Category Archives: Application Tips

Target U.S. Business Schools as a Latin American MBA Hopeful

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on International students typically make up 25 percent to 40 percent of MBA cohorts at top U.S. business schools. It’s not surprising that the overwhelming …

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on

International students typically make up 25 percent to 40 percent of MBA cohorts at top U.S. business schools.

It’s not surprising that the overwhelming majority of applicants from Latin America want to pursue an MBA degree in the U.S. According to data from the most recent QS Top MBA Applicant Survey, more than 70 percent say the U.S. is their destination of choice, followed by Canada at 30.3 percent.

The poll also confirms that Latin American applicants place a high value on specializations – higher than any other world region – in order to meet their individual needs. While all b-school hopefuls should tailor their school selections to those that will enhance their career, this is particularly important for students who plan to return to their home countries after graduation. Latin American applicants should research the strength of each potential school’s international placement records and alumni network before applying.

[Overcome three common hurdles of international MBA applicants.]

Travel expenses can make campus visits difficult, so applicants from Latin America should not miss the opportunity to participate in local “coffee chats,” which are typically organized and led by current students while visiting their home countries during winter break.

In an April post to the Daytime MBA Student Blog of the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, Joaquin Brahm of Chile calls coffee chats “a must” in the application process.? These informal events, often held in homes, are a great resource for applicants to hear firsthand? about all aspects of the MBA experience, including personal questions about everyday student life.

“We received only good feedback about coffee chats in Latin America,”? says Yonathan Lapchik, admissions cabinet member of the Latin American Student Association at Fuqua. “Prospective students found it a very useful step in their application process. Our idea is to continue developing these kinds of events in the future and establish them as another resource for applicants in their pathway to Fuqua.”

Many MBA programs offer incentives and scholarships to applicants from Latin America, and some schools are introducing efforts to attract potential candidates. Last year, the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler Business School launched a Latin American Visitor Program ?designed to encourage prospective full-time MBA students from Latin America to visit the campus.

The program provides a travel subsidy of $600 and waives the $145 admissions application fee for up to 20 sponsored students. Kenan-Flagler also offers up to 10 full-tuition fellowships to applicants from Latin America each year as part of the new Fellowship for the Americas award.

As I often write on this blog, the admissions committee wants to get to know each applicant beyond their resume, and the MBA essays are the perfect opportunity to share unique personal or family background information that would allow the reader to understand your core values and motivations.

One of my clients discussed being the first from his family to go to college, and the intensity of breaking family tradition and moving away. This made for a much more interesting essay than merely naming the school that he went to. In other words, that back story – the discussion of the decision – was the most interesting part.

Another client also wove family into her application by addressing a brother’s serious illness and how it affected family relations, events and her personal and professional goals. Don’t be afraid to open up with details of experiences that set you apart and have shaped the person you are today.

Since English likely isn’t your first language, it’s important to demonstrate a high level of fluency that will allow you to contribute actively to class discussions. This you can do during your MBA interview.

Whether you interview over the phone, by video chat or in-person, make sure you practice beforehand with a native English speaker or someone who has lived in the U.S. for a long time and who can provide feedback on American business etiquette or your English language usage.

Once on campus, you’ll gain access to a network stretching across the U.S. and around the globe. Try to network with Latino alumni who hold leadership positions in the U.S. and are often looking to groom the next generation.

During recruiting, keep in mind U.S. companies may not want to hire someone if it involves helping them obtain an H-1B visa, since the employer must prove it has searched extensively for a qualified U.S. citizen or permanent resident and that the international candidate is the best option.

However, if the company is an international firm and you’re willing to relocate elsewhere in Latin America or to a region where visa sponsorship won’t be an issue, ask about hiring options outside of the U.S. Your American MBA will put you leagues ahead of local applicants.

As business relationships across the Americas continue to expand, MBA applicants from Latin America can rest assured they have much to contribute to the U.S. business school classroom, particularly where cultural differences, language issues and differing business practices come into play.

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Embrace LGBT Identity in Business School Applications

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on Marketing efforts to attract lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender MBA applicants are not cut-and-dried. While business schools can easily target potential candidates by …

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on

Marketing efforts to attract lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender MBA applicants are not cut-and-dried. While business schools can easily target potential candidates by ethnicity, asking applicants to identify themselves based on sexual orientation is not a standard demographic question.

Nevertheless, LGBT applicants can benefit greatly from researching their target schools’ outreach efforts, campus clubs and inclusiveness toward their LGBT community as an important factor when selecting potential schools.

