($) Proof that Round 1 is advantageous.

If you’re reading this now, when it was first posted, then good on you: You’re starting this process early enough to benefit from what we’re going to lay out today. This is information that people don’t usually start caring about until October, when HBS begins releasing invitations to interview. We invite you to go check…


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There are no easy answers.

Sometimes we get people who demonstrate a complete misunderstanding of what we do – and of how the MBA admissions process works.

If you toss out a question at random to us, like “Should I use this idea or that in my essay?”, we would be doing you a serious disservice if we tried to answer it.

Because in almost all cases, the answer is, “It depends.”

We can’t tell you which is the “better” topic for a certain essay without seeing the whole pitch: your profile, your background, your history, and especially the other essays.

It’s even hard for us to say whether one topic is the right one after reviewing all that information, without seeing how you’re implementing your idea in an actual draft.

This is not like choosing a flavor of ice cream. You can’t just ask us for a quick opinion on the matter and expect to get anything useful in response.




Which obviously means, if others are willing to offer such quick-fix pronouncements on your decision dilemma… are you really going to rely on that?

An Early Decision idea for Columbia to consider

We apparently have more opinions than we know what to do with these days, and unsolicited advice is rarely welcomed, is it? This one is probably going to only be laughed at by the Columbia admissions people, rather than seriously considered, and if they did implement it, many BSers would probably be PO’ed as heck at the ‘Snark for it. (Warning: This is a looong post. And it’s not really about anything important. You may want to just bail on it. Unless you’re looking for a way to procrastinate and avoid doing some work on your essays, in which case, read up! We can keep you occupied for a good 5 full minutes today! This topic isn’t worth covering on multiple days so we just kept this behemoth post intact in all its excessive glory.)

Here’s the deal:

For whatever reason, we get our boxers all in a bunch when we hear about people trying to game the system. Any system, but especially this whole admissions system. You can get in being honest and true, so why do the dirty and get all ugly about it?

The biggest most obvious place in all of the admissions industry where this happens is with the Early Decision / Action processes at Columbia and Duke. We wrote about it here – “Should I use Columbia Early Decision as an insurance policy?” – and here – and basically everywhere Columbia ED comes up here on the blahg.

We also get royally miffed when we hear about people getting admitted to a good school, then negotiating a deferral for a year, and then using that year to apply to other schools, with the intention of ditching out on the first one if they get accepted. Many schools have blanket no-deferral policies, just to nip this little phenomenon in the bud. We rarely see this “bidding up” attempt to work out for anyone but who knows, maybe it will for you! And if the school that accepted you willingly gave you the extra time, then that’s on them. We just hope nobody was LYING to the school in order to get that deferral granted.

The only case where we see a tiny bit of wiggle-room ethically in the deferral bait-and-switch game is for the schools like IESE and Yale and Chicago and some others, that admit college seniors and give a deferral so they can go out and work for a few years before returning to start their MBA later, with some experience under their belt. If you apply to bschool when you’re still in college, well, you just don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know who you are yet. You get out in the world for a few years, you learn stuff, you grow up some more – and maybe you realize that the school you got into isn’t the best fit for who you have become. We can sorta see how this person might want to explore other options. We’re still not crazy about it – dunno, just feels somehow dishonest, and definitely disloyal – but whatever. Bschool is a business, and the schools know they’ll get some attrition in these cases. They plan for it. And you pay for it. It’s not like they’re giving you anything for free, or you’re stealing or something.

Anyway, enough about deferrals. Back to today’s rant:

The Early Decision / Action processes at Columbia and Duke are binding. That means, on your honor, in advance of knowing the outcome, you agree to actually GO TO THAT SCHOOL if you apply in that round and they admit you.

We honestly shouldn’t care so much about what people do and how careless they are with their word, but we do care. We get irked. Someone told us on the down-low recently that a whopper of a number of Columbia ED applicants reneg on their commitment. Not sure how many, but this person claimed that it’s a lot.

