the same way you would if you were creating a business plan for a new entrepreneurial venture, would clearly show the feasibility of your MBA plans. Matching your selling points in terms of knowledge, skills, abilities and experiences with the job market will be part of this process.

If possible, identify specific roles, companies, industries, and locations that are an ideal match for you – reaching out to people who have gone down a similar career path to the one you are interested in would help you determine if that particular track and the day-to-day realities that they experience match with your vision.

3) Emphasize Your Interest in This MBA Program
Finally, demonstrating keen interest in a particular MBA program by identifying how its culture, courses and clubs would fit your goals communicates a well-thought out plan. This will show the Admissions Committee that you took time to genuinely reflect on your personal development and what their unique school has to offer. Your interest will also help convince Admissions that you will readily accept a slot into their MBA program, if offered one.

With these tips in mind, be sure to invest your time and effort in researching the specifics of your target MBA programs and demonstrate that you have done so. If you are not yet confident in your answer to the post-MBA goal question, now is a great time to reflect and research – not only will a great answer to this question it strengthen your MBA application chances, but it will also give you clarity on the next stage of your life.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD.

How to Avoid Negativity in Your MBA Application Essays

MBA EssaysAnyone who has gone through the MBA application process knows how stressful it is. Applicants have to wrestle with preparing for the GMAT, deciding which schools to apply to, evaluating probabilities of admission, and worrying about finances – all while juggling various pressures at work and home.

Handling all of these responsibilities simultaneously while targeting specific application periods makes it tempting to just rush through the essay writing process to meet school deadlines and move on to other duties. Exhausted and unfamiliar with this process, applicants often get side-tracked and spend their time fine-tuning their essays with the wrong starting points.

One of the most common mistakes I have seen candidates make during my past eight years working with Veritas Prep is allowing negativity to seep into their application essays. Being mindful of this tendency can take you several steps closer to crafting a great application.

Many MBA applicants express time and again how unhappy, insignificant or stuck they feel with their current roles or companies, and while we always encourage applicants to be honest in their essays, focusing on the negative aspects that are prompting you to apply for an MBA does not help your cause and just wastes precious space.

For example, saying something like “I am just a salesman,” or “It is a boring job with little intellectual challenges,” diminishes your own accomplishments and portrays your past experiences as weak and unremarkable. The admissions committee might also wonder if you would eventually feel negatively about your MBA experience at their program, and thus, be an ineffective ambassador for the program when you become part of their alumni community.

My advice is to remain truthful but to shift your perspective. It is true that you are very motivated to go from your current situation (point A) to your post-MBA goal (point B), however it is better to emphasize what you have gained or learned at point A and how this will help you get to point B, where you are excited to make a great impact, than to complain excessively about point A.

Filling in details on why you want to get to point B, adding in specifics about how your target MBA program will help get you there and why this is a worthwhile and realistic goal, would boost your chances of admission. Just as importantly, this positive outlook will also make you happier and help you plan the next stages of your life productively.

In conclusion, a positive mindset and tone will help you come across as forward-looking, optimistic, and grateful to the admissions committee. It will also help you focus on your goals and convince the school that you will be a valuable member of their community.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD.

How International MBA Applicants Should Talk About Their Home Countries in Their Essays

Europeean MBA ProgramsInternational MBA candidates often struggle to find the right balance in discussing their home countries in their business school application essays.

Neglecting to discuss your home country completely could result in a lack of proper context for your achievements and challenges. Too often, applicants miss the opportunity to differentiate themselves from the pool of similarly accomplished applicants by not being personal enough in sharing stories regarding the family values that influenced their drive and motivation. Painting a vivid picture of your home country in your MBA application will allow the Admissions Committee to understand your personal qualities on a deeper level.

Executed perfectly, explaining where you have come from will turn you into the candidate that everyone in Admissions roots for.  For example, a candidate from a war-torn country would do well to describe striking images of the devastation they faced and complement this with the use of some numbers, appealing to both the Admissions Committee’s emotional and logical perspectives. Establishing this foundation would make his or her essay describing the motivation to pursue an MBA to go back and home and improve the lives of his or her countrymen feel more real.

On the other hand, using too much space and too many statistics could make your essay sound like an economic report or a college-level reaction paper – losing its focus and personal touch. Writing in this way will definitely not help you stand out from the typical applicant from your country. Just like in a blockbuster action movie, the country should serve as a colorful backdrop to the hero’s (applicant’s) story of struggles and triumphs, with most of the writing surrounding the hero’s compelling character development. Make sure you are the hero of your own story – the level of detail you mention about your home country should serve a clear purpose by linking directly back to your own experiences, goals and well-substantiated passion.

