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3 Ways to Offset a Low GPA When Applying to Business School

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. When your business school application lands on an MBA admissions committee member’s desk, the member takes a hard look at two important metrics: …

fix a low gpa

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

When your business school application lands on an MBA admissions committee member’s desk, the member takes a hard look at two important metrics: your GMAT or GRE score and your GPA.

Your GPA matters because it tracks your performance over four or more years and demonstrates your ability to execute in an academic environment. Unfortunately, by the time you apply to business school, it’s too late to do much about a low GPA.

According to the most recent Kaplan survey of business school admissions officers, 32 percent said a low undergraduate GPA is an application killer. A GPA below 3.0 could be hard to come back from, but that said, 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.

This is a holistic process – every piece of the puzzle matters. When one aspect of your MBA application is weaker, you want to maximize other areas.

Keep in mind that there’s no specific cutoff for a GPA or test scores. Every year we work with clients who have had sub-3.0 GPAs and they are still accepted into their target MBA programs.

If you do have very low numbers, you’ll need to address this somewhere in your application. You don’t want to sound whiny or make excuses; just confront the issue head on.

Take a look at these MBA application tips for offsetting a spotty academic performance in college.

Explain extenuating circumstances: Use the optional essay to let the admissions committee know if your grades suffered because of extenuating circumstances, such as when you had pneumonia in your sophomore year. If a death in the family drew your attention away from school or if you also worked during college and had to divide your time between studying and supporting yourself financially, note this.

If in all honesty your academic performance suffered because of excessive social and extracurricular commitments, you can explain in your optional essay that you have since learned better time management skills and have continued your community involvement without sacrificing your work performance.

You don’t want to get too personal or detailed here. Rather, show awareness of the reasons for your lower GPA and any lessons you have learned. Then reassure the admissions committee that this will not characterize your performance in business school.

Show strong GMAT or GRE scores: High test scores offer you two advantages – they prove you can handle the quantitative work in the program, and they are a more recent example of your academic abilities. Many admissions committee members agree that a strong GMAT or GRE performance offsets a low GPA.

For example, the average GMAT score at schools such as Stanford Graduate School of Business and University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School is around 730. If you can hit or exceed the average test score at your dream program, you know you have a chance at admission. However, if you aren’t happy with your test scores, weigh whether retaking the GMAT is a prudent option.

Excel on the job: When making their admissions decisions, business schools place a high value on an applicant’s relevant professional experiences. As such, showing strong recent work performance will go a long way toward convincing committee members that you have what it takes to succeed in an MBA program.

If your work experience is at a nationally or internationally known company, that’s even better – the admissions team will feel more comfortable knowing that Proctor & Gamble, Credit Suisse or McKinsey & Co. felt confident enough take a chance on you first.

When you ask your supervisor for a letter of recommendation, ask that the individual specifically address your quantitative abilities and your ability to multitask in order to further mitigate your low GPA.

Other considerations: Finally, the level of your major’s rigor could be an important consideration when evaluating your GPA. For example, you may receive more leniency for a mediocre GPA as a physics major than if you studied theater. The admissions officer may also look to see in which specific classes you struggled.

If you had trouble in quantitative subjects, that’s more problematic. You should address this by taking – and acing – a college-level calculus or statistics course through your local community college before you apply. This will show that you are ready for graduate school.

Every part of your MBA application is important. If your low GPA is keeping you awake at night, shift your energies toward killing the GMAT, getting stellar letters of recommendation, writing compelling essays and –fingers crossed – wowing your MBA interviewer. Your admissions success depends on your ability to knock it out of the park in every other way.

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Turn Failure Into a Great B-School Essay

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. It’s the dreaded failure topic: “Describe a situation taken from your personal or professional life where you failed.” MBA applicants often freak out …

failure essay MBA

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

It’s the dreaded failure topic: “Describe a situation taken from your personal or professional life where you failed.” 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.

