News, advice and resources for business school applicants

Admissions Tips

Browse our weekly admissions tips, or choose the category most relevant to you: researching, planning, applying, deciding.


Admissions Tip: Using Rankings to Your Advantage

rankThere are numerous sources that can knowledgeably rank the “top” MBA programs.  However, because business schools receive different rankings depending on the sources’ criteria, it can be difficult to understand which are the “best” schools.  Therefore today we’d like to talk about how b-school applicants can use rankings to discover the “best” schools—for them.  Although the general merits of each school are important, we also believe that it is important for MBA applicants to rank schools based on their individual needs and interests.  Therefore we encourage students to use official MBA school rankings in the following ways:

1. Use rankings to create a consensus.  Sources rarely have the exact same rankings as each other, and therefore trying to determine the “top five” schools can be frustrating.  However, it’s best to compile these different sources of rankings to form a consensus regarding the top schools.  For example, if your target program is consistently listed in the top 15, regardless of its individual ranking among different sources, you should feel confident that it is regarded as a top school by industry professionals and future employers.  You may not be able to pinpoint the ultimate “number one” school, but you will be able to distinguish between the different tiers of schools. Continue reading…

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Admissions Tip: School-Hosted Blogs

mba-graduateAs the summer progresses and applicants begin researching their target schools in more depth, we would like to highlight a valuable research tool: school-hosted blogs.  The last few years have seen a significant increase in the number of MBA student blogs hosted by schools’ admissions offices, as well as in admissions offices’ use of blogs to keep applicants informed of deadlines, admissions policies and events.  Both types of blogs are useful throughout the admissions cycle; the factual information in the admissions office blogs is helpful in understanding and planning for the application process, while the student blogs offer valuable insights into student life, culture and academics.

Below we’ve provided links to some of the active blogs hosted by the leading MBA programs.

Admissions Office Blogs:
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Admissions Tip: Addressing Unemployment or Gaps in Employment

planclockGiven the emphasis that schools place on a candidate’s work experience, it is important to be proactive in addressing gaps in employment.  When applying to business school, many candidates worry about how the adcom might perceive gaps in employment.  We would like to take some time to discuss strategies for addressing this issue.

It’s not unheard of for an MBA candidate to have a gap in employment, and this will not necessarily make a negative impact on someone’s candidacy.  Gaps might be due to anything from lay-offs to periods of travel.  As a rule of thumb, applicants should explain gaps in employment that are three months or longer in an optional essay or, if instructed, on their data forms. The adcom will not want to play detective with vague dates on an applicant’s résumé or large chunks of unaccounted for time.  As the adcom will simply want to know what an applicant was doing during a period of unemployment, applicants should show that they made productive use of this time.  It is important for applicants to be open and clear about extended gaps to show that they were not simply spending the time to look for full-time employment.

Continue reading…

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Admissions Tip: Visiting the Campus

campus visitAs many applicants are finding out at this time of year, conducting thorough research on MBA programs is an essential step in formulating a list of target schools and crafting convincing essays.  Surfing the web and speaking with friends and mentors are great starting points in identifying programs of interest.  However, to really get a feel for a school and determine whether it’s a good fit for one’s goals and personality, applicants need to dig deeper and gain some firsthand experience with the program and the people.  Visiting the campus is a great way to gather this kind of information, and it can also be advantageous in the application process.  Although most formal campus visit programs will not start until the fall (when classes are in session), we’d like to offer a few “head start” pointers for getting as much mileage as possible out of a trip to your target program.

