From the Trenches: Insights from Successful Applicants

As one group of nervous applicants transitions to being enrolled students, another group gets ready to apply. Why not learn from the successes, failures and decisions of the group before you? For the next several weeks we will be publishing interviews that we conducted with some of last year’s clients. We gave them a list of questions and asked that they be brutally honest and try to provide any insights that could help future applicants.

Some keys to your success?
How did you put together the following important aspects of your story?
Why MBA? Why this school? What are your career goals?

3 things served as keys to my success:
1) Being self-aware (the marketing strategy)
2) Linking me, my goals, and each school (the execution)
3) Going all out. (the investment)

I had more trouble coming up with what my specific goals were. I was conscious of the fact that business schools were said to like candidates with specific career goals ”“ regardless of the reality that many of us don’t really know. The thing is, for me, I don’t have something right now that I am really specifically after.

Sometimes you find yourself attached to certain lines, or certain things that you want to add in there, and lose perspective of things in the application as a whole. My consultant helped me keep the total package in mind. In this essay, let’s focus on this aspect, and on this essay, let’s focus on another aspect, and so on.

Finally, I can confidently say that I went all out. I wasn’t going to go through it half-assed ”“ I only wanted to ever go through this kind of draining process once in my life ”“ it was really painful, but it helped me grow and figure out a lot of things, and in the end I got into a school where I really wanted to go ”“ so no regrets!

What did you find most challenging?
What is most challenging is the emptiness you feel after putting all of your applications out on the line, and then having to wait”¦ The waiting is truly the hardest part.

What was an exercise you went through that was helpful?
I do think that unless you are able to answer right away the key questions ”“ (why mba/why this school/career goals) ”“ you need to start all over, and be able to answer those questions first and foremost. I think a lot of people choose schools first and then start thinking about these things. The best exercise for me is to start articulating those key questions on paper (just with bullet points). Eventually, you will have to say it out loud anyway at an interview, but I think this is the first thing anyone should do.

What was most helpful in your interview prep?
Prepare excessively, practice often, and out loud. My consultant and I held an interview over the phone, in which he critiqued me overall. This was helpful. Based on his advice, I wrote out my answers to my key questions, and printed them out with a large font and put these papers all over my walls. I had about 5-6 stories prepared for key questions, in which I used the STAR method.

Preparing for interviews, in my opinion, is like preparing for a big sports game. Overprepare!
Practice so much that you react based on instinct.

How did you select your recommenders?
In choosing my recommender, my actions were based on both a consideration of who I could realistically ask, and who would write the best recommendation.

For my second recommendation, I decided that it would be best to ask someone not in my firm. This was related to the fact that:
– Beyond my direct boss, only my President (or other Shareholders) are above me in the hierarchy. I decided it was best NOT to ask the President, as I felt sure that he would react defensively to the idea of my applying, and this would be a huge pain.
– Though my company works with big Fortune 500 multinationals, it is essentially a start-up that no one in the US would have heard of. Because of this, as well as the fact that most of my pre-managerial work was client-related, I thought it would be important to get a client recommendation. From an admissions office standpoint, I thought that one of the blue chip clients that I had developed and worked with for 1-2 years would have been best.

How did you prep your recommenders?
First, I want to say that I considered my recommendations to be as important as my essays heading into the process. This is because I knew I needed to score points on the recommendations, based on my average undergrad/GMAT scores. Therefore, I took the prepping of the recommenders really seriously, and put a lot of effort into this.

I created a packet of information about me, and within this document tried to lay out the basic story that I was planning on telling schools.

In addition, one of my recommenders was not a native English speaker. I felt that it would be disastrous if she attempted to write the recommendation in English, so I asked her to write it in her native language, and have it professionally translated. She submit the translated copy online, and I sent a sealed/signed translation from her to the admissions office in order to provide them the original context.

What were you most nervous about in your profile?
I was most nervous about the quantitative score on my GMAT. My quant was only in the 55th percentile. I knew from everything that I read that this was not going to be satisfactory, and was clearly going to be a red flag.

Though I was also nervous about my undergrad transcript (too liberal artsy), my company (too unknown), and my community service (non-existent), the quant score is what I clearly worried about the most.

How did you overcome this potential stumbling block?
Well, I probably should have tried to take the GMAT another time. However, on my second time I really spent a lot of time preparing for only the quant, and it didn’t get me far enough. I made the decision to focus on my essays instead. It was a decision that I would have regretted if I had not have been accepted anywhere.

At the suggestion of my consultant, for nearly all of my applications, I used the optional essay to address this issue. I addressed the issue, and also tried to point out how I had effectively used statistics and quantitative analysis at my job. In the end, I also discussed my preliminary plans to further prepare for the quant curriculum. I was able to put a fairly positive spin on the essay, so that instead of reading like an explanation of my weak quant score, it did add depth to my overall experiences as a consultant and a manager.

Biggest mistake you made or almost made in this process?
Schools say that they understand that for some international candidates, it may be impossible to visit the campus prior to the application”¦nonetheless, after the applications are submit, when you are just waiting and waiting and waiting”¦you wonder “what else could I have done?”

In my case, I honestly felt like I put out my best effort to all of the schools, in terms of the essays and the overall application itself. (excluding GMAT scores, undergrad grades, etc.) The only thing that I wondered if I should have done, is made the trip to visit campus.

How did you select your list of schools?
I chose schools that were known for being close communities and teamwork-oriented. (if I had to choose one unifying factor) I do not think it is a coincidence that these kinds of schools are generally not urban, but either suburban/small town. These kinds of schools appealed to me because I wanted to go to a school where my fellow students were going to be supportive from an academic standpoint, throughout the job search, and for my family. I also considered Geography, Academic Strengths and Industry focus

My lack of a pure “safety” school worried me immensely during the waiting game, but my philosophy was that I was only going to make this kind of investment for a school that I had a “top school” reputation.

What was helpful when you hit writer’s block?
After the first couple of applications, I don’t remember getting writer’s block. This may have been related to the fact that I always had interim deadlines to send my consultant or my other readers the latest drafts. As I went along, I was using bits and pieces of past essays, and the process became somewhat formulaic.

Otherwise, I did a number of things:
– Talked with wife about the logistical structure and arguments in my essays (this is before she became completely sick of hearing about anything MBA-related)
– Read about the programs online, and look for nuggets of information to include in my essays
– Go drinking with old friends who literally do not know what an MBA is. Keep things in perspective ”“ though it is obviously difficult for those of us who are downright obsessed.

How did you stay motivated?
I never had a problem with motivation. You involve so many people during the application process, from family, to friends, to recommenders, and put so much of yourself into the application process that quitting is not an option, and in my mind, failure was not an option that I was even considering. Beyond the emotional investment, I had made considerable financial investments (books, consultants, practice tests, magazine subscriptions, courier fees, etc.) as well.

What was the best GMAT resource?
I decided to do it myself, mainly using methods described in the Princeton Review and Kaplan guides. Princeton Review was easy-to-use, but the practice questions were way too easy. Kaplan’s questions were almost too challenging. I also downloaded a bunch of practice GMAT tests online. They forced me to do timed tests on the computer.

The best resource was the Official Guide. This was by far the most extensive, and had the most questions. (though mostly in paper format)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


(718) 306-6858

Latest Blog Post

AdCom Shakeup at HBS, Stanford GSB

Two resignation announcements at two of the world’s top business schools have left MBA industry folks buzzing. Both Chad Losee of Harvard Business School and Kirsten Moss of Stanford Graduate School of Business shared their ...