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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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Get MBA Application Advice From the Trenches

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA blog on U.S.News.com As one group of nervous MBA candidates becomes enrolled business school students, another group gets ready to apply. Why not learn from the …

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

As one group of nervous MBA candidates becomes enrolled business school students, another group gets ready to apply. Why not learn from the successes, failures, and decisions of those who came before you?

Here, you’ll find advice culled from past clients who reflected on their own experiences to provide insights that could help future applicants.

1. What is the biggest potential mistake applicants make in the b-school admissions process?

Procrastination and a lack of organization and planning are the biggest mistakes applicants make. Don’t underestimate the amount of time various aspects of the process take, such as writing and rewriting your essays. Plan ahead.

Also, don’t miss the forest for the trees. When you first decide to apply to business school, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details and focus only on the many tasks at hand. However, it’s important to look at the bigger picture and start thinking about other aspects of applying to business school, such as how you’re going to fund your education, as well as researching the many scholarship and fellowship opportunities available.

2. How did you select and prepare your recommenders?

Your best bet is to select recommenders who know you on both a professional and personal level. People who know the quality of your work, your strengths and weaknesses, and various contributions can cite very specific examples to support their points. Choosing recommenders with whom you have a personal relationship almost guarantees they will put forth great effort while working on your recommendations.

Provide your recommenders with a package that includes an overview of your career goals and a statement about why you want to attend business school, a résumé, a copy of your application essays, and deadlines for recommendation submissions. You should also include a document outlining your work experience, accomplishments, volunteer work, interests, hobbies, etc.

[Try these tips to organize the MBA recommendation process.]

3. What was most helpful in your interview preparations?

Opting for alumni interviews whenever possible is a great strategy. Some may consider this a bit of a risk, as you never know what you’ll get when interviewing with alumni, but this type of interview can often feel more casual and relaxed.

One truth of interviews is that people hire others that they like on a personal level. If you can develop a good rapport with your interviewer and get him or her to like you as a person, you stand a much better chance of getting hired. The same holds true for business school interviews.

Consider doing a thorough Google search of your interviewers and see what you can find out about them online. The more information you come armed with, the better you’ll be able to develop a good rapport.

Also, go over your entire application, including essays and résumé. Finally, compile a list of potential interview questions from various sources and think about examples and stories you can use in your responses.

[Prepare for MBA interviews with these tips.]

4. What might applicants find especially challenging?

For most applicants, it’s not easy staying on top of everything while juggling a huge project at work and somehow keeping up your involvement with extracurricular activities. Applying to business school while working long hours and maintaining hobbies is no easy feat, but you’ll need to be able to prioritize responsibilities in business school and beyond””so you may as well learn now.

It’s often difficult to stay motivated because the process is so long. You’ll likely encounter many frustrations and stumbling blocks along the way, so it’s important to remind yourself why you’re applying to business school, what you hope to get out of the experience, and how an MBA will ultimately help you achieve your goals.

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6 Ways to Play the MBA Waiting Game

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA blog on U.S.News.com After months of planning, studying for the admissions exam, writing essays, and wrangling recommenders, you have just hit the submit button for your business …

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

After months of planning, studying for the admissions exam, writing essays, and wrangling recommenders, you have just hit the submit button for your business school applications and are now wondering what’s next as the MBA waiting game begins. Here are six tips to make the most of this period.

1. Be happy: What did you enjoy before essays and GMAT scores became the focal point of your life? Take this opportunity to relax a bit, read a book, or go for a run.

It’s likely your social life has languished on the back burner for the past few months, so spend some time reconnecting with your family and friends before every waking minute is spent job hunting and networking with your fellow MBA classmates. While accomplishing a huge goal such as gaining admission to an MBA program will feel good, friends, exercise, and relationships are the path to longer-lasting happiness.

2. Fantasize about your plan B: It’s tempting to start planning out your first few weeks on campus””the clubs you plan to join and the apartment you will hunt for””but reminding yourself that you have alternatives is healthy. You’re young, intelligent, and accomplished. If you didn’t go to business school in the fall, what career shift or huge dream might you fulfill?

Maybe you would flee to Paris and take art lessons, learn Mandarin (in China), or hike the Appalachian Trail. Fantasizing about plan B is more practical than you think; when you start receiving those acceptance letters, you’ll have a head start on your summer plans!

