Category Archives: Application Tips

Tuesday Tips: 2015 Michigan Ross MBA Essay Tips

Michigan Ross is a program that emphasizes learning both inside and outside the classroom, and is seeking candidates that are intellectually curious and able to accomplish their goals. Ross is also a close-knit community and …

Michigan Ross is a program that emphasizes learning both inside and outside the classroom, and is seeking candidates that are intellectually curious and able to accomplish their goals. Ross is also a close-knit community and fit with the program is important to demonstrate in the application process. Visiting Ross or learning about the program through current students, alumni or faculty would be helpful before starting this set of essays.

The Ross admissions blog states that concise, clear and simple language is prized in the essay portion of the application. Make sure you are using the limited space to explain specifics about you and your experiences and goals rather than generic statements.

Essay One: What are you most proud of and why? How does it shape who you are today? (up to 400 words)

Last year Ross separated the professional and personal in this question, asking candidates to explain what they were most proud of in both realms. This year you have the flexibility to pull from any area of your life to discuss what you are most proud of and why.

If you choose a professional topic remember that intellectual ability, professional achievements and teamwork are all among the qualities the Ross admissions committee is looking for in applicants. As you consider topics for this essay focus on the ones that will demonstrate you are a strong leader and that you can learn from experience.

The personal attributes the admissions committee are looking for in applicants include community engagement and interpersonal, communication and teamwork skills.

When you consider topics for this essay you may want to write about an important extracurricular accomplishment, a challenge you overcame, or an event in your life that highlights something unique about your background. For example, if you have a track record of club leadership through college and afterwards that can be compelling evidence of your community engagement and leadership skills. On the other end of the spectrum perhaps you have spent time outside your home country for school or work and that has shaped your teamwork, interpersonal and communication skills.

In some cases you may be most proud of an accomplishment because of what you learned and how it shaped your career. In other cases the follow up questions are two separate components of the essay. Either way the why behind your pride in accomplishment will reveal what you value most – whether prestige, credit, or the motivation to achieve your goals. Make sure that your values are aligned with how you want to be perceived by the admissions committee.

Whatever you are most proud of, make sure you are addressing why it is important to you. What you learned and how you have used what you learned since in your life can offer invaluable insight as well.

Essay Two: What is your desired career path and why? (up to 400 words)

Michigan Ross is interested to hear what you plan to do after your MBA and what is motivating that decision. The Ross admissions blog is clear that the question is meant to understand your motivation and interests, and that no specific “correct” career is expected. Both traditional and non-traditional MBA goals are welcomed as long as you are sincere about the path you plan to take.

Answering “why” you chose your career path is crucial. As you describe your career path make sure you explain what has led you to pursue it, and why it resonates with you. The answer doesn’t need to be elaborate or dramatic, but it should be convincing and real. The question doesn’t ask “Why MBA?” or “Why Ross?” but you may want to address both questions. Particularly if Ross has unique resources that will help you achieve your goal, it may help your case to explain why Ross.

Stacy Blackman Consulting has worked with successful candidates to Michigan Ross for over a decade and can offer comprehensive strategic advice every step of the way. Contact us to learn more.

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Tuesday Tips: 2015 Harvard Business School MBA Application Essay Tips

This year Harvard Business School has decided to continue with one open-ended essay. The question has changed slightly and focused emphasis on the case method and your interaction with classmates. The HBS admissions director blog …

This year Harvard Business School has decided to continue with one open-ended essay. The question has changed slightly and focused emphasis on the case method and your interaction with classmates. The HBS admissions director blog notes that the “optional” element was dropped because: “this season, every applicant submitted a response. We get it. You want to tell us things.”

The most challenging part of this essay is remaining disciplined. With unlimited space to make your case, you may be tempted to compose a laundry list of everything interesting or impressive you have ever done. That urge could backfire, as the essay is used to determine who isn’t a fit for HBS as much as those who deserve the chance to move into the interview round. Maturity, accomplishment, and leadership are highly valued qualities and this essay is your chance to display those qualities through the stories you choose and the voice coming through your writing.

There is one question for the Class of 2018 application essay:

It’s the first day of class at HBS. You are in Aldrich Hall meeting your “section.” This is the group of 90 classmates who will become your close companions in the first-year MBA classroom. Our signature case method participant-based learning model ensures that you will get to know each other very well. The bonds you collectively create throughout this shared experience will be lasting.

Introduce yourself.