It is also essential to set up the proper economic or cultural context in cases where the past schools you attended or companies you joined are not as well-known to those outside of your home country. Mentioning selectivity figures, industry rank, market share, and highlighting complexity of roles becomes important here and will allow the Admissions Committee to appreciate the scale of your achievements. It will also allow them to use this information to evaluate how fast your career has progressed and how your leadership potential stacks up against other applicants.

Finally, it is important to be careful to avoid sounding too critical or too proud of your home country. Being too critical could be perceived as ungrateful, pessimistic, or even arrogant. On the other hand, you also do not want come across as being too sure that your ways are superior to those of other nations, as you want to display open-mindedness and a genuine interest to learn from others.

Keep these tips in mind as you write your business school application essays and you’ll be sure to strike the right balance with the Admissions Committee.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD.

Use These 2 Kobe Bryant Strategies to Address Failures in Your MBA Essays

kobeBasketball superstar Kobe Bryant ended his 20-year NBA career last Wednesday, and many fans of the sport are using this time to reflect on, and learn from, his past highlights. Kobe’s career can be used for more than advice pertaining to basketball – we’ve imagined how he might have used his past accomplishments and failures to answer some common MBA application essay questions.

In this entry, we will discuss the ideal way Kobe could use the Failure Essay if he were to apply to business school. A staple of many MBA essay requirements and interviews, this prompt asks the applicant to relate a story of personal or professional failure that impacted his or her life. In answering this question, an applicant needs to demonstrate genuine reflection and self-awareness, while also showcasing leadership potential. Let’s examine how Kobe might answer a question like this:

Address the “Elephant in the Room”
In Kobe’s case, instead of mentioning missed shots, bad plays, or lost games as failures, it would be best to instead identify the failure to maintain a longer-term partnership with fellow superstar Shaquille O’Neal as his major failure. Aside from being an interesting topic – with rich layers and dimensions – this “failure” would help Kobe address concerns about his ability to collaborate with peers. As with all MBA essays, we want the Failure Essay to be interesting, relatable and vivid. Sharing specific details such as an argument that escalated, or personal thoughts from both superstars’ perspectives, will make for a powerful read for the Admissions Committee.

For example, Kobe could identify the double-edged sword of his incredible competitiveness and obsessive work ethic at that stage in his career, and contrast this compassionately with Shaq’s fun-loving personality and the physical challenges he faced due to his unique size, mobility, and the focus of opponents to wear him out. Displaying a high-level perspective and understanding will show the maturity and honesty that can serve him well post-MBA.

Lesson: Using an interesting situation, or identifying an “elephant in the room” in your profile, will serve the dual purpose of both addressing a red flag in your application, and displaying your self-awareness and personal development, all of which the Admissions Committee will want to see.

Show What You Learned
After setting up the context of the failure, Kobe can then highlight how he put the lessons he learned from this failure to good use. He can cite how this failure taught him to better manage relationships with teammates who shared some of Shaq’s qualities, such as the immensely talented Pau Gasol, the fun-loving Lamar Odom, and the physically dominant but oft-injured Andrew Bynum. Kobe can also share how learning from his previous experience with Shaq helped him build better relationships with his teammates overall and leverage their unique personalities to lead the Lakers to two more NBA championships.

Providing specific details as to how he built these bonds through sharing interests and communicating better with his team (whether through bonding over family activities, or by brushing up on his Spanish) would provide real insight into his world and allow the Admissions Committee to relate to him and appreciate his growth. Displaying his ability to lead and collaborate with talented peers would also prove that there is more to Kobe than just his basketball skills, and that he is ready to succeed in his future business ventures and social causes.

Lesson: Choose to discuss qualities or realizations that relate to your failure and would be transferable to future endeavors, rather than limited to a single situation. You can identify how your failure taught you to channel your inherent traits and use specific tools and techniques to proactively address potential problems. Show how you learned to leverage your personal qualities and background to collaborate towards common goals so that the Admissions Committee can conclude that the failure you experienced has helped put you in a better position for future success.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD.

Will Involvement in a Failed Company Hurt Your Chances of Being Accepted to Business School?

Letter of RecommendationIdeally, business school applicants would all be able to fill their admissions essays with great work stories showcasing contributions to their company’s success. Creating breakthrough products, transforming the company through original innovations, leading entry into a new market, generating record profits, and other similar accomplishments would all look great on an MBA application.

In reality, however, work circumstances and probabilities do not always play out perfectly – products can miss, campaigns can fail, companies can collapse, civil wars can break out, and global economic crises can ensue no matter how brilliant and dedicated an employee or entrepreneur is.

