Success Story! Application Musings Part 2 – “Fit, Frame & Faith”

Here’s the wrap-up post containing very practical advice offered by a successful Brave Supplicant – you can catch up with Part 1 on “Fundamentals” if you missed it.

Attending business school is a big decision that deserves a fair amount of primary research. Rankings and guides are a fine place to start, but to really get a feel for a school’s culture, talk to current students and alumni. Evaluate how responsive they are, how enthusiastic they are about the school, and if there’s a broad commonality they share. These are the people that you’re going to be studying with, learning from, traveling with, pounding shots at 2am with, and relying upon in your network for the rest of your career. It pays to get an idea of what they might be like, and what they thought of their MBA experience.

Visiting campus is another effective way to evaluate a school, and one that I’ll admit I didn’t appreciate. For the school I ended up choosing, I participated in a campus tour immediately prior to my on-campus interview partially just to avoid the negative signaling of not doing so (like, who interviews on campus and doesn’t do a tour?). However, the experience was much more compelling than I expected. The campus was impressive. I got a sense of what kind of applicants the school was attracting, and what kind were getting interviews. The most powerful part of the visit though, was experiencing first-hand the personalities and warmth of current students who had volunteered to make the on-campus programming possible. I felt as if I’d found “my people,” and left with a stronger sense that this school was the right fit for me.

In terms of your candidacy, the more data points you gather on school fit and can effectively weave into your application, the better your chances of impressing the adcom. Applicants who are competitive at top MBA programs have very impressive stats, and members of admissions committees have seas of 720+ GMAT scorers at brand-name employers and significant community contributions to wade through. If you can effectively show that you understand what their school’s about, and that you contribute to that mission, they will be that much more likely to give you a shot. In the interests of protecting their yield rates, adcoms also like to see serious applicants who’ve done their homework on the school (and are more likely to matriculate if admitted).

This is an area where a good admissions consultant can be additive. Each school may have a preference for what types of content appear in applicant essays. For example, one school may want mostly hardcore professional achievements, while another school may be more open to your sharing of personal interests. These nuances are not immediately obvious (or very obvious at all), and a good consultant can steer you in the right direction. Showcasing fit can also factor into merit scholarship awards.

Applying to business school is an incredibly stressful experience. For the typical MBA applicant who’s used to driving success and accomplishment through sheer force of will, it can be frightening to undergo a process with such opacity and uncertainty. I mean, you’re submitting a bunch of words to a group of strangers who will judge you and decide if you’re “good enough” to interview or to “reject” you. The lack of control and transparency is very frustrating. Compounding this stress is the fact that a lot of us have fairly demanding jobs and other commitments. I drank a lot of whisky.

It’s important to maintain a healthy attitude and perspective during these trying times. In order to be competitive for a top MBA program, you already have an impressive list of achievements and would do fine even without an MBA. Don’t neglect your health – exercise, eat well, and don’t forget proper sleep hygiene. Build in some buffer in your application timeline so that you can afford to take a weekend or two completely off to maintain your sanity. Don’t forget to express your appreciation to your partner for putting up with the nervous wreck that is you. Reflect on all the hard work you’ve done in order to get to where you are. Don’t forget to be grateful to those who’ve helped you out along the way.

Everything will work out. Yes, I got into a top school…but I was also rejected by three others along the way. (Granted, I didn’t beat myself up too badly about it – these were some of the best programs in the world, all finance-heavy schools on the East Coast. This does drive home a point though: you must diversify your application set – there are no guarantees when it comes to elite MBA admissions.) I was not in a happy place as I stared down the barrel of possibly having to crank out Round 2 apps over Christmas.

Remember that an admit is just one potential step in your journey, and not the endgame. You have accomplished much to get to this point, and will continue to do so. The cream always rises to the top.

Amen brother (or, uh, sister…) – you said it as good as we ever could! Now in hopes that this message will get across to the huddled masses of yearning Brave Supplicants coming across tumultuous seas in a journey towards the promised land this year… :-D
Thanks again for the great advice, and once more, CONGRATULATIONS – not just on the admit but the happy granting of bschool dollars, too! Those will come in handy. You clearly ended up exactly where you should be!!!!

