It's the time of year where I start having the "Round 2 conversation" a lot with individual clients. Basically, the idea is that Round 2 might be offering a slight advantage, based on theories of market inefficiencies and so forth. For years, the prevailing belief is that Round 1 is the best round to apply to business school. While there is no hard-core evidence to suggest otherwise, some common sense may point to a different result.
This post is going to feel like its about Wharton, but its not - not really. I'm prompted to write it because of Wharton, but it is about a larger issue, which is whether or not you should have a takeaway when you see that an MBA program is going all in on its marketing. Should you read into it or ignore it? And if you do search out some meaning, is it is good or bad thing when a business school suddenly seems to have hired a new marketing whiz who knows how to game the headlines? Let's dive in.
One of the most important profile characteristics for any b-school applicant is their work history.
Unlike Law School, Medical School and just about every other terminal degree or master’s level program, business school requires students to come with some kind of work experience under their belts in order to “qualify.”
When applying to business school, one of the most reliable questions you will get from just about any institution deals with how you feel you will fit within that school’s culture. While it’s fairly easy to see if you have an academic fit or a professional fit at a school (by researching their curriculum and statistics for admitted students), it’s far more difficult sometimes to ascertain the “culture” of a school.
The latest MBA rankings from The Economist are out and people are understandably freaking out about some of the odd placements that you can find in their list. Poets and Quants has already done an impeccable job running all this down, so I am not going to try to repeat all the great work John Byrne already did. But you should definitely check out the P&Q piece on it. What I want to talk about is why I am happy P&Q ran that extensive post on those rankings (rather than dismissing them) and, indeed, why I am happy these Economist rankings even exist.
Normally, once the fireworks go off on the 4th of July, that's our signal to start digging into the apps in earnest, as "October" Round 1 deadlines are a few months away. However, in recent years, the deadlines keep getting earlier and earlier. I know I had to really reset my own calendar given these changes, so I figured I'd do a public service and list them out here, calling special attention to the front-loaded nature of the deadlines.
I tell my clients up front that they have to waive their right and that it is not really an option to not do so. Not waiving your right could tell the adcom that you don’t trust your recommenders. It could tell them that you are paranoid or overly anxious.
It could tell them that this applicant is a liability. What happens if he doesn’t get in? Is he going to go after his recommenders for throwing him under the bus? Is he going to create more headaches for all involved? Is the applicant going to create reputational risk for the school?
The adcom would rather just not deal with it.
We've been running a lot of Round 3 strategies on this space the last few weeks. Why? It is timely, obviously. But also, Round three is just so misunderstood that we find every conversation leads to new epiphanies for our clients. In turn, we pass along the broadest and most helpful of those pieces of information to the general public. Today, we're talking about a specific school that you might want to consider if you are firing off Round 3 bullets.
This time of year, we get a huge number of inquiries from students gearing up for the reapplication process. This makes sense, as this subset of students is often driven to succeed, still hurting from the sting of getting rejection letters, and aware that going at it alone all over again might not make much sense. Here are a few techniques and things we have discovered that can help all reapplicants, not just those who become our clients:
This time of year, we start to hear people ask a lot about the JD/MBA degree path. It's understandable, given the popularity of both programs and the temptation to get two degrees normally totaling five years of school in just three or four years. That said this is a time we usually ask people to stop and think things through. Why? Because you can shoot yourself squarely in the foot if you rush off and apply as a JD/MBA applicant instead of one or the other.
Let's work through this.
How should you begin to construct your candidacy? That is, how would you begin to think about where you stack up relative to an MBA programs themes -- thus showing fit with the school. As we know, the primary place to demonstrate this fit is through a school's essay questions. I have created a simple visualization that demonstrates how you would approach aligning your background with a school's specific essays. In the following graphic, I use "Wharton" as an example. However, the "career goals", "failure" and "significant accomplishment" essays illustrated below are representative of many top MBA programs (in a not necessarily specific to Wharton.)
[caption id="attachment_186" align="alignnone" width="600" caption="MBA Program Essay Map"][/caption]
So what are you looking at above?
The schools essays are represented by the colored circles and the numbers one, two and three. for this representative school, essay number one is a career goals essay. If you move from right to left, you will see that this career goals essay should incorporate the following elements -- short and long-term goals, current and past work experiences, your values/norms/beliefs, why MBA/why this program/why now? if you continue to move from right to left, you will see the elements that make up each item. For example, your values/norms/beliefs will incorporate elements of your family, personal and academic histories. Constructing this type of map visualization for each program or essay type will definitely help you think about all the elements that make up a successful candidacy.
Please keep in mind, that the above visualization is merely an example. For example, if you are constructing a career goals essay, some schools do not want you to delve into any sort of personal leaf system or values. They simply want you to state your short and long-term goals. This is why you have to read each essay prompt very carefully. Reference the following career goals example:
Haas asks this --
What are your post-MBA short-term and long-term career goals? How do your professional experiences relate to these goals? How will an MBA from Berkeley help you achieve these specific career goals? (1000 word maximum)
Meanwhile, Wharton asks this --
What are your professional objectives? (300 words)
So what is the deal? The first thing to notice is the difference in word count, along with the relative complexity of each question. Haas wants you to delve into your background, your values/norms/beliefs and how they have taken shape at your workplace, both past and present. They also want you to sell them on your knowledge of the school in this essay. This is a lot of information from one essay. If you stop and think about it, this is why it is a 1000 word essay. I would personally suggest using 500 words of it to describe your goals, 250 words to describe how your professional experiences provide a meaningful and even personal justification for pursuing these goals, and the remaining 250 words to sell Berkeley on how you fit the program. That is, the last 250 words should be dedicated to demonstrating what you bring to the table, using the school's programs and courses as a conduit.
