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Fit the GMAT Into Overall MBA Application Strategy

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com Just about every MBA candidate needs to submit a GMAT or GRE score as part of their business school admission package, but not …

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

Just about every MBA candidate needs to submit a GMAT or GRE score as part of their business school admission package, but not everyone has a clear grasp on when and how the exam fits within the context of the whole application process.

In an ideal world, you would take the test just coming out of college, while you’re still in study and test mode as a recent student. Since both GMAT and GRE scores are valid for five years, getting the exams out of the way years in advance would free you to focus on all of the other elements of the application.

If, like most applicants, you didn’t have the foresight to take the exam right after college, the next best step is to plan your application strategy so that the GMAT is finished before you finalize your list of schools. Your score isn’t everything, but it is an important part of the admissions equation.

If you bomb the exam and can’t improve your score, you may need to reassess your target schools to include less-competitive options. Conversely, you may be able to add one more reach school if the score was higher than expected.

Round one of business school admissions is about four months away at many schools, and if you still need to take the GMAT, you have a lot of work ahead of you. Unless you’re a natural at taking standardized tests, you’ll need to train your brain to get it back into test-taking form.

Most applicants devote at least 100 hours to test preparation, and depending on where you are in the process, you may have to take a prep class and perhaps take the test more than once. If this is the case, the first round may not be a realistic option unless you’re able and prepared to completely immerse yourself in the process.

One client, Tasha, came to us just five weeks before the round she was targeting with some idea of her school choices and a GMAT score she wanted to improve. With her limited time she needed to schedule the GMAT for two weeks before her application deadlines. That meant she did not have the luxury of focused studying for the GMAT in all of her free time.

To help Tasha manage her time, we wrote down all of her tasks, including the number of essay iterations we expected her to go through, and then we worked backward from her deadlines to see how many days she had to work. Tasha then started alternating essay writing and GMAT study until the day she took the test.

This abbreviated yet methodical time management system worked for her, and Tasha was able to improve her GMAT by 30 points and submit a strong application to her three target schools. She ultimately gained admission to Stanford Graduate School of Business and Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Tasha’s strategy won’t work for everybody, but we see applicants pull off the impossible every season.

I typically advise clients to plan for two attempts at the GMAT, leaving a buffer for a retake if needed. There’s no harm in taking the test two or even three times, and unless you score really well right out of the gate, you often will do better the second time. This is because you’ll have fewer nerves, more familiarity with the process and no big surprises. There is no such thing as a bad test, just opportunities to build on and learn from.

Average scores are creeping higher every year at the top MBA programs, making it hard to offset a bad GMAT score. It truly is a level playing field, and I often cringe when I read essays where people try to rationalize a low score.

What you can do, however, is acknowledge the score and say you don’t find it truly reflective of your abilities. Then show why you are actually strong in quant or going to excel academically by pointing to your college GPA, work experience or by encouraging your recommenders to focus heavily on your intellect.

Timing and planning are key to reducing the stress of the application process. I generally encourage applicants to not cram everything into too short of a timeline, but everyone has their own style and you need to figure out what makes the most sense for you, your goals and your schedule.

Posted in Application Tips, Test Prep Advice | Tagged , , , ,

Decide Whether to Pursue a Pre-MBA Internship

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com The summer before business school is traditionally a blissful time to just hang out, travel, sleep in and generally savor the brief respite between …

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

The summer before business school is traditionally a blissful time to just hang out, travel, sleep in and generally savor the brief respite between your turbocharged job and the whirlwind that awaits once you set foot on campus.

While the vast majority of incoming MBA students still do spend the months leading up to school indulging in their favorite pastimes, the pre-MBA internship has become a growing trend among the recently admitted. Let’s take a look at what it is, who it’s for and why you should think about pursuing one – maybe.

What Is a Pre-MBA Internship?

A summer internship is the hallmark of the two-year MBA program, but a pre-MBA internship is one that is specifically targeted to professionals who will be heading to business school in the fall for a full-time program. Whether you’re interested in banking, private equity, venture capital, consulting, marketing, or nonprofits, there’s probably already a niche program with this group in mind.

These internships or “camps,” as they’re sometimes called, are short, usually ranging in duration from four to six weeks. Many companies have created intensive pre-MBA programs lasting no more than a few days.

If you know the industry you would like to pursue, begin tapping your fellow future students and the alumni network for leads, and check to see if the companies on your career target list offer these opportunities. Above all else, make sure the internship environment provides you with a chance to learn, not make coffee runs.

