Category Archives: Application Tips

Six Steps to Acing Your Stanford GSB Interview

If you’ve made it to the interview stage at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB), congratulations are in order. As I explained in my recent article published in Business Insider, the school has the most …

Stanford GSB interview tipsIf you’ve made it to the interview stage at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB), congratulations are in order. As I explained in my recent article published in Business Insider, the school has the most competitive admission stats in the world, and with only an eight percent admissions rate, receiving an invite proves that Stanford already considers you an exceptionally strong candidate.

Arguably more than any other program, Stanford looks for applicants who have formulated a worldview and understand who they are and what matters most to them. According to admissions officers, Stanford seeks out candidates who have “excelled by doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.”

While you can never know exactly which specific questions you will encounter during your interview, you can anticipate that the types of questions will fall into one of the following categories representing the key attributes that Stanford values: intellectual vitality, demonstrated leadership potential, and personal qualities and contributions.

As you prepare for the interview, focus on the life experiences, anecdotes, and answers that will showcase your strengths in six specific areas. Wondering just what those areas are? Click on over to Business Insider to continue reading my article with the best GSB interview tips, and you’ll learn exactly how to successfully wow your interviewer for a shot of admission at this ultra-elite school.

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Stanford GSB Fall 2017 MBA Essay Tips

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Prepping for Video Essays and Long-Distance Interviews

An increasing number of MBA programs are making use of online video-interview platforms, where you must record responses to one or more short-answer prompts before your application is considered complete. Why do schools add this …

fix a low gpaAn increasing number of MBA programs are making use of online video-interview platforms, where you must record responses to one or more short-answer prompts before your application is considered complete. Why do schools add this extra step? The inclusion comes in response to applicants who wanted an additional way to present themselves to the admissions committee before the in-person interview.

The new format also strengthens the written essays by demonstrating the candidate’s verbal/visual communication skills. The adcom has seen what you have going for you on paper; a video interview can give them a better sense of your personality and help them judge whether or not the “real you” matches the impression you’ve built through your other materials.

Unfortunately, video essays can also be a source of major stress for already-anxious prospective students. But here’s some good news: the reality is that it’s unlikely you will totally bomb your answer. Sometimes, the system will allow for an extra try if you’re not thrilled with your initial response. Make sure you understand what your program’s video-interview “rules” are before you start the camera rolling.

With just a little bit of confidence and preparation, you could give a response that makes the adcom think, “We just have to meet this person!” Here are some video essay-specific tips:

  • Prepare (and practice) succinct responses for all of the typical MBA-related questions: Why Program X, Why an MBA overall, Why now, What are your career goals, Summarize your career to date, and so on.
  • Then practice by adding some “fun” questions and responses into the mix: Review the last book you read/movie you saw/TV show you watched; What is your favorite song and why; Where’s the best place you’ve gone on vacation, et cetera.
  • Record yourself answering these questions. Have a trusted friend review your responses and tell you how you’re coming off. Tweak your style accordingly.

The goal of using video essays from an admissions standpoint is simply to make better decisions about which candidates are the strongest match with the program. This component will better demonstrate communication skills, the ability to think on one’s feet, and possibly help identify those applicants who, while not quite as strong on paper, may actually be the diamonds in the rough that enrich the learning experience for all.

Tips for Your Long-Distance Interview

Video interviewing is both convenient and efficient for applicants who for logistical reasons simply cannot meet in person for their MBA interview. Even in the era of FaceTime, for many it takes practice in order to come across in a professional yet natural way. Some people are distracted by their appearance; others find themselves talking in a tone that’s altogether different from a face-to-face conversation. Make sure you conduct various practice chats and seek feedback on your performance until you’re satisfied that you’re conversing with ease.

Remember that technological glitches such as dropped audio or a frozen feed are almost par for the course, but admissions staff say how you react to the situation is what really counts. Maintaining poise and keeping your frustration in check will leave a positive impression on your interviewer. Swearing at your speakers, on the other hand, will not.

Even though you’re likely to be sitting down for the interview, dress in appropriate business attire from head to toe. If you need to stand up for any reason during the interview and have nothing but boxers on, rest assured that is an impression the interviewer won’t soon forget. Also, make sure your surroundings don’t distract during the video chat. As with clothing choices, the backdrop you choose can make a negative impression if the interviewer is distracted by the messy bookcase or illuminated TV screen over your shoulder. Clean, clear, and well-lit is the way to go here.

When the big moment arrives and it’s time for the real thing, remember that no one is trying to trick you into embarrassing yourself. It’s just another opportunity for you to show what an asset you’ll be to an MBA program.

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Tips for Waitlisted MBA Applicants

If you were a Round 1 or Round 2 applicant this season, over the last several weeks you may have received great news, upsetting news or a mix of both—otherwise known as placement on the …

MBA waitlistIf you were a Round 1 or Round 2 applicant this season, over the last several weeks you may have received great news, upsetting news or a mix of both—otherwise known as placement on the wait list. First of all, the wait list is great feedback. It means that you are qualified to attend the program, and that the school was interested in your application and your profile. Unfortunately, it was a competitive year and they couldn’t offer you a solid place in the class. For most applicants, the wait list is a tough place to be.

