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Face the Challenge of Round 3 Business School Applications

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com Round three is the most competitive one at most business schools, since the vast majority of acceptances happen in the first two rounds. …

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

Round three is the most competitive one at most business schools, since the vast majority of acceptances happen in the first two rounds. If you weren’t able to apply earlier because you were busy studying for the GMAT, dealing with a family crisis or completing an all-consuming work project, you’ve got to bring your A-game if you hope to land a seat at the end of the admissions cycle.

With fewer slots available, fine-tune your focus on schools where you’ll be a compelling candidate. A strong, well-thought-out application is critical. Make sure your academic profile aligns with the school’s median GMAT and average GPA and that you add something special to the class that the admissions committee didn’t see earlier in the season.

Special means unusual work experience, substantial community service, a diverse background, compelling leadership examples, unique or uncommon interests outside of business or entrepreneurial success of some sort.

“We actually enjoy round three,” Dee Leopold, managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid at Harvard Business School, recently told The Wall Street Journal. “It takes a certain amount of confidence to apply then. Those applicants march to their own drum, and we would never want to miss them.”

You should definitely use the required or optional MBA admission essays to explain to the admissions committee your reasons for waiting until the third – or final – round to apply. You don’t want anyone to jump to the conclusion that you are using round three as a last-ditch effort to get into business school in the fall after receiving rejections from other schools in earlier rounds.

[Read more about the best round to submit your business school application.]

Applicants who graduated from college more than five years ago should also give serious consideration to applying in round three. While every situation is different, time is of the essence, especially at programs that tend to focus on younger applicants.

Plus, it’s unlikely your candidacy will improve significantly over the next eight months after you’ve already been in the workforce for so long. If this is your situation and all you need to do is put the finishing touches on your materials, go for round three.

It’s worth noting that being admitted to some schools is not as challenging in round three as others. Elite European business school INSEAD has four rounds, and provides options for a January start date in addition to the traditional September intake. This allows later applicants who don’t mind waiting to start school to have a stronger chance at admission.

The University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School has five rounds, and Columbia Business School also offers a January intake for candidates who don’t need an internship between the first and second year.

[Get advice on what matters most in MBA admissions.]

Finally, it’s important to have a Plan B in case things don’t go your way. You can always apply to a set of schools in round three knowing there is a good chance you will need to reapply to them and add in some new ones next season.

Though the initial rejection may sting, you’ll be in a great position for round one in the fall with your essays, recommendation letters and transcripts already in hand. Or, you may find that the soul searching required for an MBA application sets you on a different path altogether. Perhaps you will decide to make a career switch now and pursue higher education later.

Round three is certainly a gamble, but you just might be that missing element the admissions committee is looking for to spice up the mix.

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Evaluate 3 Factors When Comparing Business School Acceptances

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com Receiving an offer of admission from one of your target business schools is every MBA hopeful’s dream, and that achievement feels even more …

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

Receiving an offer of admission from one of your target business schools is every MBA hopeful’s dream, and that achievement feels even more amazing when a second or even third offer comes in.

After taking some time to properly celebrate, now comes the hard part. Since you likely applied only to programs that you felt passionate about, you must decide where to spend the next two years of your life, and a small fortune. The decision-making process is different for everyone, but there are a few things to consider that may sway your choice.

1. Financial incentives: For some applicants, a generous scholarship offer from one school clinches the deal. However, I typically counsel clients not to focus too heavily on this aspect.

More money from a lesser-ranked school may mean you graduate with little or no debt, but the choice could cost you down the line when it comes to the quality of your network. Within the first few years out of business school , the salary bump that accompanies an MBA with a strong brand will compensate for that initial financial advantage.

If the schools in contention are similarly ranked but have offered drastically different scholarship amounts, or if one program has offered a financial award and the second program offers nothing, you may be able to change that to level the playing field.

Reach out to the admissions office, reiterate your sincere interest in attending their program, and then ask if it’s possible to be considered for a higher scholarship amount – or any scholarship amount – because you now have another offer of acceptance and financial incentive on the table. If you handle this tactfully, and without mentioning the other school by name, you have nothing to lose.

2. Career goals: If you haven’t already done so, now is the time for an in-depth study of how each program will help you advance your professional trajectory. Learn what student clubs and resources exist that support your career interests. Find out which companies recruit heavily at the school, and take a good look at the strength of the career services center and alumni network.

Check out the annual employment report or company lists published on the school’s website. See if one program seems to provide a substantial advantage in your field. If you need more input, call up recruiters and companies you’re interested in to see what they think of the schools you’re choosing between.

Hugo Varela, who works in the health care industry in Madrid, received offers of admission from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, and the MIT Sloan School of Management in round one this season.

As he wrestled these past few weeks with the decision of which program to attend, Varela said in an email that, “The single most critical factor is whether a certain school provides me with the best opportunity to reach my goals.”

