Category Archives: Application Tips

3 Signs You Shouldn’t Apply to Business School in Round 3

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. Everyone has an opinion about submitting an MBA application in round three, and a lot of the conversation circles around how competitive it …

MBA application

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

Everyone has an opinion about submitting an MBA application in round three, and a lot of the conversation circles around how competitive it is. If you tried your best but you just couldn’t pull together all of your business school materials before round two deadlines hit, you might wonder whether round three is the answer.

By the time the final admission round starts, admissions committees have seen thousands of qualified applicants in the first two rounds, have a fairly good idea of what the incoming class will look like and also compiled a waitlist of additional qualified candidates.

Before round three closes out, a certain percentage of people admitted in the first two rounds will have already committed to a program. In short, precious few spots remain when the admissions committees finally turn their attention to final-round applications.

As such, deciding whether to apply in the final round requires serious reflection and sound reasoning. Consider these three signs that you should not apply to business school in round three.

1. You had no luck with earlier round applications. This is a guaranteed red flag that your MBA application needs more work, and applying in the final round will likely yield the same results.

It’s a huge mistake to think that fewer applicants in round three means less competition and better chances of admission. As we’ve mentioned before, successful round three applications offer the schools something that has truly not appeared in applicants from the previous rounds.

The admissions committees know what they need to round out the class. They have become good at estimating numbers and evaluating and accepting applicants who fit their criteria.

Only the strongest, most compelling candidates make the cut, so if your applications didn’t generate sufficient interest in earlier rounds, they certainly won’t amid the exceptional candidates at the end of the season. Instead, you should regroup, restrategize and apply again next year.

2. Your test scores are middling and you’ve only tested once. The majority of applicants plan to take the GMAT or GRE a second time if their initial test scores aren’t in the 80-percent range for their target MBA programs. Like it or not, test scores greatly influence admissions decisions. As we’ve discussed in prior posts, preparing early and adequately for the entrance exam is critical.

While each year we hear of that miracle case where someone gets into Harvard Business School with a 650 on the GMAT, it’s likely that the person’s profile was so extraordinary in every other way that it offset the low score. Devote ample time to test prep this spring and bring that crucial application component in line with what the admissions committee expects to see from successful candidates.

3. You’re rushing to get all of your materials together. The golden rule in MBA admissions is apply only when your application is as strong as possible – and not a moment before.

Maybe projects at work have kept you ultra-busy these past few months. Perhaps one of your recommenders seems less enthusiastic about your b-school plans and you need to find a new one. Or maybe you just haven’t devoted as much time as you’d like to those important extracurricular interests that the admissions committee loves to see.

Think of every part of the MBA application as precious real estate. If you’re rushing any one component just to get everything submitted on deadline, the quality will suffer.

Take a breather, get your materials together in a thoughtful manner and wait for round one deadlines. This extra time will allow you to approach the application more strategically, and will certainly yield a more positive outcome than a sloppy last-round application will.

Finally, if you do decide to throw your hat in the ring, be sure to have a Plan B in case things don’t go your way. Developing resilience is incredibly important if you need to reapply, but it’s also essential in life.

Even when you put your best out there, you might still fail. However, to be successful, you need to learn how to bounce back and try again.

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6 Ways to Play the MBA Waiting Game

After months of planning, studying for the admissions exam, writing essays, and wrangling recommenders, once you hit the submit button for your business school applications you’ve probably been wondering what to do with yourself during the MBA waiting game. Here …

MBA wait listAfter months of planning, studying for the admissions exam, writing essays, and wrangling recommenders, once you hit the submit button for your business school applications you’ve probably been wondering what to do with yourself during the MBA waiting game. Here are six tips to make the most of this period.

1. Be happy: What did you enjoy before essays and GMAT scores became the focal point of your life? Take this opportunity to relax a bit, read a book, or go for a run.

It’s likely your social life has languished on the back burner for the past few months, so spend some time reconnecting with your family and friends before every waking minute is spent job hunting and networking with your fellow MBA classmates. While accomplishing a huge goal such as gaining admission to an MBA program will feel good, friends, exercise, and relationships are the path to longer-lasting happiness.

2. Fantasize about your plan B: It’s tempting to start planning out your first few weeks on campus—the clubs you plan to join and the apartment you will hunt for—but reminding yourself that you have alternatives is healthy. You’re young, intelligent, and accomplished. If you didn’t go to business school in the fall, what career shift or huge dream might you fulfill?

Maybe you would flee to Paris and take art lessons, learn Mandarin (in China), or hike the Appalachian Trail. Fantasizing about plan B is more practical than you think; when you start receiving those acceptance letters, you’ll have a head start on your summer plans!

