News, advice and resources for business school applicants

Application Tips


Admissions Tip: Know Your Audience

As Round 1 deadlines approach fast, applicants are coming to understand that applying to business school is an incredibly demanding process.  In addition to taking the GMAT, assembling academic transcripts and providing recommendation letters, candidates are required to draft multiple essays, job descriptions, lists of activities and more.

With the obvious incentive to save time wherever possible, it’s understandable that many applicants simply cut and paste content from an existing resume and write about their work in the manner that comes most naturally.  However, in doing so, countless candidates each year assemble their materials without ever asking a fundamental question:

Who will read my application? Continue reading…

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Admissions Tip: Declare Your Love and Explain It

Why School XWith Round One deadlines for a number of programs just around the corner, it’s the time of year when many applicants are working hard on their application essays and learning more about their target programs in the process of rounding out their “why MBA/why school X” discussions.  Keeping this important component of the admissions process in mind, we wanted to take the time today to offer some advice on how to polish this element of one’s file and get the most mileage out of this section.

1. Make it personal.  Schools look for applicants who seem genuinely excited about their program, and the best way to bring this across in your essays is to come right out and say it.  Many applicants are well-researched but present their findings in the form of objective facts.  The adcom will already know whether their program features a flexible curriculum, is very strong in marketing, or offers an international focus.  What they don’t know – and what you should be explaining in your essays – is what you find exciting and appealing, and why.  Stating your interest in a school by connecting its offerings to your goals and interests is a great way to help the adcom understand (and ideally get them to agree with) your opinion that you would be a good fit with the program.  Continue reading…

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Admission Tip: The Optional Essay

Admission Tip: The Optional Essay

We realize that the questions of whether to answer an optional essay and, if so, what to say are ones that loom large for many b-school applicants at this time of year.  While we’ve been offering a great deal of school-specific essay advice over the past few months, we wanted to take some time to suggest a few considerations that applicants might want to take into account when making this call.

Is it relevant?
Perhaps this goes without saying, but the only information worth sharing in an optional essay is that which will make a material difference in your candidacy.  Whether you wish to comment on an exciting leadership role you’ve just taken on or explain that you were overextended extracurricularly during that one bad semester in college, make sure to think carefully about whether this information will affect and enhance the reader’s perception of your business school candidacy. 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: 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: 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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Admissions Tip: Understanding Background Checks

With a slew of schools releasing the last of their R1 notifications in the coming weeks, we know that many of our readers will be asking about the background checks conducted by leading programs.  Here are some quick facts to help explain the process:

1) What are background checks?  Background checks involve the verification of information that a candidate has provided in his or her MBA applications.  Although the process varies from school to school, it usually includes checking that an applicant attended the undergraduate (or graduate) school(s) that he or she claims to have attended, received the grades indicated and earned the GMAT score reported.  It also involves the verification of the candidate’s employment history, job titles, starting and ending dates and salary/bonus information.  Finally, some background checks involve contacting recommenders to verify their support and confirming applicant involvement in community activities.

2) Do all schools conduct background checks?  When do they do this?  How do they have time?  Many of the leading MBA programs like to verify the information that has been provided by applicants.  This is typically done only for those applicants who are admitted, since there is no sense in expending resources to verify information for applicants who do not make the cut.  Most background checks occur in the spring – after decisions for most rounds have been released and students begin sending in their deposits.  In many cases, the schools outsource this function to a professional risk consulting firm like Kroll.

3) Why bother with background checks?  Don’t the schools trust me?  The purpose of background checking is to protect all stakeholders of the MBA program (students, faculty, staff, alumni) from those who would falsify their backgrounds to gain an unfair advantage in the admissions process.  Some schools opt to investigate the backgrounds of a relatively small sample of randomly selected admits, hoping that the mere possibility of a check will give applicants incentive to be as honest as possible.  In a way, this measure therefore serves to increase the adcom’s trust in its applicants.

Continue reading…

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Admissions Tip: Essay-Writing Difference Makers

We often stress that, to present oneself effectively in application essays, it’s critical to think carefully about what a given question is asking and what this might indicate about a specific school’s admissions priorities.  Of course, it’s also imperative to communicate clearly and appropriately regardless of the target program or particular inquiry.