How, then, does an MBA applicant who went through these failures present himself or herself to be qualified for an MBA? Or how can a seemingly “ordinary” applicant elevate himself or herself from the pool of other applicants who may have more impressive success stories to tell? If this sounds like your predicament, showcase these three attributes to really make your application stand out:

Big-Picture Lessons
Recessions, industry down-cycles, and political crises can all contribute greatly to the failure of a company. However, there is a silver lining – not only do these circumstances provide the environmental context that removes blame from the applicant, but they also offer an interesting backdrop to highlight learning experiences that would make for rich classroom discussions.

If you experienced a business failure due to reasons like this, identifying the major lessons you learned will help display a high-level awareness of world events and their business impact, a quality that can be used to strengthen future leadership potential. At the company level, witnessing the impact of lost profits and jobs can provide you with firsthand experience of its effect on employee morale, corporate culture, and the real human concerns affected by difficult business decisions.

Personal Skills Gained
When struggling companies are forced to cut costs, this often results in the remaining employees handling more tasks, putting in more hours, and taking on bigger responsibilities, and all amidst a tense work environment. As such, employees lower on the corporate ladder may be able to have more involvement in reevaluating the whole business model, product lines, or distribution channels, and become part of the decision as to whether their firm should pull-out or stay in the market.

This accelerated exposure – usually reserved for very senior levels – can be a very difficult experience, however it can also be a good source of learning and growth in terms of skills, knowledge, and maturity. Explaining your business’ failure by showcasing the skills you gained from it can show the admissions committee that you know how to make the most of a difficult position and learn from your work environment.

Character Displayed
A family business may fail at an heir’s turn or a start-up may fall victim to a recession, but these “failures” may also be an opportunity to highlight character traits such as resilience and resourcefulness. Creating new opportunities or adjusting to a totally new environment will show adaptability and determination, which are strong qualities for a future global leader that admissions committees will pick up on. Even if the failed enterprise is directly attributable to you, displaying the honest self-awareness and accountability to identify areas for personal development – including how a particular MBA program will help correct these flaws – can create a compelling and authentic application that will help you stand out as a candidate.

So, will your involvement in a failed business completely ruin your chances of admission to business school? No! Explain the failure of the venture through the aforementioned traits, and the admissions committee will be able to see how a bad situation led to the development of a great MBA candidate.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD.

How to Maximize Your MBA Application Essay in 2 Simple Steps

writing essaySo much to share and so little space to use – this is often the case for MBA application essays. Transforming all the unique details of who you are as a candidate into a flowing personal and reflective essay is essential to stand out as an authentic and engaging personality to the Admissions Committee. A great business school essay will be able to present a multi-dimensional candidate without coming off like an unrelated checklist of highlights.

With the limited space you’re given to write these application essays, it can be quite a challenge to fit in all of the key character traits, substantiated and vivid career highlights, fit with the target MBA program, achievable career goals, and passions outside work that you want to demonstrate to the Admissions Committee. How can you ensure that you maximize the word limits you are given while still creating something that flows naturally and is easy to read? Follow these two guidelines:

1) Do not repeat details
The most common way applicants tend to break down the task of working on multiple essays is to complete them one at a time – after finishing one essay, they review it and then start off on another one. The problem with this writing process is that details from one essay often end up being repeated in another, such as background information on the company a candidate worked for or the candidate’s role within a particular organization. These sentences and phrases, usually in the introduction of each essay or as an added description along the body of the essay, not only waste precious space, but also negatively affect the flow and readability of your essay as a whole.

Keep in mind that each essay you write for the same school is part of a single application package, like chapters of a very short book. In order to create the best applciation possible, you must review your complete set of essays in one sitting to ensure that they complement each other well and provide a multi-dimensional personal profile with the right tone for the particular school you are applying to.

2) Use different settings
Just as a Tom Cruise kept viewers engaged during the Mission Impossible series by showcasing his superhuman physical stunts in various locations such as an opera house in Vienna, a power plant in Morocco and a train station in London, among others, an MBA applicant’s essay would be much more captivating if the candidate’s personal qualities were highlighted through different contexts.

This does not necessarily mean you need to use various geographic locations as the backdrop of your essays (not all of us are as free to travel the globe as Tom Cruise), but rather, to choose to highlight defining moments from your life across various work situations, extra-curricular activities, passions and stories.

By default, most applicants are a bit bias in choosing to use examples from their current work situations, as this is where they spend the majority of their time and where their most recent experiences have occurred. Thus, without careful thought, applicants often end up answering many or most of their essay questions with examples pertaining to only their most recent employment. However, this wastes the opportunity to show the admissions committee your diverse experiences and interests.

