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Applying to Business School With Limited Work Experience

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com There is no single right time to go to business school. Every MBA applicant has his or her own unique professional goals and …

Without an established career trajectory to highlight, younger applicants must be able to point to a stellar academic record.

Without an established career trajectory to highlight, younger applicants must be able to point to a stellar academic record.

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

There is no single right time to go to business school. Every MBA applicant has his or her own unique professional goals and timetable, and while the vast majority of candidates still log three to five years on the job before applying, required work experience has been trending downward over the past decade.

We’ll likely see age and work experience requirements continue to shift, as data show that test-takers under 24 have been the fastest-growing demographic for the GMAT exam.

There are, however, certain types of applicants that set their sights on an MBA right after graduation. Some applicants do so because they don’t want to have to leave the workforce and put their life on hold for two years. The opportunity cost is the largest cost component of an MBA, and that financial sacrifice is lowest in the early career stage.

Other candidates may be thinking about when to start a family, and early entrance to business school would allow many women to establish their careers before having children. Female enrollment in elite business schools lags significantly behind men and tops out at around 40 percent in this year’s incoming class?, but the number of men and women enrolling in medical and law school is fairly evenly split, partially because both of these graduate programs continue straight after university.

Those thinking of applying to business school immediately after college or those with less than three years of work experience, should make an honest assessment of their academic profile, career goals and most crucially, examples of leadership. Also, research which business schools are open to younger, less experienced applicants.? Not all are welcoming to this group, and you don’t want to waste time applying to MBA programs that really value significant work experience.

School websites typically state their preference where work experience is concerned. Additionally, the class profile may also include data on where students fall in terms of their professional background.

Without an established career trajectory to highlight, younger applicants must be able to point to a stellar academic record that includes an exceptional undergrad GPA and GMAT or GRE scores that are through the roof. Any noteworthy scholarships or awards received in college should be included as well.?

The MBA is often used as a way for people to switch careers. Since younger applicants aren’t yet on a firm path, those with little experience need to be able to clearly articulate both short and long-term professional goals, and convince the admissions committee that the degree is critical to helping them reach those goals.

MBA programs that court younger applicants do so because they know that the degree is an excellent way to accelerate the development of rising leaders. Early-career applicants may have fewer work experiences, but the admissions committee is more interested in the quality than the quantity.

Leadership examples should therefore be exceptional. Maybe you worked for the family business in a pivotal role, started your own company or have shown strong leadership in an extracurricular setting.

When we first met our client Anita, she was a college senior at Northwestern University and thought that Harvard Business School‘s 2+2 program for younger applicants was perfect for her, as she would get two years of real-world work experience before returning for a two-year MBA program.

As an economics major, Anita knew that she would be competing with other students with great stats, so she and her consultant chose to emphasize her leadership experiences instead. While in college, Anita had organized a casual group of fellow long-distance runners to raise money for charity, and after several successful runs, she joined up as a local chapter of a national charity running organization.

Anita and her consultant created a narrative of leading younger people that started with Anita’s time as a Girl Scout leader, followed by her Big Sister mentorship, and continued with her resident adviser and orientation leader positions as a college junior and senior.

By highlighting Anita’s leadership qualities and showing how Harvard’s 2+2 program would help shape Anita’s future in the business world, she and her consultant created a strong application that ultimately earned her admission at her dream program.

While younger, less experienced candidates have a tougher time landing a seat at a top business school, MBA programs are definitely becoming more open to including them in the mix. Admissions committees put much consideration into who they will admit each year, and these days, creating a rich and diverse classroom experience often means including the voices of strong early-career students as well.

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3 Research Tips for Veterans Applying to Business Schools

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com Although some armed forces veterans might not immediately see the correlation between their skills and experiences from the military and those needed to lead …

from soldier to student

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

Although some armed forces veterans might not immediately see the correlation between their skills and experiences from the military and those needed to lead a Fortune 500 company, the truth is that business schools admire the leadership skills, grit and mental agility these applicants typically possess.

Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria once wrote an editorial in the Washington Post about how MBA programs should target more veterans, saying, “Business school can be a pathway for integrating our service members back into civilian life, and for finding new ways to engage their intellect, integrity and leadership at home.”

If you are planning a transition from active military service to business school, begin your research by finding out how each of the programs measures up in the following three areas.

1. Explore culture and fit: Every applicant should consider whether the business schools that interest them are good fits as far as class size, teaching method, location and general culture are concerned. A good fit is even more important for veterans, however, since their background is quite different from the majority of candidates. The adjustment from active service to a classroom can be challenging, and having strong outlets of support from the school makes a world of difference.

