Category Archives: Application Tips

Will a Low GPA Doom Your MBA Application?

Are you an applicant worried that your ho-hum undergrad performance will hamper your chances of getting into a top MBA program? If so, fear no more. I recently contributed my thoughts on this type of …

Are you an applicant worried that your ho-hum undergrad performance will hamper your chances of getting into a top MBA program? If so, fear no more. I recently contributed my thoughts on this type of candidate profile for an article on Business Insider.

The most important thing is to show exceptional focus and leadership skills in your career, and to openly acknowledge to the admissions committee the reason or reasons for your lackluster college GPA.

You can read more tips on compensating for a low GPA in the article, How to Get Accepted to Business School with a Rock Star Career But Crappy Undergrad.

You may also be interested in:

Don’t Ignore a Low GPA in B-School Applications

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Common Mistakes Could Blow Your B-School Dreams

The most competitive MBA programs accept just a tiny fraction of the qualified candidates who apply each year, so you have to do everything you can to maximize your chances of getting in. However, applicants …

The most competitive MBA programs accept just a tiny fraction of the qualified candidates who apply each year, so you have to do everything you can to maximize your chances of getting in.

However, applicants often get tripped up by seemingly harmless mistakes that diminish their chances without them even realizing it. To see what I mean, check out the article I wrote for Bloomberg Businessweek on how to blow your chances of getting into a top business school.

Thankfully, round one deadlines are still a few months off, so if you think you may have strayed down any of these erroneous paths there’s still time to correct course. And remember, you don’t have to be a so-called “perfect” candidate to get into an elite MBA program; but self-awareness is a defining trait of every successful MBA.

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Tuesday Tips: 2014 Stanford GSB Essay Tips

Stanford Graduate School of Business has followed the lead of the majority of top MBA programs and has reduced the essay count for this year’s application. Stanford is still focused on candid self-evaluation and authenticity, …

Stanford Graduate School of Business has followed the lead of the majority of top MBA programs and has reduced the essay count for this year’s application. Stanford is still focused on candid self-evaluation and authenticity, and has just cut out the optional shorter essays. The Stanford GSB MBA admissions website provides clear guidance and advice for what to do, and what not to do, that all applicants should read and follow.

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 set of essays. 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.

Total word count for all three essays combined should not exceed 1,100 words, so applicants must 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 350 words for essay two. Check your deadlines before you get started to make sure you are maximizing the time on your essays.

Stanford GSB Essay 1: What matters most to you, and why?

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 may raise themes that you will continue in your career essay.
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.

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.

This year Stanford leads with the most important part: Why Stanford? Be specific in your response. You should know everything about the program and show that it is your dream school. Have you met current students and alumni? Who are the professors you are excited about? What are the unique programs?

This essay question is a somewhat standard career goals theme, but note that Stanford refers to it as a “personal essay.” Stanford GSB wants to know what you specifically need that 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.
When you discuss how Stanford will help you achieve your goals consider that Stanford likes to see applicants who dream big, and have the credibility to achieve their goals. So think big about your plans. 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.

Stanford wants candidates for whom an MBA will make an impact on their ambitious trajectory, not candidates who are looking for a prestigious piece of paper. Remember that MBA programs want to help promising candidates reach their goals, not admit perfect people with no need for development.

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Will Your Social Media Profile Hurt or Help Your MBA Application?

Do you have a profile on any of the major social media platforms? Do you frequently tweet, upload pictures to Instagram or Flickr, or post updates on Facebook? If so, you might want to make …

Do you have a profile on any of the major social media platforms? Do you frequently tweet, upload pictures to Instagram or Flickr, or post updates on Facebook? If so, you might want to make sure your online presence won’t derail your MBA application efforts.

If an admissions team is leaning toward admitting you to their program, it’s possible that they could do a quick Google search on your name before making their final decision. If you’ve demonstrated bad judgment by posting pictures of yourself doing not-so-upstanding things or making offensive or otherwise politically incorrect comments, you’ve given them a reason to move your application to the ding pile.

Want to find out more about what should stay and what needs to go as you assess your social media profile? Click over to read the rest of my guest post, Social Media and Your MBA Application, published on Peterson’s Newswire.

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How Does Social Media Fit Into Your MBA Application Strategy?

In the era of social media saturation, business school hopefuls have to think about more than just drafting memorable essays, nailing interviews and marketing themselves effectively during the MBA application process. Today’s applicants must scrutinize their …

In the era of social media saturation, business school hopefuls have to think about more than just drafting memorable essays, nailing interviews and marketing themselves effectively during the MBA application process. Today’s applicants must scrutinize their public persona on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and elsewhere to make sure it matches the version they wish to present to the b-school admissions committee.

In an online survey we conducted in April, I discovered to my surprise that 20% of applicants plan to create a new online presence to enhance their application and their online brand. It makes perfect sense though. At a time when essay word counts are shrinking, you can see how it might be more compelling if you can back up your noted interest in photography by pointing to your Instagram account.

As I mention in Poets & Quants’s recent story on social media in the b-school application, many applicants are just beginning to realize that everyone has an online brand now and so the focus at first is on clean up. Review your online persona to ensure that there aren’t any inappropriate pictures or posts. Basically, put it to the grandma test: if you wouldn’t want granny to see it, just get rid of it.

To meet the growing need for guidance in this area, Stacy Blackman Consulting has launched a new service this season called the social media strategy review to help applicants professionalize their existing profile and set them up for a lifetime of online social success.

With competition as stiff as it is at the ultra-elite schools, I would err on being a little more conservative and think about removing overly political or religious posts, and of course anything remotely sexy or related to partying. You don’t need to scrub your profile of all personality, however. Leave the travel pics and anything that supports the outside interests you’ve highlighted in your application. It’s good for the AdCom to see your informal side.

I shared a few more tips on social media and admissions strategies with editor John Byrne, so click on over to Poets & Quants to read the entire article.

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Tuesday Tips: Harvard Business School MBA Application Essay Tips 2014

Harvard Business School has decided to repeat the same essay question this year as originally used in last year’s application cycle. Though the admissions committee said they were planning to change the essay questions every …

Harvard Business School has decided to repeat the same essay question this year as originally used in last year’s application cycle. Though the admissions committee said they were planning to change the essay questions every year, it turned out that the one open-ended essay was helpful enough to use it again.

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 selecting the lucky candidates who make it 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, technically optional, for the Class of 2017 application essay:

You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?

HBS adds this tip to the essay prompt:

There is no word limit for this question. We think you know what guidance we’re going to give here. Don’t overthink, overcraft and overwrite. Just answer the question in clear language that those of us who don’t know your world can understand.

A note on word count: HBS traditionally has limited essays to around 400 words each. 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 successful clients had essays anywhere from 500-1,300 words last year, 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. 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.

We advised many successful clients on this essay last year, and those who received an acceptance letter from Harvard Business School pursued a range of topics. Some applicants focused on their career journey and aspirations while others wrote about their personal background. Both highly personal and career oriented essays were successful, and most candidates told more than one story in the essay. One common thread we observed was that all of the successful essays demonstrated a core driving passion.

While comparisons with Stanford’s “What Matters Most” open-ended question may come immediately to mind, HBS is very different and it will be important to know the program. 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. This has never been part of an HBS application essay question and we don’t recommend including that sort of angle here. HBS is quite clear on why applicants are interested in the school, and they would rather see you use the space to provide more information about yourself and your candidacy.

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