Before writing your essays, it is essential to carve out the time to take an inventory of experiences you’d like to highlight and outline your whole set of essays. Afterwards, identify for each essay the settings you can use to display a particular talking point. Doing this saves you time, and puts forth a richly textured personal application.

Following these two steps ensures that you’ll make the most of the limited  essay space you are given so that your overall MBA application package stands out from the competition.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD.

Utilize Kobe Bryant’s Strategies to Write the Perfect Accomplishment Essay

kobeKobe Bryant, superstar guard of the L.A. Lakers, chose to announce his retirement from the NBA this year by writing a poem addressed to the game of basketball. Inspired by Kobe’s interest in writing, and his last NBA All-Star game appearance, this entry uses Kobe’s well-documented life and career as a case study for MBA candidates who are trying to decide what points to highlight in their application essays.

If Kobe were to apply to business school and write an Accomplishments Essay on his career, these would be my suggestions (which are, of course, applicable to your own application essays):

Highlight a Team Accomplishment
With a myriad of individual accomplishments to choose from – such as being 3rd on the NBA all-time scoring list, being an MVP, or multiple All-NBA and All-Star selection including an incredible 81-point game – it would be best for Kobe to choose a team accomplishment to highlight. This would help mitigate the Admissions Committee’s concerns about him being too individualistic (and and views that he is an egotistical maniac).

Lesson: For candidates involved with very technical or individual work, highlighting interpersonal skills or group accomplishments will help address stereotypical biases and display a multi-dimensional personality. It will assure the program you are applying to that you will be able to contribute positively to group experiences both in and out of the classroom.

Provide Essential Details
To dive into his essay further, Kobe could choose to write about his first championship where he had to take on a major role in a critical game (for the NBA fans, this is Game 4 of the 2000 finals) as a highlight. Playing on a sprained ankle, Kobe had to step up to the challenge when the Lakers’ main star, Shaquille O’Neal, had to leave the game due to six fouls.

He could then weave into his story how hours of practice finally paid off and how he happy he was to deliver for his team, after remembering how he disappointed he felt after he had let the team down in 1997, as an 18 year-old, when he missed four airballs in a similar scenario.

Lesson: This example would encompass several key aspects of an MBA candidate’s profile, including ability to perform under pressure, handle large-scale responsibility at a young age, and work through personal difficulties, and including the story about the 1997 disappointment would show humility, perseverance, and resilience. These are admirable and relatable characteristics, which are important to remember when writing these essays. It will be helpful to come across as somebody that can be identified with, somebody that people would want to root for, rather than only being an otherworldly talent or incredibly fortunate heir.

Recognize Help and Mentorship
Acknowledging superstar teammate Shaq as the lead player and mentioning the guidance provided by legendary coach Phil Jackson during his essay would help Kobe come across as genuine, humble, and a good team player.

Lesson: When writing these essays, some applicants are tempted to grab all the credit. In team-based accomplishments, one wants to communicate not only his or her contributions, but also the ability to work with and learn from others.

Finally, for that slam-dunk essay, while accolades and statistics are important, Kobe’s (and your) profile has to resonate with very human qualities and a personal story explaining the journey to truly impress MBA Admissions Committees.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD.

3 Points International Candidates Need to Highlight in Their MBA Applications

PassportInternational MBA applicants to top programs frequently ask how much they should focus on their home countries in their applications, versus demonstrating their similarities to the typically-admitted domestic student. This is a good question, as balancing between fitting in with one’s target MBA program and standing out by bringing something unique to one’s application is a line that all candidates tread carefully.

An international applicant will usually have more materials to consider adding to their application, given the experience of growing up, studying, and working in another country. Even for second-generation immigrants, the wealth of influences and heritage from another culture could be a rich source of essay topics and passing references to consider. Used correctly, they add character and breadth, enhancing the readability of an application, which can help a candidate stand out from a competitive pool of other accomplished applicants from the same industry and country.

If you are applying to business school as an international applicant, take a look at these three factors you should focus on in your application:

1) Uniqueness
MBA essays are best used to tell a unique personal story that allows readers to understand the candidate’s motivation and goals. As an international candidate, you can use your country’s economic, cultural, or even political situations as an interesting and complementary backdrop to further stand out.

Let’s look at some examples of how this can be done:

  • An applicant managing a business from a growing consumer market could be played up to show the candidate’s potential to be a bridge for companies seeking to enter the lucrative market. This would flow nicely into the applicant’s post-MBA goal of leading a global company’s international unit.
  • An applicant who navigated and hurdled a developing country’s political and regulatory challenges to successfully lead a large-scale project of a foreign entity could use this experience to demonstrate his or her maturity and leadership qualities.
  • Candidates from a country encountering great difficulties could position themselves as people who are in a unique position to give back to their country of origin post-MBA, while also helping open the eyes of the student community to global issues.