1) Make yourself known.  Putting forth the effort to travel to a school is a signal of interest in the program that the adcom loves to see, however, you need to let them know that you’ve made the trip.  It is possible to communicate this in your essays and interview, but the simplest route is often to register for a visit through the admissions office.  Not only will most schools arrange for you to sit in on a class and have lunch with current students, but many will also make a note of your visit and include it in your file.  Be sure to Continue reading…

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How to Write a Résumé that Will Get You In | Admissions Tip

ResumeYour résumé is not only an important component of your MBA application, it’s also a great place to start when crafting your overall positioning strategy.  This document forces one to distill a candidacy into a concise summary, focusing on key aspects and themes.  With that in mind, here are a few simple tips to get you started:

1) First things first.  Because you’re applying to graduate school, it makes sense to lead this document with a section detailing your academic history.  This is also the format that many business schools’ career offices instruct students to use when applying for internships or full-time jobs post-graduation.

2) Keep it simple.  While you’ll certainly want to describe your professional responsibilities and achievements in some detail, remember that this document needs to fit on a single page, with very few exceptions.  Rather than overwhelming the reader with information, try to identify three or four discrete projects or accomplishments to complement a few concise statements about your day to day responsibilities in each position.  Remember that it’s also important to be as specific as possible about the impact you’ve had on your organization by quantifying the results of your efforts.

3) Round it out.  Don’t discount the importance of your interests and outside activities.  Schools like applicants who are well rounded and demonstrate a track record of involvement outside of work and the classroom, so formal extracurricular activities are a logical category to include.  At the same time, information about your less structured interests and hobbies is also relevant, as these details can lend some more color to your candidacy and help the adcom get to know you better.  Remember to be as specific as possible; many business school applicants are interested in “travel” or “film,” so specifying a region you especially enjoy visiting or your favorite movie genre will be the key to setting yourself apart.

We hope that these general guidelines serve as a good starting point for Class of 2017 applicants in translating their experiences and achievements into this brief but important document.  For more tailored guidance, contact us to speak with one of our counselors about your background.  You can also read the Clear Admit Résumé Guide for a complete step-by-step “instruction manual” for crafting your résumé (available for download in our publications shop).

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Admissions Tip: Crafting Strong Essays – The Rewards of Reflection

gradingWith several of the leading schools having already released their essay questions for this admissions season, we’re sure that quite a number of early birds are eager to get a jump on the process in order to complete as many applications as possible by Round 1.  As applicants find themselves brainstorming for essay topics, we wanted to offer a few tips on presenting yourself and your experiences as advantageously as possible.

1) Take time to reflect.  Before diving in and beginning work on a draft of any one essay, it’s often fruitful to think carefully about all of the stories and accomplishments at one’s disposal.  These can include experiences from the professional realm, formal outside activities, college clubs and even more casual hobbies and interests.  A comprehensive, reflective approach should enable you to arrive at the essay topics that are most impressive and in line with your overall positioning. Continue reading…

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Admissions Tip: Selecting Your Recommenders

interviewSince many of our readers are just beginning the business school application process, we wanted to offer some basic tips on a critical variable in the MBA admissions equation: recommender selection.

When choosing your recommenders, remember that it can be seen as a test of judgment – selecting a recommender whose letter is ineffective or who appears dubious about your qualifications may raise doubts about your ability to judge your interactions with others or to select the right person for a job.  In order for your letters to be as effective as possible, you should look for several qualities in a recommender.  First, your recommenders should have greater seniority than you unless the school specifically asks for a peer recommendation.  The adcom gives greater weight to statements made by your superiors rather than by a peer because a peer is assumed to be essentially a friend and therefore predisposed to write a positive recommendation.

As we discuss in greater depth with our clients, the most persuasive recommendation letters are those which contain specific examples and anecdotes.  Because of this, you should select recommenders who are very familiar with your work and with whom you interact(ed) on a regular basis.  This usually means that you should choose current or former direct supervisors, rather than someone whose title you think will impress the adcom.  Choosing a recommender based on their name or title can imply that you put an undue emphasis on such qualities instead of thinking about who would be the best person for the job.  In addition to picking people who know you well, you should also pick recommenders with whom you have a positive relationship, since if they like and respect you, their letters are likely to be much more positive and persuasive.