Who is Best Suited for a Pre-MBA Internship?

This type of internship is ideal for career switchers, who make up 38 percent of incoming students, according to the latest Prospective Students Survey Report published by the Graduate Management Admission Council. If you are switching fields, this short stint before your first year is like a test drive of a new area of interest and effectively gives you two summers to do an internship.

Use the experience to try out an industry or company and see if you love it and want to return the following summer, or move on to a new and different industry instead. The pre-MBA internship is brief, but it’s usually enough to confirm your interest so that you’re not wasting your precious summer internship doing something you’re not passionate about.

Why Should You Do a Pre-MBA Internship?

The obvious reason for pursuing a pre-MBA internship is that it allows you to build skills and gain experience in a new role or industry. It often feels like the recruiting starts as soon as you set foot on campus, so students should arrive on campus with a fairly clear idea of where they want to intern.

It can be challenging to persuade recruiters that you’re serious about the field and to take a chance on you if you have zero experience in their industry and only a few weeks of case studies and lectures to back you up. Having a bit of real-world exposure under your belt makes you that much more competitive and will give you more ammunition when you interview with recruiters for a summer internship.

When Should You Avoid a Pre-MBA Internship?

As I’ve said, most incoming students don’t pursue a pre-MBA internship. You already have a lot going on between sorting out your financial aid, budget and housing as well as finalizing projects at work.

From a purely financial point of view, it’s unlikely you would make as much money in the internship as at your current full-time job, so this might be the time to save your pennies before going to school and facing that steep MBA tuition.

On the other hand, many admitted students have spent the past few years with their nose to the grindstone, with little thought or time for a rejuvenating vacation. The summer before business school could be their last chance for some carefree fun and globe-trotting, and a necessary break to recharge and refill the tank before the intensity of the MBA program hits.

Ultimately, you are already admitted to the program so this is not about gaining favor with the admissions committee. It’s a personal decision about how you want to spend your free time.

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Building an MBA Program Short List

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com When the idea of pursuing an MBA degree first germinates, many prospective applicants begin picturing themselves roaming the hallowed halls of Harvard Business …

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

When the idea of pursuing an MBA degree first germinates, many prospective applicants begin picturing themselves roaming the hallowed halls of Harvard Business School or Stanford Graduate School of Business.

But getting hung up on one or two dream schools isn’t a smart strategy. Most applicants need to submit four to six applications in order to maximize chances of success.

In the early stages of research, stay open-minded about business school options. Applicants may discover an interesting program that previously wasn’t even on their radar. Putting together a school list is a very personal process, but these are some of the question prospective students can ask to start thinking about to guide their selection strategy.

1. Where are you in the window for applying? The overwhelming majority of MBA applicants range in age from their mid-20s to early 30s. Younger applicants often decide to apply to one or two choices the first time, figuring that they can always reapply a few years down the line with more work and life experiences under their belt.

This is a fine strategy for that younger age group. However, older candidates should apply to a wide array of schools to make sure they have the option of going to business school next fall.

No matter which end of the age spectrum you fall, it’s important to still present yourself as a “work in progress,” and demonstrate how the program you’re applying to will transform you.

2. What industry do you want to work in? Many applicants have very specific career goals, and may even know which companies they aspire to work for post-MBA. If that’s the case, call up that company and ask what they think about business schools you may be targeting.

I once had a client with her heart set on attending Columbia Business School, and she also had a short list of companies she wanted to target for a summer internship. When she called one of her top companies, she learned they recruited at five schools, but Columbia was not one of them.

They also told her it was virtually impossible to secure an internship if she didn’t come from one of those schools. This five-minute phone call had a huge impact on her school list.

3. What kind of community feeling do you prefer? These characteristics are highly subjective, and figuring out what environment they would flourish in will help applicants determine whether a particular program is a good overall fit.

Big cities provide unparalleled access to business and recreation, but rural programs offer more of an immersive environment and are typically more close knit and family friendly?.

Cost savings can also be a huge factor for many applicants in this situation. The cost of living for a family at Duke Fuqua School of Business in North Carolina, will be lower than for an MBA candidate and family at a school like New York University Stern School of Business or the Anderson School of Management at the University of California—Los Angeles.

Geographic location also matters a great deal for certain industries, such as New York for finance, the Bay Area for entrepreneurship, Los Angeles for entertainment and Texas for energy.

