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3 Common Hurdles for International MBA Applicants

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com Nearly a third of students in some of the top MBA programs are international, which offers great professional and cultural diversity and enriches …

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

Nearly a third of students in some of the top MBA programs are international, which offers great professional and cultural diversity and enriches the classroom experience.

Applying from abroad involves certain expected obstacles, such as the logistics of campus visits, securing visas and financial aid and demonstrating language proficiency, but students share other challenges as well.

Here are three specific client cases – and their challenges – I’ve encountered while working with international MBA applicants that may help you with your applications.

1. Explaining your international GPA: Our client Naveen wanted to work in technology management and felt that the MBA program at Stanford Graduate School of Business would be a great fit for him. He had attended the College of Engineering at University of Delhi, where he received marks of distinction in almost every class. However, due to the difficulty level of the courses at his college in particular, those marks usually resulted in percentage scores in the 70s.

Naveen was shocked when he translated his overall grade percentage as 73 – the equivalent of a C average in the U.S. He was convinced his academic record would stand out negatively when compared to applicants from American schools grading on a 4.0 GPA scale.

Looking at grade conversion calculators available online, we found that for some transcripts, a 75 percent would be the equivalent of an American A-plus, and at other, more difficult programs, a percentage as low as 60 would translate to an A grade.

We felt that the Stanford admissions committee would likely be familiar with the rigorous engineering program at University of Delhi and would know that marks in the 50-60 range would be the equivalent of a 3.5 GPA in the U.S.

Naveen insisted on describing his degree as “First Class with Distinction,” and we agreed, so long as he used his actual scores without any conversion. This straightforward strategy worked, and Naveen ultimately landed a seat at Stanford.

2. Distinguishing yourself from other applicants: Another client, Abhi, desperately wanted to attend a top MBA program and had his sights set on University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. After earning his undergraduate degree in India, he had come to the U.S. to earn a master’s degree in engineering and spent three years in a technical position within a financial services company.

Unfortunately, Abhi’s academic and professional profile was nearly identical to a thousand other applicants. His handful of extracurricular activities were similar to ones we had seen from other applicants.

In addition, Abhi’s GPA and GMAT score were merely average, so we had a difficult conversation about the reality of this highly competitive situation and encouraged him to apply to a portfolio of schools in order to maximize his chances. He did agree to apply to four programs: Tepper School of Business, Darden School of Business, NYU Stern School of Business and Wharton – with Wharton being by far the most competitive.

We mentioned his long track record of service, but really highlighted his organizing a large group to train for a marathon and raise money for a six-year-old girl with leukemia. Abhi discussed his own training process, recruiting and engaging others, planning multiple fundraising events and the leadership ups and downs that he encountered throughout the process.

For Wharton, Abhi put in an extra push. He visited the campus more than once, and came to know the school extremely well, which was made clear in his essays. He also asked a good friend, a current student and someone who could legitimately add insight into his candidacy, to submit a letter on his behalf.

The final package showcased how truly passionate he was about the program and what a good fit he was in terms of culture and goals. Despite having a profile that on the surface mirrored countless others, by digging deeper to find and highlight the compelling aspects of Abhi’s background, he was offered a seat at both Wharton and Tepper.

[Find out how extracurriculars can enhance your b-school experience.]

3. Balancing out zero community involvement: Schools outside the U.S. often place far less emphasis on an applicant’s extracurricular or volunteering involvement when making admissions decisions. When Italian national Aldo came to us for help with his applications, his problem wasn’t quantitative. His balanced GMAT with an overall 720 and a 3.8 GPA presented a very strong academic profile in addition to three years of investment banking experience.

Aldo’s main issue was that extracurriculars and volunteering were not a part of his undergraduate experience, nor was it a priority for his peers in banking in Italy or London. He had no real way to demonstrate the community engagement that American MBA programs like to see.

Although it didn’t seem immediately relevant to Aldo, we helped him see the value of his passion for travel, which had spurred him to visit all seven continents and study abroad in Singapore.

Aldo referenced some of the lessons he learned while traveling and living in Singapore and London to demonstrate his cultural awareness and a sustained focus on international interactions. Ultimately Aldo was admitted to Wharton and NYU Stern.

Each of these applicants benefited from taking a fresh approach to their particular situation. Often, the steps necessary to strengthening your business school application become apparent once you spend some time in self-reflection.