($) Asians and admissions continued

Back to our question that we first posed yesterday: Are Asians discriminated against in college and bschool admissions? We would not phrase it that way, but we certainly understand the perspective. We have no idea of the numbers, but if, say, 30% of your applicant pool (we’re just tossing that figure out there – again,…

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($) Are Asians discriminated against in admissions?

“Discrimination” is a very big word and we have titled this post this way intentionally. From the perspective of an Asian candidate, we totally appreciate that this is how it may seem. That’s the gist of this article in the LA Times recently, about college admissions and how darned competitive it is from certain demographics…

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More GMAT advice

We’ll continue with some GMAT test advice again today. This stuff is important, and we hope you’ll listen.

Very often, we see people coming to us in September, ready to submit their app to a Top 10 school, and they share their profile with us and they took the GMAT back in the Spring and the score was kinda meh. And they had all this time ahead of them but they just settled. And we’re like, “Doh!” And we think to ourselves, “What is UP with that???”

So here we are today, telling you now that settling is NOT a good approach to life.

Not for a girlfriend.

(Or boyfriend.)

Not for a job or apartment.

Definitely not for a GMAT score.

You don’t want to make us say “Doh!” six months from now when you present your essays to us to be decimated and we open up those drafts and sigh (‘cuz everyone’s first drafts suck) and then we look at your entire pitch and your profile and we see that GMAT score from March that’s in the so-so range – a score that, sure, COULD get you in – maybe. But you did it in MARCH and then you crossed that task of the list and totally sat on your duff for the next five months before a spark finally got lit beneath you and you lifted your head off the drool-stained pillow and wiped the lastnightbeerfog out of your eyes and you say, “Hey, maybe I should start writing some essays!”

If you know you could do better on the GMAT then, um, why aren’t you doing better?

And if you’re struggling with the GMAT – we sympathize!! Like, totally! and every other Valley Girl emphatic that we can offer to you.

It is so worth it to spend more time on this task. We get it. Studying is not as fun as watching House of Cards. It’s not as fun as drinking beer. It maybe isn’t even as fun as doing that spreadsheet you have to finish for that important project at work. Studying is for YOU – nobody else. Nobody else is going to force you to study. That’s one reason why it’s hard. You need to come up with your own internal motivation. It’s like eating your broccoli – at first, it’s all yucky with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. But then over time, after you’ve forced yourself to eat it on an (ir)regular basis, eventually you may even start to develop a taste for it.

When you have a routine with studying, it is SOOOOO much easier. When you are inconsistent and sporadic about it, then it is always a massive chore to get yourself motivated to start.

Just like going for a run: The hardest part is putting on your running shoes. Once that’s done, you’re committed. You’re going.

Find a way to “put on your running shoes” with the GMAT prep. If that means signing up for a course, then do that – it’s often a very productive way to get yourself in gear. After all, if you’re PAYING for it, then you’re more likely to follow through on it, right?

Then dive in with it. Embrace the suck, as a wise bschool student once said .

Make it a game.

How high of a score can you get?

Not because there’s some magic admissions success that’s guaranteed to go along with it (though higher scores always help). But because it’s a challenge.

Do well on the GMAT because it’s hard.

Don’t settle for less-than and use “it’s hard” as an excuse.

It’s all about mindset, people.

Are you going to win this or what?

Sorry but this is ridiculous: Predicting your chances based on profile stats

We were foolish enough to wander over to one of the MBA forums recently (why does the blood boil so much whenever we do that?? oh yeah, because of all the misinformation dripping out from every corner) and we came across a site that professes to tell you what your chances are in getting in…

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Success Story! Application Musings Part 1 – “Fundamentals”

Today we’re sharing another tale from the trenches from a successful former BSer! This one is a little long so we’re breaking it into two parts. Here we get some practical advice from one who went before. Hope it’s useful to all of you who are just starting out!!!