These experiences show the potential of candidates to serve as a resource for interesting classroom discussions, enriching the experiences of classmates, while also serving as a future bridge to alumni with interest in their respective countries.

Likewise, a sentence or two identifying strong core values and influences that defined a family’s history and how it inspires the applicant serve she dual purpose of showing a personal side to leave a vivid impression with the Admissions Committee, and demonstrating the candidate’s underlying motivation and personal traits. Executing this precisely will result in a profile that comes across genuinely and stands out from the pack.

Applying the right dose of details and balance between personal sentiments and professional rationality on these topics is key in ensuring your essays stay unique and on track.

2) International Exposure
For international candidates who spent most of their lives in their home countries, it is particularly helpful to mention experiences with exchange programs, international assignments, travels abroad, or at the minimum, working with cross-cultural teams. These do not necessarily have to take up major space – sprinkling in tidbits at appropriate instances will still make for an interesting and engaging read. It also helps demonstrate an international mindset, adaptability, and intellectual curiosity.

Instances of initiating projects and leading teams with international components are also valuable, as these will help show the ability to actively contribute to classroom discussions and group project dynamics. Showcasing your teamwork skills via an international setting in this way will assure the Admissions Committee that you will be able to adjust to life on campus, benefit from their program, and contribute to the experiences of your MBA peers.

3) Confidence!
The content and tone of your overall application should be confident that you are an excellent fit for the program, able to keep pace with the academics and classroom rigors the school requires, and maximize your overall experience. Coming from an environment, school, or firm that is different from the usual sources of MBA candidates, you must ensure that confidence in your intellectual horsepower and personal traits comes through, especially in your essays. Standardized measures, such as a great GMAT score, will also help address this.

Crafting such an application requires honest reflection and self-awareness – most applicants find themselves more focused and motivated after investing the time and effort to do so, thus making the whole exercise a valuable experience, so be sure you take ample time to reflect before beginning your writing process.

Creating a personal story while highlighting your successes handling complex projects or academic accomplishments, and combining this with a post-MBA goal that is both compelling and realistic are the usual ingredients for a strong application, and adding the right international flavor to this recipe will help your candidacy shine even more. Finding the right flow between answering the specific questions directly and adding international elements may be challenging, but successfully pulling it off  will result in a very personal and powerful application package.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD.

What is a “Good” Weakness to Put in Your MBA Application?

SAT/ACT“What are your weaknesses?”

Most MBA applicants find this to be the most difficult question to answer.

As professionals and entrepreneurs, we are trained to put our best foot forward in order to sell our businesses and ourselves. We think and rehearse how to best present our strengths, while hardly spending any time considering our weaknesses. Understandably, addressing this question during one’s MBA application essay or interview usually proves to be quite a challenge.

Asked to identify his weaknesses, a typical MBA applicant will ask him or herself two questions:

1) What should I avoid mentioning?
Everyone worries about giving an answer that will reveal a fatal flaw to the admissions committee and hurt one’s chances at being admitted to an MBA program. Thus, a frequent mistake is to answer this question using a fake weakness – saying something like, “I am too smart,” or, “I work too effectively,” does not really answer the question and will just irritate your audience. Presenting yourself as unrealistically perfect will also diminish the genuine strengths you have, and create doubt in the accomplishments you have discussed throughout the essays or the interview, as it makes you appear incapable of an honest self-assessment.

Another similar no-no is to blame somebody else for your weakness. Do not attribute a weakness solely to your work environment, personal circumstances, or ethnicity – this comes across as a reckless generalization and will not add any value to your case. It will also only shift the conversation into a negative tone and counter the strong, optimistic vibe that you want to be associated with.

2) What exactly are they looking for?
Admissions committees are looking for applicants who will greatly benefit from attending their school’s MBA program, and who can contribute to the experience of other MBA participants. Using this as a guide, the weakness question should be used to demonstrate character traits of self-awareness, ability to learn from failures, and open-mindedness to effectively use feedback and criticism.

An applicant should identify specific skills and knowledge gaps that he or she will need to work on in order to reach her post MBA goals – ideally, specifics of the target MBA program in terms of courses, culture, or community should be matched to these potential growth areas.

Executing this answer properly will put forth an honest reflection that shows genuine interest in a school’s MBA program and convinces the admissions committee that the applicant has really researched the school’s offering. Effectively demonstrating your potential to gain from, and contribute to, an MBA program through your personal story will help convince the admission committee of your fit with their school. Filling in details of how you have addressed your identified weakness or how you are in the process of doing so will also help show how proactive you are, and how you will greatly benefit from this particular MBA program.

