Category Archives: Application Tips
December 29, 2016
How is it possible that we’re already at the final days of 2016? Once again, the time is upon us to make new resolutions, push ourselves to learn and grow, and rededicate ourselves to our personal and professional goals.
With that in mind, we’d like to share some of our most popular blog posts from the past year, each selected to help you better prepare as you journey along the road to business school.
Considering a second MBA degree?—The idea of pursuing a second MBA degree may sound strange, but it happens with a small number of applicants during every admissions season and can make sense under the right, very specific, circumstances.
Avoid These 10 Pitfalls in MBA Application Essays—There are many ways to craft a stellar essay that will give the reader a better sense of who you are, but there are also several mistakes to avoid as you’re answering these required prompts. Make sure you sidestep the following pitfalls at all costs.
Weigh if an MBA Makes Financial Sense—An MBA is a long-term financial investment, so here are three questions to ask when trying to decide whether going to business school makes financial sense.
Choosing Among Multiple Offers of Admission—Despite the adage, “You can never have too much of a good thing,” in reality, multiple b-school acceptances can produce a lot of anxiety in candidates.
Push or Pull? The Decision to Leave the Military and Pursue an MBA—There comes a time in many military lives where those that wear the uniform wonder what it’s like on the other side – the civilian side to be exact. One of the most common routes to find out is through the pursuit of an MBA at a top-ranked graduate school of business.
Turn Failure Into a Great B-School Essay—MBA applicants often freak out when faced with this common admissions essay question because they fear that showing any weakness will torpedo their admissions chances. However, at one point or another, everyone faces adversity, failure or setbacks, whether at work or in life.
3 Ways to Offset a Low GPA When Applying to Business School—Your GPA matters because it tracks your performance over four or more years and demonstrates your ability to execute in an academic environment. If you have your heart set on attending one of the best business schools in the world but worry your undergraduate GPA could harm your chances, know that you generally still have a chance.
5 Ways to Prepare for the 1st Year of Business School—Whether you’re just starting to complete applications or you are about to embark on your first days as an MBA student, here are five ways to successfully prepare for your first year of business school.
4 Bad Reasons to Skip Applying for B-School—If you really believe that going to business school is the key to unlocking a more fulfilling and lucrative professional life, then don’t sabotage that goal by letting yourself get swayed by these four bad reasons for not pursuing an MBA degree.
How Important is a Campus Visit in MBA Admissions?—You might have experienced a moment of panic as you began to work on your MBA applications for Round 2. And it could have gone something like this: “Wait a second—I won’t have time to visit any schools before my materials are due! Does that put me at a disadvantage?” The answer is no.
Tips to Help You Ace Every B-School Interview Format—Whether you’ve already received an interview invitation or are hoping to get an invite over the next few weeks, you want to make sure you’re prepared to do your best when the big day arrives.
Making the Most of Each MBA Application Component—Certain aspects of your package, such as your GMAT/GRE score and your undergraduate GPA, are truly data points in the most literal sense of the word. But everything else should be viewed as complementary chapters of an interesting story—a story about you.
My goal with this blog has always been to bring b-school applicants the latest news from the schools, insightful application and essay tips, and to explore major trends affecting the future of management education.
Thank you so much for making us a top destination for your b-school research. I hope this resource continues to serve you well as you embark on what is definitely a life-changing, career-boosting journey.
Have a wonderful holiday, and I’ll see you back here in 2017!
December 27, 2016
The GMAT. It’s an acronym that strikes fear in the hearts of many a prospective MBA student. And for good reason: while your GMAT score is just one data point out of your entire package for the AdCom to consider, it’s often viewed as proof of academic prowess. A strong performance on the GMAT is a key component of the MBA application to most top business schools. But what can you do if your score isn’t where you want or need it to be?
Whether your lower-than-desired score is a result of illness, test anxiety, or just plain insufficient prep time, don’t let it throw you off your game. Make peace with the fact that it’s totally normal to take the GMAT more than once. In fact, I typically advise clients to plan for two attempts at the GMAT, leaving a buffer for a retake if needed.
There’s really no harm in taking the test several times, and unless you score well right out of the gate, you often will do better the second time—you’ll have fewer nerves, more familiarity with the process, and no big surprises. There’s no such thing as a bad test, just opportunities to build on and learn from.
If you didn’t prepare enough, then ramp up your studying, take a class, or consider hiring a tutor who can help you streamline your efforts and teach you the best methods for answering the various question types.
Also, don’t worry about how the schools will perceive those multiple tests. Admissions committee members often interpret this dedication to improving your score as a sign that you’ll do whatever it takes to prove you’re ready for business school.
