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Admissions Tips

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


Admissions Tip: Addressing Academic Strengths

1803276939_c8fcfb050f_mWhile we devoted time last week to advice on addressing weaknesses in one’s academic record, today we wanted to explore the other side of the issue: the strengths that lie in your undergraduate record.

Beyond issues of aptitude or previous achievement, there are a number of other things that your academic profile might say about you.  For instance, if you have a range of quant-focused classes in your record, this might create the impression that you are well prepared for the sort of coursework you would undertake in business school.  Meanwhile, if you have pursued extensive coursework in an area beyond the more traditional disciplines of economics, business administration or engineering, this could indicate some unique interest or perspective that you would bring to the classroom.

For example, applicants who pursued significant language study or took a number of classes in disciplines such as sociology, psychology, art, etc., will stand out among candidates who focused primarily on math, engineering or business courses in college.  Along these lines, applicants whose transcripts show they studied abroad as undergraduates may be seen as more globally aware or as better prepared to work with an international student body.

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Admissions Tip: Addressing Academic Weaknesses

300px-Inside_a_Harvard_Business_School_classroomTo follow up on last month’s advice about GMAT preparation and timing, we wanted to offer some general comments about the role of academics in the admissions process.  Many candidates considering business school focus on the credentials they will hold and the network that they will join upon graduation, but it is important to keep in mind the academic experience at the heart of any MBA program.  Because a business school is, after all, a school, it makes sense to begin your consideration of your profile by thinking about your academic aptitude and track record to date.  Your performance in your educational endeavors up to this point will be treated as a predictor of your success in business school.

While this is all well and good for applicants whose undergraduate GPAs and GMAT scores are close to the average of students at their target schools—about 3.5 and 710 for the top programs—things become a bit trickier for candidates who fall below the pack in either or both of these categories.  Retaking the GMAT is always an option, but this can become counterproductive after the first two or three attempts, and there is obviously nothing to be done to alter one’s college marks.  If the other aspects of your candidacy are strong and you’re only lacking in one of these two academic areas, an effective strategy is often to use an optional essay to acknowledge that one of these numbers is below the school’s average and assure the adcom that the other is the more accurate indication of your academic ability.

Meanwhile, applicants who fall short in both of these measures—as well as anyone who simply wants to strengthen his or her academic profile or falls well below the average in GMAT or GPA—should consider putting together an alternative transcript that demonstrates a track record of As in quantitative coursework, e.g., in basic classes in accounting, statistics, calculus or economics.  These classes can be taken at any community college or even through an accredited online program.  This is a particularly sound strategy for candidates who focused on the social sciences or humanities in college and do not have a record of demonstrated success in quant-heavy disciplines.  Applicants can then point to this as a more recent—and therefore more accurate—reflection of their present abilities in a classroom setting.  While one or two classes can suffice, keep in mind that the more classes one takes, the more convincing this argument becomes (assuming strong performance in these supplemental classes, of course).

Still, these are general guidelines about the ways that one might address a shortcoming in a single element of the admissions process.  For a more detailed evaluation of your entire candidacy and more comprehensive advice about your applications, contact us for a free initial consultation.

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Admissions Tip: Feedback Sessions for Denied Applicants

Interview 2As many of our readers know, a small number of leading MBA programs offer admissions feedback sessions to applicants who did not make the admissions cut in a given season.  Though we’ve touched upon this subject before, we’d like to use today’s blog entry to underline the importance of these feedback sessions for those of you who are considering reapplication.

While not all schools offer feedback, a handful of schools issue an open invitation to all unsuccessful applicants.  Additionally, some programs occasionally offer feedback “by invitation” to top candidates for whom they just didn’t have room that year.  In all cases, if you are given the opportunity to get feedback, you should absolutely take advantage of it.  There are several reasons for this:

1) Signal commitment to improvement.  Signing up for a feedback session demonstrates that you are motivated to learn more about your application’s weaknesses and are seeking to improve going forward (with the intention of reapplication).  Most schools make note of these sessions and keep these notes in your file in the event that you do reapply.

2) Get the inside line.  A feedback session gives you a chance to learn something about your candidacy from the source.  Feedback sessions can draw your attention to a perceived weakness you were unaware of or confirm your own thoughts with regards to areas for improvement.

3) Advertise your interest.  In addition to demonstrating your passion to improve and your intent to learn more about your candidacy, signing up for a session suggests a dedication to the MBA program in question.  Since not all reapplicants bother to get feedback, the fact that you take this aspect of the process seriously can work in your favor.

