News, advice and resources for business school applicants

Planning Tips


Admissions Tip: Interviewing the Interviewer

Interview QuestionWe’ve been offering a good deal of advice lately on how to conduct oneself and prepare responses to MBA interview questions.  Today we’d like to highlight the importance of thinking about what you might ask. Virtually all business school interviewers conclude their discussion by offering the applicant a chance to ask some questions about the program.  While it might be tempting to claim that you’ve already learned all you need to know about the school, this is actually a great opportunity to gain additional insight, show your enthusiasm about a specific element of the curriculum or community, and demonstrate that you appreciate the opportunity to learn from your interviewer’s experiences.

Here are a few simple guidelines to keep in mind while thinking about what you might ask:

1. Focus on the positive.  Now is not the time to conduct due diligence or express skepticism about a school’s academic program or career resources.  You’re still marketing yourself to the adcom at this stage of the process, so you’ll want to project enthusiasm and demonstrate a desire to become more familiar with a program’s merits and your potential fit. Continue reading…

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Admissions Tip: MBA Interview Prep

MBA-interviewWith interview invitations from a number of programs already on their way out to Round One applicants, we wanted to offer some more advice on this element of the admissions process.  Last week we posted some very basic etiquette information that will help candidates ensure that everything is in order on the big day.  Today, we turn our attention to some steps one can take to prepare for the interview itself.

1) Know what to expect. This might go without saying, but interview types and duration vary across programs.  For instance, nearly all invited Stanford applicants interview with alumni, while on-campus Wharton interviews are conducted by second-year students and admissions staff.  Candidates for Columbia admission participate in an informative resume-based chat, while HBS and MIT interviewers have in-depth knowledge of the applicant’s entire file.  Thinking carefully about the format of the interview and the person conducting it will influence the sort of questions you might come prepared to ask and help you arrive at a mindset conducive to success. Continue reading…

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Admissions Tip: MBA Interview Etiquette

Interview 2With interviews imminent for Round One applicants, we wanted to turn our attention to this important step in the admissions process and share a few very basic pointers on interview etiquette.  Though the content of your application materials and comments during the interview are of paramount importance, it’s also crucial to put one’s best foot forward and make a positive initial impression.  Here are a few guidelines for interviewing applicants to keep in mind:

1) Dress the part.  Unless meeting with an alum who explicitly specifies a more casual dress code, assume that business attire is appropriate.  We recommend that applicants dress conservatively, opting for a dark suit (pants or skirts are both fine for women) and a blue or white shirt.  Steer clear of flashy brand gear and loud ties, and go easy on makeup and fragrances; you want to be remembered for what you say and who you are, not what you wore. Continue reading…

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Admissions Tips: Common Recommendation Dilemmas

RecommendationAs many of our readers are aware, letters of recommendation are a central part of the application process.  We would like to take a look at how to handle the snags that often arise for applicants in unique employment situations.

The applicant who is most likely to have trouble finding a suitable recommender is either self-employed or works in his or her family’s business.  First, self-employed entrepreneurs by their very nature do not have a direct supervisor.  Similarly, an applicant who works for the family business may have trouble finding a non-related supervisor, or someone who can offer a truly objective opinion. Continue reading…

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Admissions Tip: Applying to Business School as a Younger Applicant

Admissions Tip: Applying to Business School as a Younger Applicant

As many of our readers know, it has become increasingly common for younger individuals to apply to MBA programs.  Whereas the average age and years of work experience at the leading business schools has traditionally hovered at around 28 and five respectively, many programs are now carefully considering the more youthful end of the applicant pool.  Of course, the fact that admissions officers are taking a closer look at younger applicants does not mean that getting accepted to a top program is easy for this group.  In fact, it may be difficult for younger applicants to present themselves as fully prepared to contribute to an MBA program because they often lack leadership experience and extended business exposure.  This is especially true as they will be compared to their fellow applicants who have more years in the working world (often translating to more leadership experience and professional accomplishments).  With this in mind, we’d like to offer a few tips that will help younger MBA candidates leverage the strengths of their candidacies and become increasingly competitive applicants at their choice schools. Continue reading…

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Admissions Tip: Planning for the R1 MBA Deadlines

Admissions Tip: Planning for the R1 MBA Deadlines

Anyone who’s familiar with the MBA application process knows that August moves forward at an accelerated pace, and come September, entire weeks seem to disappear.  To help this year’s Round One applicants avoid the classic time crunch, today’s blog post offers some basic advice on how to approach the Round One deadlines at a reasonable pace.

Let’s start by taking a quick look some of at the published Round One deadlines for the top MBA programs: Continue reading…

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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: 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: Avoiding Red Flags

Triancular_red_flagWhen applying to the top schools, it is important to avoid “red flags” in your application.  For the uninitiated, red flags are negative items that stand out in your file and may result in rejection from business school.  While most applicants understand the basic red flags, like a 2.4 GPA or a recommendation letter that raises serious concerns about the candidate’s maturity, there are many less obvious triggers.

Some time ago, an Admissions Director Symposium organized by the Graduate Management Admissions Council produced an interesting publication on the subject of admissions policy and red flags.  Here is an excerpt from their report:

Identifying ‘Red Flags’ in the Application Process

The Directors Symposium participants found that many of the markers of less successful students can be identified in the application process but are often overlooked – everything from numerous job changes in a short period of time to strange personal interactions or difficulty communicating.  These signals should not be ignored, said participants.  It may be useful to discuss any ‘red flags’ with other colleagues, to determine which shortcomings can be mitigated by other qualities and which should be reasons not to offer admission.

Continue reading…

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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.

Continue reading…

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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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