Once on campus, find out how many students are in the MBA program. Veterans at top-tier business schools typically make up about 5 percent of each incoming class, and too few fellow service men and women may leave students wishing for more peers they can relate to.

Find out what kinds of special programs for veterans exist, and whether the business school has student clubs or organizations created specifically for veterans. Also, look into what kind of personalized academic and career support is available to veterans to help translate their military skills into civilian life.

Reach out to current students for their honest feedback about daily life in the program with details that go beyond what you discover on the school website or by chatting with admissions officers.

2. Consider recruiting efforts: Another telltale sign of a highly military-friendly school is whether it hosts MBA admissions events exclusively to recruit veterans. Examples include the Veteran Prospective Student Day at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School; the Veteran’s Ambassadors event at MIT Sloan School of Management; and Military Visit Day at Tuck School of Business. Coming up next week on November 13th, Columbia Business School will host its own Spotlight on: Military in Business Association.

Even if the school you’re thinking about doesn’t host an admissions event specifically for military applicants, you can still get a fair assessment of how eager the program is to recruit veterans by looking at whether it provides support services starting during the application phase – not only once you’re admitted. Also, find out if the school offers deferment flexibility to candidates whose needs may change at the last minute if still on active duty.

3. Look into financial aid: The high cost of business school often deters veteran applicants. Many already have families of their own, and the concern over lost wages while they study cannot be overstated.

However, there are so many financial incentives specifically designed for this group that one’s actual out-of-pocket expense goes down dramatically once you factor in Veterans Affairs benefits, dedicated veterans scholarships, waived application fees and the Yellow Ribbon Program.

Under this program, the federal government matches, dollar for dollar, any financial aid that participating schools commit, essentially providing eligible student veterans with free or reduced-cost tuition. It’s designed to make out-of-state public colleges, private institutions and graduate programs more affordable for veterans.

Schools offer varying levels of support under the Yellow Ribbon Program, so visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website to learn whether the business school has limits on the number of recipients eligible annually – some are unlimited – and to see the exact dollar amount of the maximum school contribution per student, per year.

Stanford Graduate School of Business, for example, has no limits on the number of eligible veterans and contributes $16,500 per student, per year. The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University caps the number at 40 participants and offers $18,000 annually. Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, meanwhile, accepts 50 students under the Yellow Ribbon Program and contributes up to $15,000 a year.

“The Yellow Ribbon Program is the best indicator of how much a school truly supports veterans and when you apply it really should be part of your research,” wrote Dave Dauphinais, a Navy veteran who served in special operations for 10 years and is currently enrolled in the joint MBA and MPA program between Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, on Tuck’s website.

“The program is voluntary for schools in the amount of money offered by the school and in the number of veterans they will support so it serves as a telling indicator,” he wrote.

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4 Reasons to Write an Optional Business School Application Essay

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 …

MBA essays

When brainstorming ideas for this essay, make sure to choose a subject that cannot be addressed elsewhere in your application packet.

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.

Academic Weaknesses

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.

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Advice for Business School Applicants From Asia

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com According to the Graduate Management Admission Council’s 2015 Application Trends Survey report, China and India are the top countries where MBA and business school master’s …

Asian MBA applicant

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

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council’s 2015 Application Trends Survey report, China and India are the top countries where MBA and business school master’s programs recruit international candidates. The interest is mutual, with Indian and Chinese applicants showing an overwhelming preference for studying in the U.S.

There is, however, a very diverse marketplace across Asia, and these two countries in particular couldn’t be more different. The two major divergences are the number of men versus women sitting for the GMAT exam and the type of program to which citizens of these countries most often apply.

The GMAC, which administers the GMAT and produces surveys on various management education topics annually, reports that for the 2014 testing year, there were 28,325 exams taken in India, of which 7,771 test-takers were women. Contrast that with China, where GMAC administered 57,783 exams last year – 37,631 of which were taken by women.

In fact, China is the second-largest source country after the U.S. for women interested in going to business school. According to GMAC’s 2014 Data-to-Go report on regional testing trends, GMAT testing in China has seen an annual growth rate of 22 percent over the past five years, and this explosive increase is coming exclusively from increasingly younger test-takers.

In 2014, 79 percent of them were under 25, up from 63 percent just five years ago. Chinese citizens send three-quarters of their scores to programs in the U.S., and six out of 10 Chinese women say developing general business skills and increasing job opportunities are their main reasons for pursuing graduate management education.