Your response to these situations demonstrates your character, and business schools understand that failure represents a learning opportunity.

This essay is your chance to demonstrate your maturity, flexibility and leadership qualities. Leaders aren’t always successful; rather, they are willing to admit to failure and find motivation in their misfortune.

So how do you tell the business school admissions committee how failure has truly affected you?

First, start with some real introspection. It’s important to use a failure that is emotionally important to you.

Your failure should also be real and something that led you to gain some insight about yourself. The negative situation could have led to a transformative experience for your team, a positive opportunity for someone else or a chance for you to better understand another person through a team challenge.

The admissions committee will easily see through an accomplishment that you frame as a failure; furthermore, that will not demonstrate your maturity or ability to grow. Think creatively about this aspect – do your best to describe how you have changed your approach as a result of the failure.

When brainstorming for this essay, think first about what you learned from the situation you plan to detail; then work backward to describe the circumstances and the initial challenge or hurdle. That will help you more optimistically view the whole situation. What did you learn from the experience and how did it impact your life or demonstrate a specific aspect of your character, goals or accomplishments?

Think honestly about all the emotions you felt. As ugly as they may have been, be honest and write them down.

From there, try to more eloquently describe your feelings in your essay. Remember, even the most difficult situations often lead to personal growth and likely have contributed to the individual you are today.

For example, one of my clients was caught plagiarizing a term paper during college. He was very lucky the school did not expel him, but he did fail and have to repeat that course.

This startling wakeup call became a valuable life lesson. It spurred him to join student government, help develop for the school policy guidelines on cheating and speak publicly about his plagiarism experience and the importance of respecting intellectual property. When he applied for business school, his transformative experience resonated with the admissions committee and he ultimately attended one of the top-three MBA programs in the country.

The key here is detailing not only your actions but also your feelings. Another client I worked with chose to write about her layoffs at three different companies over a five-year period. Although the layoffs had nothing to do with her job performance, each experience devastated her, and she struggled both financially and emotionally until she finally landed a position that allowed her to flourish.

She turned those low moments into a powerful admissions essay of resilience and problem-solving. She showed how the experience ultimately taught her waysto better evaluate career opportunities. Demonstrating this type of humility and self-awareness made a positive impact on the admissions committee, and she ultimately attended the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania – with a scholarship to boot.

As you finalize this essay, focus on embracing the positive aspects of your past mistake and demonstrating the ways you have used the incident as an opportunity to learn and grow. This may just be the factor that makes your candidacy stand out amid a sea of so-called “perfect” applicants.

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Show International Experience When Applying to Business School

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. The ability to work well with people from other cultures has never been more critical. More companies than ever are conducting international business, …

study abroad

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

The ability to work well with people from other cultures has never been more critical. More companies than ever are conducting international business, and business schools everywhere have spent the past few years deepening their own focus on globalization through coursework and study abroad programs.

Business school admissions committees look for applicants who are open-minded, curious, adventurous and eager to learn about the world at large. Though not an explicit requirement for admission, having meaningful work, study or travel experience outside your home country makes you more desirable as an MBA applicant.

These global experiences are especially appreciated – after graduation, they translate into marketable job skills, such as adaptability, leadership, cultural awareness and communication and language abilities. Here are two key reasons why international experience matters when applying to business school.

Diverse perspective: If you look at the demographics of any elite MBA program, you will see a considerable percentage of non-citizens enrolled. Having students from a wide array of backgrounds, cultures and languages strengthens and enriches everyone’s experience.

Whether you are applying to a program in- or outside your home country, having a broader perspective of global business issues in your arsenal means you bring a unique viewpoint to class discussions and team projects. It also expands your network as you tap into professional associations with your contacts in other countries.

MBA applicants should highlight any experiences traveling, studying or working outside their home country. The admissions committee wants to ensure these candidates can actually thrive – not just survive – in the program and work well with a diverse group of classmates.

