January 2006

WorldWIT Women. Insights. Technology.

Further Your Career in ’06: Mastering MBA Admissions

For women seeking a job transition, or looking to further their careers, obtaining an MBA degree remains a popular option. But getting into the right program is often a challenge. Stacy Blackman offers techniques on how to approach the process, overcome challenges and gain acceptance to a great MBA program in 2006.

Many female executives, from a variety of professional backgrounds, find themselves looking for a way to transition their careers, break through a glass ceiling or further develop their knowledge base and professional network. In these cases, the MBA degree is an extremely popular option. However, admission to a top MBA program can be difficult to obtain. Understanding challenges in the admissions process is essential to success. The following is an overview of the steps involved in the MBA admissions process, and some techniques that can be used to overcome potential challenges.

The GMAT
Most schools require that applicants take the GMAT, a standardized test, which is the one means of comparing all applicants across a level playing field. Practice is key to success on this test because it has an unfamiliar, computerized format. For this reason, a class is highly recommended in order to help applicants become familiar with the format of the test. Class sessions, homework and practice tests also put you on a schedule that forces you to make GMAT prep part of your daily life.

Most schools will consider your highest GMAT score. As a result, it cannot hurt you to retake the GMAT in an attempt to improve your score. There is no sense in canceling a test on which you believe you performed poorly. To best position yourself for success, plan to take the GMAT far in advance of applications. Leave at least two months to study, and plan to take the test at least two times.

School Selection
If you are serious about going to business school, you will want to put together a well rounded list of four to six schools to apply to. When compiling your list it is important to consider location, culture, reputation, curriculum, special programs and selectivity. While there is no point in applying to a school that you will not be excited to attend, you also need to be realistic regarding your chances of getting in to a particular school.

An additional consideration is whether to apply to a full time program or one of the many part-time options now available. For individuals entrenched in their careers, or unable to uproot a family, a more flexible program may be a more reasonable option.

Recommendations
Most schools ask for 2-3 letters of recommendation in order to provide a third party perspective into your professional strengths and weaknesses. The best recommender is your immediate supervisor at work. Many applicants are tempted to ask the CEO, or a high-profile friend, in hopes that stature will impress the committee. It’s much more effective to select someone who knows you well, who can truly speak to your abilities and who is excited to support you in this process.

In some cases, it may be impossible to ask someone from your office. Perhaps attending business school will jeopardize your position. In this case, you will need to go with your next best option; a client or a former employer is suggested. As a second or third application, someone who can comment on your leadership abilities in an extracurricular or academic setting may be appropriate.

In order to secure a great letter, prepare some information for your recommenders, reminding them of your key abilities and specific projects or accomplishments which illustrate your skills.

Essays
One of the largest challenges that highly qualified business school applicants face is setting themselves apart from the extremely competitive applicant pool. Fortunately, the essay portion of the application is an opportunity to demonstrate what makes you unique.

Examples that may seem less than extraordinary to you can provide the admissions committee with evidence of your excellence. For example, one client, working as a strategy consultant, could not fit traditional volunteer work into his hectic travel schedule. He took it upon himself to contact his alma mater’s career center, and offer to be a resource to those interested in a consulting career. He ended up giving back on his own terms, in a very significant way. Excellence comes in different packages, and small examples are the best way to showcase your individuality and unique contributions.

Marketing Yourself
The way you market yourself throughout the application process may be the difference between being denied or accepted to the MBA program of your choice. Not only do some top schools accept as few as 10% of applicants, but also they are selecting from a highly competitive pool. Having great test scores and a strong resume is not enough; you must understand how to market yourself effectively.

Create a personal marketing plan for yourself. Research your target market, understand what they are looking for in a student, and position yourself as part of the solution. While all of the schools look for some of the same things, such as academic aptitude and strong leadership skills, schools look for slightly different things as well.

Take advantage of the essays, recommendations and interview to illustrate your unique qualities, and don’t be afraid to discuss weakness, and what you have learned from moments of failure. Effective marketing can take your application from good to great, and help set you apart from other candidates in this highly competitive process.

Interestingly, being a woman can actually become part of your personal marketing plan. Women account for less than 30% of the country’s enrolled MBA candidates. As business schools strive to diversify their class, qualified women applicants may have an edge. Women become the solution to a school’s problem. In interviews and applications, women should emphasize the benefits they can bring to a school.

The MBA admissions process, although stressful at times, can be a process that helps candidates grow personally and professionally. It forces students to focus on their strengths, acknowledge weaknesses, and form goals-all of which help them to clarify a professional image.


For more MBA tips and advice contact Stacy Blackman, president and founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, a firm that specializes in helping clients gain acceptance to premier MBA programs. A marketing professional, Blackman’s strategy is based on an inside understanding of the admissions process. Her marketing strategies help clients put their best foot forward at every stage of admissions. More information at www.stacyblackman.com.