The location of your school will also likely determine where your post-MBA job is. Even if you intend to target companies with offices around the globe, you’ll have the highest exposure to jobs in your immediate geographic area.

4. How do you learn best? Unfortunately, this question typically doesn’t receive as much consideration as it should. Not everyone excels in the same learning environment, and it’s important for students to find out where they’d be most comfortable.

Students may prefer the case method approach to learning, a highly experiential environment; a traditional, lecture-based style; or some mixture of these. Business schools are very specific about their teaching methods, and this information is easily gleaned on their websites.

Teaching method affects not only students’ enjoyment of the program, it also affects the quality of the knowledge they walk away with, so students should only consider MBA programs where they can thrive, not merely survive. Learn as well how rigorous the workload is, which varies by school. After all, the MBA is about much more than academics.

Even students who have a pretty good idea of the MBA programs they plan to target should= know that the most well-thought-out school list is still a work in progress, with new programs added in and others dropping off as they further clarify your goals. Students only have one chance to study an MBA, and weighing all of these different elements at the outset will help them find the right fit.

Posted in Application Tips | Tagged , , , , , ,

The Do’s and Don’ts of Reapplying to Business School

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com Many business schools, even the most elite and well-ranked ones, welcome re-applicants. Reapplying to school shows you are very serious about your interest in …

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

Many business schools, even the most elite and well-ranked ones, welcome re-applicants. Reapplying to school shows you are very serious about your interest in the business school program.

The best way to approach the reapplication process when you’re targeting the same schools is to highlight how you have improved your candidacy. Take a closer look at the following aspects of the MBA application package to determine where you should focus your energies to improve your odds next time around.

Decide How Many and Which Programs to Target

If you received multiple dings in your first application attempt, add new schools next time in case the problem was that you applied to schools that didn’t match your profile. Make sure your focus is on fit over brand strength, and match your preferred learning style to the school’s style of instruction.

Do: Apply to at least four schools to maximize your chances of success. These programs should represent varying levels of competitiveness.

Don’t: Apply to too many schools – usually six or more – believing that hedging your bets in this way will guarantee admission somewhere. While that strategy sounds logical, in reality your efforts will become so diluted with each successive application that there just won’t be enough passion there to sway the admissions committee.

Do: Include your dream school in the mix. It may be a real reach, but go for it anyway and you’ll have no regrets later.

Tweak Letters of Recommendation

Unsuccessful applicants sometimes don’t realize that they were rejected because their letters of recommendation came across as weak endorsements at best.

Do: Make sure whomever you ask is willing to write a very compelling recommendation for you. Since it’s not a given that you’ll see the letter once it’s written, it’s perfectly OK to come right out and explicitly ask for what you need.

Don’t: Choose a recommender for superficial reasons. I’ve seen too many applicants dinged for committing this mistake. Asking the president of a company, an alum of your dream school or any other bigwig won’t do you any good if they cannot speak intimately and enthusiastically about your many virtues

Do: Remind your recommenders to address specific examples of your accomplishments and leadership abilities, and to discuss your work ethic or team-building skills. Writing a strong endorsement requires some effort, so make it easy for your recommender by providing a list of the accomplishments you want to highlight.

Pump Up Your GMAT

Business schools always stress that test scores are just one metric of admissions decisions, but they are important because the admissions committee has to make sure the people they accept can handle the quantitative work. If your initial scores don’t come close to those of an average student’s at the schools you’re applying to, you need to make significant gains on your GMAT score in subsequent sittings or have other, extremely impressive qualifications.

Do: Allow time to take the exam again. Nerves or lack of preparation might have torpedoed your first effort, and the familiarity of taking it a second or even third time will often lead to a higher score.

Don’t: Wait until the last minute to take your GMAT. Take care of it early in the year, before you have to juggle the other aspects of the application.

Do: Consider alternative preparation methods to see if they yield better results. If you studied on your own last year, see if a formal class or working with a GMAT tutor helps you improve your weak areas more efficiently.

Don’t: Cancel a score when the option appears upon completing the test, even if you’re pretty sure you’ve blown it. Schools will evaluate your highest score, so don’t worry about a low score reflecting negatively on you.

That initial score provides valuable feedback about your testing strengths and weaknesses. You may also find out that your performance was not as bad as you imagined.