I’ve entertained the thought of going to business school since I started working, for reasons that would become increasingly coherent and compelling throughout my career. Five years later, I was approaching the edge of the typical work experience window and in the best position to apply to MBA programs I’d been in thus far.

When I scored a 750 on my GMAT, I decided to go big and apply to the very best schools I thought I could get into. Having clawed my way up from being an unemployed finance graduate with no internship experience chain-smoking cigarettes in a studio apartment during the peak of the financial crisis to an analyst at a respectable middle-market private equity firm, I was reasonably confident in my ability to execute. However, I didn’t want to tackle such a critical and seemingly opaque process alone. Furthermore, as a White-or-Asian-Male-In-Finance (WAMIF? A reverse URM perhaps?), I knew I’d need all the help I could get.

I was biased against admissions consultants. I thought they were overpriced and borderline disingenuous: taking credit for results that would have happened anyway, pulling the wool over the adcom’s eyes, and creating an uneven playing field for applicants who couldn’t afford one. I had come across EssaySnark’s blog though, liked the content, and liked what I saw when I purchased his (or her, and I’ve entertained the possibility that EssaySnark could be a severely attractive librarian-type with hipster glasses – it would make the feedback easier to swallow) school guides. I liked the snarky tone and blunt delivery; I’ve been called a smartass myself, and it reminded me of my parents who tell me I’ve gotten fat when they pick me up at the airport. I also liked EssaySnark’s hardline stance on ethics: all work submitted must be your own, don’t write your own recommendation letters, and reneging on Early Decision offers is lame. I signed up for some professional assistance. I won’t discuss here, but I encourage you to read the reviews of EssaySnark’s services if you’re considering them.

Let’s skip to the ending here: I was admitted into one of my top choice schools with a very generous merit scholarship. I’d like to share some thoughts on what I learned along the way.

Focus on the process, not the result. Obviously, the results are the point, but beyond deciding which schools to apply to (or to apply at all), it’s much more productive to focus on executing your application strategy (rather than obsessing over your chances at each school and constantly refreshing each school’s thread on the GMATClub forums). From a logistical standpoint, be as organized as humanly possible. File things away on your computer consistently, save drafts, and plan a generous timeline to get everything done – because things will slip.

If you know that you’ve done your best at every step along the way, you can take comfort in the conviction that regardless of what happens after you hit “submit,” there was nothing more you could do to influence the outcome. Control the things you can control, and let everything else take a flying leap at a rolling doughnut.

Similarly, rather than try to fit your candidacy into a “perfect MBA candidate” box to impress the adcom, focus on actually representing your authentic self. Applying to business school is (or should be) a very introspective and reflective process that reveals a deeper understanding of your personal and professional self. You’re taking stock of your professional accomplishments, what makes you interesting or different as a person, what you what to do with your life, and trying to package that into a product. Yes, you’re selling a product and need to understand your buyer and how you’re marketing yourself. However, the adcom wants a real taste of your organic, non-GMO self rather than some pre-processed and adulterated swill that the Internet thought they’d like. The more maturity, self-awareness, and willingness to dig into your past experiences and future aspirations that you bring to the table, the more rewarding the application process will be.

This is just Part 1 – and so far, it’s refreshing advice, former BSer! Thanks also for the plug for our services. BTW, to all of you who may be wondering, when we ask people to send in a write-up of their experiences, we specifically do NOT ask for an endorsement or testimonial (though anyone can send one of those, too!).

And “no comment” on the librarian-with-glasses thing! We’ve never been accused of exactly that, but the underlying debate is long-raging. ;-)


Not all schools screen for the a*hole factor.

Last Fall we wrote about a first-year at Harvard who took a recruiter to task because she (the student) disagrees with the way the recruiter’s company does business. We put up a little survey, inviting reactions from our small BSer community, and then posted those results. Consensus was that this HBS student’s actions didn’t reflect so well on the school.

