“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Who can argue with the validity of that statement?

The thing is, anybody who’s ever said that to us did not make it into Harvard.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: We don’t think a “throw it at the wall and see what will stick” strategy will work out for you.


Because it’s not a strategy.

Despite what you may have heard from a wide range of so-called admissions consultants, applying to business school is not a numbers game.

We know plenty of people toss out an app to HBS even if they don’t believe it will work out for them. The whole “can’t win if you don’t play” mentality. But doesn’t that seem like a waste of time and energy?

Even more to the point: Doesn’t that actually represent a bald admission that you have no clue what Harvard is looking for?

We acknowledge, this whole getting-in thing is murky at best. Most people DON’T know what Harvard is looking for.

But if you spend some time here on the blahg (and if you pick up our Harvard MBA admissions guide) then you will KNOW what Harvard is looking for.

We write about it all the time.

Same with Stanford. Our 2015 Stanford MBA application guide in particular goes into great detail on how the Stanford admissions team approaches their process of selecting their students.

Read through the resources available here and educate yourself.

Pick the schools that are the right match to you and your goals – and your profile.

The process of developing a strong pitch takes time. Sure, the HBS deadline is one of the earlier ones. We’re very pleased that Harvard has officially extended the admissions season by forcing lots of BSers to start the heavy lifting of writing their essays so much earlier. This ends up creating higher-quality submissions to all the schools (at least, it sometimes does). If you tackle those Harvard essays first, then it’s not a wasted exercise, even if you don’t get in, because it’ll get you into essay-writing mode earlier, and believe it or not, your later essays for other schools are likely to be much stronger. So there could be some value to applying to Harvard, if only because it makes you get up off your duff and start working.

But if you’re applying to Harvard just because somebody’s gonna get in and maybe it’ll be me? and you don’t really KNOW if you have a true shot or not… well, we’ve gotta question that. (BTW, our Comprehensive Profile Review is very helpful in offering an objective view into your situation in that regard, or if you’re finished with your essays, our Sanity Check can let you know whether to click that Submit button or not – yes, we’re even doing those over this holiday weekend.)

Please don’t misunderstand, Brave Supplicant. We’re not saying to not go for your dreams. But the dream of Harvard is best made into reality when you know the landscape and understand the realities and have an honest assessment of your chances.

It’s also the best way to temper expectations and avoid massive disappointment.

Related to that: Here’s a post on how many apps you should plan for if you want to be more strategic on all of this.

And to sum up:

Yes, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. But you also miss a high percent of the shots that you don’t train for.

Getting into HBS requires training. It’s not about luck.

($) Pro Tip: Your work history and the MBA app dataset

Most bschools want you to upload your resume along with entering in all your work history data in their online application. This is an area where it seems like it should be a no-brainer easy-to-handle task but you’d be surprised how many people either flub this up, or do not take full advantage of the…

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($) The main mistake people are making with the Booth presentation.

A few weeks ago we covered the big problem that we saw with Round 1 Harvard essays and today we’ve got similar advice for Chicago Booth and their presentation/essay thing. Actually there’ve been two problems. The first is that people are jumping through hoops with how they’re trying to connect one of the photos to…

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($) Does your MBA admissions consultant know this?

At risk of attracting a bunch more admissions consultants to sign up for the blahg today 😀 this is a follow-up to yesterday’s warning about how MBA admissions is increasingly competitive and not all MBA admissions consultants are up to the task. Today we’re going to go down a quick list of the changes that…

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This post may cause you stress.

We hate to do this. What we’re going to lay out here is likely to create some angst for at least a few of our readers out there. We’re already in a stressful time of year for you BSers, so it hardly seems fair to do this. But you know EssaySnark; we say it how we see it. Today’s post is about the increasing competitiveness of MBA admissions – which you already know about – but hear us out. Based on the class profiles that have been released so far (Exhibits A, B, C and even D) we can see that this game is heating up. When Harvard announced that their 80% GMAT score range for the Class of 2017 is 700 to 760 – wait lemme say that again, 700 to 760 – well that just cemented things.

We already saw this in mid-cycle last year. Things CHANGED. BSers who normally would’ve had no trouble at all getting into, say, Duke, or Tuck, or Kellogg, were being put on the waitlist. These were GOOD CANDIDATES with decent profiles, and the ones we worked with at least :-) did a good job on their essays. Yet we kept hearing about limbo outcomes instead of the Rd 2 admits that we were expecting. It was heartbreaking.

