Category Archives: Application Tips

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.

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UCLA Anderson on the Pros and Cons of Each Application Round

Deciding in which round you should submit your MBA application can cause a lot of stress, as each seems to have its own pros and cons. As numerous business schools have second-round deadlines eminently, you …

Deciding in which round you should submit your MBA application can cause a lot of stress, as each seems to have its own pros and cons. As numerous business schools have second-round deadlines eminently, you might like to take a look at how the admissions team at the UCLA Anderson School of Management—whose R2 deadline is January 5th— views the pluses and drawbacks of each application round.

timing your MBA

Here are just a few of the points made by the UCLA Anderson AdCom on the subject:

Applying in Round One

Pros: Applying early shows you’re serious about going to business school. In the case of UCLA Anderson, you have the best shot at merit-based fellowship funds in the first round. If you don’t get accepted in the first round you still have time to apply to other programs in Round 2.

Cons: Least amount of time to properly prepare for the GMAT/GRE. Also, the time factor may not allow enough time for you to pull together a high-quality application.

Applying in Round Two

Pros: Applying in this round allows you ample time to visit the school and make a convincing argument about fit based on those experiences on campus.

Cons: Competition is fierce as this is the most popular round. If you don’t get accepted, you may not have time to apply anywhere else this cycle.

Applying in Round Three

Pros: The final round offers the most time to continue enhancing your profile with promotions at work or deepen volunteer commitments that show off your well-rounded personality. You’ll also have time to re-take the GMAT or GRE multiple times if needed to get your score in a competitive range.

Cons: A capped class size makes this by far the most competitive round as there are fewer spots available in the class.  You will likely be compared against many other individuals on the waitlist from earlier rounds.

The truth is that the admissions committees know what they are looking for. They have become pretty good at estimating numbers, and evaluating and accepting applicants that fit their criteria. The best strategy is not to play the game of which round, but to submit your application as soon as, but not until, it is ready.


Make 2017 the year you achieve your most ambitious professional goals! Take the first step by signing up for a completely free consultation with one of our all-star advisors. We can answer questions, provide advice and help set you up to make your MBA dreams come true in 2017. Sign up today at:

Image by Flickr user Cam Evans (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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