Will I get in?
There is almost no way to know if you will be admitted off the wait list. It certainly does happen, often, yet you have little information about the ranking of the wait list, how many people are on the wait list, or whether the school will reach the yield they are looking for with regular applicants. Therefore, being on the wait list means a certain comfort with ambiguity. Hopefully you were admitted to another school and can decide whether to remain in limbo or not.

Should I stay on the wait list?
The decision to stay on the wait list depends on your interest level in the MBA program you have been waitlisted for. If it is your top choice, you may be willing to remain on the list until school begins, especially if you are willing to move quickly and give up a deposit on a school that has offered you firm admission.

If the wait-listing program is not your first choice, or you would like to settle your MBA plans before school starts, you may choose to remove your name from the list. It is a great service to another applicant if you do so promptly, allowing someone else a chance at their MBA dream.

Can I improve my chances of admission from the wait list?
You may be able to improve your chances. The number one rule of wait lists is to follow directions. The school provided you with instructions about how to handle the wait list process, and you must follow these directions to avoid having a negative impact on your standing with the admissions committee. If the school tells you that no additional materials are required, no additional materials are required, and you should not submit any under any circumstances.

If the MBA program does provide the option of submitting additional materials, apply consistent application strategy to the task. The AdCom may welcome letters of recommendation, improved GMAT scores or additional essays/letters from you. Carefully consider your strengths and weaknesses and what may be most beneficial in your situation.

When should I submit an additional letter?
If you have recently been promoted at work, have accomplished a personal goal, or have completed an academic class with a strong grade, it may be worth writing a letter to update the admissions committee with your news. Keep your  letter factual, and do not repeat information that was already included in your original application.

Can I submit supplemental recommendations?
A supplemental recommendation may add information about you to strengthen your position on the wait list. If you have been involved in an extracurricular activity, know someone associated with the school, or can use a letter to strengthen a part of your application, the letter may be the right direction to proceed in. Make sure your additional recommendation is brief, focused and adds significant additional information to your overall profile.

What about updated GMAT scores/transcripts?
Factual information like improved GMAT scores or transcripts from successful business related classes could go a long way towards bolstering your chances.

While the wait list may be frustrating, it’s a positive indication for your application and you may be fortunate enough to receive final admission from your chosen program. Good luck!

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Do You Play Nice with Others? Advice for the Group or Team-Based Interview

Business schools want to see how candidates interact with peers before anyone’s even admitted, which can be very telling. It’s not actually an interview, per se, because there is no Q&A with participants.  Each school …

student entrrepreneursBusiness schools want to see how candidates interact with peers before anyone’s even admitted, which can be very telling. It’s not actually an interview, per se, because there is no Q&A with participants.  Each school conducts the group interview somewhat differently, and this new evaluation model gives candidates the chance to work with a handful of their fellow applicants to solve real-world business scenarios as a team.

The exercise demonstrates how candidates approach and analyze specific situations and interact with other people, two critical components of business schools that have a team-focused learning style. Through observation of each member’s discussions and communication with the group, the admissions team hopes to glean deeper insight into each applicant’s interpersonal skills.

Although it’s a completely organic experience, there are ways you can prepare for the group interview that will increase your comfort level when the big day arrives. Start by speaking out more in groups or meetings at work. Applicants to the Michigan Ross School of Business do not receive any clues about the content of the group interview in advance, but if you’re applying to the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, you’ll receive your team-based discussion prompt prior to the interview.

Wharton recommends that applicants spend about an hour in advance prepping for the discussion. If possible, we suggest that you gather a group of three or four other people and conduct a mock discussion. Record the session and take note of things like your body language, interrupting, or any tendencies to try to control the discussion.

MBA applicants can also practice the “Yes, and…” rule from improv, where you build on whatever your partner tries. In her bestselling memoir Bossypants, Tina Fey writes that “yes, and” is one of her core principles in all aspects of her life, and means “Don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion.” During the interview, seize any opportunities to either build upon or refer to someone else’s point.

Here’s what you don’t want to do during a group interview:

  • Dominate the conversation
  • Cut others off or dismiss someone’s idea entirely
  • Raise your voice
  • Roll your eyes, cross your arms, or display any other kind of negative body language
  • Take out your phone or any other electronic device

Here’s what you should try to accomplish:

  • Demonstrate you’ve done your research (if given a topic in advance)
  • Listen—truly listen—to the others in your group when they speak
  • Put the group’s goal ahead of trying to get airtime
  • Offer to summarize if the conversation has reached a point where the group would benefit from a quick recap

To maximize your experience, stay flexible and focus on how you can propel the group forward and provide value to ensure the best possible outcome for your team. As many MBA applicants are born leaders who 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.

However, if you tend to be introverted, don’t let others intimidate you. If no one’s given you the chance to get a word in, you’re going to have to find an appropriate way to join the conversation before it’s too late. For its part, Wharton knows that leaders come in many forms, and the school reassures candidates that the team-based interview is designed to let all types shine, regardless of how outgoing or shy you are. Just be yourself, get a read on the group dynamic, and let the chips fall where they may.