3. Avoid discussion boards: While commiserating with strangers over the Internet may seem like an attractive outlet for your anxiety, focusing on an outcome you can no longer control will only add to stress in your life. While it’s certainly positive to network with your potential future classmates, make sure you approach any rumors or myths with a balanced perspective.

It is natural to search for certainty in an uncertain process. With admission rates hovering at 10 percent for the most competitive programs, many candidates feel anxiety about the final decisions. However, if you have put together the strongest possible application you can and worked to impact every factor under your control, it’s time to relax and wait for the results.

4. Prepare for interviews: If you absolutely must remain focused on your MBA plans, starting your interview prep is a good outlet for your energy. Working on your communication and presentation skills can be an ongoing challenge.

Practicing common interview questions with friends and family will both make you more prepared when the interview invitation arrives and minimize your anxiety.

5. Become a local, even if only for a few days: MBA candidates should remember that they will be choosing not just a school but a city or town as well. Therefore, now is an ideal time to plan that campus visit, and to explore the region you may soon call home for the next two years.

6. Stay connected: Demonstrating continued and genuine interest in your MBA program of choice is one of the best ways to show the admissions committee that you are strongly committed to attending their program. How to do this? Reach out to alumni for an insider view of the program, and perhaps some interview pointers as well.

If the school plans to hold an information session online or in a city nearby, sign up or show up. You can never have too much information about your target school. The more opportunities you create to connect with the program, the better you’ll be able to judge its culture and community to determine if it’s the right fit for you.

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Do’s and Don’ts of the MBA Group Interview

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. Competition for a seat at a top business school has never been fiercer. With so many strong, polished applications coming across their desks, …

teamwork MBA group interviews

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

Competition for a seat at a top business school has never been fiercer. With so many strong, polished applications coming across their desks, admissions committees at various MBA programs have turned to group or team interviews to help make crucial admit decisions.

On paper, you can wow your evaluator with interesting work experience, stellar GMAT or GRE scores and compelling MBA essays, but none of these criterion can demonstrate how well you work with others – a crucial component of the business school experience.

Each school conducts the group interview somewhat differently – including some being optional exercises – though the task is usually to have applicants work together and solve real-world business scenarios.

The exercise demonstrates how candidates approach and analyze specific situations and their interpersonal skills, two critical components of business schools that have a team-focused learning style. Observing how you interact with peers prior to admission gives the school important clues as to what kind of student you would be if admitted.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for standing out in a group interview. While you can’t predict the group’s unique dynamic, you can prepare for the interview and increase your comfort level when the big day arrives.

Do prepare in advance: When possible, find ways to speak out more in groups or meetings at work. Applicants to the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor’s Ross School of Business receive no advance specifics on the team-based exercise, but if you’re applying to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, you’ll receive your discussion prompt prior to the interview.

Spend an hour in advance prepping for the discussion. If possible, gather a group of three or four other people and conduct a mock discussion.

Spend time studying up on the topic so you’re ready to discuss the problem in detail during the interview but try not get too attached to your own ideas. Staying flexible is key.

Don’t dominate the conversation: During the group interview, remind yourself that this isn’t a competition against others in your group – there’s no need to try to prove you’re the most brilliant mind in the room.

Encourage fellow participants to advance the conversation and help reach a solution. That said, don’t get distressed if you find yourself in a group with weaker participants. This won’t affect your admissions outcome since the observers focus solely on how you handle yourself with diverse players.

Do show you’re an active listener: A huge part of being an active listener is being open and flexible to different points of view, especially opposing viewpoints.

Even if you think you know what another person is trying to say, don’t interrupt and try to finish the thought. This sends a subtle signal that you believe your ideas are better or more important than the speaker’s.

If a group member has a good idea, acknowledge it. Also practice the “Yes, and …” rule from improvisation and build on what the other person has shared. During the interview, seize any opportunities to do this or refer to someone else’s point.

Don’t let your body language trip you up: Effective listening also involves body language. If you roll your eyes, cross your arms or display any other kind of negative body language, you’ll come across as hostile – that’s not the type of person others want on their team.

Make eye contact with the other participants when they speak, face your body toward them and ask clarifying questions when helpful. If your preparation includes mock discussions with friends or colleagues, record the session and take note of your body language, how often you interrupt or any tendencies you have to try to control the discussion.

Often, we’re unaware of these traits until we see them for ourselves. Once you know, you can actively avoid them during the interview.

Do prioritize the group’s goal: Groups that work well together impress the admissions committee, and your group is competing against other groups of applicants.

