Category Archives: Application Tips
October 27, 2015
This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com When it comes to the optional essay question posed by most business schools, MBA hopefuls often wonder if it is really optional. Many …
This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com
When it comes to the optional essay question posed by most business schools, MBA hopefuls often wonder if it is really optional. Many applicants feel an obligation to write something, and struggle with what that something should be.
While some programs state explicitly that this essay should only be used to address extenuating circumstances, others ask more broadly whether there is anything else about your candidacy you would like to share with the admissions committee.
My advice regarding the optional essay is to first complete your entire application package, except for the optional essay. Don’t worry about that piece of the puzzle just yet. Once you have finished, review your application and ask yourself if there is something extra you would like to communicate. Make sure that you cannot address the subject elsewhere in the application. However, if there is something missing, by all means, use the optional essay as an opportunity to say what you need to say.
The following advice should be considered within the context of your overall strategy and the school you are considering, but these areas are prime material for the optional essay.
If there is a grade of C or below on your undergraduate transcript, the admissions committee will want to know why and feel comfortable that it’s simply an outlier in your overall academic record. Strike an upbeat tone here and avoid excuses. Make sure you emphasize your improved performance either later in your college career or in subsequent work or classes since college.
Explain your issue clearly and focus the balance of your essay on looking forward. Explain what have you done in the recent past to prove your skills and intelligence. If you have a new GMAT score or took classes in calculus or statistics, you have a solid case for improved academics.
If you had a disciplinary issue in college, spend most of the essay demonstrating that you learned from the experience and have been an ideal citizen ever since. If there are extenuating circumstances that affected your academic performance, definitely explain what those were.
But if it was a simple case of immaturity, you need to own up to that also. Though embarrassing to admit, if you don’t provide those details the admissions committee will make assumptions that may not be in your favor.
Employment Gaps or Major Career Changes
You don’t have to explain a short gap between school and a secured job, but something like several months between two jobs should be addressed. Otherwise, the admissions team may assume you spent that time binge-watching “Game of Thrones.”?
Did you use that time off to do volunteer work in Guatemala, or care for an ailing parent? Maybe you used the time away to focus on an entrepreneurial dream unencumbered by the 9-to-5 grind. Ideally you can point to additional education, training, volunteering or traveling that you engaged in while unemployed.
If you recently switched careers and feel concerned that the admissions committee may not see how you arrived at the conclusion that an MBA would help further your professional aspirations, use the optional essay space to make an airtight case for why you want to go into this new field and show that the decision was not capricious, but reasoned and well-thought-out.
Choice of Recommender
Business schools almost always ask for a letter of recommendation from a current supervisor, as typically this is the person most able to observe and comment on your abilities and leadership skills as they stand today. Not every applicant feels comfortable asking their employer for a recommendation letter, however.
Perhaps they aren’t ready to let their boss know of their MBA plans, or maybe there is a personality conflict that might not lead to the most glowing recommendation. Sometimes, the issue is that the applicant hasn’t worked with the supervisor long enough for him or her to comment meaningfully on the candidate’s performance.
Whatever the reason, you should briefly address your decision not to seek a recommendation from your current supervisor in the optional essay space. The admissions committee understands the various circumstances which may prevent it, but you need to explain why anyway to eliminate any doubts or wrong assumptions about the quality of your working relationship with your employer.
Information That Adds to Your Candidacy
This is where you can introduce information about yourself that you simply couldn’t find a way to incorporate elsewhere. If you are a re-applicant, the optional essay is the ideal place to explain what you have done since your last application to strengthen your case for admission – such as receiving a promotion – which would signal career development and leadership. Even if you don’t have a clear-cut development to describe, you can use this space to explain how you have improved your thinking, career goals or fit.
Finally, if you don’t have a weakness to address and the school has an open-ended optional essay question, this is opportunity to provide information you couldn’t work into the other required essays. For example, if you have an unusual background, hobby or extracurricular experience, this may be a chance to showcase your unique profile.
Yes, the optional essay truly is optional. So take advantage of it if necessary, but exercise good judgement and restraint.
October 21, 2015
We often field questions from clients working in Information Technology about how best to frame their work experiences within a 500-word MBA application essay, especially since the technologist often believes it necessary to provide meaningful …
We often field questions from clients working in Information Technology about how best to frame their work experiences within a 500-word MBA application essay, especially since the technologist often believes it necessary to provide meaningful context when describing the “What I did” aspect of the essay question.
Truth is, business schools don’t really care whether you can code in java or possess multiple certifications in Oracle, Linux, or Cloud+. The admissions committee doesn’t even need to know those aspects when reading about your technical projects, and getting bogged down in such details is the number one mistake that engineers applying to business school often make.
When describing a technical project, try to sum up the essence of the project in a non-technical way in one to two sentences. Share your essays with a friend outside of your industry to see if it makes sense to the lay person. Then, shift gears to devote the majority of the essay toward demonstrating the qualities that MBA programs do care about: leadership, teamwork, problem-solving, and international experience.
IT applicants typically have a lot of experience working in teams, so play up your interpersonal skills and describe how adept you are at collaborating well with others to meet goals. Leadership potential is huge at the top business schools, so talk about how you have showed leadership thus far, or discuss any cross-functional leadership experience you have had. As business becomes ever more connected across the globe, the ability to work well with colleagues abroad will become critical to success. If one of your projects crossed international lines, you can talk about how you managed working with different cultures across time zones and what you learned from the experience.