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Delve Into the Nuances of the MBA Resume

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com Most MBA programs require a resume submission as part of the written application. This single-page document should highlight important aspects of an individual …

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

Most MBA programs require a resume submission as part of the written application. This single-page document should highlight important aspects of an individual and often is an untapped opportunity for an applicant to stand out.

Resume details can serve as icebreakers, or fuel the conversation during a business school interview.

“For me, the resume is just as important as your essays,” Soojin Kwon, admissions director at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, wrote on her blog last fall. Distill your experiences down to a few meaningful lines of text, regardless of whether you submit a stand-alone CV or transfer that information to the application.

When crafting this version of your resume, keep in mind this audience is unique. The reader of your MBA resume will be different than the person hiring you for an investment banking job or an engineering position.

Rather than focus on specifics, admissions representatives want individuals who will become successful leaders in highly collaborative work environments. They want to see skills that are transferable to almost any industry. Revise your resume to highlight the aspects that are important to an MBA program.

For instance, a typical resume for a lead engineering role would need to show proficiency in JavaScript – an essential skill to this specific job. But an MBA interviewer at Harvard Business School doesn’t care if you can write code. That skill won’t help you excel at leading organizations, build great companies or create innovative products and services.

Likewise, when interviewing for a transactional banking role, many candidates will list out specific deal names with dollar amounts. However, this type of detail won’t be useful to the admissions committee at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Kellogg will be much more interested in understanding how you worked with a team to close these deals.

Schools want to verify your overall quantitative skills. Beyond that, the fact that you collaborated with an international team, or developed and trained others on a new analysis technique will be much more relevant.

Avoid a resume chock-full of jargon. Speak the same language as the admissions committee and don’t expect them to be experts in your particular niche.

Many applicants include an objective at the top of their resume. However, in the context of the MBA application process, everyone has the same objective: to go to business school. Thus, the mission statement is irrelevant and a waste of valuable real estate.

When considering which details to emphasize, remember the general qualities that most business school programs are looking for. In addition to telling the chronological story of your academic and professional career, focus on supporting three things: demonstrating growth and progression, showcasing leadership and highlighting other “MBA relevant” skills. These include traits like strong teamwork, collaboration and innovation.

Applicants who have been in the workforce for a number of years, possibly at various companies, may need to be selective in detailing professional progress. When deciding which experiences to include and which to ax, ask yourself if the work was meaningful and if it can be used to illustrate a specific skill set or important accomplishment. Consider if it supports your career path as well as your future goals, and include it only if it makes sense for your overall story.

Demonstrate that over the course of your career, you have picked up new skills, assumed new responsibilities and developed as an individual. Emphasize that this growth has been recognized by others.

If done effectively, the resume reviewer can develop a good grasp of your abilities and responsibilities and understand how you have progressed in your career.

Sometimes, you can illustrate your leadership or other important skills through examples that are tangential to your basic job responsibilities. As you consider how to describe a certain job, don’t forget to think about some of the following activities, which are all important even if they were not part of your core job.

It’s important to note if you manage one or more people. Even if you informally supervise and mentor someone, it’s worth including on the resume. Mention if you’ve taken a lead in recruiting, as it means you’re acting as the face of your company. This demonstrates that leaders at your company respect you and trust that you will represent them well.

Perhaps you spearheaded that new filing system, created a template for a new and essential report, facilitated relationships with an important partner or streamlined routine processes. Anything that illustrates how you identified an opportunity and took initiative is a great thing to include. All of these examples highlight the skills that MBA programs value.

Don’t underestimate the power of a well-executed resume. As the Ross admissions director puts it, “How you describe your experiences matters. What you choose to highlight matters. Think of it as a trailer for the movie about you.”

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Move From Family Business to B-School

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA blog on U.S.News.com Applicants who have worked in a family business sometimes worry that their professional profile won’t measure up when compared with other MBA hopefuls …

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

Applicants who have worked in a family business sometimes worry that their professional profile won’t measure up when compared with other MBA hopefuls with more traditional employment paths. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Every year, top schools accept students who will go back to work for the family business. In fact, 9 percent of the applicants accepted into the Harvard Business School class of 2014 had worked for, or planned to work for, their family-owned company.

Business schools strive to compose a cohort of diverse personalities and backgrounds to guarantee lively discussions, so depending on your role in the company and the type of business itself, your experiences would likely add a unique perspective to the class.