Note: Should you enroll at HBS, there will be an opportunity for you to share this with them.

A note on word count: HBS values brevity in essays. Do not be tempted to go overboard with a 2,000 word essay, rather focus on concise and clear writing and consider keeping this essay to 1,200 words or less. Our clients have successfully composed essays anywhere from 500-1,300 words, though you should take a pass through your essay to cut any unnecessary words if you find yourself on the upper end of that range.

The goal of this essay is to know yourself, know HBS, and know how to match the two to demonstrate your fit for the school as you introduce yourself to your classmates. Your first task should be to evaluate all of the other aspects of your candidacy – what is the story your resume tells? What do you think recommenders will say? How does your transcript communicate your skills, accomplishments and interests? Then you need to evaluate how to fill the gaps with the essay.

When you view the recommended video on the case method you can see that diverse perspectives are valuable to the case method experience. Think about what diverse experience you bring. We have found that both personal and career oriented topics can work, and most candidates tell more than one story in the essay. Consider that from your classmates’ perspective the most interesting information will be both personal and professional. You will be studying together and socializing together. Later, you will be professional contacts in your classmates’ career network. In the past we have observed that successful HBS essays also demonstrate of a core driving passion.

As you consider possible stories to tell in this essay keep in mind that HBS has always been highly focused on leadership and wants to accept candidates who have a track record of leadership impact and a success trajectory that indicates upper management potential. Accomplishments have traditionally been a strong focus of HBS essays, and using at least one accomplishment story in this essay may be a good strategy, particularly if your accomplishments are not obvious when reading your resume or transcripts.

A note on what not to do: We see many applicants tempted to include “why HBS” type information in HBS essays. Explaining why the case method specifically is a good fit for you and your learning style is absolutely appropriate, but more detailed “why HBS” content has never been asked for in an HBS application essay question. HBS admissions is quite clear on the value of an HBS degree, and they would rather see you use the space to provide more information about yourself and your candidacy.

Looking for guidance on your HBS application? Contact us to learn more about Stacy Blackman Consulting.

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Tuesday Tips: 2015 Stanford MBA Essay Tips

Stanford Graduate School of Business continues to ask applicants to delve deep into their personality, values and motivations for this set of MBA essays. The classic “what matters most” essay should be your primary focus, …

Stanford Graduate School of Business continues to ask applicants to delve deep into their personality, values and motivations for this set of MBA essays. The classic “what matters most” essay should be your primary focus, and secondly you will answer why Stanford is the next step in your journey.

Total word count for the essays must not exceed 1,150 words, so be judicious in deciding how much or little to write for each prompt. As a general guideline, Stanford GSB suggests 750 words for essay one and 400 words for essay two. Check your deadlines before you get started to make sure you are maximizing the time on your essays.

Essay A: What matters most to you, and why? (suggested 750 word limit)
– Focus on the “why” rather than the “what.”
– Do some deep self-examination, so you can genuinely illustrate who you are and how you came to be the person you are.
– Share the insights, experiences, and lessons that shaped your perspectives, rather than focusing merely on what you’ve done or accomplished.
– Write from the heart, and illustrate how a person, situation, or event has influenced you.

This classic Stanford GSB MBA essay is your opportunity to demonstrate who you are, what motivates you, and why. Topics can range from personal history to grand visions of the future. While this topic should not be explicitly career related (and the strongest essays are likely not career oriented at all) it is possible that some of your themes will continue in your career essay.

Your accomplishments and achievements are part of why you have developed into the person you are today, however it’s far more important to explain your influences, lessons learned and motivations. Introspection and honesty should persist through the entire set of essays.

To generate ideas, try brainstorming over a period of a few days. Ask friends and family what values they see you demonstrating in your life and choices. Keep a notebook by your bed so you can record your first thoughts upon waking up, and mine your personal history for ideas. What keeps you awake at night? When you look back at your life what will you admire and regret about your choices? These are the kind of questions to ask yourself as you approach topics for this essay.

Though the essay question may seem open-ended, answering the question with vivid and specific examples will provide solid evidence that you have demonstrated or experienced “what matters most” throughout your life. Keep in mind as you select examples that Stanford GSB specifically advises focusing on people and experiences that have influenced you, rather than accomplishments or achievements.

Essay B: Why Stanford?
Enlighten us on how earning your MBA at Stanford will enable you to realize your ambitions. (suggested 400 word limit)
– Explain your decision to pursue graduate education in management.
– Explain the distinctive opportunities you will pursue at Stanford.