A final tip: whenever you are asked about strengths and weaknesses in one question, whether in an essay or an interview, you must allocate time and space as evenly as possible between talking about the two. Most applicants spend 2/3 or more of the space they are given for strengths leaving little room to develop the weakness portion of the answer. This type of answer will look like it was just glossed over, and that the question was not answered adequately – it will also not allow you to make a proper case as to why you will benefit from the program.

A good answer to the “weakness” question strengthens your case to be admitted to your target MBA program even as you identify a real weakness. Skillfully weaving stories of your personal experiences, self-reflection, and vision through discussion of this weakness will make your profile unique and compelling to the admissions committee.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD.

How to Stay Under Your Essay Word Limit

SAT WorryOne of the hardest things for many MBA applicants to deal with when it comes to writing their business school essays is to stay under the word limit. You would think crafting a clear, well-written, and compelling essay that fully addressed the prompt is hard enough, but MBA programs make things a bit more difficult with often dauntingly tight word limits.

There are a few things that make staying under essay word limits so tough. First, most candidates are not used to explaining themselves in a limited amount of words. The MBA application is an exercise in saying a lot in a few words, meaning every word has to matter – extra pronouns, articles, and prepositions must be reduced to stay under the given word count. Focusing on being as concise and as direct as possible in your language is a major key to making the most of your word count. A good rule of thumb here is if the word doesn’t drive the essay forward and is not integral to the ultimate message you are trying to convey, then you should strongly consider removing it.

Second, many candidates will ignore one of the golden rules of MBA essay writing: answer the question! With so few words to write your essay, there is little room to answer extraneous questions or include content not directly referenced in the essay prompt. Providing extra, unnecessary information can also be seen by the admissions committee as the sign of a candidate who is repurposing essays from other schools, which is definitely a bad idea. Answering unasked questions will waste your words and reduce the focus of your narrative, so stick with what the prompt gives you.

Third, candidates often make the mistake of spending too much time trying to fit their essays into traditional writing templates with an introduction and conclusion. With so few words, it is often best to skip formalities and dive right into the content. In many instances, if the writing is strong enough, this approach eliminates the need for clunky introductions and conclusions that will most likely end up sounding forced and unnatural anyways.

Finally, don’t forget the outline! Creating an outline before writing really brings a focused edge to the essay writing process. Ensure that your outline fully addresses the essay prompt while still allowing enough real estate to communicate your narrative in a compelling way.

Don’t let tight essay word limits sap all of the life out of your essays; follow the tips above to ensure you are making the most out of this part of the application process.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more of his articles here.

4 Steps to Finish Your MBA Application Essay the Right Way

writing essayCongratulations! If you are reading this, then you are probably almost ready to submit your business school application essays for evaluation. You have spent a ton of time in the recent months conceptualizing, outlining, and writing responses to these notoriously challenging essay prompts. With so much time spent on these by most candidates, you would assume that these essays are typically free of error by the time they reach the admissions officers. However, with so many different touch points in the typical MBA application and with multiple applications in the mix, this process is ripe for typos and mistakes.

Admission to business school remains a very competitive process and although minor typos here and there will not greatly affect your candidacy, when multiple are aggregated they may give off the impression of a lack of attention to detail, which can ultimately tank your chances during tough evaluation periods.

Let’s walk through a few tips you should leverage as you put the finishing touches on your business school application essays:

Read Aloud

This is my favorite tip, so let’s start here. Often many candidates will tell me that they are shocked to notice typos after going through multiple in-depth reviews. Sometimes when you are so close to a document, you will overlook glaring typos. The simple act of verbalizing your essay can really help reduce the likelihood that a typo or clunky sentence will survive the final review process. This approach will ensure better flow and clarity to your writing style, and will improve the overall submission.

Taking A Break

Taking a break between reviews is also another great trick. For the most part, typos and mistakes are more a function of an oversight than incompetence – no one knowingly overlooks a mistake. Separating yourself from the essay for a few hours or days can really sharpen your eye and make you more discerning in the review process.

Leverage Personal Reviewers

Having a team of reviewers who are familiar with the application process is highly recommended, but it is also helpful to utilize a few who do not. These personal reviewers should be experts on “you” and able to ensure your essays actually sound like, and read like, the person actually writing them. Friends and family are the natural targets here – leverage these people to make sure your essays are coming across as authentic and true to your life as possible.