Continue reading…

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Admissions Tip: Feedback Session Etiquette

Interview 5At the beginning of April, we discussed the importance of signing up for a feedback session when one is planning to reapply to a program that provides this opportunity.  Today we’d like to follow up on that post by offering a few thoughts on feedback session etiquette.

While on one hand a feedback session marks the close of this year’s process, it’s crucial that you realize that the impression you make on the adcom member conducting the session may be added to your file and come to bear on your candidacy next year.  Taking heed of the following advice could help to make your feedback session as productive as possible – both in terms of gaining information about your weaknesses that you can address now and fostering a positive relationship with the school that will pay off in the future.

Be pleasant.  Though the admissions process is a highly emotional one and to have invested time, effort and money in an application without having an acceptance to show for it is undoubtedly very frustrating, receiving the adcom’s comments in an appreciative – not defensive – manner is of the utmost importance.  While it might be tempting to argue with the adcom’s criticisms of your file or counter their comments about your weaknesses with steps you’ve taken to address them, this is simply not going to be productive.  You should view this as an exercise in listening and an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to the school.  No one ever converted a rejection to an admit by merely arguing their case in a feedback session. Continue reading…

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Admissions Tip: Going Beyond School Websites

300px-Gsb_buildings1In keeping with the recent Admissions Tips we have posted for the new crop of applicants to the Class of 2017, today we want to offer some tips on engaging the community of one’s target programs.  Communicating with b-school insiders can be beneficial for a number of reasons: In addition to learning about a given school and your potential fit, you’ll also generate material for your essays, demonstrate your interest in the program, and perhaps even make an ally or two.  In your efforts to go beyond the schools’ websites and promotional materials, we recommend reaching out to individuals in a few key groups:

Current Students – People who are currently enrolled in a given program can obviously provide the clearest picture of the present state of the school community.  They are often more capable of evoking their school’s overall culture than brochures put out by the admissions offices and can describe to prospective students the ins and outs of academic and extracurricular options.  In addition to reaching out to friends and acquaintances who are studying at a given school, it’s also wise to get in touch with the leaders of clubs and programs in which you are interested. (Their contact information is generally available through the website.)  This will help you to understand the impact you could make while on campus and provide a sounding board for the ideas you plan to share with a certain student group or organization. Continue reading…

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Admissions Tip: Approaching the Career Goals Essay

dream-job-2Though essay questions tend to vary year to year, the two things that nearly every prospective student can count on being asked are “What are your short-term and long-term post-MBA goals?” and “How will Business School X help you achieve these goals?”

These are the fundamental questions of the entire application process; identifying clear answers will help in everything from creating a list of target schools to communicating effectively with recommenders and interviewers down the line.  As such, it’s a great idea to begin drafting answers to the Career Goals essay early and often!  To help you get started, here are some general pointers:

Whether the essay is 1,000 or 500 words long, the adcom looks for applicants who offer fully defined long- and short-term career goals, sound reasons for pursuing an MBA at this point in their careers, well-informed interest in School X and specific plans to contribute to the campus community if they are admitted.

Continue reading…

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Admissions Tip: Round 3 Results

Interview 4With the MBA programs releasing their Round 3 notifications in the upcoming weeks, the 2013-2014 admissions season is coming to a close for the vast majority of MBA aspirants.  We’d like to offer our congratulations to all those who have gained admission to one of more of their target schools and wish good luck to waitlisted applicants whose fate is presently a bit less certain.  For all those who submitted their applications in the final round and received an unfavorable decision, we’d like to share a few tips that we hope will make the process of facing rejection as productive as possible:

1) Understand the odds and consider reapplying in the early rounds next year.  If you failed to gain admission to a school in its final application round, you should not give up hope or instantly assume that your profile contains some glaring weakness that will forever bar you from acceptance.  Because relatively few spots in the incoming class are available by the time of the Round 3 deadlines, it is always most difficult to get into a school at this point in the year.  In many cases, an earlier application is all that you need to find success in the process.

Continue reading…

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