While it’s natural to become hung up on achieving the highest score possible, or fixate on the average GMAT score reported by the schools, I urge test-challenged clients to focus instead on aligning their scores within the 80 percent range. Many schools list this information directly within their class profiles.
Keep in mind that this high number is primarily for those targeting a top-tier MBA program. For example, the 80 percent range for the MBA class entering UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business in fall 2016 is 680-750. Columbia Business School had a similar 80 percent range this year of 680-760, and University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School listed the 80 percent range as 700-770 for the class of 2017.
If you scored a 680, think carefully about whether a retake would significantly improve your overall candidacy. You may decide your energies should instead go toward focusing on your essays, or coaching recommenders.
Targeting these numbers at the lower end, rather than at the out-of-reach average, may keep your application viable. However, if you’re 50 points away, it’s time to rethink your selected programs and consider adding options in the top 20 or 30.
You can still leave the highest-ranked options on the table, but these have officially become what we call “reach” schools. Applicants looking at programs in the top 20 or 50 should check the average scores of admitted students to determine their personal target GMAT score.
If your score hasn’t improved significantly despite two or more attempts, don’t beat yourself up over it. Turn your focus to taking a broader look at your entire application strategy. The GMAT score foretells how well one would do in the core academic courses of an MBA program, but isn’t a predictor of success throughout the entire b-school experience. This is why most schools have a holistic approach to considering each application.
It’s entirely possible to offset a low GMAT score with a proven track record in a quantitative job, a high GPA from a respected undergraduate school, and compelling leadership activities. Put your energies toward boosting your candidacy in the areas of your application you can control, namely the essays, extracurriculars, and to some extent, the recommendation letters, where your recommenders can highlight your quantitative skills.
Although you may feel tempted to use the optional essay to explain a low test score, try to resist, as this will likely come across as making excuses rather than providing additional information.
Business school hopefuls can be incredibly hard on themselves when they make mistakes on the GMAT, but should actually think of each error as a learning opportunity and a chance to improve. So don’t become discouraged if your first score isn’t where you’d hoped.
The admissions process is a complex one, so after you’ve done the best you can on the GMAT, it’s time to focus on developing your personal brand by packaging your goals, passions, work experience and “why business school, why now” into a compelling case for your admission. In the end, your exceptional accomplishments will likely shine through despite some academic challenges.
December 22, 2016
On the surface, many applicants to elite MBA programs share similar backgrounds and traits. They are ambitious, driven, accomplished, and have strong academic records and impressive test scores. In short, they are leaders and achievers. …
On the surface, many applicants to elite MBA programs share similar backgrounds and traits. They are ambitious, driven, accomplished, and have strong academic records and impressive test scores. In short, they are leaders and achievers. But just because candidates share these characteristics doesn’t mean their MBA application essays have to beat the same drum. Unfortunately, loads of applicants make the mistake of writing about what they think the admissions committee wants to hear, as opposed to what really resonates for them personally.
We already know that Kellogg School of Management is bombarded with people wanting to go into packaged goods marketing, or that Chicago Booth School of Business is overloaded with finance wannabes. Despite having many of the same career goals, applicants need to think of how they can brand themselves distinctly. Too often stories get overdone, with candidates devoting paragraph upon paragraph to describing assorted business projects because hey, this is business school we’re talking about, right? Wrong tactic! This course of action does nothing to enhance their candidacy because it’s obvious these experiences weren’t at all meaningful to them.
If you leave out the stories about your martial arts training, extensive travel experience, or obsession with college basketball because you figure it’s not relevant to b-school, you’re missing out on a golden opportunity to allow the admissions committee a chance to get to know the real you behind the data points.
Another common mistake is looking at applications submitted by friends who have been successful, and thinking, “Well, it worked for them so I’m going to do that, too.” The thing is, you never know whether they were admitted in spite of a tactic or story, not because of it. You have to focus on what works for you and reveals something unique about yourself. Business schools look for qualities that can translate into leadership, so being a school teacher who can communicate effectively and move and motivate groups of people can actually be more relevant than someone who sits alone in a cube at a “business” job crunching numbers.
When brainstorming stories from your background to share in your MBA essays, you should absolutely include some traditional work stuff. But also think about family, friendships, languages, interests, passions, dreams—categories that are not necessarily “business-y” but that reveal character traits you want to emphasize. Also, think about a real and attainable career goal, something that truly excites you personally and that makes sense given your interests and trajectory to date, not just something that seems to make a good story for b-school.