At Michigan Ross, how you manage yourself within the group is the sole focus of the observers, so it doesn’t matter if your fellow participants are “weak”, or whether you’ve landed in a “bad” group. How you interact within the team, and how you interact with people who have different styles than you, will be foremost on the observers’ radar, Soojin Kwon, director of MBA admissions, explained.

Remember, whether they show it or not, everyone participating will be nervous. Even if the team or group exercise is optional at your school, don’t forgo the experience. From our perspective as MBA admissions consultants, you should never pass up the opportunity for face time with the admissions committee. Allowing them to get to know the real you, beyond the version on paper, is critical to your chances of receiving an offer of admission.


If you have been invited to interview with a school that is using the group interview format, you will absolutely want to take advantage of Stacy Blackman’s live group practice session. This format can be fun, but also challenging and stress inducing! Success comes from practice and becoming comfortable with the format.

We’ll have dedicated groups of 3-6 people for Wharton and Ross, with experienced moderators and admissions experience. You’ll receive preparation tips and a one-hour mock experience, followed by written feedback with actionable advice. For more on this new service, click here.

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5 Times it Makes Sense to Apply to Only One MBA Program

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. While the majority of applicants target four to six MBA programs, deciding how many business schools to apply to is not a one-size-fits-all …

apply to business school

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

While the majority of applicants target four to six MBA programs, deciding how many business schools to apply to is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Some candidates decide to focus all of their energies on a single business school. The reasons range from the personal to the professional to the financial, and believe or not, this single-minded approach can pay off and actually increase your chances of getting in. Here you’ll find five scenarios where putting all of your eggs in one basket is a perfectly valid decision.

Location-specific requirements: Most applicants take location into consideration when coming up with their school list. Sometimes candidates prefer an urban environment over rural or warm climate versus cold. Often the location preference is industry-specific, such as applicants keen on finance who look exclusively at schools in or near New York City.

If you need to remain in your current region, or want to live in a specific city, you may have only one desirable MBA option available. Or, if you have the needs of a spouse or children to consider, you’ll likely search for a way to attend business school without uprooting the lives of your loved ones. The location requirement holds especially true for applicants considering part-time or evening MBA programs who plan to continue working while they earn their degree.

When we first met Olivia, she was living in Los Angeles and married with a small baby. She could not entertain the possibility of moving her family or planning extended time away for two years, and the only local school she wanted was UCLA Anderson School of Management. Olivia poured her heart into the Anderson application and once admitted, managed to juggle the demands of home and school like a champ. It was chaotic, but by staying local she minimized the upheaval and had the support of her family during this hectic and rewarding time.

Company sponsorship: If you are one of the lucky ones who will attend business school on your company’s dime, you may have to contend with the caveat that they will only sponsor a particular MBA program, or only a part-time program. If you plan to stay at the organization long-term, you might view the limitation on where you can earn that MBA degree educational subsidy is probably worth.

Highly specific career goals: The one-application approach can make sense for a person who has a very particular career path–say, healthcare, technology, real estate, etc. You might be very interested in a specific program offered by one school, or a teaching method, or a set of professors.

If you can determine which MBA program will likely connect you with the company you want to work for, and if that company only recruits at one program, then there’s probably only one place you really want to earn the degree.

One former client, Jeremy, had a good job at a tech startup in Menlo Park. He only wanted to remain in that world – exploring other startups, networking with tech entrepreneurs and executives, and remaining looped into that scene. He also wanted to keep working a few hours a week during school. Stanford Graduate School of Business was an ambitious choice, but the only school that his heart was really in. Fortunately, the gamble paid off and he received an admission offer from this prestigious program.

Joint application with partner: While this demographic makes up a small percentage of applicants, it’s a significant one. You’ll need to explicitly convey to the admissions committee that you and your partner are both applying to their program, as many schools consider couples applying together as a special case.

Schools generally don’t want to break up families or relationships, so if both candidates meet admission requirements, you may have an easier shot at entry. As you try to determine which school to target, research clubs and support available to married students and find out how other applicants presented their case to the admission committee.

Intuition: Some applicants have had their heart set on a single school ever since the idea of pursuing an MBA first started percolating. If you fall into this camp, you’ll have an easier time than many other applicants explaining to the admissions committee why X program truly is the only place for you.

Showing how you are a good fit for the program, and proving your utter commitment to attending that school, reassures the admissions committee that you will accept an offer of admission if given the chance. The admissions committee always had yield in the back of their minds when making admissions offers, and no school likes it when accepted candidates turn them down for a competing program. As an added bonus, it’s much easier to research and prepare for a single MBA application and completely tailor it to one school, as opposed to creating several unique applications at the same time.

Whatever your reasons for having a single b-school on your mind, make sure that your academic and professional profile is in line with the requirements and expectations at that particular school. This approach requires pragmatism and optimism in equal measure.

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

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