After you have explained what is most important to you in life you need to explain why your next step is a Stanford MBA. The sub questions for this essay cover both why you are interested in pursuing an MBA at all, and why you specifically want to attend Stanford GSB. Stanford GSB wants to know your aspirations will be uniquely satisfied by the program at Stanford GSB, and research will help you determine what aspects of the academic program, community and students are crucial to your aspirations.

Be as specific as possible in your response to provide evidence that you have done your research. You should know everything about the aspects of the program that most appeal to you. Have you met current students and alumni? Who are the professors you are excited about? What are the unique programs?

When you discuss how Stanford will help you achieve your ambitions consider that Stanford likes to see applicants who dream big, and have the credibility to achieve their goals. Be bold with your aspirations. Don’t focus on what your parents or partner want you to do. Don’t think about the next job on the corporate ladder. What do you, with your own unique background and values, want for your life?

If the question seems too vast, take a few minutes to close your eyes and reflect. Envision your life in twenty years. Where do you live? How do you spend your days? What is your favorite activity? How does this vision fit into your career aspirations? Don’t be shy about your ambitions. Once you have identified your dream career, you also need to make sure an MBA is an important part of achieving your plans and explain that part in your essay.

Though you should think big, don’t make the mistake of acting as if you are already perfect with no development needed. Remember that MBA programs want to help promising candidates reach their goals and be a step on an ambitious career trajectory.

Finding the Stanford essays challenging? Contact Stacy Blackman Consulting for personalized guidance through the application process.

Posted in Application Tips, General, Stanford Advice |

Tuesday Tips: 2015 MIT Sloan MBA Essay Tips

MIT Sloan has just announced the essay questions and deadlines for the class of 2018. This year there is only one required question, a second required short-answer for those invited to interview, and an optional …

MIT Sloan has just announced the essay questions and deadlines for the class of 2018. This year there is only one required question, a second required short-answer for those invited to interview, and an optional open-ended essay.

For many years MIT asked a series of behavioral questions for the admissions essays because past performance was considered to be the best predictor of candidates’ future success. This year the one required essay is a behavioral question again. As you approach topics for the required question consider if you will also answer the optional question. MIT Sloan is looking for people with integrity, passion, creativity, intellectual abilities and drive and determination. Do you have a recent success that will demonstrate some or most of those traits? The success can be professional or outside of work, though should have some relationship to your professional aspirations if possible. If the situation is not one that demonstrates many of the traits MIT Sloan is seeking in candidates, you may also decide to include the optional essay in your application.

We have one required essay at the time of submission: Tell us about a recent success you had: How did you accomplish this? Who else was involved? What hurdles did you encounter? What type of impact did this have? (500 words or fewer).

This essay question is set up to be a behavioral essay question, one that seeks to understand how you think and act in various situations. We often recommend using a framework called STAR to approach questions like this and make sure you are covering all of the required components. STAR stands for: Situation, Task, Action, and Results.

The SITUATION sets the stage and introduces the challenge you faced. It can be a simple sentence like: “My company’s key product was aging and we needed to find an area of growth to maintain revenues.”

Your TASK is a bit more detailed and identifies what solution you decided to implement to address the situation. For example: “I proposed setting up an innovation tournament for our global strategy team to come up with ideas.”

The meat of the essay is the ACTION. Describe in detail what you did to implement the task. Talk about the stakeholders you had to convince, any hurdles to setting up the tournament, how you encouraged buy in among all employees and any other action you personally took to accomplish your goal.

RESULTS can be relatively brief, and ideally quantitative. For example: “the tournament revealed 10 viable new product ideas, 3 of which are currently in development.”

The ACTION part of the essay should be the majority of the response, but setting up the situation clearly and demonstrating results is important and effective to a strong response. As MIT typically asked in the past, make sure to describe: “what you thought, felt, said, and did.” The admissions committee wants to see you developing creative solutions, leading others, and overcoming challenges to “visualize you in action.”

A second short-answer question will be asked of those invited to interview: The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice. Please share with us something about your past that aligns with this mission. (250 words or fewer).

This question focuses on your intellectual skills, leadership and character. When you consider topics for this question the most important aspect will be to demonstrate character. Improving the world doesn’t have to be working for an NGO in a developing country, it could also be improving your company to have more benefit to customers or employees.