Rock Those Essays

Sometimes applicants get hung up on writing the perfect essay, when in reality they should focus on writing a compelling essay instead. MBA blogger Scott Duncan applied to five schools last year and was rejected by all of them. This year, he wrote, he let go of perfectionism and changed his strategy to deliver a simple, clear message and add color to his application where possible.

The new tactic worked, and he’s been accepted at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, wait-listed at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and awaits news from Harvard Business School, where he recently interviewed.

Do:  Use the additional essay question to explain what’s changed in your situation to make you a stronger candidate this time around. Make sure to address both professional and personal advancements, but show that you are realistic and self-aware. Revealing your humanity in the form of quirks, weaknesses and flaws can often help the admissions committee to like you.

Don’t: Recycle essays from the first time around, and don’t use the same essay for multiple schools. At best, the byproduct of being all-inclusive is that you will sound generic. At worst, you might accidentally leave the wrong school name in the essay and be rejected out of hand for your lack of attention to detail.

Finally, take comfort in knowing many people in business school right now were dinged the first time they applied. The MBA admissions process requires resilience, so take some time to recover, reassess and dive back in.

Posted in Application Tips | Tagged , , , , , ,

3 Bad Reasons to Get an MBA

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com There are many reasons why an MBA degree is a great way to turbocharge your career, and this blog has covered several of them. …

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

There are many reasons why an MBA degree is a great way to turbocharge your career, and this blog has covered several of them. But there are also bad reasons for going to business school. These three should not be your motives for contemplating getting an MBA.

1. You’re unsure what else to do. Perhaps you are feeling pressured to go for the degree by well-meaning family or friends. Or, maybe you’re just a little too excited about the partying and social events that abound at business schools.

At the dawn of the financial crisis, many young professionals turned their thoughts toward business school as the job market grew increasingly unstable. This is an understandable rationale, but taking a two-year break as a placeholder activity doesn’t make a lot of sense professionally or financially. A better bet would be to take time to travel the world and find yourself.

It’s true that business school is a great time to hang out and let new ideas come and crystallize, but applicants to a top-ranked business school should have a clear idea of the field they plan to move into and how the degree will help.

As part of the admissions process, business school hopefuls should have a solid answer why they want to earn an MBA. The answer should show focus, direction and sufficient self-reflection. If you aren’t 100 percent sure that an MBA is what you need to succeed, the admissions committee isn’t going to take a chance on you either.

2. You’re planning to go into a career that doesn’t require an MBA. The MBA is a super flexible degree, so some people who are transitioning careers think that it can help with just about anything. But there are career paths that it will not benefit, such as arts management or certain careers in sports and entertainment management. Make sure you’re committed to a career in business, not just earning the degree as a way to supplement other interests.

MBA programs emphasize practical application and will train candidates in the various functional skills related to running a business. It’s possible to add a concentration to your MBA studies, but that is still just a few courses compared with a deep dive into a subject.

For folks who want to immerse themselves in one specific area, such as business analytics, accounting or supply chain management, and who plan to stay in the same industry and function long term, a specialized master’s degree in an area like finance or technology would be a better choice.

3. You think the MBA credential will look good on your resume. The decision to pursue an MBA should be based on how it would develop your core strengths. Merely to gain bragging rights or make your resume stand out are not good enough reasons.

Unlike a law or medical degree, an MBA is not an absolute requirement for any career path. But be aware that many companies treat the MBA degree as a pseudo-requirement for the applicant pool, and not having one could effectively lock you out of the leading companies in your industry.

The decision to go for an MBA is not a simple one, and many factors should be carefully weighed to make sure it’s the right course for you. Consider all of the alternatives, and ask yourself where you want to be in five to 10 years.

If going to business school will fast-track you to that midterm goal, wonderful. If not, invest your time and energy into whatever will.

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Applying to Business School in Round Three

Round three is far and away the most difficult round for MBA applicants. You’re competing against stellar candidates from the previous two rounds, and there are relatively few spots available at the end of the …

Round three is far and away the most difficult round for MBA applicants. You’re competing against stellar candidates from the previous two rounds, and there are relatively few spots available at the end of the application cycle.

I recently covered the challenges of round three business school applications in my U.S. News MBA blog, and those comments were picked up in a Poets & Quants article on the same subject. If you’re considering submitting an application in the coming weeks, take a look at these two posts for my thoughts on when Round 3 makes sense…and when it doesn’t.

You may also be interested in:

Evaluate in Which Round to Submit Your MBA Application

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