Many gay and lesbian applicants wonder if they should openly address their sexual orientation as they begin the MBA admissions process. The LGBT Student Association at Harvard Business School, for one, urges applicants to be “out” in their MBA application and notes that the admissions office is not only very gay friendly but that it’s excited to increase the LGBT presence at the business school.

The admissions officers want to learn about you as a person, beyond your GPA and GMAT scores. “It is perfectly appropriate – and, again, probably advisable – for essays to reflect who you are as a whole person, including your sexuality and gender identity/expression, if you choose to do so,” the student group explains.

[Know how to sell yourself to MBA admissions committees.]

I once worked with a client, “David,” who on the surface had a rock-solid background. He had followed an extremely traditional progression from Ivy League undergrad to banking to business school, but something in his story lacked depth.

David’s essays didn’t provide a lot of detail as to why he had made certain decisions or what had fueled different moments, experiences and reactions. Then, during one phone call, he came out to me. This had been a very personal struggle for him, and at the time not even his parents knew of his sexual orientation.

Our discussion opened up terms of his pressures, decisions and personality. I encouraged him to reveal this side of himself in the applications as it really shed light on who he was. His sexuality didn’t become the focus of his essays, but acknowledging it allowed him to speak more openly about his identity and what mattered to him.

He did end up being accepted to Columbia Business School when he reapplied. He hadn’t revealed his sexual orientation in the first attempt.

I don’t think the fact that he was gay got David in; however, I do believe his willingness to show introspection and be more open about himself in his application helped tremendously.

[Learn how to build a personal brand as an MBA applicant.]

Although business schools have progressed dramatically of late on LGBT issues, more can be done. In a recent GMAC article exploring outreach efforts to LGBT applicants, columnist Ronald Alsop says that, while schools have increased efforts in marketing to LGBT candidates, they’re still a very small minority of MBA programs.

“According to GMAC’s 2013 Application Trends Survey, only nine percent of graduate business programs worldwide and only 13 percent in the US reported any special LGBT outreach efforts,” Alsop says.

Liz Riley Hargrove, associate dean for admissions at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, notes that the school began hosting an LGBT Weekend in 2011 to show off its gay-friendly culture and dispel any negative perceptions of Southern stuffiness.

“We need more LGBT students so the classroom is representative of the workforce our students will manage,” she tells Alsop. “Exposure to different perspectives will affect our students’ management and leadership styles.”

Bloomberg Businessweek recently polled MBA students from several schools on how diverse they felt their program was. It was interesting to see the comments of one student from Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, which scores exceptionally well on the Campus Pride Index for its LGBT-friendly policies, programs and practices.

Even so, student Arnab Mukherjee tells Businessweek that as a gay man, he would like to see more LGBT alumni or faculty addressing issues of gender and sexuality in the workplace through academic case studies, guest lecturers or career-related events.

“I don’t think these are critiques that would be unique to Cornell Johnson, though, as I have heard exactly the same feedback from friends at other top programs, such as Chicago Booth, HBS, NYU Stern, and Stanford,” Mukherjee says.

[Find ways to stand out in the b-school applicant pool.]

Fortunately, students don’t have to rely solely on the networking opportunities within the LGBT clubs and organizations on campus. At the annual Reaching Out MBA conference and career fair, for both? prospective and current MBA students, several hundred LGBT students from across the country can come together and expand their professional networks in a meaningful way.

New York University Stern School of Business alumnus Matt Kidd, the executive director of Reaching Out MBA, tells Poets & Quants that component is especially important for LGBT MBAs outside of large metropolitan areas – places where there may not be a large gay or lesbian population.

“The difference there is that you really need to focus on your classmates, and if you only have one or two, it’s a pretty small LGBT population.”

The LGBT population at business schools may be small, but its visibility is growing and the diverse perspectives members of this community can provide to an MBA cohort is not lost on business school admissions committees.

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Getting Accepted to Grad School (Again): Tips for Applicants Who Already Have a Degree (or Three)

Guest post by admissions expert Ryan Hickey For some students, college is just the first step on a lengthy higher education journey that includes multiple stops and sometimes-abrupt changes in direction. This may be part …

Guest post by admissions expert Ryan Hickey

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For some students, college is just the first step on a lengthy higher education journey that includes multiple stops and sometimes-abrupt changes in direction. This may be part of a planned education path that requires a terminal degree like a Ph.D. in addition to a bachelor’s and master’s. In other cases, however, returning to graduate school is necessary to completely change fields or open new job opportunities.