3. Avoid discussion boards: While commiserating with strangers over the Internet may seem like an attractive outlet for your anxiety, focusing on an outcome you can no longer control will only add to stress in your life. While it’s certainly positive to network with your potential future classmates, make sure you approach any rumors or myths with a balanced perspective.

In fact, Internet rumors are so rampant in the MBA admissions process, schools like the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business have posts or webpages dedicated to dispelling some of the most common offenders.

It is natural to search for certainty in an uncertain process. With admission rates hovering at 10 percent for the most competitive programs, many candidates feel anxiety about the final decisions. However, if you have put together the strongest possible application you can and worked to impact every factor under your control, it’s time to relax and wait for the results.

4. Prepare for interviews: If you absolutely must remain focused on your MBA plans, starting your interview prep is a good outlet for your energy. Working on your communication and presentation skills can be an ongoing challenge.

Practicing common interview questions with friends and family will both make you more prepared when the interview invitation arrives and minimize your anxiety.

5. Become a local, even if only for a few days: Kurt Ahlm, associate dean of student recruitment and admissions at Booth, says MBA candidates should remember that they will be choosing not just a school but a city or town as well. Therefore, now is an ideal time to plan that campus visit, and to explore the region you may soon call home for the next two years.

“Investigating average rent prices, transportation, cost of living, entertainment and overall appeal will give you even more information with which to make a final decision,” Ahlm says.

6. Stay connected: Demonstrating continued and genuine interest in your MBA program of choice is one of the best ways to show the admissions committee that you are strongly committed to attending their program. How to do this? Reach out to alumni for an insider view of the program, and perhaps some interview pointers as well.

If the school plans to hold an information session online or in a city nearby, sign up or show up. You can never have too much information about your target school. The more opportunities you create to connect with the program, the better you’ll be able to judge its culture and community to determine if it’s the right fit for you.

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What Matters Most in MBA Admissions?

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA blog on U.S.News.com Almost every day, I receive E-mails and phone calls from new clients that go something like this: “I have a 2.9 GPA, 680 …

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

Almost every day, I receive E-mails and phone calls from new clients that go something like this: “I have a 2.9 GPA, 680 GMAT, and four years of work experience in consulting. I’ve been promoted twice; I have good extracurriculars. What are my chances?”

MBA hopefuls then want to find out what is the most important part of the business school application. Is it the GMAT score, undergraduate transcript, essays, interview, letters of recommendations, or something else entirely?

Everyone wants to know what to focus on in their application, and how their personal circumstances rate. Top business schools don’t admit you based purely on your statistics, though.

It’s true that solid numbers can help your application be considered. While a 550 GMAT or a 2.5 GPA will raise a red flag at an MBA program like the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, a 700 GMAT and a 3.6 GPA make you a solid candidate. But even an 800 GMAT score and a perfect GPA can be rejected at an elite MBA program.

Ask most admissions committee members and they will tell you that it’s the sum of many pieces””there is no one “most important” part. The top schools want to know who you are, and statistics and a résumé don’t tell them that. It’s the essays, interviews, and recommendations that ultimately reveal the person beyond the paper.

Compelling essays, recommendations, and interviews can provide context for a low GMAT score or GPA””but the reverse is not true. Strong numbers will never make up for weak essays or a disorganized, negative recommendation.

Some say the most important part of the application is your so-called “weakest” part””one weakness could completely change how admissions committee members perceive your application. In fact, in a recent blog post, Yale School of Management‘s Assistant Dean and Director of Admissions Bruce DelMonico urged applicants to be up front about their weaknesses.

“Everyone has weaknesses,” he stressed. “We’ll see them, so you’re better off acknowledging them and incorporating them into your application than hoping we’ll miss them.”

While I doubt that any business school admissions committee would formally support this statement, I would have to cast my vote for essays as the most important part of your application. The essays allow the admissions committee to truly discover who you are. It’s where you write why an MBA makes sense as the next step of your career path, and how you differentiate yourself from all of the other individuals who also scored in the 700s on their GMAT.

The essays are your opportunity to present your strengths, explain your weaknesses, and generally convince the admissions committee members that you have a lot to offer the program and that you belong in their class.