Show examples of when you solved a problem or overcame a challenge by coming up with a unique or innovative solution. Did you resolve a conflict, demonstrate teamwork, or act with integrity? The thesis of the essay should be based on one of these qualities that an MBA admissions committee would value, not technical details.
Another place to differential yourself from other IT applicants is when describing your professional goals. Where do you envision yourself five or ten years from now? Rather than stating a generic goal such as transitioning into strategy consulting, think about whether you ultimately see yourself owning your own business, creating innovative ways to improve cybersecurity, or becoming the CTO of an environmental non-profit.
While information technologists may fret about competing against a sizeable pool of similar applicants, your MBA essays provide the ideal platform to show you are more than your job. Use the essays to focus on the aspects of your personal life that make you unique: hobbies, community service activities, passions and interests that make you stand out.
When we began working with Abhi, an Indian engineer with his heart set on attending the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, his biggest roadblock was pertaining to an overrepresented demographic that would be competing with literally thousands of other MBA applicants.
Fortunately, Abhi had an admirable record of community involvement. But to make his candidacy really stand out from the masses, we decided to focus on a unique event in which he had coordinated a sizeable group to train for a marathon with the goal of raising funds to help a six-year-old girl with leukemia. In his essays, Abhi focused on the leadership aspects of the experience: how he recruited participants, organized several fundraising events, and dealt with the inevitable obstacles that arose during the planning phase.
By allowing the MBA admissions committee to better understand who Abhi was as a person, and what motivated him and ignited his personal and professional passions, he became much more than just another male IT candidate from India in the pile… and Wharton ultimately did extend an offer of admission to him.
No matter what your professional background is, the MBA essays are the place to show off your individuality, leadership potential, and exactly why you are b-school material. So don’t let industry jargon or the nitty gritty of your job description get in the way of creating memorable essays that capture the interest of the school of your dreams.
This article originally appeared on F1 GMAT
image credit: Flickr user Dean Johnson CC By 2.0
October 20, 2015
Campus visits are an important part of deciding where you will apply, though as we mentioned yesterday, you won’t be at a disadvantage if circumstances—financial, distance, no vacation time—make it too difficult to visit prior …
Campus visits are an important part of deciding where you will apply, though as we mentioned yesterday, you won’t be at a disadvantage if circumstances—financial, distance, no vacation time—make it too difficult to visit prior to submitting your application.
Soojin Kwon, director of MBA admissions at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, recently posted about the best time to visit MBA programs on her blog. “A school visit can confirm your perceptions, or it can surprise you in ways that could change where you place a school on your list,” Kwon says.
At Michigan Ross, the ideal time to visit is when classes are in session—September through November, and January to February—although the school does offer visits at other times as well. Watching students in action is, however, the best way to really get a feel for your fit with the program.
The main, and quite valid, reason to visit campus prior to applying is so that you can incorporate details about your visit into your application. That’s not possible for everyone, though. Kwon strongly suggests applicants visit every school they are applying to before making a decision to enroll, whether that means before or after submitting, for the interview, or eventually, for the admit weekend.
The director also offers a a few choice tips for candidates planning a campus visit. First, Kwon suggests contacting people you would like to meet in advance, such as student ambassadors, to see if it’s possible to schedule a brief meeting. Also, if you can time your visit to take advantage of a special conference or event taking place at the school, that’s a great way to further familiarize yourself with the program.
If it’s financially feasible and fits into your schedule, we here at SBC always recommend a visit. When you visit the campus, you develop a better understanding of the school’s culture, which is sure to come through in your essays and interview. While others will be referencing the school website, you can cite specific, first-hand experiences. So enjoy yourself and be open-minded. This is a fun opportunity to start planning a very exciting next step in your life.
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October 14, 2015
Today is the final day Harvard Business School will extend Round 1 interview invitations, and to prepare nervous applicants, the school’s independent newspaper The Harbus has shared five common MBA interview questions that cropped up …
Today is the final day Harvard Business School will extend Round 1 interview invitations, and to prepare nervous applicants, the school’s independent newspaper The Harbus has shared five common MBA interview questions that cropped up last year during the admissions interviews of current first-year students.
Here, we share excerpts from the article, which provides valuable, first-hand tips for successfully navigating the questions frequently posed by HBS interviewers:
Walk me through your resume.
The Harbus says: “Make your resume a narrative rather than merely relating a series of unconnected events. Focus on upward progression…Keep your ‘walk’ to 5 minutes, and don’t spend all your time in one area versus another.”
What is one thing I’d never have guessed about you, even after reading your application?
The Harbus says: “Here is an opportunity to go beyond your achievements – or at least your business-related achievements – and tell your interviewers about something that really makes you tick…Think about what would make you an interesting or valuable section mate to have at HBS.”
What is the most interesting conversation you’ve had this week?
The Harbus says: “Keep this professional, worldly and, most likely, news-related…use this as an opportunity to showcase your preparation, especially your morning news routine.”
How do you make big decisions?
The Harbus says: “This is another perfect question for examples. Tell a story, but make sure the actual decision has a logical, step-by-step process behind it. Show your personality in the answer too…don’t be afraid to talk about your gut.”
Describe an ethical grey area you had to navigate.
The Harbus says: “The hardest, most complicated, problems and questions often result in the best leadership development. Don’t try to whitewash the situation; acknowledge how hard the choice was and walk the interviewer through the process you went through to come to your final outcome.”
For more tips on how to answer each of these real Harvard Business School application interview questions, follow the link above to the original Harbus article.
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