While we don’t doubt this person’s information, it does make us wonder. Columbia’s yield is historically very very high – one of the highest of all the schools, after you get the craziness of Harvard and Stanford out of the way. We understand it to be in the mid-to-high-70% range every year. (“Yield” is the number of people that the school accepts, who accept that offer and attend that school. Think of it like, how many of the accepted applicants convert to become students?)

If a lot of ED applicants bail out on Columbia post-admission, then that would drag down Columbia’s yield. Columbia’s yield would look more like, say, NYU’s or Tuck’s (mid-50%s). This isn’t a figure that most schools report on anymore – they used to be much more open with it but most have clammed up about yield in the past decade. We’re wondering if either Columbia’s yield is actually much lower than we’d understood it to be, or are they somehow cooking the books on these renegged ED applicants – do they void the apps and thus not count them in their yield data? Unlikely, since that would also then artificially suppress the total application volumes, which is a number that Columbia has been keeping a close watch on lately. Both yield, and app volume, factor into rankings by certain publications. So these data matter.

BTW, you can bail on a Columbia ED application BEFORE THEY ACCEPT YOU – meaning, after you submit the app, but before a decision is rendered. That would not violate the statement of commitment that you sign.

OK, so we hear that lots of people do in fact walk away from their ED admits. Columbia requires a hefty deposit for those accepted through Early Decision – something like $6,000 is payable within two weeks of admission. Is that why people walk? That could be a real deterrent for many – but it’s not like they don’t tell you about it. (Hint: If you’re applying through Early Decision, start looking at where that money will come from – you may need it in a matter of weeks!) Perhaps staring that $6k outflow in the face makes people fall off. It’s possible that a chunk of these bail-outs are those who get accepted and then don’t pay the deposit. Or, the walkers are people who get in and pay the deposit, but then a better offer comes around and they bail. Dunno which category it is.

If you’re accepted to Harvard after you’ve already paid for your Columbia deposit, then we can see how tempting it is to ditch out on Columbia and forfeit that several grand that you’d paid to CBS… People will do that. They can justify it as a sunk cost (you’ll learn about “sunk costs” in bschool). They can just add it to the tab of how much they’ll be in debt for this whole MBA thing, and they would do it. Because Harvard.

But you were supposed to have withdrawn that Harvard app as soon as Columbia accepted you.

Sometimes an ED app won’t get fully processed till very late in the cycle, and it might coincide with some Rd 1 decisions coming out, but most ED applicants hear of their Columbia fate much earlier than that. So when this happens, it’s people not playing by the rules. Or more precisely, not honoring their word. Grrr.

A year or so ago, Duke quietly introduced some language into its online app saying that if they accept you, they may contact the other bschools and let them know. This is a tiny bit passive-aggressive but we totally dig that they’re doing that. They’re basically saying, “Hey you! Yeah, you, the schmuck over there plotting to get one over on us! The guy who thinks he’s gonna get accepted here in Early Action AND keep his Booth application running. Well guess what? It ain’t gonna work! ‘Cuz we KNOW PEOPLE. We have friends. Kurt and Danielle and them over in Chicago? They be our homeys. And lemme just say to you, they not gonna likey when they hear this game you think you be playing wit us.”*

OK so check it out – what if Columbia did it this way?

They could charge the same app fee as always ($250), yet if you submit Early Decision and they invite you to interview, then in order to proceed with scheduling it, you have to put down maybe like a $1,000 REFUNDABLE deposit – to be applied towards your tuition if you’re accepted, or to be returned to you right away if you’re not.

If you apply in ED then you’d better be prepared to cough up that money sometime soon anyway. Having to commit $1,000 for the interview doesn’t seem all that crazy. After all, you’ve already told them you intend to go there if you’re accepted, and they’re moving you one step closer to that status with the interview invite.