If you have been in school for most of your adult life, the term “career student” and its often-negative connotation can become a burden as you think about pursuing any degree after a bachelor’s. This can be baffling to applicants. Why would someone undertake the time, work and financial commitment required to earn a degree without good reason? Why should educating yourself further in a discipline or making the difficult choice to change careers be considered a negative thing?

While most know full well that setting out toward a second, third or fourth degree shouldn’t be a knock against an applicant, the myth of the aimless lifelong student persists in some corners of the higher-education world. If this isn’t your first time applying to graduate school, consider these four tips to avoid falling victim to that characterization.

1. Change Happens

Things don’t always go the way you originally or ideally plan. That’s life. What you considered your dream career in your twenties may no longer be fulfilling when you hit your thirties. Just because you start down a particular path does not mean that you must remain on it for the rest of your life.

In both essays and interviews, be honest if your interests and priorities have shifted. You were not wasting time in your previous degree program or career. It was simply the right focus for you at that time, even though it isn’t today. Don’t be ashamed of or try to hide those experiences. Instead, emphasize how you will apply the skills they helped you build to your next academic undertaking.

2. Dig Deep

With myriad education and career experiences, applicants who already have a graduate degree often make the mistake of trying to pack too much into their essays. By covering everything in brief to cram it all in, they never get to the deeper, more intimate content that resonates with admissions officers.

Instead of taking that shotgun approach, identify the experiences most relevant to your current target program and dive deep. You’ll be much better off if you can draw meaning out of several carefully selected stories rather than generally stating many more. By doing this, you can show the reader your applied passion and sense of purpose in applying to this particular program.

3. Non-traditional? No problem!

Non-traditional: this term doesn’t solely refer to applicants with distinctive demographic details. Instead, take it as meaning that you have the ability to bring a unique set of experiences or skills to a program.

For example, lack of maturity is often a major complaint voiced by both admissions officers and professors. They value applicants who will take the program seriously and behave professionally from the get-go, rather than those who require time to adjust or “find themselves.”

Demonstrate how your background, both academic and professional, has helped you build experience working as part of a team, moderating interpersonal disagreements diplomatically, effectively managing your time and balancing diverse aspects of your life. In other words, let admissions officers know that your prior academic endeavors have helped you learn how best to succeed from the start in a new university setting.

4. Career Focused

Why are you going back to school? Admissions officers always want to know, so be prepared with a clear and thorough answer.

Here’s a hint: there’s only one right response, particularly if this isn’t your first trip to graduate school. Given your current career aspirations, there are gaps in your knowledge and experience that can only be filled with further education. While details will vary from applicant to applicant, that basic theme should hold true for you if you’re seeking another graduate degree.

Make direct connections between what each specific program offers and your career goals. Ideally, show that you have short, mid and long-term career plans that can only be accomplished with the help of this particular degree from this particular program.

Knowledge, maturity and professionalism are essential when it comes to getting things done in the real world. As you complete your application, don’t apologize for prior education and work experiences, whether you’re now changing paths or diving even deeper into your chosen field. Previous success as a graduate student is a tangible demonstration of your ability to complete high-level academic work and should help, not hurt, your chance of admission.


Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson’s and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.

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3 Exercises to Help MBA Applicants Develop a Personal Brand

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on Some b-school applicants balk at thinking of themselves as a “product” or “brand.” However, by taking the time to really examine your personal …

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on

Some b-school applicants balk at thinking of themselves as a “product” or “brand.” However, by taking the time to really examine your personal qualities, values and aspirations, you’ll ultimately be able to find out which MBA programs provide the best match for your unique profile.

Think of it this way: If you had to create a marketing campaign for a new car, and you decided to focus on the vehicle’s seat warmers and sound system – when these days, potential customers are all about fuel economy – then your marketing messages would miss the mark.

The pitfalls in formulating your MBA application brand messages are similar. I recommend clients start the process with three exercises that can help them think like a marketing strategist, identify strengths and develop a personal brand.

[Find out what to do to sell yourself to an MBA admissions committee.]

Exercise 1: Create a “Brag Sheet”

In the real world, the practice of bragging is generally frowned upon. But when it comes to effectively brainstorming a set of messages you will ultimately want to convey to the admissions committee, a great way to begin is by jotting down every possible unique, exciting, wonderful, dazzling thing you can think of about yourself. Think of it as “brag-storming.”

Don’t worry about anyone seeing your list, and don’t try to do this exercise in one sitting. Keep a notebook handy or start a memo in your smartphone?, and write down ideas whenever inspiration strikes. This list not only serves to jog your memory, but also helps you realize that your hobbies, travels, volunteering and personal or family life experiences can provide raw material for brand messages and eventually essays.