However, he said that in his case, “The three schools I have been admitted to could put me in a great position to achieve those goals, without much of a difference among them in terms of opportunities.”

Looking solely at career stats, therefore, may not be enough to guide your decision.

3. Fit: This is always the most unquantifiable yet crucial element to consider when deciding on a school. Check your gut as you visit the campus or chat with current students and alumni.

Think about if you feel intimidated or uncomfortable, or welcomed and completely at ease. When you reach out to alumni or students, note if they are eager and quick to answer your questions, or if you have to wait days for a follow-up email or call.

Due to work constraints, Varela says he was able to visit only the Tuck campus in person, but he talked to current students and attended school-hosted events in Madrid before and after applying in order to get to know as much as he could about every school.

“Current students and alumni really have been key for me to decide where to apply and where to attend,” he wrote.

If possible, attending each program’s admitted students weekend, where you’ll spend time on campus around current students and other admitted applicants, is one of the best ways to help you decide which school is a better fit. Sometimes though, a campus visit is logistically or financially impossible.

“As an international student who could not physically visit schools, I think attending infosessions, talking to students and alums and online research to the point of cyber-stalking was what helped me decide on which schools to apply to, and also gave me an edge in the admissions process, especially the interviews,” wrote a prospective student from Bangalore, India, who goes by Vandana? and works for a global online entertainment portal.

Vandana maintains a blog chronicling her MBA journey, and was admitted to UCLA Anderson School of Management, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business in round one this season.

“My Kellogg interviewer actually remarked how great it was that I could glean so much about Kellogg – in-depth knowledge on clubs, activities, student culture and really get a feel for the school despite living halfway across the world,” she wrote.

The decision may ultimately come down to where you want to end up geographically after graduation, or what type of experience you want to have during your MBA. For each candidate, the answer will be different.

“Deciding between programs is hard,” Varela wrote. “But it is one of those decisions where you are going to win no matter what you choose.”

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Should You Retake the GMAT?

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com While I occasionally hear tales of MBA applicants offered admission in a top business school with a 640 GMAT score, the truth is that  accepting students …

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

While I occasionally hear tales of MBA applicants offered admission in a top business school with a 640 GMAT score, the truth is that  accepting students with stellar scores of 700 or higher is more the norm at the most competitive programs.

Before you start to panic and 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, which schools usually list within their admitted class profile.

Many experts in the test prep industry advise all students to plan on taking the test twice. If your score after the first attempt is already at or above your goal, you can always cancel the second sitting. Remember, top schools want to see scores in the 80th percentile in the quantitative section. So if you score 100 percent in verbal and low in quantitative, you would want to retake the exam, especially if you don’t have a strong quantitative background outside of the GMAT.

[Learn about ways to fix a low GMAT score.]

There is absolutely no reason to retake the GMAT when you score over 700, test prep company Magoosh says emphatically. You’ve already proven you can handle the quantitative component of the curriculum, so turn your focus toward ensuring all of the other parts of your application are as strong as possible.

Keep in mind that this high number is primarily for those targeting a top-tier MBA program. If you scored a 680, the decision to retake should be carefully considered, as you may be better off focusing on your essays or coaching recommenders instead. 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 illness, nerves, exhaustion, or simply a lack of adequate preparation resulted in a low score, then a second attempt becomes a necessity. Repeat test-taking, with additional preparation, typically results in a higher score as students become familiar with the experience, and therefore, less stressed out.

[Learn to dodge your fear of failure when applying to business school.]

Although the Graduate Management Admission Council allows you to take the test as many times as you like, you must wait 31 calendar days before retaking the exam. Make sure to check your target schools’ application deadlines in order to allow enough time to send in your final scores.

Applicants self-report their highest score, and it’s worth noting that the admissions committee doesn’t have an issue with students taking the exam more than once. In fact, committees may look positively on the dedication you’ve shown to improve upon your prior performance. Mind you, I’m talking about a score report with two or three scores, max – not one that shows you’ve sat for the GMAT seven times.

After your first test, it’s time to go over your entire GMAT performance to determine your weaknesses and double-down in those areas as you resume your studies. Don’t completely ignore the sections you did well on, however. You wouldn’t want to improve in one area but do worse in another the next time.

If you studied alone or took a class for your initial preparation, you might consider studying one on one with a GMAT tutor for the second go-round. A test prep expert can work around your schedule and tailor the curriculum to your needs.

Finally, some people aren’t natural test-takers and have a less-than-optimal performance no matter how well they know the material. One of the primary causes is stress under pressure, and it may help to watch this video tour of the GMAT Test Center and detailed explanation of all procedures to increase your comfort levels about what to expect.