So, just an idea, that we thought of when we were supposed to be reviewing essays on a midsummer’s night recently. Yeah, it would be a pain for the bean counters to have to deal with refunds – probably no school even has an ability to process refunds! When do they ever have to do refunds?!? We can see how the bureaucratic obstacles could put the kibosh on this before it even had a breath of life in it. But if they did do it, it would also save some time for the adcom, in not having to do any more processing on an app that goes dead. And it could weed out some of the flakes.

Or it might not change anything. If you’re going to bail for another school, you’ll do that whether or not you’ve paid Columbia earlier or later. We don’t have any visibility into where the drop-outs happen in the process so this could be a useless suggestion.

Hmm. Maybe we should just play our position and not worry about stuff like this. Outside our pay grade and all.

We do wonder about the impact on the yield though. And if this phenomenon of people ditching out has gotten worse in recent years, and if so, then why that would be.

Aw shoot, didn’t mean to bore you (cover your mouth when you yawn!).

OK. Back to the essays we go.


*All conversations from adcom people at Duke and elsewhere depicted on this blahg are fictional. Just in case you were wondering.

If you’re trying for bschool, the GMAT is (usually) better.

We’ve covered this GRE vs GMAT question before but since it came up in the awesome Success Story from a military candidate recently, we wanted to backtrack and offer this advice again, with some additional nuances inspired by what that person said.

First of all, as a blanket statement (that we covered in greater detail in many prior posts), the GMAT is preferable over the GRE for those applying for an MBA program.

HOWEVER, blanket statements never apply to everyone. Sometimes they are too itchy for your taste, or they smother you and you feel like you’re suffocating, or they cover you up and make you look all lumpy and stuff.

To illustrate, here’s what the former Brave Supplicant said in the write-up of the process that led to their successful FIVE ADMITS:

After doing extensive research and self-analysis I quickly realized that the GRE was a better testing option for me.

So there’s proof! The schools accept a GRE in lieu of a GMAT, and submitting the GRE will not preclude you from getting in. Five schools said yes to this person with a GRE instead of a GMAT.

The key point to notice in that quote from the BSer though: The decision to do the GRE was made after much “research and self-analysis.”

You cannot make this super strategic decision on which test to take without understanding your own strengths, and figuring out how the separate tests work.

AND – we’ll state it again – you should be aware that some schools do have a (typically unstated or very vaguely worded) preference for the GMAT. This doesn’t mean they’ll refuse anyone simply because a GRE score was submitted with the app, but it’s something to keep in mind.

That being said: If you realize – perhaps through taking multiple practice tests on both exams – that you’re just better suited to the style of questions and the way the GRE is structured, and you can get a good score on the GRE whereas maybe the GMAT is not being so kind to you… THEN GO WITH THE GRE.

Again, make this decision only AFTER weighing the options. As one point of research: You must understand that the scores are calculated differently for the test, and the schools do not see them as equivalent, so you might need to do BETTER (comparatively speaking) on the GRE than you would on the GMAT, in order to show competency.

This isn’t always the case – it truly depends on the entirety of your profile and where you’re showing relative strength or weakness in skillset in other aspects of your candidacy.

But it does need to be taken into account.

So. BSers who read that story the other day and thought ‘Yes! The GRE is easier, I’ll go for that!”

Maybe that is indeed the right way to go for you.

Just make sure you look at it from all sides.


Shameless self-promotion: If you have a GRE score, we’ll dig into all the details of “is it good enough?” when you go through the Comprehensive Profile Review process with us.

($) The 2014 Berkeley-Haas MBA career goals essay

We recently overhauled the Berkeley Haas essay guide to reflect the (totally effing awesome) changes that they made for the 2014 application season. You’re invited to pick that guide up in the bookstore. We also thought we’d toss out a high-level assessment and some advice of how to go about the new version of their…


While much of the blahg is available completely for free, the content here is reserved for members with full blahg access only ($5.95/month for 6 months, cancel anytime). Please login to view this content or purchase a membership – or return to the home page.