Admissions committees seek out well-rounded candidates who have experienced life, pursued their passions and achieved as much outside of the professional setting as within it. We came up with the idea of the brag sheet after I spent three months working with a client who insisted he had nothing interesting going on besides work.

Just days before the application was due, he casually revealed he had a deep, lifelong interest in martial arts, which he felt was not appropriate for a b-school application. Weaving in this aspect was a great way to balance out a work-heavy application and added a lot of color and interest to his profile.

Now we always have clients do a brain dump of everything under the sun so that these types of stories don’t slip through the cracks.

Exercise 2: Generate Stories

In our work with applicants, we’ve learned that it’s better to sift through an array of life experiences and see what emerges as a core strength, rather than lead off with what clients perceive as their strengths and then try to find example stories that back those up.

You don’t need to actually write the stories at this time. Scratching out a few notes, like “how I overcame a speech impediment,” “the time I backpacked through Asia for six months on $2,000″ or “Have worked in the family business since I was 14 years old,” is fine.

To get the wheels turning, consider personal achievements, leadership achievements in and outside of work, times when your actions made an impact on a person or group, instances when you motivated others or a time you solved a problem with ingenuity. Don’t be afraid to touch upon setbacks or failures, as your strategies for overcoming them may be the best indicator of your future success in the business world.

To determine whether a story is worth fleshing out, see if you can list the concrete actions you took and the results you achieved. The actions you took reveal your approach to a particular problem and provide some clues about your strengths, capabilities and character. The results indicate that your actions made a difference.

[Find out how a learning agenda can help your MBA application.]

Exercise 3: Mine Stories for Strengths

Once you’ve winnowed? down your list of stories, it’s time to figure out precisely which aspects of your skills, talents, strengths and character contributed to your accomplishments.

Ask yourself how this experience shaped your life and made you stronger, or which strengths, talents or attributes helped you make a difference. The answers you come up with will add to the pool of potential brand messages that you might highlight in your application and essays.

I had a client applying to Harvard Business School who wanted to write about his organizational skills as a core strength. Instead, we advised him to write about his ability to lead and inspire others. After all, he had written on his brag sheet about developing a program to provide vaccinations to the poor in underdeveloped countries – an enormous undertaking he developed from scratch. I’m sure his organizational skills helped, but the latter strength was more compelling, and it rose to the surface after viewing his stories.

As with a traditional marketing plan, the goal is to launch a product thoughtfully and effectively. In this case, the product is you. The goal is self-awareness, and combing through your list of accomplishments can be an enormous help. Once these elements have been clarified, you can effectively put your best MBA strategy into action.

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3 Surprising Application Mistakes Prospective MBAs Make

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on When it comes to making mistakes on a business school application, there are many places where candidates can run afoul and ruin their …

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on

When it comes to making mistakes on a business school application, there are many places where candidates can run afoul and ruin their chances at admission.

The road to an MBA contains countless potential pitfalls, including writing the wrong school name or otherwise failing to proofread; having generic essays designed to impress rather than reveal; and choosing recommenders based on their titles, not your relationship with them.

However, there are also more process-oriented mistakes students commonly make – and ways to avoid them.

[Follow these tips to recover from a botched MBA interview.]

Reality Check: Unrealistic School Selection

With all of the hype around the top b-school brands, it’s no wonder most applicants dream of earning their MBA at Harvard University or Stanford University. The cold, hard truth, however, is that these schools admit a tiny fraction of applicants each cycle.

Harvard Business School admitted just 12 percent of applicants to the class of 2015, while Stanford offered a seat to a mere 8 percent. Programs like those at University of California—Berkeley Haas School of Business or MIT Sloan School of Management are only a tad less competitive, with acceptance rates of about 14 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

This doesn’t mean you should abandon all hope of attending one of the world’s best business schools, especially if your stats are strong and your extracurriculars and leadership examples varied. But, should you happen to fall in the camp of the other 85 percent of applicants – that is, the vast majority – then the subject of having appropriate back-up schools comes into play.

Not all programs are the same, so I suggest applicants do a lot of research as well as soul-searching prior to the school selection process. Being realistic about your profile and aligning yourself with programs that mesh with your particular academic and professional background is the surest recipe for success.

[Look beyond a top business school for your MBA.]

Reality Check: Scores Affect Selection

As we’ve talked about in this space before, preparing early and adequately for the entrance exam is critical. You can’t be stressing about studying for the GMAT or GRE when you should be focused on drafting compelling application essays or cultivating additional leadership opportunities.