Proofread

This one sounds very obvious but you would be surprised how many business school applicants do not run the simplest of proofing software or conduct their own thorough review of their essays before submitting them. Remember, your MBA application will be one of the most important packages you submit in your life, so give it the attention it deserves by allocating ample time to review it in detail.

Follow these tips so come decision day, you can let the content of your essays stand for themselves!

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more of his articles here.

4 Predictions for 2016: Trends to Look for in the Coming Year

Can you believe another year has already gone by? It seems like just yesterday that we were taking down 2014’s holiday decorations and trying to remember to write “2015” when writing down the date. Well, 2015 is now in the books, which means it’s time for us to stick our necks out and make a few predictions for what 2016 will bring in the world of college and graduate school testing and admissions. We don’t always nail all of our predictions, and sometimes we’re way off, but that’s what makes this predictions business kind of fun, right?

Let’s see how we do this year… Here are four things that we expect to see unfold at some point in 2016:

The College Board will announce at least one significant change to the New SAT after it is introduced in March.
Yes, we know that an all-new SAT is coming. And we also know that College Board CEO David Coleman is determined to make his mark and launch a new test that is much more closely aligned with the Common Core standards that Coleman himself helped develop before stepping into the CEO role at the College Board. (The changes also happen to make the New SAT much more similar to the ACT, but we digress.) The College Board’s excitement to introduce a radically redesigned test, though, may very well lead to some changes that need some tweaking after the first several times the new test is administered. We don’t know exactly what the changes will be, but the new test’s use of “Founding Documents” as a source of reading passages is one spot where we won’t be shocked to see tweaks later in 2016.

At least one major business school rankings publication will start to collect GRE scores from MBA programs.
While the GRE is still a long way from catching up to the GMAT as the most commonly submitted test score by MBA applicants, it is gaining ground. In fact, 29 of Bloomberg Businessweek‘s top 30 U.S. business schools now let applicants submit a score from either exam. Right now, no publication includes GRE score data in its ranking criteria, which creates a small but meaningful implication: if you’re not a strong standardized test taker, then submitting a GRE score may mean that an admissions committee will be more willing to take a chance and admit you (assuming the rest of your application is strong), since it won’t have to report your test score and risk lowering its average GMAT score.

Of course, when a school admits hundreds of applicants, the impact of your one single score is very small, but no admissions director wants to have to explain to his or her boss why the school admitted someone with a 640 GMAT score while all other schools’ average scores keep going up. Knowing this incentive is in place, it’s only a matter of time before Businessweek, U.S. News, or someone else starts collecting GRE scores from business schools for their rankings data.

An expansion of student loan forgiveness is coming.
It’s an election year, and not many issues have a bigger financial impact on young voters than student loan debt. The average Class of 2015 college grad was left school owing more than $35,000 in student loans, meaning that these young grads may have to work until the age of 75 until they can reasonably expect to retire. Already this year the government announced the Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) Plan, which lets borrowers cap their monthly loan payments at 10% of their monthly discretionary income. One possible way the program could expand is by loosening the standards of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. Right now a borrower needs to make on-time monthly payments for 10 straight years to be eligible; don’t be surprised if someone proposes shortening it to five or eight years.

The number of business schools using video responses in their applications will triple.
Several prominent business schools such as Kellogg, Yale SOM, and U. of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management (which pioneered the practice) have started using video “essays” in their application process. While the rollout hasn’t been perfectly smooth, and many applicants have told us that video responses make the process even more stressful, we think video is’t going away anytime soon. In fact, we think that closer to 10 schools will use video as part of the application process by this time next year.

If a super-elite MBA program such as Stanford GSB or Harvard Business School starts video responses, then you will probably see a full-blown stampede towards video. But, even without one of those names adopting it, we think the medium’s popularity will climb significantly in the coming year. It’s just such a time saver for admissions officers – one can glean a lot about someone with just a few minutes of video – that this trend will only accelerate in 2016.

Let’s check back in 12 months and see how we did. In the meantime, we wish you a happy, healthy, and successful 2016!

By Scott Shrum

Standing Out as an International Applicant from India

indiaOne of the most competitive MBA applicant pools year-in and year-out is the vast crop of talented applicants originating from the subcontinent of India. Every year, top business schools are flooded with qualified Indian applicants that present a bevy of challenging decisions for admissions committees around the world. If you’re a member of the Indian applicant pool, it is important to understand how the admission committee will view you – having a good handle on this can help a smart applicant properly strategize on producing a “winning” application.

With so many candidates and so few spots available, it is more important than ever for Indian applicants to create an admissions package that stands out from the masses. But how is this done?

Let’s discuss some different ways the typical Indian candidate can create an application package that stands out from the competition.