As many applicants are feverishly putting the finishing touches on their essays for programs with deadlines this week and next, we wanted to offer a few general guidelines to keep in mind during that final revision.  Time is tight, we know, but a few small changes can make a considerable difference, so today we’re going back to basics and offering a few broadly applicable tips on tone and style to keep in mind when polishing the written elements of your applications.

1. Be Professional.  While a number of schools ask fun questions and most urge applicants to be themselves rather than submitting “overly polished” materials, it’s important to remember that this is a graduate school application and you should approach your essays with a degree of formality.  You do want your unique narrative voice to come through, but even professional writers know to vary their tone based on their audience.  As such, you should avoid using slang and conversational speech patterns in your writing.

2. Emphasize Action. A common pitfall for many applicants is lapsing into the passive voice, constructing sentences about how some unseen force or agent acted upon something or someone else (e.g. “we were required to” or “the project was completed”) rather than putting their own thoughts and actions at the fore.  By making a conscious effort to write “I/he/she did x” rather than “x was done to y” you can make your comments more informative, dynamic and, often, more concise.

3. Avoid Repetition.  It’s often a good idea to give the reader a sense of an essay’s direction through an introduction and to sum up the key ideas through a conclusion, but ideally each sentence of an essay will add some new information to the document or build the reader’s understanding of what you’ve already written.  Keeping this rule in mind as you revise can help trim a response down to the word limit and ensure that you are including as much relevant information about your candidacy as you can within the allotted length.

For those of you still struggling with your essays as the deadlines approach, feel free to reach out to Clear Admit for help with last-minute application reviews.  Best of luck to everyone!

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Admissions Tip: Avoiding Common Pitfalls, Part II

Last week we offered some advice to help applicants avoid common pitfalls in writing their essays for the Round 2 deadlines.  This week we’d like to offer some more advice.  Although these tips might not apply to everyone or to every school, these are some good basic strategies to employ.  For personalized advice about your applications, contact Clear Admit directly.

1.    Think strategically when delving into anecdotes that are highly personal.
  While breaking up with your college sweetheart may have had some impact on who you are today, you’ll want to be careful about using personal matters as the basis for an essay.  While there are certainly exceptions, we find that examples from the professional sphere or from extracurricular activities typically make for stronger, and more compelling, essays, as they speak to the things that the admissions committee cares the most about, including qualities and skills that relate to professional success.

2.    Keep it current.  In considering which examples to explore in an application essay, one should choose college and post-college experiences to elaborate on, as these experiences will appear to have the most relevance for your application and provide the greatest insight into the person you will be on the campus of the MBA program.  In other words, if your essays prominently feature stories from high school, you are likely making a strategic mistake.  Younger applicants may find examples from college their strongest, as they may not have accrued the same leadership and teamwork experiences that older applicants with more work experience have.  All applicants, though, should include at least one recent story in their set of essays.
Continue reading…

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Admissions Tip: Avoiding Common Pitfalls, Part I

Today we would like to offer a handful of essay pointers in brief in order to help applicants avoid common pitfalls as they gear up for the Round Two deadlines.  While we should caution that every applicant is unique and that some of these tips may not apply to everyone, we wanted our readers to have an introduction to some of the basic strategies they should be employing.  As always, contact Clear Admit directly for more tailored advice to your candidacy.

1.    Remember your reader. 
In application essays and résumés, applicants often get caught in the technicalities of their work, losing their reader in jargon.  Keep it simple in order to make your discussion easy for your non-specialist audience to understand.  Such clarity will help the reader to appreciate the nature and significance of your work.

2.    Be specific.
  Specifics are of the utmost importance in application essays, as the adcom wants to see details of what you’ve accomplished in the past, what you would like to achieve in the future, and how you are a good fit for the particular MBA program.  Explaining the reasons for your interest in the school will also help to differentiate you from the many other applicants arguing their case for a place in the MBA class, as they will show that you not only have clearly articulated goals, but also that you have a deep understanding of the MBA program and how it is uniquely appropriate for you*.  Though applicants sometimes worry about the word limit, it is important to keep in mind that you can replace often vague and generic points with specific ones without adding any length.  For instance, rather than stating that you would make a great and lasting impact on X industry, you can state that you would do A and B.

Continue reading…

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