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.”
In addition to being a strong leader, a team player and an all-around impressive contributor to the workplace, business schools are looking for innovative thinkers. Of course, entrepreneurs have a fairly easy time convincing the adcoms they are innovative, after all, starting up a company, especially one which has shown some success, takes a lot of ingenuity.
But what about intra-preneurship?
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.
Many schools have become extremely restrictive on how many essays they allow you to submit.
The crushing numbers of applicants has forced schools to streamline the evaluation process and they simply do not have the staff or time to read 1000 word essays from everyone. Of course, whether you're applying there or not, you likely know that Harvard, as an extreme example, actually has no required essays as part of their application! They allow you to submit one essay if you like, but it's not technically a requirement for consideration as an MBA applicant. While we don't recommend you submit to HBS without leveraging the essay, this approach from schools highlights the fact that every word does indeed count.
Time to break out an annual PSA here. I'm talking all alarms ringing, sirens, whatever it takes to get your attention. By "you" I mean: anyone applying to business school. You need to stop doing something immediately.
Here it is: STOP TRYING TO "DIFFERENTIATE" YOURSELF.
Or at least, stop doing it without a professional by your side. Let's dive into the 4 Rules of Differentiation before someone gets hurt.
I have received the following question a lot lately: "Should my presentation reflect the ideas that Booth espouses when introducing the presentation question?" The short answer is "yes," but the long answer is more complicated than that and is worthy of discussion here in this space. Not just for the way it will help Booth applicants, but because of the way it speaks to the whole idea of "School DNA" and how to assess fit with a program.
I've been having this conversation a lot lately with individual clients, so I thought I'd take it out wide.
Basically, the idea is that Round 2 might be offering a slight advantage, based on theories of market inefficiencies and so forth. For years, I would say the prevailing belief is that Round 1 is the best round in which to apply to business and while there is no hard-core evidence to suggest otherwise, some common sense and deduction may point to a different result. So let's quickly run this down.
I wanted to try something a bit different today when breaking down the new Ross essays, which is to post the decision tree I am going to be asking my clients to use this year.
Why would I just share this with the public, you might ask? In part because the real value of our services with Ross (unlike with some other schools) is going to be in implementation rather than in the setting of strategy - so I don't feel I am cheating my clients at all. Further, we just don't have that many clients select Ross, to be honest. This is confusing to me, as Ross is an amazing school and a true value pick ... but that's a column for a different time. Today, I want to present a really simple way to work through Ross' seemingly wide open essays. I'll be using one part common sense and one part program knowledge, but both are born out of lots of experience just being someone in this world (by "in this world" I mean working in "higher education" and with "people trying to maximize their lives and abilities"). Let's get into it.
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:
In working with clients of all age, gender, nationality, and industry, one thing we're always trying to do is identify things that connect everyone - common elements that become and remain true, regardless of differences. To be honest, there aren't many such elements. Almost everything about the MBA admissions process is a contextual exercise. You can almost never divorce a unique applicant or a specific school from your analysis. It's part of the reason this is such a difficult endeavor for people, part of the reason why so many admissions consultants do a horribly incomplete job of advising candidates, and a huge part of the reason why admissions consulting even exists. You have to do a lot of things right and you have to do them with great contextual specificity. If you confront "one size fits all" advice, typically you can sprint away from that as fast as possible.
That said, there is one universal truth that we have uncovered that seems largely overlooked by the rest of the MBA admissions landscape and that is how enormously important it is to abide by what we call the Art of Transferability.
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.