Forgo attempts to grab extra airtime for yourself, and put the team’s goal front and center. Take notes, and help keep the group on track. You’ll only have a short amount of time – 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the school – for the task.

Since many MBA applicants are born leaders and are used to taking charge, you’ll need to be conscious of the fact that you might be surrounded by lots of Type A personalities and need to adjust your style accordingly. Encourage shy participants to speak up more, suggest different approaches if the group seems stuck in a dead end and offer to summarize if the conversation has reached a point where everyone would benefit from a quick recap.

Great leaders come in many forms, but they usually have one thing in common: the ability to listen and work well with others. Whether you are an introvert or the life of the party, you can succeed in a group interview. Remember these simple steps and embrace the uncertainties of the experience, keep a positive attitude and enjoy this opportunity to start building your MBA network before you’ve even been admitted.

Image credit: Flickr user SESCSP (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Do These 4 Exercises Now to Crystallize Your Post-MBA Career Path

These days, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who stays with one company or even one industry throughout his or her entire professional life. If you’re looking for the fast track to gain the …

Determining Career GoalsThese days, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who stays with one company or even one industry throughout his or her entire professional life. If you’re looking for the fast track to gain the skills and network to launch your career in a new direction, a popular way to do so is through an MBA program. In fact, by some estimates, two-thirds or more of graduating MBAs use the degree as a means of switching careers.

The skills typically strengthened during an MBA – leadership, intellectual creativity, analysis and critical thinking, cross-cultural awareness, communication, even greater IT mastery – will serve you well as you find your way toward your ultimate career goal.

But what if you’re having trouble distilling what that goal is? Julia Zupko, Assistant Dean for Career Development at the Yale School of Management, recently tackled this very topic.

Most people don’t spend enough time proactively managing their careers, and time and again Zupko has encountered applicants whose post-college career path was greatly influenced by family or friends, campus recruiting limitations, or the heavy burden of student loan debt.

Before you launch into the MBA admissions process, take time for some serious introspection to determine what you have liked or disliked about your professional experiences thus far. What awoke your passions or bored you to tears?

To help you with this process, Zupko recommends four exercises to get you thinking deeply about your post-MBA career goals:

At My Best
The At My Best exercise focuses on peak experiences—an amazing accomplishment you’re proud of, a transformational personal experience—where you’re at your best and fully leveraging your strengths.
Available through: StrengthsQuest Activity Workbook

Job Envy
Think about jobs you have heard about and think you would enjoy. After conducting the job envy exercise, you can review your notes to identify job themes.
Available through: Discovering Your Career in Business, Tim Butler and Jim Waldroop

Letters about You
Choose at least five people who know you really well to write a letter to you. Ask them to answer questions like: What would be the ideal career for you? What are your blind spots?
Available through: Discovering Your Career in Business, Tim Butler and Jim Waldroop

Decades of Gallup research have proved that when individuals have the opportunity to discover their natural talents and purposely develop them into strengths, the effect on individual and organizational performance is transformational.

You can take Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment to discover your top five strengths. Your results will include a Signature Theme report detailing those top five strengths, what they mean, and how they are typically recognized and applied.
Available through:; $15 for assessment and bestselling StrengthsFinder 2.0 e-book

“While it may seem early, now is the time to catalogue those likes and dislikes, to read and learn more about positions you see in the employment reports of business school graduates, and to think deeply about yourself—what strengths you want to leverage in the future, what values and motivators are critical to you in your next position,” Zupko writes.

“Doing so will help you stay true to yourself as you pursue—and eliminate—some of the various career opportunities that will be available to you during your time in business school.”

You may also be interested in:

Ask Yourself 4 Questions Before Applying to Business School

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5 Tips for Harvard Business School Applicants

Harvard Business School is famously difficult to get into, but don’t let low acceptance rates keep you from applying if this is truly your dream MBA program. In a recent post to the school’s MBA Voices …

HBS application tipsHarvard Business School is famously difficult to get into, but don’t let low acceptance rates keep you from applying if this is truly your dream MBA program. In a recent post to the school’s MBA Voices Blog, six recent or soon-to-be graduates offer their advice for future applicants eager to learn all they can about the HBS admissions process.

Tip 1: Be your authentic self

“Be honest and genuine. I spent time reflecting on what really motivates me and what is most important to me. It may sound straight-forward, but I think it’s really important to have clear direction on what you want to do and how the HBS experience will help you get there. Then make sure that your application really shows your personality and conveys this message of who you are and where you want to go.” Stephanie Marr, MBA 2016

We say: The admissions committee wants to get to know you as a person beyond the resume—don’t write anything just because it seems like something an admissions committee would want to hear.