On the other hand, Wharton just wants you to get to the point. This is a simple exercise in stating your long and then short-term goals (or vice versa.) So it makes sense that this type of very direct question prompt would only require 300 words. You do not need to overtly sell Wharton on what you know about the school or how bad you want to go there. Keep in mind that your choice of relevant career goals covertly sells the Wharton admissions committee on whether or not you are a fit (or even have a clue as to what the school can do for you.)
Overall, this type of brainstorming and mapping should be one of the first steps you engage in as an applicant applying to business school. Your map does not have to be as complicated as the above. Maybe you write it on the back of an envelope or maybe you construct PowerPoint, nonetheless it is a very valuable exercise.
If you need help constructing your candidacy and applying to business school – either comprehensively or just stress testing your essays to make sure they hit the mark – email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up your complimentary consultation. The arms race for consulting help usually starts in April for Round 1 of the next year, but the best value is probably right now. You can get more distance from the field by doing your homework early and the quality of your preliminary work will make a huge difference when it comes time to hit submit.
The row about Wharton's new behavioral interview questions is mostly bullshit.
- Tell me about a time when you worked in a group to complete a task, which required you to consider the opinions or feelings of others.
- This is what I tell my clients.
- This is a leadership question that asks you to detail a story.
- Story answers always follow this (trademarked) format - SCARA - Situation, Complication, Actions, Results, Applicability
- Hint: Leadership action means that you are leading other people - so you are in a team - being a good team leader requires considering and reconciling opposing opinions.
- Results are both quantitative and qualitative.
- See if you can take your answer and loop it back to the school.
- If you can't answer a question like this, with 3 to 4 examples, well then, we wouldn't have applied to Wharton ...
- Describe a time when you contributed to a team that didn't have a clear or appointed leader.
- This is what I tell my clients. See the above. Just tweak to cover a power vacuum where you stepped up.
- Every decent applicant should have an answer to this for every school. Think about it, chances are that you already answered this question (correctly) in your essays. It's not rocket science.
- Explain a time when your ideas were challenged, when you had to defend your opinion and/or approach.
- This is what I tell my clients. See question number one above.
- Mix this one up and provide an outside of work example - if you have not done so already.
- How would you describe your leadership style?
- Oh snap, this is basically question number 1.
- A good answer here means providing an example. The same example you could use for question number 1 above.
- The only tweak I would make is to use a Pyramid format, instead of SCARA format above.
- How would your colleagues describe you if you left the room?
- If you were the CEO of your company what would you do differently?
- Dizzamn, questions 2 and 3 here are remarkably similar to the "new" "behavioral" Wharton question 2 above. You can't fool me Wharton.
- For question 2 here - your colleagues would describe you as a leader who steps up to fill a power vacuum. Then they would provide an example - an example very, very similar to the one you would give in question 2 above.
- For question 3 here - you would talk about stepping up as a leader to make sure there was clear organization. Then you would provide an example - an example very, very similar to the one you would give in question 2 above.
- Please give me an example in which you exemplified leadership?
- Please describe a team situation that did not work?
- Questions 4 and 5 here can be answered by the example provided in question 3 above.
If you read our “How to Apply to Harvard Business School” and "How to Apply to Stanford GSB" guides, you already know that cultivating a real reason for applying to an elite MBA goes well beyond the school's name, rank, and prestige.
But more than any other MBA program in the world (yes, even HBS), GSB looks beyond having a great GMAT score, a summa cum laude GPA and a blue chip name as your employer. While these are respectable measures of a person’s perceived worth, they are not good enough reasons to apply to GSB.
Why is this?
As an MBA admissions consultant I often have to take a step back with my clients. Over the years I have learned a lot from my clients and have come to realize that the definitions of proper interview dress or attire varies by region, country and even culture.
This is the deal, and I dissuade anyone from thinking anything to the contrary:
- Wear a dark colored suit (Grey, Black, Charcoal) with a white or light blue shirt.
- Wear a tie that has as little design or pattern in it at possible. Solid colored ties are good.
- Wear shoes that are polished with dark socks. By shoes I mean dress shoes with dark laces, not “comfort” shoes, timberlands or Uggs. By dark I mean dark blue or black.
- Do not wear anything that is tight-fitting or shows body parts excessively. This is an interview not a club.
- Cut the tags off your clothing. Nothing says Men’s Wearhouse $199 special than tags still sewn onto the sleeve of a jacket. Don’t laugh too much, I have seen this as an MBA admissions interviewer. It tells me the applicant is clueless at worst or knows a good sale when he sees one at best.
- Get a shave and a haircut……shower.
I taught the GMAT for about 3 years. In that time, I had the pleasure of teaching over 250 students. Along the way, I also had the privilege of helping a select few craft their admissions packages. Based on my experience and in order of importance, I present the following 8 factors I consider critical to getting into a top b-school:
- GMAT Score
- Application Essays
- Work Experience
- Extracurricular Activities
- Applicant Submission Round