• Adaptability and vision: If you have already logged significant international work experience or education prior to business school, you are three steps ahead of the game. Think about it: When you immerse yourself in another language or culture, you likely encounter some form of culture shock that ultimately becomes a valuable learning experience.

You are demonstrating real leadership skills when you break through communication barriers, learn how business practices work in the new environment, adapt to new social and business norms, work with diverse teams, solve problems or go beyond your comfort zone. These skills are a crucial differentiator in a competitive MBA applicant pool.

International travel and work experience can also offer a wealth of material for your MBA essays. Often such experiences will spur new career goals and a broader vision for your life.

Perhaps your travels shaped your views about health care or education, inspired a passion for Spanish literature, introduced you to the thrill of mountaineering or helped you become more outgoing and confident in unfamiliar situations. Whatever the effect, you can explain what you learned about yourself and others and in turn convey your uniqueness to the admissions committee.

Even if you haven’t traveled extensively, you can still highlight any applicable experiences you have had working with individuals from other countries and cultures. If you have the time and resources to travel in the months before applying, research international volunteer opportunities or continuing education study abroad programs. If these options aren’t feasible, consider taking on a project at work that puts you in contact with international offices or teams.

Rest assured, your application likely won’t be rejected due to a lack of international exposure if every other component is compelling and strong. In your essays, reference your enthusiasm for the school’s diverse culture and your plans to take advantage of study abroad programs, as well as your desire to participate in any clubs or student groups that will increase your cross-cultural awareness. As long as you can show your intent to expand your mindset and increase your international exposure during business school, you should be fine.

Image credit: Flickr user Fedecomite (CC BY 2.0)

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3 Reasons for Rejection From a Dream MBA Program

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com If you’ve been feeling down since receiving a rejection letter from your dream business school, I want to offer some insight into why …

rejection MBA admissions

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

If you’ve been feeling down since receiving a rejection letter from your dream business school, I want to offer some insight into why it happened, and remind you why you should keep your chin up.

First off, all of the top MBA programs are notoriously selective. It may be that out of every 100 people who submit materials, only seven to 12 are accepted. Harvard Business School – ranked No. 1 among MBA programs by U.S. News – rejected more than 8,000 applicants for its class of 2017. In other words, it’s very much a numbers game when you’re applying to such competitive programs. There are only so many spots for an overwhelming number of extremely talented candidates.

That may be hard to accept for people who have reached every goal they’ve ever gone after. So, here are three possible reasons why your target b-schools did not offer you admission.

Overrepresented demographic: Each program strives to put together a diverse class of impressive people. However, no one knows the magic formula that any given admissions committee uses to fill open spots.

The very elements that typically make up a strong candidate for business school – solid academic background, stellar test scores, work experience in investment banking, engineering or consulting – may not have strengthened your case because too many other candidates shared those exact same characteristics in this application cycle.

Everything from your gender to your industry to your nationality to your career aspirations, community service and personality comes into play when an admissions committee attempts to build a graduating class.

While you can’t do anything to change your basic profile, if you do apply again try to hone in on elements of your background, interests and experiences that set you apart. Even the most typical MBA candidate can find something that will enhance the experience of fellow classmates.

Lack of self-awareness: They say high self-awareness is the strongest predictor of overall success. Business schools love to admit applicants who appear dedicated to their personal development, which is why the “tell us about your greatest weakness” question is so popular in both essays and interviews.

There’s no such thing as a perfect MBA applicant, however. Everyone has weaknesses, and if you don’t acknowledge them, the admissions committee will make a judgement on how introspective and self-aware you are.

If your essays or interviews contain any excuses-making, passive-aggressive comments, outright bragging or rambling answers, they will question your maturity and fitness for their program. Any doubts will likely lead to a hard pass, so answer those questions honestly, but always with a positive tone focused on continual improvement and reflection.