We got another response to that survey at the very end of December so we thought we’d circle back to present this BSer’s views, too:

Respondent #7 (you can view the previous six on our prior post)
Every interaction a student has with anyone outside of the business school is a direct reflection on the school and the and the other members of the student body. Jessica’s response is arrogant, to say the least. Why not simply understand that this was a clerical mistake? There’s no need to be rude to someone who is undoubtedly giving many of her classmates a high-paying job, regardless of any difference of opinion. Other recruiters will see this, now public, exchange and wonder if other HBS students conduct themselves similarly and even worse, wonder if those are the types they want in their companies. Especially given the PR issues HBS has had to face over the last year or so, it seems utterly irresponsible for her to act in such a way to a recruiter. Once these incidents start to pile up, they can no longer be dismissed as outliers in public opinion.

The same is true with the Chinese food-gate fiasco. Every outward conversation or exchange, verbal or written, directly reflects on the institution. Consider the private sector; such a lack of proper conduct would prove even more detrimental….just go on Yelp to see this first hand.

Business schools, so it seems, strive to weed out people like this. They also strive to avoid admitting those who exhibit poor decision making skills, a deficiency from which Jessica certainly suffers.

The “Chinese food-gate fiasco” was an – in our opinion – exceedingly more embarrassing incident recently where an HBS professor created a massive stink about a local Chinese restaurant’s incorrect pricing on its website. We tweeted about it:

Every large organization has a full spectrum of personalities – but you can bet that Harvard Business School has an outsized number of, how shall we put it, LARGE personalities.

(Sometimes known as “big butth@les”.)

The survery-responder makes a good point: “Business schools, so it seems, strive to weed out people like this.” However, you have to remember that some schools care more about certain qualities than others – and some of those qualities are at times at odds with each other. In other words: If you’re a go-getter Type A overachiever person who has Done Big Things in life, to the point where the Admissions Board of Harvard Business School has noticed you among the crowd of thousands of applicants…. well, there’s a good chance that that drive and ambition that have served you so well as to get you into Harvard may also come in the same package of someone who’s a little bit… driven. Or pushy. Or sharp-edged in certain ways.

Every school cares about specific traits in its applicants, and generally those traits are shared. Things like leadership and smarts and all of that. All the schools care about that. And many schools also care about teamwork and collaboration and do-gooder-ness. Sometimes those things come together in one awesome package of a person – and sometimes we get more of one than the other.

The essays and the other application components will reveal a good sense of where a candidate falls along the spectrum of each of these dimensions. It’s the interview that is a prime opportunity for the school to do its critical screening.

At a school like NYU and MIT and HBS, where the admissions teams do all of their own interviewing, then the adcom has direct interaction with the candidate and they can assess for themselves what type of person they’re dealing with. NYU is very keen on screening for qualities like “How will this person fit in with our culture?” Other schools like Duke also rely on their student interviewers to evaluate these types of traits.

The HBS adcom? Sure they care about that – but they mostly care about whether you’ll be proactive, and a key contributor, and willing to take a risk in a heated class discussion around a difficult case. They want to make sure you’ll take a stand and defend your views. They don’t want to admit any wallflowers.

We’ve never gone through an HBS MBA interview so we’re definitely not speaking from firsthand experience here. We have heard plenty of reports on the experience from many of our clients over the years – and we’ve worked very closely with those people before they submit, so we get an exceptionally strong feel for who they are and how they operate. And we see who Harvard lets in.

Most students at most schools are “nice.” Most students at Harvard are also true go-getters who’ve accomplished stuff. That tends to be accompanied by a certain, how shall we put it, oh let’s just call it “high self esteem.”

HBS does not screen for “nice” in their admissions process. If you’re a visible jerk, then of course you won’t get in. They’re not going to intentionally admit the most a-hole of a-holes (probably). But most people are on their best behavior when they go to interview, and not all a-holeness is easily revealed in a 30-minute conversation.

This post is just a very long-winded way of saying, if you want to go to Harvard, don’t expect everyone there to be all warm-fuzzies all the time.

As our cosmetics-industry activist and Chinese-food-complainer have revealed.