4) Make a connection.  In many cases, a feedback session can be the beginning of a relationship that is forged with a member of the adcom.  If the person gives you feedback, you should email them a “thank you” letter and take advantage of the opportunity to develop an advocate for your candidacy on the committee.

Stay tuned to this blog for some tips on proper feedback session etiquette in the near future.  In the meantime, be sure to sign up for feedback sessions if your target school offers them.  If your target school does not offer this kind of service, you may want to take advantage of Clear Admit’s feedback service, which includes a strategic review of your prior application(s) and a written report highlighting your strengths and weaknesses as well as specific guidance for reapplication.

Contact Clear Admit if you are interested in learning more about this service.

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Admissions Tip: Waitlists That Discourage Supplemental Information

We have previously posted some correspondence tips for those applicants who have been waitlisted by schools that welcome supplemental materials and communication.  Today, we’d like to provide some advice to those who are in an arguably more difficult position: waitlisted by schools that discourage further contact with the adcom.

This may sound obvious, but if a school indicates that they do not want supplemental materials, then you should respect their guidelines.  In other words, do not send along a new recommendation or an essay if the program has clearly indicated that you should not do so.  There may be exceptions to this—for example, if a dramatic change has taken place in your candidacy—but in most cases, you should simply follow the rules.

While at first it seems as though this leaves little option for waitlisted applicants other than sitting and waiting for a more definitive decision, one of the best things an individual in this position can do is just the opposite—take action and visit the school.  This makes particularly good sense for those who have never been to the campus of their target programs.  Very many things can happen when spending time at the school:

1) You may interact with students or professors who can better inform you of opportunities at the school and give you a better sense of the campus culture.  If you make a particularly strong impression, you might even inspire someone to intercede with the adcom on your behalf.

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Admissions Tip: Dealing with a Ding

Interview 4With many MBA programs beginning to release their R2 decisions, the spring notification season will soon be coming to a close.  While we would like to hope that today’s topic isn’t apropos for too many of our readers, we wanted to offer some advice to applicants who’ve been rejected from their preferred programs and are planning on reapplying next season.  While it’s important to take some time to deal with the disappointment, it’s never too early to begin thinking about the next season, and there are a number of steps you can take to improve your candidacy and move toward a stronger application.

1) Reevaluate.  While it’s certainly difficult when things don’t go as planned, this is actually a great chance to take stock of your career and goals and to make sure that an MBA is still a logical and necessary step at this point.  It’s this sort of reflection that can lead to refined career goals and a clearer sense of the reasons you need a business education.

2) Revisit your applications.  Once you’ve gained some distance from the emotional and time-consuming application process, it’s wise to review the materials you submitted to the schools with a critical eye.  Having learned much about the process simply by applying, it’s likely that you’ll be able to identify a number of things that you could have done better.  Whether you suspect your downfall was something like a strategic misstep in an essay or interview or a more glaring weakness like a low GMAT or lack of extracurricular involvement, there is plenty of time to address your shortcomings before submitting an application next year.

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Admissions Tip: Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular - VolleyballBecause it’s the time of year when applicants aiming for Fall 2015 intake are just beginning to think about the admissions process, we wanted to focus today on one element of the application that candidates often underestimate: extracurricular activities.

In order to understand why this category is important, candidates should keep in mind that the adcom is responsible for crafting a dynamic class each year.  The aim is to admit individuals who will support a vibrant campus community and step into leadership positions.  In other words, as admissions officers consider each applicant, they ask themselves “what’s in it for our school?”  An applicant who has previously demonstrated a talent for writing, for example, by contributing to a nonprofit’s newsletter, will really catch the adcom’s attention if she also expresses her intent to contribute to a specific publication on campus.

Volunteering is of course a great way to expand one’s Continue reading…

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Admissions Tip: Planning for the GMAT

For all you “early birds” who are planning to apply to business school this fall, we wanted to offer a few tips on managing your time as it relates to the GMAT exam.  Because this is an important element for many applicants in determining at which schools they will be competitive, it’s best to prep intensively and get this out of the way early in the process.

You should ideally be finished with the GMAT by mid-summer.  The reason for this is that you will want to reserve the months of August, September and October for essay writing, school visits, managing your recommenders and other miscellaneous application-related tasks.  The last thing you want to be doing in September is juggling the demands of GMAT prep alongside your MBA applications, your responsibilities at work, your extracurricular involvements, etc.