For example, let’s say you are a first year analyst at an investment bank—just like hundreds of other applicants. Don’t give the three-bullet pointed job description that appears on your resume. Talk about the little spreadsheet that you identified as inefficient and decided to overhaul. Try to identify smaller but more personal and unique stories that tell how you were a different analyst than all the others.
One client we worked with showcased his leadership activities in a Kellogg School of Management essay by describing how he put together guidelines for his firm that became a part of new employee training. Maybe you created a new process or led recruiting efforts – any of these work activities can help your application stand out.
While many applicants have similar credentials, the beauty of the MBA application process is that it allows candidates a chance for self-reflection, and to discover that they are more unique than they first imagine. All applicants, even those from typical pre-MBA backgrounds, have a story to tell, and an opportunity to go beyond numbers and statistics to present the admissions committee with a snapshot of who they really are.
December 20, 2016
At Stacy Blackman Consulting, we do a lot of thinking about leadership – what is leadership, how best to showcase it, why it matters, and more. If asked what is the single most important quality for business school applications, I would say leadership. While some schools emphasize it more than others, leadership is extremely important to every school. They are grooming overall leaders, not just number-crunchers, marketers or statisticians.
When faced with any iteration of the leadership question on their MBA essays, many applicants freak out because they imagine they’ve got to come up with an example that is basically their greatest life or professional achievement. But just because you achieved something outstanding does not always mean leadership skills were involved, especially if you did most or all of the work. Also, leadership often gets confused with management, but being a great leader is not just about managing something, although that can be a part of it. It’s about leaving a footprint on whatever situation you’re in and doing more than a good job.
Remember, leadership is never a solo effort. One of the central tenets of leadership essays is showing that you can galvanize the actions of other people. You bring out their passions. You educate them. You help them see organizational priorities in new ways. And then they share in the achievement. You’re inspiring others and bringing out the best in them. These two points are critical and help to explain how leadership differs from just any great achievement.
The most impacting leadership essays will have heroes other than yourself. If you helped Henry in accounts receivable realize his full potential on a project you led, showcase him as a hero in your leadership tale. In the best of all worlds, people create a good balance between these types of essays at the beginning of their application process, even before they start writing. However the good news is that, in many instances, you can still adjust your application fairly late in the process to achieve the appropriate balance between individual achievement and leadership.
Adding in a few sentences here and there about enabling others, or educating and defining priorities for group endeavors, will go a long way toward rounding out your profile. What kind of experiences will make the best tales of leadership? Think about challenges where the following came into play:
- Identifying/defining a problem
- Resisting conventional approaches; challenging status quo
- Marshaling resources to address problem
- Motivating others
- Making good use of others’ talents
- Being open to new information, input, etc.
- Building consensus with appropriate stakeholders
- Guiding strong mid-course corrections; overcoming mistakes
- Building on success
Keep in mind, leadership is not just about the titles. Some candidates try to build their leadership essays around the fact that they were selected for or elected to certain positions where they had a high level of authority and responsibility: editor-in-chief of a college paper, fraternity president, captain of the hockey team, director of product development, V.P. of marketing, etc. Collecting impressive titles does not make someone a great leader—helping a team overcome great challenges does.
Don’t get hung up on coming up with wildly impressive situations, even if you’re applying to the most elite MBA program in the world. You can solve smaller problems and still show leadership potential. I remember one candidate who was applying to business school with just six months of work experience under her belt. As a result, she had few obvious leadership examples, but she had taken it upon herself to overhaul an Excel spreadsheet for the investment bank where she worked.
To do this, she had to state the problem, come up with a solution, and sell others, including supervisors, on her idea. Her improved spreadsheet—containing market information including Treasury rates—saved time, became a great internal resource, and helped the bank communicate better with clients. Taking the initiative to change this spreadsheet was what she wrote about in her application.
You can also look to your extracurricular activities to show leadership without clear career progression. Starting a club, organization, or charitable group works, too. If you have been involved in an activity as a member, think about taking on a leadership role. This is your opportunity to demonstrate that you can run a project and motivate a team.
One of my clients launched an English club in his native China because he needed to improve his language skills for business school and thought his neighbors might benefit, too. The club grew, and he made his mark in the community, which was something he could point out to admissions committees. He showed he could inspire and motivate others, organize a group, and learn a new language to boot. The applicant ultimately was accepted at Harvard Business School.
When it comes to evaluating your application, members of the MBA admissions committee believe your past leadership achievements are the best gauge of your potential for realizing your future ambitions. You can’t go wrong if you use your essays to show how you’ve worked to inspire others and bring out the best in them.