Family business management has emerged as an important discipline at business schools as second- and third-generation family members realize the need for specialized skills in order to take over the reins and create a more corporate work environment. Over the past decade, schools have introduced courses and clubs on family business, founded centers dedicated to the subject or launched concentrations in this area.

Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management has a Center for Family Enterprises. Columbia Business School, stating that 80 percent of businesses worldwide are classified as family businesses, offered a course this spring on Family Business Management. And students and alumni of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School can participate in the Wharton Family Business Club.

Part of your school selection research should focus on what types of resources and support for family businesses are offered by your target programs. For many applicants, a one-year MBA program is ideal since you won’t need the internship and recruiting opportunities that job-switching students in two-year programs rely on.

I advise applying to the best schools that you think you can get into because they will offer a great education as well as the best networking opportunities. Also, think about whether the school’s geographic location will help you build a network which would directly help your family business.

If the school offers a student club focused on this group, reaching out to current members for their insight on the program’s benefits might prove invaluable in your decision-making process.

As with any winning application, the strategy in this case is to show in detail how an MBA degree will help you further your professional goals. Explain with specifics what you need to learn in order to grow the family business.

Paint a clear picture of your vision for the company’s future, and leave no doubt as to how an MBA will help you make an impact on the business after graduation. That way, the admissions committee understands why business school is the logical next step.

For your essays, start brainstorming some of the challenges your business has faced, and come up with examples that show how you as a family worked to overcome those obstacles. Business schools place a high value on teamwork, and what better way to show commitment and follow-through than by demonstrating you know how to work well with others to achieve a common goal?

As many applicants know, the ideal recommender for an MBA application is the manager to whom you report directly. However, if your immediate supervisors are relatives, you’ll need to get creative since you cannot have a family member write your recommendation letter.

Can you approach a supervisor or manager from a company you’ve previously worked for? Or have you worked closely with any clients or vendors that can speak to your managerial or leadership abilities?

Our client Bill had been working for the family business, a manufacturing company in Baltimore, for three years after college.

[Get more MBA application advice from the trenches.]

After brainstorming for recommenders he could approach outside the business, Bill hit upon a retail vendor that had been supplied by his company for more than a decade with whom he’d built a strong relationship. Since this vendor was evaluating Bill on many similar criteria as a direct supervisor and was an objective, outside source, he turned out to be the perfect choice.

In the end, Bill’s family business-based application fared well next to candidates coming from a corporate background. He was ultimately admitted to Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, and chose Darden to be a little closer to home.

Alberto Gimeno, director of Esade Business School‘s International Family Business Lab, recently noted in the Financial Times that “Concepts such as honesty, pride, loyalty and long-term commitment … are everyday practices of successful family businesses around the world.”

If you’re planning on pursuing an MBA to learn how to take your family business to the next level, take pride in your professional circumstances and know that business schools will value your accomplishments and responsibilities, whether acquired at a Fortune 500 company or under Mom and Dad’s tutelage.

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Ask Yourself 4 Questions Before Applying to B-School

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA blog on U.S.News.com As a prospective MBA, you’ll benefit enormously from taking time at the beginning of your application process to contemplate the path you’re about to …

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

As a prospective MBA, you’ll benefit enormously from taking time at the beginning of your application process to contemplate the path you’re about to take. This is a great time to ask yourself critical questions, as self-evaluation and reflection are crucial to any MBA application journey. Setting aside some time for heavy thinking before you start writing your essays will prepare you for a solid and strategic application.

Question 1: What are your career goals? As you contemplate applying to MBA programs, the very first step in your self-evaluation process is to consider where you want to be in your career. Ask yourself what you would do if you didn’t need to work for money and what your core values are.

If your career goals are not immediately revealed, ask your friends and family what they see you doing. This process should reveal good ideas and a spark of passion for your career path.

If you are in a field where MBAs are not traditionally required, you may still benefit if your career goals include rising to senior management within your company or starting your own company. As a first step, look around at the people you most admire and want to be like within your target company or industry. Read their bios to see their skill set and educational background.

Talking to people who are pursuing your target career, at any level, is also a great way to understand what you need to do to accomplish your goals.

Question 2: Why do you want an MBA? While an MBA is a great experience, ultimately it’s a tool to advance your professional aims. The degree is highly focused on practical business applications, not intellectual curiosity.

Preferably when you answer the question of your career goals it will be clear why an MBA is the right degree for you. If your career path doesn’t immediately reveal the need for an MBA, yet you know you want one, you may want to delve into your motivations.