Truth is, the school selection process will be greatly influenced by your GMAT score. While each year we hear of that miracle case where someone gets into Harvard with a 550, it’s likely that person’s profile was so extraordinary in every other way that it offset the low score.

It would be foolhardy to believe you too have a decent chance simply because a handful of people out of 10,000 applicants made it in with a score nearly 100 points below the median.

Use your GMAT or GRE score as a barometer to determine a comfortable range of schools to target. If you do decide to go for the “reach school” as well despite a middling test score, make sure you incorporate the fact that you have a low score into your overall strategy.

Reality Check: You’re Not Ready for B-School – Yet

A huge mistake, and one that’s more common that you’d think, is applying to business school before you are really ready. It is true MBA programs are skewing younger these days, accepting applicants with five or fewer years of work experience rather than the typical seven of the past, but that just means candidates need to be even more amazing in less time.

Ask yourself if you have had enough life experiences to provide an interesting perspective to a class. Will your potential recommenders act as champions for your cause, or is your relationship with a supervisor still new and untested? Can you devote time to improving your test score in order to expand your portfolio of program options? Would taking another year to strengthen your profile make more sense and yield better results?

Making 100 percent sure that an MBA is the right step at this time is a crucial part of the soul-searching I mentioned above, and once you can answer in the affirmative, you can embark on the challenging but rewarding journey toward an MBA.

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Overcome a Low Quant Background in MBA Admissions

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on The MBA admissions process is a holistic one. If it weren’t, every MBA cohort would be full of finance wizards and accounting gurus – not …

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on

The MBA admissions process is a holistic one. If it weren’t, every MBA cohort would be full of finance wizards and accounting gurus – not an especially well-rounded group.

These days, business schools seek a diverse array of students to fill their classes, knowing that the unique life and career experiences they bring will enrich the classroom experience for everyone.

Applicants with undergraduate degrees in the humanities are welcomed at all of the elite business schools, but, unlike their business major peers, will need to prove to the admissions committee that their relatively minimal academic experience in quantitative subjects won’t be a hindrance once they hit those core courses.

[Learn how to sell yourself to MBA admissions committees.]

Your GMAT or GRE score is the first and most obvious piece of the puzzle that indicates your ability to handle MBA-level course work, so allow yourself plenty of time to study for the exam.

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT, the average amount of study needed to achieve a score between 600 and 690 is 92 hours and getting above that brass ring score of 700 is 102 hours.

What can you do if you’ve put in the time, taken the test and still receive a so-so score? Schools look favorably upon taking the GMAT more than once.

In my experience, this dedication to improving your score is often interpreted by the admissions committee as a sign that you’ll do whatever it takes to prove you’re ready for business school. So sign up for that prep course or hire a GMAT tutor to help you bump up your score a few notches.

[Try one of these fixes for a low GMAT score.]

At Harvard Business School, the median GMAT score was 730 out of 800, but the lowest accepted GMAT score for students entering in fall 2014 was 550. If you find your score has settled at the lower end of the spectrum, I would encourage you to find other ways to demonstrate your quantitative competence.

Take a college-level calculus class and score a B-plus or better. Focus on the essays, extracurriculars and working with your recommenders so that they support your quant aptitude in their recommendation letters with real-life examples.

If you have strong quantitative work experience and can show a solid grasp of quantitative subjects, then a weak GMAT score may not be overly problematic. The admissions committee will sometimes give candidates the benefit of the doubt if other aspects of their application are exceptionally compelling.

An MBA Podcaster episode on MBA quantitative skills notes that business schools regularly report that many soon-to-be first-year students lack some basic quantitative skills. To remedy this, several top MBA programs offer so-called math camps for accepted students during the summer as a refresher of critical concepts.

[Look beyond top business schools when applying for an MBA.]

Carolyn Sherry, a first-year student at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business who attended math camp last summer, wrote a blog post in the fall addressing precisely this topic.

“If you’re worried about your quantitative skills, here’s my advice,” she writes. “Most importantly, don’t underestimate yourself. Did you do well in college? Do you have a demanding, complex job where you excel? Can you grasp concepts pretty quickly? … These attributes will see you through a rigorous curriculum!”

Ultimately, the GMAT or GRE is just one component of the application, and a high score doesn’t guarantee success in business school. MBA hopefuls should do all they can to offset a lackluster test performance by demonstrating they can handle the work, highlighting a high GPA from a respected undergraduate school and wowing the admissions panel with their compelling extracurricular and leadership activities.

Convince your target business school why an MBA is the best next step in your career progression, and prove to them that you have what it takes to succeed.

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