Low stats with no explanation: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard members of the admissions committee express dismay over applicants who don’t make use of the optional essay to explain the common red flag of low quantitative stats or proof of quantitative proficiency. This isn’t the time to cross your fingers and hope for the best, no matter how many stories you’ve heard of applicants getting into the Stanford University Graduate School of Business with a 650 GMAT score.

If you plan on reapplying, you have a few options. The surest route is dedicating more time to studying so you can strengthen your score; then it won’t be an issue next time. If your stats still hover below the median at your target programs, take a college-level course in statistics or accounting and prove to the admissions committee that you know your way around a spreadsheet.

Yet another route requires more of that self-reflection I mentioned earlier. Make sure you’re targeting programs that line up well with your stats. Look at programs outside the top 15 and see if there’s a better fit with higher acceptance rates that will get you where you need to go, career-wise.

Once you’ve pulled together a strong application and submitted it, the process is out of your hands. You will never be able to do anything about who (or how many people) you were truly competing against for a spot, who read your application or what kind of mood they were in that day.

Developing resilience is incredibly important if you need to reapply, but it’s also essential in life. Even when you put your best out there, you might still fail. However, to be successful, you need to learn how to bounce back and try again.

Image credit: Flickr user Anne-Lise Heinrichs  (CC BY 2.0)

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4 Key Career Benefits From MBA Programs

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com Business school graduates benefit not only from a solid return on investment through substantial salary increases, but also by deepening the knowledge, skills …

career benefits of MBA

In one survey, 96 percent of employers said hiring business school graduates creates value for their companies.

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

Business school graduates benefit not only from a solid return on investment through substantial salary increases, but also by deepening the knowledge, skills and abilities they will need for future professional success.

Here are just four of the key career benefits MBA programs can offer.

1. Transferable skills: Business school gives you new skills and knowledge that will turbocharge your career. While MBA students often set their sights on a job in finance or consulting, the hard and soft skills acquired during an MBA program are transferable to myriad other roles. Today, you’ll find an increasing number of MBAs working in tech, health care, consumer goods, government and nonprofits, and many other industries.

The skills typically strengthened during an MBA – leadership, intellectual creativity, analysis and critical thinking, cross-cultural awareness, communication, even greater IT mastery – will serve you well as you find your way toward your ultimate career goal.

You may start out at a financial firm such as Morgan Stanley and learn a tremendous amount about banking and analysis before deciding that it’s not a good fit, as happened with my client, May. She built upon those skills when she eventually became involved with running a business as a gourmet food importer. Once you have a deeper understanding of the complexities of the business world, those problem-solving skills mastered during your MBA will carry over to your next position, and the one after that, too.

2. Higher employment rates: Having an MBA is a powerful tool that can increase job security with your current employer or within your current industry. When the Graduate Management Admission Council released its latest annual poll of employers, it forecasted robust 2016 hiring that reflects high demand for MBA graduates. A whopping 96 percent of responding employers agreed that hiring business school graduates creates value for their companies.

The MBA degree is also a powerful differentiator in a crowded marketplace. Recruiters have said that some of their corporate clients will not consider any candidate without an MBA, which shows just how much business leaders value this qualification. Employers believe it vets potential hires; you can safely assume an MBA graduate from Harvard Business School or the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania is going to bring considerable skills and business acumen to the job from day one.

Without a doubt, companies appreciate managers who have risen through the ranks, know the business inside and out and can get the job done. But they also like hiring MBAs for their ability to handle complex situations, be nimble and adapt in the face of a rapidly changing global environment. As outsiders, MBA hires can provide a broad or fresh perspective to see how to improve inefficiencies or come up with innovative solutions to business problems.

3. Degree specializations: Most MBA programs offer specializations or concentrations that allow you to do a deep dive into the nuances of a particular industry. These courses provide students with an opportunity to sample a few different industries or career paths to see whether it’s a good fit before taking the plunge.