Consider your expectations for the degree and critically evaluate whether your hopes match the reality of an MBA program. If you know current MBA students or alumni, sounding them out first is a great way to start your research and make sure you are committed to the MBA application process.

Question 3: Is an MBA the right degree for you? Evaluating your professional goals might reveal that a different type of graduate degree would be useful.

Those interested in finance might also consider a master’s in finance, which typically prepares students more specifically for a career in corporate finance, financial analysis or investment management. That degree may prepare you to be the chief financial officer of a company, but may not be the ideal degree for a general manager or CEO.

If you’re interested in public policy work or managing in the nonprofit sector, you might look into a law degree, a master’s in public policy or master’s in public administration. On top of those options, you could pursue a joint J.D./MBA or a joint M.P.P./MBA or M.P.A./MBA.

While any one of these degrees can help you achieve your goals, you may want to consider the environment of each school, the academic focus, the time you will spend pursuing the degree and what works best for you personally.

Question 4: Are you competitive in the MBA applicant pool? As you think about entering an MBA program, you should be aware of the competitive pool of candidates who apply every year. Evaluate yourself against successful candidates to the schools you are considering.

The easiest first step is to see what the mean GMAT and GPA is for a successful applicant to your target programs.

If your “numbers” are much lower than the mean at your dream schools, you may want to consider taking classes to build an alternative transcript or retaking the GMAT. While no candidate is perfect, minimizing any red flags in your application will ensure that you have a strong chance at admission.

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How to Cope With B-School Rejections

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA blog on U.S.News.com This is the time of year when final business school decisions are being released, and unfortunately there isn’t always good news. After pouring your heart …

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

This is the time of year when final business school decisions are being released, and unfortunately there isn’t always good news. After pouring your heart and soul into the arduous MBA application process, if your status changes from hoping and waiting to officially denied, it can seem like the end of the world.

For those of you feeling disillusioned by a rejection from your dream school, remember this: a mere 6 percent of applicants became members of the Stanford University Graduate School of Business class of 2014, and just 13 percent were offered a spot at Harvard Business School last fall. Getting into a top MBA program is no easy feat.

The process of recovering from a b-school rejection has three main phases: disbelief and devastation, soul-searching for reasons why and actively striving to improve. When the news comes in, the disappointment can feel overwhelming, especially when other friends you’ve made during this process seem to be receiving acceptances left and right.

Step back and give yourself a break. Starting over without taking a breather only sets you up for failure since you’ll be mentally fried before you even begin. Take time to regroup emotionally and focus on friends and family, hobbies or other interests that got placed on the back burner over the past several months.

Once you’ve come to terms with the fact that you won’t be going to business school in the fall, it’s time to swallow your pride and cast a critical eye on your initial application to find out why it was rejected.

Go through every component to suss out any weak elements. Is your work experience too limited? Did you clearly demonstrate why an MBA makes sense at this point in your career? Have you shown why you “fit” with a particular school, and what you would contribute to the class?

Though it’s rarely one thing that rings a warning bell, frequent red flags include a lack of leadership skills and experience, less than stellar recommendations and low GMAT test scores or undergraduate grade point averages.

[Learn what matters most in MBA admissions.]

Whether given intentionally or not, a lukewarm endorsement of a candidate is a definite warning sign for admissions committees. Since you usually won’t see the finished letter, it’s important to guide your recommenders by reminding them of concrete examples of your leadership skills and accomplishments.

I suggest saying something like, “I want you to feel comfortable, but I also want to make it as easy as possible for you, so I put together this list of accomplishments.” If you have doubts about whether your supervisors would be willing to write you an outstanding letter of recommendation, then you may need to postpone applying to business school until you do feel confident of their support.

Feedback on your weaknesses directly from the schools is, unfortunately, hard to come by. If you do have the opportunity to speak with a member of the admissions committee, take advantage by asking for details about each area of your application and make sure you walk away from any feedback session with action items for next year.

[Stand out as a b-school applicant with these tips.]

Also, make sure you applied to the right school. Some people apply to the wrong places for them, and they’ll need to do some soul-searching before they reapply. If your scores don’t come close to those of an average student at the school, it’s not likely you’ll get in next time unless you make tremendous strides on your GMAT and have other extremely impressive qualifications, too.