The trick to fleshing out your human side in the application is to take just a couple of experiences, activities, or themes and expand upon them in a much more detailed and nuanced way. Don’t shy away from your true interests; illustrate how they have helped shape the incredibly dynamic and fascinating person that you are.

Tip 2: Pick your recommenders carefully

“Select recommenders who know you well enough to tell a story that covers your accomplishments and the obstacles you overcame to achieve them. I chose recommenders who had seen me take on responsibility, struggle at times, and adapt to reach my goals. I think this matters much more than having recommenders with a particular job title or connection with HBS.” Sam Travers, MBA 2016

We say: When considering potential references, ask yourself whether the person has worked closely with you, thinks favorably of you, and will put in the time to write a thoughtful, detailed endorsement of your candidacy. If you can’t answer yes to these three requirements, move on until you find the person who fits the bill perfectly. Your chances of admission to the school of your dreams may well depend on it.

Tip 3: Learn more about the generous financial aid options HBS offers

“Trying to figure out how you’re going to afford your Harvard MBA can feel very scary – I definitely remember the sticker shock I felt when I read the expected student budget for the first time. Luckily, there are a lot of ways for you to get support as you decide how you want to finance your time at HBS. Many students, myself included, aren’t able to pay for business school out of their savings and instead utilize a combination of financial aid, scholarships, and loans to get themselves through the program. 

HBS has an incredible need-based financial aid program; over $36 million dollars is awarded to students each year. The administration firmly believes that funding should not be a barrier for anyone to attend business school and they ensure that no student is required to take on too much debt. HBS wants everyone who is admitted to be able to come and therefore the aid is awarded solely based on financial need. Nearly 50% of the class receives HBS Fellowships with the majority of Fellowships in the $30,000-$50,000 range per year.

The average starting salary at graduation is $135,000. Most alums are able to pay back loans in considerably less time than the terms provided. HBS also offers a variety loan forgiveness programs available at graduation for those students plan to pursue a career path in a less lucrative field—for example, there are financing options for graduates heading into social enterprise or pursuing entrepreneurial ventures.” Leslie Moser, MBA 2015

We say: People will tell you that you will find the money you need to go, but we know that thinking about all those zeros can get overwhelming and intimidating. Just know that most students use multiple sources; it’s never too soon to start researching your options; don’t underestimate your costs; and rest assured that schools want you to find funding and will do everything they possibly can to help accepted applicants.

Tip 4: Keep in mind HBS is reapplicant-friendly 

I had been dinged from HBS once and wondered if it was worth applying a second time.  Although uncertain of whether or not I’d be accepted to the program, I wanted to give it another shot.  Fortunately, and likely due to some divine intervention, I was accepted to the program.  I was absolutely elated when I received the good news.” Ryan Hansen, MBA 2017

We say: Many people in b-school right now were dinged the first time they applied. Reapplying shows you are serious about your interest in the MBA program. Make sure your letters of recommendation and your GMAT or GRE scores are rock-solid, and don’t recycle essays from the first time around.

Use the additional essay question to explain what’s changed in your situation to make you a stronger candidate this time around. Make sure to address both professional and personal advancements, but show that you are realistic and self-aware. Revealing your humanity in the form of quirks, weaknesses and flaws can often help the admissions committee to like you.

Tip 5: Don’t self-select out

“When you’re lifting your finger to hit the submit button, or when you’re walking into your interview, stop thinking about your imperfections and deficiencies. In fact, stop thinking about yourself as an individual. Rather, think of yourself as a piece of something bigger – your potential HBS class. What you do have to offer? What characteristics you bring to the table that will make your section that much better? I bet there are several things about you that no one else can claim, and that’s the good stuff. Tell admissions about them.” Peter Nolan, MBA 2017

“To those thinking about applying to HBS, I encourage you to go for it. Don’t let your own self-doubt sabotage what could be one of the best experiences of your life.”   Terrance Rogers (MBA 2017)

We say: It’s hard not to feel intimidated when you read the admitted student profiles at many of the elite MBA programs, which might include Olympians, successful entrepreneurs, decorated military officers and candidates with outstanding public service experience. However, don’t get psyched out of applying just because you can’t list anything similarly noteworthy on your application.

To stand out in the eyes of the admissions committee, you just need to provide hard proof that you made a difference. Remember, it’s not about the scale of your achievements – rather, it’s the fact that you left indelible footprints.

Image credit: Flickr user Chris Han (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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