This increase in GMAT scores is not happening across the board – the average GMAT at Columbia ticked down a point, to 715 – but that’s still a 715 average. Nothing to laugh at.

And, for the schools we’ve seen reporting data thus far, the trend was that app volumes went up last year. Wharton shows a nearly 8% increase in apps to an already-high 6600. We have seen not much happening there with the (not so new anymore) dean but apparently behind the scenes he’s been putting things in place – or newly-empowered Admissions Director Mary Ellen Lamb has. Presumably the reason that Wharton was able to bump their average GMAT up so significantly (728 to 732) is because they just had so many apps to choose from. A seller’s market, there. They could afford to be selective – and they were.

OK OK OK if you’ve been paying even half attention to the MBA websites this year you already know all this. What we just laid out actually isn’t the part of the post that’s going to cause stress (though it may have done so inadvertently). Your profile is your profile; most likely, whatever GMAT score you have in hand is what you’re planning on moving forward with for Round 1, and the fact that you’re reading this today means that you are already planning for Round 1, so those strategies are set. Today is not about freaking you out about whether your GMAT is good enough or not.

Today is to point out a what-should-be-obvious truth.

Not all applicants are going to make it into the top MBA programs this year. There is a shaking-out process whereby only the best of the best (based on how the adcoms in their whimsy perceive it) will make it.

Guess what?

Not all admissions consultants are up to the task of helping you be one of those few.

When we say the game has changed (not that we like thinking of this as “a game” – it is YOUR LIFE after all) then what we mean is THE GAME HAS CHANGED – and not all admissions consultants are A players.

Even before the admissions landscape tightened up like this, there were gobs of consultants handing out really bad advice all the time. Today, in this new climate, there is simply no margin for error.

In every industry, or company, or team, you have the best performers, the superstars, the ones who have the exceptional knowledge and skills and abilities. The winners. And you have all the rest.

As self-serving as it is for us to be saying this, you just cannot afford to lay your destiny at the feet of a shitty MBA admissions consultant.

What worked for a consultant in helping their clients get in, in, say 2013, is NOT GOING TO CUT IT TODAY.

We see so many people come to us AFTER having worked with a consultant – and we see what that consultant told them to do with their essays. And we’re just like, “GAH!” Because the BSer was totally qualified and totally SHOULD HAVE made it in. Yet there are all these rookie mistakes in the essays they submitted – essays they crafted based on this so-called “professional” advice.

And it’s such a shame, because you only get one shot at the big leagues!! You’re going through this process for the first time, how do you know if you’re being steered right or not? The consultant says that one of their clients made it into Harvard last year, so they must know what they’re doing, right?

Well maybe – except for that fact that sometimes people are admitted to Harvard in spite of their essays. That’s true for every school on the planet.

A clueless admissions consultant is going to assume that that outcome was based on THEIR efforts. On THEIR guidance. When very often it had no bearing whatsoever.

We’ve worked with other consultants; we watch what they say on their websites and applicant forums; we see the results of their work with applicants. We are largely unimpressed by the field.

Want proof? We’ve caught several BUYING OUR ESSAY GUIDES. Yes that’s right: MBA admissions consultants are subscribing to our blahg to read the premium posts on essay strategy and they are also buying our bschool application guides. This happens every year; this year, it’s happened more than ever before. Hmmm, wonder why?

We’re not saying that All consultants except EssaySnark are lousy. No not at all. We happen to know of a (fairly small) handful that actually give out good advice. That do a thorough job of coaching their clients through a process that works. Where their people reliably get in.

But these are few and far between.

You’re putting your life in their hands, people.

We’re speaking here to the BSers who are also A players. Who have a real shot at the big time. Don’t squander your chances by casting your lot with the unqualified. Please remember, the consultants who charge the most are NOT necessarily the ones who know the most. (Sometimes we wonder if we should jack up our prices, actually; that seems to be the bias, that the ‘elite’ consultants are the ones who know what they’re talking about.)

Truly, today we’re speaking to the really good guys (and gals) who have their hearts in the right place, who have done, and are willing to do, the work that’s required, who bring honesty and integrity and ethics to it, who will make the world a better place through the pursuit of their goals. Who are maybe only B‑level players right now, but who deserve the shot, too.

Those are the ones we really like helping. Those middle-of-the-pack players who have the seed of greatness in them, but maybe it’s not fully come out yet. Maybe now is your time?

We’re talking to you. Please be very careful who you trust for advice in this process. We want you to win. In this new era, despite their good intentions, not everyone who claims to be an admissions expert is actually equipped to help you do that.