If that familiarity still isn’t enough to calm your nerves come test day, consider using relaxation techniques such as meditation and visualization to reduce test anxiety. Also, taking the GMAT in the same center will help you feel more comfortable with the test-taking process and any logistics that may have thrown you off the first time.

Business school hopefuls can be incredibly hard on themselves when they make mistakes on the GMAT, but each error is a learning opportunity and a chance to improve. So don’t become discouraged if your first score isn’t where you’d hoped. Relax, and think of it as a dress rehearsal for a stellar performance to come.

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

Build an Effective MBA Application as a Female Candidate

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com It’s tempting to dismiss the idea that female MBA applicants can benefit from targeted tips when applying to business school as out of touch or …

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

It’s tempting to dismiss the idea that female MBA applicants can benefit from targeted tips when applying to business school as out of touch or old fashioned. But the reality is that women are still considered a minority on campus and sometimes gender stereotypes can impact their applications.

Female enrollment continues to trail behind men, and despite gains in recent years, the latest Graduate Management Admission Council application trends survey reveals that the proportion of woman applicants dipped slightly in 2014 for full-time, two-year MBA programs. The number dropped to 37 percent in 2014 from 39 percent in 2013.

In business school, as in the working world, a woman might find herself in a position where she is the only woman at the table or in the minority. So, you need to do all you can to feel comfortable and confident in those situations. Obviously, this information won’t apply for every female applicant, but having an awareness of some of the differences that exist can be very helpful.

A frequent issue I’ve had in my consulting work with female clients relates to the admissions committee doubting whether the applicant has enough moxie to contribute to the classroom discussions that form a crucial part of the MBA learning experience.

Several clients have reported that their recommenders received phone calls from admissions officers with questions such as, “Is she confident?” or “Will she speak up in class discussions?” I can’t recall a time when a male client experienced a similar problem.

In the application process, female candidates have to make sure that they exude confidence. Essays, interviews and letters of recommendation need to indicate a comfort level with speaking out, defending points of view and collaborating with all types of people.

In an interview scenario, female candidates often begin their answers with a disclaimer that reveals their insecurities and detracts from any positive information that follows or are too modest about their accomplishments for fear of appearing arrogant. Ideally, you started cultivating your personal brand early on in your application process, so tap into those bullet points and broadcast your accomplishments and skills with pride.

Business schools have made significant efforts to increase female enrollment over the last decade, and the numbers are much higher than when I attended Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Some male-dominated post-MBA career paths, such as finance, are hungrier for women as well, so a woman targeting those fields may have an advantage over one pursuing a role in brand management. This is true in the MBA admissions process as well as in the job search.

Another upside is that by tapping into storytelling skills and the emotions behind an event or experience, we’ve found that female clients generally have an easier time coming up with compelling essays. The admissions committee doesn’t favor women over men outright, but the subjective nature of this part of the application process often gives females an edge.

If you are a woman planning on applying to business school in the future, I encourage you to connect with Forte Foundation and Catalyst, two widely respected organizations dedicated to expanding opportunities for women in business. Forte’s mission is to educate women on the value of an MBA degree, and holds events throughout the year to help prepare female applicants to become the best candidate possible.

Also, look for MBA blogs written by female students and applicants, such as Defying Gravity–The MBA Journey, My Life of Bliss, and Pulling that MBA Trigger, for advice from those who have walked the path before you.

The array of opportunities for women on campus is another important aspect of business school that you can consider as an applicant. Be sure to research what options your target programs offer, and think about how you could help contribute to them.

The Huffington Post featured a great article last year written by a student at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business who believes being a woman MBA candidate is a beautiful thing, the best part being that you have the ability to affect change. Showing schools that you are aware of their networking opportunities for women and have ideas for how to build upon them is a great way to convince the admissions team that you are a perfect fit.

Earning an MBA degree opens doors all over the business world, so make sure to evaluate all of your options and take advantage of the numerous resources available to help you reach your career goals.

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Addressing Academic Strengths On MBA Applications

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com Hard data points such as test scores and GPAs carry significant weight as business school admissions committees attempt to determine whether an applicant has …

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

Hard data points such as test scores and GPAs carry significant weight as business school admissions committees attempt to determine whether an applicant has the chops to handle the quantitative requirements of an MBA program.

While you’ll often hear advice on how to mitigate poor academic performance when applying to business school, it’s also important to take a look at the academic strengths in your undergraduate record and how you might play up those qualities in your application.

[Know how to convince MBA programs you’re a good fit.]

If a candidate had a quantitative-heavy undergraduate course load, obviously he or she should throw the spotlight on that. But business schools don’t want to fill their classes solely with economics and business majors.

Those applicants do fill a fair share of seats, but today the emphasis on diversity of thought means the schools are working hard to attract applicants from a wider variety of academic backgrounds. Often candidates coming from the humanities such as sociology, psychology or political science, are more attractive to the admissions committee than the typical business background peer.