The essays are also consistent among all applicants, so in that way they are less difficult to evaluate and compare. All candidates are given the same set of questions, and are reviewed by the same group of admissions members, creating a level playing field that can simplify the review process.

[Learn to strike the perfect tone in MBA essays.]

Interviews are very different; some are conducted over the phone, some at the business school, and all are handled by different types of individuals with different approaches.

Recommendations vary as well. While all applicants do their best to find great recommenders, some individuals work with MBAs who understand the process. Others work with people who have no idea what to write.

The essays are each individual’s opportunity to talk about their true self. You should know that most applicants to the top schools are qualified, in the sense that they would be able to handle the curriculum and benefit from the program.

However, to be admitted, you need to demonstrate that you are more than merely qualified. It’s the story that you put together about your goals, passions, and prior experience””and how business school fits into the mix””that will make the difference for you. Once that story is assembled, I can better answer the question: “What are my chances?”

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Demonstrate Leadership in Your MBA Application

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA blog on U.S.News.com When faced with any iteration of the leadership question on MBA essays, many business school applicants freak out because they think they have …

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

When faced with any iteration of the leadership question on MBA essays, many business school applicants freak out because they think they have to come up with an example that is their greatest life or professional achievement. In reality, it’s not about grand gestures or formal leadership titles. The goal is leaving a footprint on whatever situation you’re in and doing more than a good job.

Applicants need to think through their past experiences to find the episodes that best illustrate their leadership skills. Sometimes, the best examples are not the first that come to mind.

Your leadership essay will often be different from an “accomplishment” or “achievement” oriented essay. Just because you achieved something outstanding does not always mean leadership skills were involved, especially if you did most or all of the work.

[Learn how to strike the right tone in MBA essays.]

One of the central tenets of leadership essays is showing that you can galvanize the actions of other people. You bring out their passions. You educate them. You help them see organizational priorities in new ways. And then they share in the achievement.

The work of a leader activates or improves the work of others, so find anecdotes in your professional and extracurricular background that illustrate this kind of pattern.

What kind of experiences will make the best tales of leadership? Think about challenges where the following came into play:

Ӣ Identifying/defining a problem

Ӣ Resisting conventional approaches; challenging status quo

Ӣ Marshaling resources to address a problem

Ӣ Motivating others

”¢ Making good use of others’ talents

Ӣ Being open to new information and input

Ӣ Building consensus with appropriate stakeholders

Ӣ Guiding strong mid-course corrections; overcoming mistakes

Ӣ Building on success

Remember: Leadership is not just about the titles. Some candidates build their leadership essays around the fact that they were selected for or elected to certain positions where they had a high level of authority and responsibility: editor-in-chief of a college paper, fraternity president, captain of the hockey team, director of product development, or vice president of marketing.

But what did you do with this position? An editor of a college daily could write about how he or she was constantly challenged to maintain high levels of editorial excellence, manage staff assignments, and hit all deadlines. This is definitely an esteemed position with many responsibilities, but if you describe your role like that, it sounds exactly the same as the other hundreds of editors-in-chief of college papers also applying this season.

Define the leadership challenges you faced, not the management ones. Did you have to deal with a certain writer who falsified interview notes? Was there a sticky campus scandal that forced you and your staff to walk an ethical tightrope? Did you have to fire student editors? Did you lead a transition from a weekly to a daily with all of the scheduling and human resources rigors that entails?

Collecting impressive titles does not make someone a great leader””helping a team overcome great challenges does.

The strongest leadership essays will have heroes other than yourself. If you helped Terri in accounts receivable realize her full potential on a project you led, showcase her as a hero in your leadership tale.

In the best possible scenario, applicants should map out a good balance at the beginning of their application process between achievement-oriented essays and those focusing specifically on leadership. The good news is that, in many instances, you can still adjust your application fairly late in the process to achieve the appropriate balance between individual achievement and leadership.

Adding in a few sentences about enabling others, or educating and defining priorities for group endeavors, will go a long way toward rounding out your profile. Many achievement essays can be transformed into glorious examples of leadership when you shine the spotlight on others who were a part of a great collective accomplishment.

Don’t forget that leadership is never a solo effort. When it comes to MBA essays, you can’t go wrong if you show how you’ve worked to inspire others and bring out the best in them.

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