The possible pain of this post would come from the doubt that we are introducing into the minds of those BSers who come reading the ‘Snark’s blahg every day but for whatever reason went with a different admissions consultant already this season.

Essays are not a writing test. They’re a thinking test.

Here’s our wrap-up post for WRITING WEEK – which is actually not about writing. If you’re just joining us, the first of the series from Monday is here.

So much can be learned from an essay.

You may think it’s just a mechanical exercise that you have to get through, but honestly, an astute reader can glean so much about you from reading a simple essay.

Not only does presentation and professionalism matter, but what you say – and what you DON’T say – matter just as much.

What might matter most of all is how you organize your thoughts and express your ideas. You have to have a reasonable grasp of the English language to do a good job with this (which hopefully your college education gave you). Fancy writing is not the key. What will tilt your chances towards admissions success is how you construct your thoughts and lay them out for the reader – in specific response to exactly what was asked.

The problem of applicants not answering the question is so pervasive that it’s often the first thing you hear admissions people lament when they’re asked for application tips.

How to get into bschool?

Answer the question.

So that’s first. Be direct, and answer it quickly – usually in the first paragraph is best.

Then, the rest of what you construct needs to support that answer. An essay is presenting a position and backing it up. It doesn’t matter if that “position” is a statement of your short-term career goals, or if it’s your most significant achievement. In all cases, the purpose of an essay is to communicate something specific about you with enough evidence that the reader can go along with it. You’re taking a stand. You’re saying, in response to the question, “X is true for me, and here’s why.”

It’s also your duty to the reader to be consistent, and to manage expectations.

What we mean by that is, if you start the essay making a particular claim or statement, or including certain facts, then the reader is expecting you to follow through with that.

And, they’re expecting you to operate within the standard conventions of an application to a top business school.

We had a BSer submit an essay to us recently – we’re going to change the details here but yet use the same story to illustrate what happened. This person was trying to convey “fit” to the school and they introduced it by saying (this part is fictionalized) “Community.” OK great, that’s a pretty common topic for bschool-world. Community. We know what that means.

But then, the headliner statement in this section about “Community” was about the TV show (which EssaySnark has not seen but we’ve heard of it).

OK fine, we can make that leap with you, though we’re wondering why you as the writer are asking us to do so.

But THEN, the real problem hits when the actual story they presented had nothing to do with “community” – neither the idea relevant to the MBA cultural experience, nor the TV show. They actually presented a story about having to confront a colleague at work when a project wasn’t going well.

So, that story that we got could very well work in an MBA essay. In a vacuum, it was an appropriate topic to be presenting in an app.

The problem is, it had nothing to do with what the writer said the essay would be about. The BSer was being too cute with the presentation. It was a clear abuse of the flexibility of the question that the adcom had asked. It was a case of style over substance – and style ALWAYS loses to substance in this battle for getting in. (And unfortunately here the “style” was as jarring as seeing the old dude with the plaid shorts and white knee-high socks with sandals; in another context, the individual elements could work, but all put together, just, no.)

What you’re doing with your MBA admissions essays (or trying to do) is to prove to the adcom that you can think. That you can take a vague assignment and wrestle it to the ground and come up with a solution. That you can deal with ambiguity and come out a winner.

You know that thing called the case method? Heard of it?

Yeah, well, that’s when you take in all this data and spit out a cohesive opinion.

It’s kinda like what you need to do when writing essays.

It’s true. Dee Leopold says it all the time. Getting into bschool is not an essay-writing contest.

But until they invent something better, the essay is what we got.

And writing is one of the hallmarks of being human. It’s what separates us as a species. It reflects our ability to think.

If you write it well, your essay will let you show that you can do that.

Want to know if you’ve written it well? Check out our Essay Decimator two-stage essay review service – that’s the standard one, and here’s the one for Harvard. Or, to get all the pieces of your pitch mapped out carefully before writing a single word in an essay, the Complete Essay Package – there’s still time to go through the entire process with us! We’ll be around this weekend intermittently too for current clients with questions.

($) Timewarps.

Continuing with WRITING WEEK, today we’ll talk about flip-flopping (not the kind that politicians do; this is the kind that some of you do, in your essays, a lot). Here’s a comment we left on a BSer’s main Duke essay some time back: Again, why are you telling us this here? Either group all of…

While much of the blahg is available completely for free, the content here is reserved for members with full blahg access only ($9.95/month, cancel anytime). Please login to view this content or purchase a membership – or return to the home page.