Finally, many schools include an additional essay question directed at candidates reapplying so that they might better understand what’s changed in your situation to make you a stronger candidate this time around. Of course you should stress your new accomplishments, but I encourage applicants to also address any weaknesses they may have.

Be aware of your failures and address them, and be humble. Admissions committees know there’s no such thing as a “perfect” candidate, and one of the best ways to show how self-aware you are is by acknowledging your shortcomings.

[Follow these tips when reapplying to b-school.]

Sometimes though, business school just isn’t in the cards. And that’s ok, too. Earlier this week, I came across a blog post titled, “Why I’m Glad I Got Rejected From Chicago Business School.” In it, entrepreneur Joseph Misiti explains how not getting into the University of Chicago Booth School of Business three years ago changed his life by spurring him to pursue his dream job on his own terms.

“Everything that happens to you in life can be turned into an opportunity – even rejection,” he writes. While at the time, not getting accepted into business school seemed like the worst thing that could have happened, it turned out to be one of the best.

“Success and happiness can be found in places you never thought to look,” he writes.

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Weigh Fit to Choose Between Multiple B-School Admissions Offers

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA blog on U.S.News.com Round Two business school decisions are pouring in and some MBA applicants face not just two, but three or more offers of admission from their …

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

Round Two business school decisions are pouring in and some MBA applicants face not just two, but three or more offers of admission from their target schools. While the adage is “There’s never too much of a good thing,” the reality is that a bounty of b-school acceptances can produce a lot of anxiety in many candidates.

“How do I decide, and what if I make the wrong choice?” they wonder. If you find yourself with this enviable problem, consider the following when weighing multiple admissions offers.

Forget about rankings and reputation and think long and hard about the other particulars of each school, such as size, academics or location.

Does your desire to live in an urban setting outweigh a preference for a smaller class size? Is there a financial incentive that puts one school in the lead? Is the diversity of the student body important? Is the academic focus on case studies, or more experiential?

You might not have had a strong preference before, but you should tally up the different characteristics to see which way the wind really blows.

If you haven’t already visited the campus as part of your application process, now’s the time to do so. Sit in on a class, chat with students and professors, hang out on campus and generally soak up the atmosphere. This is where you’ll be spending the next two years of your life, so making sure the program is a good fit for you academically and socially is imperative.

Even if you have already toured the school, consider visiting again to attend events designed for admitted students so you can scope out your potential classmates. These people will become a part of your future network, and test driving your comfort level with them prior to committing makes sense.

“Fit is so important,” says Michael Andolina, who chronicles his MBA application journey on the blog MBA: My Break Away? “If you don’t get along with people from the school, how do you ever expect to make the kinds of relationships that will further your career?”

Andolina recently found himself torn between an offer from the Yale University School of Management and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and ultimately joined Yale’s class of 2015. Given his nonprofit background, it was important that his choice have a proven track record of training leaders for the public sector.

“When I’ve talked to people I’ve emphasized how important it is to talk to alumni,” says Andolina via email, when asked what advice he would give a friend deciding between two or more great programs.

MBA candidates should make sure that the school graduates people who work in your target industry, possess your ideal job within that industry and are willing to share their wisdom and advice with current students, he says.

Whatever your goal, Andolina says to make sure the school can provide both the personal support (alumni) and the infrastructure (career center, classes and clubs with clear connections to your area of interest) to help you meet those goals.

An MBA blogger who goes by Cheetarah1980, a member of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business class of 2014 who was also offered admission to University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School as well as Kellogg, questions whether finding the so-called “perfect fit” is really necessary.

“Just because a school doesn’t feel like a perfect fit doesn’t mean that it’s not the right school,” she writes.

Just as stretching in exercise often feels uncomfortable but is actually good for you, she writes, “I encourage admits with multiple offers to evaluate schools in terms of this stretch test. Is a school in your comfort zone? Is it at the point in the exercise where everything still feels good and is comfortable? Or does the school feel a bit past your comfort zone? I encourage you to stay away from schools that are so much of a stretch you’re pulling a muscle.”

The decision of where to pursue an MBA is a weighty one, so do your homework and understand the strengths and potential drawbacks of each of your options.

Whether you end up choosing a place that feels like home, or, like Cheetarah, want to go to a school that “takes you past your safe place a bit to help you stretch your boundaries and perspectives,” it may provide some peace of mind to know that in these cases, there’s rarely a “wrong” choice to be made.

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