Of course, putting the GMAT to rest by mid-summer is much easier said than done.  Given the strength of the test-taking pool and the importance of earning a high score when targeting a top program, in order to be successful, you should ideally budget time for a GMAT prep course or 8 to 12 weeks of solid self-study.  You should then consider the fact that you may need to take the exam more than once.

Given these considerations, here is a rough schedule to follow:

April, May: Attend a GMAT prep class and spend as much as 2 hours each weekday doing problems; use the weekends to take full-length tests (under realistic, timed conditions).

June: Take the GMAT early in the month.  If you are unsatisfied with your score, work towards taking the exam again.  Ideally, you’ll take a short break of one to two weeks (to clear your mind) and then leave at least four weeks to prep for the second sitting of the exam.  Consider hiring a tutor to address your specific needs.

July: Take the GMAT again, hopefully achieving a score that is within the range of the MBA programs on your list.  If your score doesn’t improve, it may be time to reevaluate your target schools and expand your roster to ensure that your selection is realistic.

In some cases, it may make sense to mirror your work on the GMAT by simultaneously enrolling in a calculus or statistics class at your local university or community college.  While this is especially true for applicants who have a weak track record in quantitative subjects and need to build an alternative transcript, in general these classes can often help applicants get the most out of their GMAT preparation.

Good luck!  For more information about how the GMAT fits into the application process and on business schools in general, feel free to contact Clear Admit to learn about our early bird planning services or set up an initial consultation.  You can also download Clear Admit’s independent guide to the leading test preparation companies.  This FREE guide includes coupons for discounts on test prep services at 10 different firms!

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Admissions Tip: Late Round Considerations

After a relatively sleepy February, March will soon be upon us with its extensive list of application deadlines and decision notification dates.  Let’s take a look at part of the long list of Round 3 (or 4 or 5) deadlines spread over the next two months:

March 3rd: Ross R3 (11:59pm EST)

March 5th: INSEAD R3 (11:59pm CET)

March 7th: Judge R3 (5:00pm UTC)

March 12th: Haas R3 (11:59pm PST)

March 14th: UNC R4 (5:00pm EST)

March 14th: Oxford R4 (11:59pm GMT)

March 15th: Tepper R3 (11:59pm EST)

March 15th: Stern R4 (11:59pm EST)

March 20th: Fuqua R3 (11:59pm EST)

March 27th: Darden R3 (5:00pm EST)

March 27th: Wharton R3 (5:00pm EST)

March 27th: McCombs R3 (11:59pm CST)

April 1st: Georgetown R3 (11:59pm EST)

April 2nd: Stanford R3 (5:00pm PST)

April 2nd: Tuck R4 (5:00pm EST)

April 2nd: Kellogg R3 (11:59pm CST)

April 4th: Booth R3 (5:00pm CST)

April 7th: HBS R3 (11:59pm PST)

April 9th: CBS Regular Decision (11:59pm EST)

April 15th: Anderson R3 (11:59pm PST)

April 24th: Yale SOM R3 (5:00pm EST)

April 25th: Judge R4 (5:00pm UTC)

April 25th: Oxford R5 (11:59pm GMT)

May 30th: Oxford R6 (11:59pm GMT)

While it’s always best to apply as early as possible, the difference between applying in Round 1 and applying in Round 2 is, for most applicants, a marginal one.  However, the later rounds are a very different game.  Because most of the seats in the incoming class will have been given away by the time Round 2 decisions are released, the acceptance rate in the third round is dramatically lower than that for the first two deadlines of the season.

To maximize your chances of a later round acceptance, demonstrating your interest in the school and submitting thoughtful and error-free written materials will be crucial.  Applying in Round 1 is generally taken as a sign of interest in a given program, and by the same token, applicants submitting their materials in a later round need to work extra hard to convince the adcom that they are genuinely interested in the school and are not simply applying as an afterthought because interview invitations didn’t come through in Round 2. Demonstrating that you would make a valuable contribution to the community and providing evidence that you have taken steps to engage current students and alumni will work to your advantage.

As always, we’d like to recommend the in-depth Clear Admit School Guides to those applicants who are targeting the later deadlines and just beginning to investigate certain programs, and we encourage those who’ve visited the campus and interviewed to share their experiences in Clear Admit Interview Reports.  Potential R3 or R4 applicants are also welcome to contact Clear Admit directly to discuss the strength of their later round candidacies and learn more about our one-on-one counseling services.