Work Experience

The Indian applicant pool is known for being predominantly populated by one of the country’s biggest industries: the IT industry is by far the biggest pipeline of MBA talent coming out of India. This fact feeds into the reputation of the “homogeneous” Indian applicant, and “homogeneous” is rarely ever a good buzzword when it comes to gaining admission into business school.

For many application-ready candidates, this is a tough area to stand out in. But there are still some things to do for those candidates in the early stages of planning for their MBA, or those already in the midst of application season. For those in the early stages, this can involve pursuing industries that align with an area of interest, particularly if that is outside of the IT industry.

For those already within their target industry, taking on leadership opportunities in an existing role or exploring development in other areas or functions of your current job can present a strong growth trajectory. Whatever stage you are in as a candidate, the key here is to showcase yourself as a high-potential future leader with the flexibility to succeed in multiple work functions and industries.

GMAT Scores

This one is pretty simple – with so many applicants flooding the business school pipeline; it is critical for a competitive Indian applicant to achieve a strong score on the GMAT. What is a strong score, you may ask?

Many Indian applicants come in with above-average GMAT scores, which makes this aspect of the admissions process particularly competitive. With so many high-performing applicants coming from this region, admitted candidates often report GMAT scores that exceed school averages.

Generally, you will want to aim for around +20 points above the average score for your target program, with anything above that, of course, being increasingly more beneficial for your application.

Education

Education is another fairly competitive area that is pretty unique in comparison to the typical structure favored by U.S. educators. Coming from a nation with a unique ranking system and some high-profile colleges, this is an area where international Indian candidates can try and stand out. Another common item on the transcript of the Indian MBA applicant can actually be an MBA. It is not uncommon for candidates to pursue a second Western MBA after already completing one in-country, so if this is you, make sure to have a clear rationale on why a second MBA is necessary.

Application

A common knock against the Indian applicant is the non-data portion of the application process. A lot of focus tends to go into the GMAT, and not enough on other more nuanced elements of the application. This reputation feeds into the “homogeneous” reputation of the Indian applicant, as the opportunity to differentiate is often missed.

Extra-Curriculars

Undergraduate engagement is important, but continued engagement is also key. The focus in this area should be on leadership within these activities and not just participation. Don’t be afraid to leverage these experiences for other areas of your application as well – your ability to share highlights and impact from your engagements will go a long way in establishing these as meaningful experiences in your application.

Essays

Be interesting! Too many essays are bland responses focused on writing what the candidate feels the AdComm wants to hear. Breakthrough essays will be introspective and passionate responses that provide a unique insight into a candidate’s personal and professional background and goals. Avoid generic responses and use language that builds a narrative that cannot otherwise be gleaned from a resume or transcript.

Understanding the perception of your applicant pool is a key first step in creating a strategy to differentiate your profile from the masses. Use these tips as a starting point to creating a breakthrough application that showcases you as a unique candidate.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or click here to take our Free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation! As always, be sure to find us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more of his articles here

How to Write Great Admissions Essays: Step 10

mba essay
(This is the final installment in a series introducing our readers to our proven 10-step process for writing great admissions essays. Check back soon to see what else we have in store!)

Step 10: Revisions
It is shocking how often applicants present essays (either to professors, consultants, or even to the admissions committee) that are nothing more than glorified drafts. Crafting an essay is a time intensive process that requires a great deal of revision in order to write with economy, power, and persuasion. You will almost certainly go through multiple revisions with your essays, but the applicant who takes the time to execute multiple drafts on their own will be leaps and bounds ahead when it comes time to take the next step.


Proper revision requires at least three steps:
  1. On Screen. Review your work on your computer screen and make changes as you go. Doing so will clean up the bulk of your original errors and the most obvious misuses of style and structure.
  2. Pen and Paper. Walk away from your work and give it some time before sitting down and reviewing the document carefully in printed form. Doing so not only allows you to read from a fresh perspective, but also to lavish more attention on the finer points, such as transition words, passive voice and indexing.
  3. Read Aloud. While most people take the time to review their own work, few actually read it out loud. Reading aloud forces you to read each word and ensure proper inflection, and it also represents an ideal way to spot excess words, misplaced modifiers and other issues that will trip up a reader.

We hope these ten tips help you in your admissions journey. A finished product is only as good as its starting point, so be sure to take these tips to heart and truly put in the effort to become a great writer. Do that, and you will be far ahead of most other business school applicants.

You haven’t seen the last of our tips. Check back soon and see what we’ve got brewing here at Veritas Prep. In the meantime, if you need help with your MBA admissions essays or personal statements immediately, give us a call at 800-925-7737 and talk to one of our admissions experts. And, as always, be sure to follow us on Twitter!