Indian citizens say the top motivators for pursuing business school are a desire to develop leadership, managerial and general business skills, as well as career acceleration, the report states. A significant motivation expressed by female applicants in India, according to the survey, is to help make a bigger difference in their field of interest, cited by 46 percent of women, versus 39 percent of male applicants.

The difference in the types of management programs that attract Indian and Chinese applicants is also dramatic. In China, the majority of test scores are sent to master’s programs, and just 28.7 percent of scores go to MBA programs, both in the U.S. and otherwise.

Meanwhile in India, 86.4 percent of scores went to MBA programs both in and out of the U.S., and a mere 11.6 percent were sent to non-MBA master’s programs. According to the GMAC survey, applicants who seek master of finance programs are often unsure of the economy or job prospects and are seeking international opportunities rather than a career change, which is often the motive for MBA hopefuls.

Challenges for Chinese and Indian MBA Applicants

Business school admissions committees often cite insufficient English proficiency as a roadblock for international students applying to U.S. schools. But even more problematic is the overwhelming number of applicants who have an engineering background, particularly among Indian applicants, which makes standing out from the masses much more difficult.

Even though U.S. schools receive more international applications from this part of the world than any other, proportionally speaking, more candidates are denied admission from this region than any other as well.

The reason for this level of rejection of highly qualified applicants is twofold. Business schools in the U.S. want to create a rich learning environment through a diverse class of individuals representing various professional industries and walks of life.

Secondly, the career services office must make sure these students will be able to land a job when they graduate. International students hoping to stay in the U.S. face stiff competition from similarly prepared American graduates as well as serious hurdles obtaining work visas.

Application Advice for Indian and Chinese Candidates

An increasing number of programs have incorporated video interviews and video essay questions into their admissions requirements, allowing schools to better observe how applicants express themselves and think on their feet.

Active class participation and communication skills are a vital component of the MBA experience, so making sure international candidates possess English fluency levels that are competitive with native speakers is an absolute must for any applicant to a top MBA program in the U.S.

While the odds may be tougher, even applicants in over-represented groups can prevail and land a seat at an elite business school. It happens many times during every single admissions season. The key is finding a way to differentiate themselves from their peers, and the best place to do so is in the MBA essays.

By showing that they have real leadership and managerial experience, have made a significant, quantifiable impact on the job or in their extracurricular activities, have ambitious career goals and can paint a vivid picture of their dreams and passions that go beyond a stellar GMAT score, these applicants will absolutely have a shot at admission at their dream MBA program.

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Use Your Network to Help You Get Into Business School

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com While everyone agrees the network you build during business school is one of the top benefits of earning an MBA degree, the best …

networking before business school

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

While everyone agrees the network you build during business school is one of the top benefits of earning an MBA degree, the best time to start networking is long before you apply.

Keep in mind that your ideal network should include a mix of mentors, colleagues and people who can connect you to an array of professional opportunities. If you’ve laid the groundwork and have already cultivated meaningful relationships with current students and alumni, these connections can grease the wheels for your successful MBA application.

First, get in contact with current students and alumni in your MBA network and enlist their help in researching programs. Nothing compares with hearing firsthand accounts that offer a realistic view of the business school experience that go beyond the brand messages of school websites and admissions events. Have conversations about why they decided to go to business school, why they chose the program they did, what were the highlights or surprises of their experience, and what they wish they had known when starting this process.

 Ideally, you will tap into your contacts who work in the same industry you hope to upon graduating. These individuals can offer advice based on their own jobs and career paths, and explain how the MBA degree has helped advance their career goals. By talking to actual MBAs, you can get a clearer picture of whether a particular program’s culture is a good match for you, and to figure out how well the school is positioned to help you succeed.

Sometimes, these conversations will prove enlightening by steering you in a different direction from your initial top-choice school. Talking to as many students and alumni as you can will not only help you narrow down your choices of where to apply, but will provide insight you can parlay into more convincing MBA essays and use to improve your admissions interviews, especially if conducted with second-year students or alums.

When you complete your essays, it can be very helpful to have a student or alumnus give them a thorough review, as these individuals have an intimate understanding of the application process and probably answered the same questions themselves just a few years ago. Make sure they are not just reassuring you that all is well, but are actually giving you some quality feedback.

Do be aware of the danger of having too many cooks in the kitchen. Two or three people doing the reviewing is usually the right amount.

Some schools welcome informal recommendations from students. If you are friends with a student or alumnus from one of your target schools, by all means let them put in a good word for you. Just don’t overdo it.