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Admissions Tip: Thinking About Financing

Though many business school applicants know exactly what they want to do—and how much they hope to make—after they graduate from an MBA program, a surprising number apply to school without thinking about how they’ll pay for this expensive degree.  While some students do foot the entire bill themselves or receive scholarship support from the school or an outside institution, the vast majority of MBA students borrow funds to cover their tuition and living expenses.  With this in mind, we wanted to cover some very basic information on loans for the benefit of both recent admits entering school this fall and early birds just beginning to think about their applications for Fall 2014.

The primary source of funding for U.S.-based applicants will be federal loans or alternative education loans.  The main federal loans, available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents, are the Direct Unsubsidized Loans, the Direct PLUS Loan and the Federal Perkins Loan.  Full-time students, usually those enrolled in two or more courses per semester, can borrow as much as $20,500/year through the Direct Unsubsidized Loan program.  The Direct PLUS Loan can be used to pay for the total cost of attendance less any aid you’ve already been awarded.  Meanwhile, the Federal Perkins Loan program is school-based program for students with exceptional financial needs.  Perkins Loans are low-interest, a rate of 5 percent, with a maximum annual loan amount of $8,000/year for graduate students or $60,000 in total. Those interested in applying for federal student aid should check out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  When federal loans are not enough, private loans can help bridge the gap in education costs.  Students might contact their local bank or look into lender programs, such as SallieMae or Access Group, for details on borrowing eligibility.

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Admissions Tip: Waitlist Correspondence

In addition to actively evaluating the applications of Round Two applicants at this time of year, many top programs revisit their Round One waitlists and consider the strength of those individuals with respect to the new information about the pool.  While schools vary in their receptivity to correspondence from applicants, those programs that do welcome additional materials offer a great chance for waitlisted candidates to reaffirm their interest in the school and keep themselves fresh in the mind of the adcom.

With the second-round notification dates for a number schools coming up in a matter of weeks, we wanted to offer some tips to students who have been waitlisted at such programs while there’s still some time to tip the balance in their favor.

It’s clear that you should take advantage of this chance to add to your file, so the first real step is determining what you want—and need—to communicate in your waitlist correspondence.  We suggest that you begin by revisiting your application with a critical eye.  Being waitlisted is ultimately a positive sign of the strength of your candidacy, so it’s likely you’ve put together a very solid set of materials; you do, however, want to consider what you might have done to make your application even better.  For instance, if your comments in your essays focused primarily on your work experience, you might want to convey some information about your outside interests and activities in your waitlist letter.

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Admissions Tip: The Interview Final Touch

Over the last months, we’ve focused on helping applicants prepare to answer the various questions they’ll be posed during their interviews, but there is one in particular to which we have not paid much attention.  Today, we wanted to offer a few tips in navigating the nearly inevitable interview finisher: “Do you have any questions for me?”

This seems like a harmless inquiry, and indeed poses a great opportunity, but there’s actually a fine line to walk here.  You certainly want to take advantage of this opportunity to show the interviewer that you appreciate his or her time, perspective and knowledge.  In determining what to ask, however, you need to avoid those questions to which you could easily find an answer on the school’s website (remember that it’s imperative that you show you’ve done your homework), as well as those that are so specific or obscure that they will stump the interviewer.  Another sort of question to avoid are those that seem to be critical of the program or too concerned with other applicants; now is not the time to ask about application volume or the strength of the pool this year.

What does that leave?  More than you might initially expect.  We’ve found that a great approach is to ask your interviewer about his or her own perspective and experience.  Current students and alums, who involve themselves in the admissions process are generally those who are having or have had a positive experience in business school.  If your interviewer falls into one of these categories, he or she will likely appreciate the chance to talk about a favorite class or professor, or comment on involvement in a certain club.  Meanwhile, when engineering questions to pose to full-time admissions staff, remember that these individuals likely have less in-depth information but a longer-term perspective on the program than would someone who is currently attending or has attended.

Armed with these tips, you should be able to foster a positive and productive conversation, learn a bit more about the program in question, and make a positive impression on your interviewer.

If you have further inquiries about the best questions to pose in your interview (or any other aspect of the interview process), contact Clear Admit directly and sign up for our mock interview service.  We offer school-by-school interview guides, strategy sessions and mock interviews to help you perform at your best on interview day.  Also, do not forget to use the Clear Admit Interview Report Archive as a resource for interview preparations!

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