Adding a concentration to an MBA is a good move for people who know exactly what they want to do with their career and who want to build a stronger skill base in that area. If you already know that you’re interested in something really specific, such as digital marketing, real estate, business analytics, social innovation, health care and so forth, earning an MBA with a concentration can make you even more marketable.

In today’s competitive job market, listing a concentration on your resume helps you stand out. However, if you are a career switcher and still testing the waters, you would be better off focusing on a general business education instead.

4. Networking opportunities: At business school, you’ll interact closely with talented individuals from all over the globe, which enhances the experience by exposing you to different business practices, cultures and points of view.

The connections you make are, for many, the single most valuable aspect of the MBA, so make sure you capitalize on the opportunities in and out of the classroom during your MBA studies. Your alumni network helps you stay connected to the university as well as to countless professional opportunities you can tap into throughout your career.

While the quality of the education at the most elite programs is guaranteed across the board, when you’re spending two years of your life and paying more than $100,000, it’s the network of contacts you build that make your MBA experience truly priceless.

Image credit: e3Learning  (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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4 Times Pursuing an MBA Makes Total Sense

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com For many people, business school is the ideal platform to continue their professional and personal development and achieve their career goals. Take a look at …

reasons to get an MBA

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

For many people, business school is the ideal platform to continue their professional and personal development and achieve their career goals. Take a look at these common motivating factors to determine whether you, too, should head back to the classroom for an MBA.

1. You want to switch careers. By some estimates, at least two-thirds of MBA applicants look to business school as a surefire way to launch their career in a new direction.

One past client, Sheila, worked as a real estate attorney focused on commercial transactions when she decided that she found working with the financial details of transactions more interesting than the legal intricacies. She passed the first level of the Certified Financial Analyst exam and had a great deal of financial knowledge, but a very limited understanding of other areas of business management.

Sheila had come to a point in her career where she knew what she wanted to work on for the rest of her professional life. Though the CFA program is a tremendous resource, she had enough experience to know that she needed to develop the skills best provided by earning an MBA. Going to business school became the next logical step toward her objective of working in real estate banking at a Wall Street firm.

2. Your target company demands it. If your sights are set on working for companies such as Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase & Co., McKinsey & Co. or Boston Consulting Group, know that having the MBA credential is typically an unspoken requirement. These top banking and consulting firms mandate MBA degrees for upper management positions.

While they hire employees with bachelor’s degrees for entry-level positions, the understanding is that associates will work for a few years and then head to business school to earn the degree that will open doors to senior management and partner positions.

Even if smaller firms don’t require the MBA outright, employees find they advance up the ladder much faster with the graduate management degree.

3. You hit a ceiling. When Constance first came to us, she had already spent six years working in consulting and banking, but in her current role her contributions were narrowly focused on one piece of the client’s puzzle. To broaden her role and shift to strategic consulting for financial institutions, Constance needed an MBA.

She knew her experience with strategy and working for banks would enable her to participate in the classroom, but MBA courses in financial accounting, financial engineering and risk management would expand her knowledge and give her the full toolkit for landing a position as an associate at a top-tier consulting firm in the U.S. or Europe.

Constance’s long-term goal involved eventually taking a partner role at a smaller, niche consulting firm. Business school was a crucial next step for transition.

4. You need new skills. Our former client Peter’s undergraduate degree was in art history from a small liberal arts college. While most of his classmates had pursued Ph.Ds for a career in academia, he had always wanted to find a way to combine his creative interests within a team-based environment.

Peter began his career in an entry-level position at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the arts education group. Within a few years he was on a strong trajectory within MoMA, but Peter really wanted to focus on entrepreneurial activity within the arts world. He decided he needed an MBA to gain the hard financial and management skills required to meet that goal.

As you can see, every individual’s needs and motivations are different. When you map out your medium- and long-term professional goals, think about what gaps you have and whether an MBA could be that transformational experience that changes your career trajectory forever.

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

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