For example, perhaps you were part of an employee resource group that helped new employees with their careers, increased diversity, or served the community through volunteering. MIT Sloan also wants to see creative solutions to business problems, so make sure to explain your thinking during the experience you describe.

The Admissions Committee invites you to share anything else you would like us to know about you, in any format. If you choose to use a multimedia format, please host the information on a website and provide us the URL. More information on the MIT Sloan website.

MIT Sloan’s entirely open-ended optional essay invites applicants to respond to the essay in any format desired. This allows you to do anything you need to with this space, including clarifying any concerns or highlighting interesting aspects of your background or profile. Because there is only one required written essay this year it may be useful to use this opportunity to show the admissions committee a different angle on your candidacy. The format can be a creative way for you to showcase any technical or design skills you have, but the content should be primary.

Because this essay is highly dependent on who you are and what you wrote in the required essay, consider carefully your overall strategy and refer to the list of traits MIT Sloan is looking for in admitted students. If you have an unusual background, hobby or extracurricular experience, this may be an opportunity to provide that information to the admissions committee.

With similar questions asked by other MBA programs in the past Stacy Blackman Consulting has advised candidates on everything from photo journalism projects to customized multimedia presentations. We treat the application as a holistic process and would advise you on which aspects of your background to consider revealing in this optional essay.

Stumped by your MIT Sloan MBA application? Contact Stacy Blackman Consulting to learn how we can help.

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Fit the GMAT Into Overall MBA Application Strategy

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com Just about every MBA candidate needs to submit a GMAT or GRE score as part of their business school admission package, but not …

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com

Just about every MBA candidate needs to submit a GMAT or GRE score as part of their business school admission package, but not everyone has a clear grasp on when and how the exam fits within the context of the whole application process.

In an ideal world, you would take the test just coming out of college, while you’re still in study and test mode as a recent student. Since both GMAT and GRE scores are valid for five years, getting the exams out of the way years in advance would free you to focus on all of the other elements of the application.

If, like most applicants, you didn’t have the foresight to take the exam right after college, the next best step is to plan your application strategy so that the GMAT is finished before you finalize your list of schools. Your score isn’t everything, but it is an important part of the admissions equation.

If you bomb the exam and can’t improve your score, you may need to reassess your target schools to include less-competitive options. Conversely, you may be able to add one more reach school if the score was higher than expected.

Round one of business school admissions is about four months away at many schools, and if you still need to take the GMAT, you have a lot of work ahead of you. Unless you’re a natural at taking standardized tests, you’ll need to train your brain to get it back into test-taking form.

Most applicants devote at least 100 hours to test preparation, and depending on where you are in the process, you may have to take a prep class and perhaps take the test more than once. If this is the case, the first round may not be a realistic option unless you’re able and prepared to completely immerse yourself in the process.

One client, Tasha, came to us just five weeks before the round she was targeting with some idea of her school choices and a GMAT score she wanted to improve. With her limited time she needed to schedule the GMAT for two weeks before her application deadlines. That meant she did not have the luxury of focused studying for the GMAT in all of her free time.

To help Tasha manage her time, we wrote down all of her tasks, including the number of essay iterations we expected her to go through, and then we worked backward from her deadlines to see how many days she had to work. Tasha then started alternating essay writing and GMAT study until the day she took the test.

This abbreviated yet methodical time management system worked for her, and Tasha was able to improve her GMAT by 30 points and submit a strong application to her three target schools. She ultimately gained admission to Stanford Graduate School of Business and Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Tasha’s strategy won’t work for everybody, but we see applicants pull off the impossible every season.

I typically advise clients to plan for two attempts at the GMAT, leaving a buffer for a retake if needed. There’s no harm in taking the test two or even three times, and unless you score really well right out of the gate, you often will do better the second time. This is because you’ll have fewer nerves, more familiarity with the process and no big surprises. There is no such thing as a bad test, just opportunities to build on and learn from.

Average scores are creeping higher every year at the top MBA programs, making it hard to offset a bad GMAT score. It truly is a level playing field, and I often cringe when I read essays where people try to rationalize a low score.

What you can do, however, is acknowledge the score and say you don’t find it truly reflective of your abilities. Then show why you are actually strong in quant or going to excel academically by pointing to your college GPA, work experience or by encouraging your recommenders to focus heavily on your intellect.

Timing and planning are key to reducing the stress of the application process. I generally encourage applicants to not cram everything into too short of a timeline, but everyone has their own style and you need to figure out what makes the most sense for you, your goals and your schedule.

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