A good application strategy is to show the connections between seemingly unrelated college courses and note how those classes shaped your current career goals.

[Check out three exercises to help MBA applicants develop a personal brand.]

For example, perhaps a history class sparked an interest in a different part of the world, which led to international business pursuits. Or maybe your psychology major prepared you for working well in groups and managing the diverse personalities of a team, as it did for one client of mine who parlayed those characteristics into a strong MBA admissions essay for Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Perhaps all of those science courses fueled a desire to lead a start-up in health care. Dig a little and you may be surprised at how the connections fall into place.

With business as globally focused as it is today, MBA admissions committees are on the lookout for candidates who are fluent in a second or third language, or who have had study-abroad experiences.

We coached one applicant who had double-majored in Spanish so that she could finally have a conversation with her grandmother, who had emigrated to the U.S. from Chile as an adult and had never learned English. That’s something we knew admissions committees would like to hear more about. Business schools are very interested in these qualities, as they indicate a certain level of comfort working with an international cohort.

[Avoid these surprising application mistakes of prospective MBAs.]

Applicants who participated in several extracurricular activities while in college and still managed to maintain a high GPA exhibited excellent time management skills and a dedicated work ethic. And, if a candidate held a leadership position in any of those activities, that shows initiative with a long leadership track record. Admissions committees are impressed if you can commit to something over a long period of time, no matter if it’s a sport or hobby.

MBA programs seek to attract applicants who show curiosity about the wider world, whether through academic, extracurricular or life experiences. As you start thinking about your MBA application strategy, take note of any compelling connections from your college days you can mine from. You never know if those years on the water polo team, the minor in game design or those articles you published in the school newspaper are just the ticket to creating a standout application.

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Navigate a Job Change While Applying to Business Schools

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com Think about what you would you do if you needed to move into a new job just a few months before submitting your …

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

Think about what you would you do if you needed to move into a new job just a few months before submitting your MBA applications. Or, maybe there’s an intriguing career prospect on the horizon, but you’re not sure if changing companies now would help or hurt your chances of admission.

These scenarios happen all the time, so I’d like to share some advice to help you weigh the pros and cons of starting a new position before applying to business school.

[Get tips to overcome the fear of MBA admissions failure.]

One client I worked with, Josh, was deep into his third draft of essays for round one applications when he landed a new job. The move happened just as his former company, a tech startup, had begun a round of layoffs that likely would have included him. While Josh felt excited about starting a new position, he also worried that switching jobs right before submitting his MBA applications could cause problems.

Generally, I advise candidates who have held their position for less than a year to stay put. The admissions committee looks for consistency, and job-hopping could convey flakiness or a lack of clear career goals. However, if you’ve held the same position for a long time, a new career move might show initiative and bolster your candidacy.

Some argue the admissions committee won’t value a horizontal job move but that a vertical move with greater responsibility and leadership opportunities would be viewed favorably. While this is often true, there are always exceptions.

[Learn how to sell yourself in MBA admissions.]

If you’re taking on a career change that’s in line with your long-term goals, you can move to a position with less or equal responsibility as long as you can explain through your essays that you’re trying out something new, but would still benefit from the MBA degree in terms of greater growth in the new field.

Like many applicants in this situation, Josh wondered what to do about his letters of recommendation, since most schools prefer insight about an applicant from current supervisors. Also, he wasn’t sure how to address his new work responsibilities in essays or the MBA resume while he was still getting up to speed with the practices of his new employer.

Strong recommendations are critical, so ask yourself if your possible job move will burn bridges at your existing company with present or former supervisors. One option would be to share your MBA plans with a new employer and seek a reference from someone at that company.

Because Josh didn’t want his new boss to know about his MBA plans just yet, he was advised to use the optional essay to explain that he had chosen to get a recommendation from his previous supervisors because they were in a better position to provide examples of his leadership traits and work responsibilities.

[Get advice on convincing MBA programs you’re a good fit.]

For the essays, he framed most of his career goals story in the context of the work he had done for the previous three years. Josh touched upon the reasons he joined the new company, but kept a tight focus on what skills he wanted to gain from his MBA and his future goal of starting his own company.

We saved the resume revisions for the end, when Josh had been on the job for a couple of months and felt more confident in describing the responsibilities of his position. This three-pronged approach worked, and Josh was accepted to Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

If there’s one cardinal rule about late-in-the-game job switching, it is to never change positions as a ploy to impress the admissions committee by shifting into a career path you think the school will find safe or compelling. As long as you can show how the recent job change is consistent with your mid- to long-term career goals, you should be fine.

However, be sensitive to any concerns the admissions committee may have that your new job is so great that you won’t actually want to leave after eight months to go to business school. Whether you choose to stay on the existing job or try out a new one, be prepared to explain the whole story in your application.

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