This type of endorsement works best if it is expressed directly to someone in admissions in a very casual way, where it seems like you had no hand in it. However, if the person can truly comment on your abilities, it’s perfectly appropriate – and beneficial – to ask an alumnus from your desired school to write your required letter of recommendation.

Visiting the campus in person is one of the best ways to get a true feeling of what attending the program would be like. After going on the official tour, crash with a student friend for the weekend and really live the business school life. Going to the local pub can be just as helpful as sitting in on a class to get a flavor for the people and culture of the school, with the added benefit of giving you experiences that will help you better articulate your fit with the program in your essays and interviews.

Business schools will often say the MBA admissions process is more art than science, and the more inside information you can leverage from students and alumni, the better your chances of acceptance at the business school of your dreams.

Image credit: Flickr user Andrés García (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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4 Things to Know Before Going to Business School

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com Even though many incoming first-year MBA students think they have a pretty good idea of what awaits them, there’s always something about business …

happy handshake

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

Even though many incoming first-year MBA students think they have a pretty good idea of what awaits them, there’s always something about business school that takes them by surprise. Whether you are a member of the class of 2017, or a candidate working on your application for next fall, take a look at these tips to help better prepare you for an awesome MBA experience.

1. Don’t be intimidated by your classmates: It’s difficult to not be impressed when you see the caliber of your peers, who will all seem to be phenomenally accomplished. After all, at a top MBA program, you’re sure to be surrounded by marathon winners, Everest summiters, judo champions and probably a White House aide or two.

Instead of feeling less-than-accomplished among these type-A leaders, take the approach of learning from a diverse group of people who have experience in areas you’re not familiar with. Most business schools foster a collaborative culture, so these geniuses will more than likely be excited to share their knowledge.

While it’s human nature to gravitate toward people who are similar to you, business school is a unique opportunity to interact closely with students from other countries and backgrounds. If you make an effort to get to know those outside of your comfort zone, your experience will be greatly enriched.

And don’t forget that you, too, were accepted into the class for a reason. The school believes that you have a great deal to contribute, so make sure that you do.

2. There’s a right way to engage at recruiting events: To really maximize the job recruiting experience, your main goal should be trying to get a grasp of each company’s culture. Use this opportunity to determine how well you would enjoy working on their team. Within the same industry, most companies will provide the same types of projects or experiences, so finding out whether you connect with the people you’re speaking with will go a long way toward helping you decide which offer is most attractive.

Remember, most of the people you will be speaking with at these events were in your shoes not that long ago. Be respectful, but not daunted, by their position.

You should go into interviews and corporate presentations prepared to have a conversation and tell them about yourself. Also, don’t stress if you don’t land the dream summer internship. Summer positions are often more competitive than full-time offers, so you’ll still have a great chance at the same job after graduation.

3. What happens outside the classroom is more important: GPA may have been the be-all and end-all in your undergraduate career, but at business school, your grades really don’t count that much.

Many schools have a grade nondisclosure policy, but even if it doesn’t, no one is going to ask. Go to class to learn, but don’t study so much that you miss out on the rest of the experience.

Reap the full benefits of the MBA experience by getting involved with activities outside of the classroom. The opportunities are overwhelming, so be selective with your choices and know that you will learn as much from these activities as you will from your studies. Extracurriculars will help you with networking and provide something to talk about in your interviews.

The intense nature of the business school experience bonds students and makes it a wonderful place to make lifelong friends. As you build your network, make sure to reach out to people around you and see how you can help them as well.

Remember that your classmates and the classes above and below you are all members of this priceless network. Always keep in mind that you may network with any of these people down the line.

4. Failure is OK and even encouraged: You may be starting business school with a crystal-clear vision of your career goals, but if you’re paying upward of $60,000 a year in tuition, why not use this time to explore new options?

Go to diverse corporate presentations, take courses in unfamiliar subjects or interview with a company outside of your industry. You may be surprised at how your interests shift and grow.

The first year of an MBA program is like a learning laboratory, and an ideal time to take risks, challenge yourself and find out where your weaknesses are. You will also have the freedom to explore areas that would be impossible with a day job, as business school is a safe environment for trying out the most audacious ideas.

Failure is one of the best learning tools, so don’t be afraid to flop. Many of the most successful entrepreneurs only became so after overcoming multiple adversities. Not only will the experience make you more resilient, it will allow you to evolve and know what not to do next time.

image credit: Flickr user thetaxhaven CC By 2.0

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