Our Five Faves

As an observer of this industry, we have developed strong opinions about “the best” schools and today we’re going to share with you a short list of our current favorite MBA programs – or maybe this is a list of our current favorite MBA adcoms.

You already know that we think rankings are a joke and anyway, the rankings data is unreliable, and we believe that people who are overfocused on rankings are misguided souls and the bottom line is that you should be doing your own research. Even despite all that, we published our own list of “best bschools” awhile back which is potentially useful to BSers everywhere as a gauge of who the schools are accepting and how difficult it is to get in (not just looking at acceptance rates which don’t tell half the picture).

Today is just a lovefest. We’ve done enough dissing of schools lately and we wanted to spread some good will around.

We wanted to recognize the winners – in our book, at least. There are certain schools that are doing it right – that have either started moving in the right direction again, possibly after some missteps in the past, or who are making changes that are applicant-friendly. Who are closer to a 10 on the have-a-clue scale than some of their peers are right now.

Here’s the schools (and admissions teams) that we’re particularly enamored of today:

5. Darden

Darden Admissions Director Sara Neher does these great videos offering super helpful admissions tips – and she’s done them for years, so there’s this whole archive of videos you can waste your time viewing access for insights into their application process. She actually gives real advice too! (Unlike some schools we’ve seen recently.) Darden is consistent in how they run things in admissions, they’re accessible to you BSers in offering regular online chats with their team, and they’re genuinely nice. Not that people at other schools aren’t nice, but at Darden, they’re REALLY nice. You can see the Darden essay questions and our own repository of Darden advice here.

4. Tuck

Another consistent school whose admissions director, Dawna Clarke, also does helpful videos is Tuck . Tuck may not be seen as the most innovative school around in terms of constantly tweaking their program or chasing the latest fad, but they offer a solid education with really smart people and an emphasis on the essentials of business. They are also exceedingly generous in their admissions policies, including one of the applicant-friendliest policies of any school in how they evaluate GMAT scores. You can pick up our Tuck MBA Application Guide if you want to hear us spew forth more of our love for this school, or just check out our page with the Tuck MBA essay questions and other school info here.

3. Yale

We’ve said it before, and we feel even more strongly now: The SOM is one to watch. This is a school that’s got some real energy going. The (relatively) new dean, and their new building, have sparked a fire, and there are faculty and adminstrators alike flocking to New Haven to help bring life to Snyder’s vision. Yale is an interesting place at the moment, which is NOT what we have been saying about them over the past decade. We also like how transparent the admissions team is (though we still don’t agree with Admissions Director Bruce DelMonico’s statement about GMAT retakes). We go into more detail on why we like them – and of course on the Yale application itself – in our Yale MBA strategy guide, or you can start by checking out our page with the Yale MBA essay questions and other school info.

2. Columbia

Ah, Columbia. After raking them over the coals on a regular basis starting several years back, we now are seeing real change. This school has redeemed itself in our eyes and we have no qualms whatsoever in recommending today that anyone go full speed ahead with an application there. It still feels that the school itself may be a little complacent (read: school leadership) but the admissions team is now made up of A-listers and we’ve seen signs of change coming from the student body, too. (We finally got this long-overdue post up about last week about gender dynamics at bschools where Columbia features prominently – and positively.) Our Columbia MBA application guide is incredibly detailed, as is our Columbia essays and insights page – we may have done more Columbia essay critiques here on the blahg than any other school.

That’s a pretty impressive list already. Wondering who gets the #1 spot?

You’ll have to wait till tomorrow to find out.

(If you want to make a guess, the comments are open – we’ll be curious to see what people think!)

($) Wear a suit to your bschool interview.

This used to be advice that was never needed. Everyone knew that this is what you should be doing. You get an interview? You wear a suit. That was the case whether you were interviewing on Wall Street or at UCLA or at a tech firm – whether it was a job interview or an…

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Real-life business school dilemmas

Years ago, a favorite essay question among many of the top bschools was to ask you about an ethical dilemma you’ve faced. That type of question still can come up in interviews. What we’ve got today is not so much an ethical dilemma as a relationship dilemma.

It’s about applying to bschool with a partner. We’ve discussed the strategies for applying for an MBA with a partner a few times here on the blahg and we’ve even posted a Success Story of a couple who made it in to bschool together.

That’s of course the ideal outcome. But what happens when you both get in … to different schools? Or even more painfully: What happens if one of you gets in to Harvard?

And here’s another wrinkle: What happens if EssaySnark tells you point-blank – before you submit anywhere – that one of you definitely doesn’t have a chance at Harvard, but that the other one does?

What do you do THEN?!??

If you’re applying as a couple, there are so many things to consider (we go into some of them in that series on applying to grad school with a partner). This post is to encourage you to walk through all the scenarios together before you submit any apps.

How important is it for the two of you to go to the same school? Obviously this answer depends on where you’re at with your relationship. A married couple will have very different answers than a couple who’s been together for only a short time. Are you open to a long-distance relationship for two years? We’ve heard of bschool breaking up relationships. Even if your partner is not applying to bschool this year, these are important (and sometimes scary) factors to think through, separately and together, as you figure out where you’re going to apply.

If one person has a real shot at Harvard, should he pursue it?

Or she?

We hear much more frequently about the woman being the “trailing spouse” – if you’re the dude in the relationship, how would you feel about “trailing” her while she pursues the MBA?

What about compromises? Maybe one of you can even put off bschool for two years. You both apply to schools that are right for you individually, where you think you each have the best shot – individually, or together if you’re both interested in the school – and then you make the decision based on who is accepted to the “best” school.

If only one of you is accepted to a Really. Good. School then it’s easy: Both of you move together to that city for Partner 1′s MBA. Two years later, the Partner 2 applies, with the knowledge that both of you will move again. There would be some juggling required when Partner 1 goes through recruiting for their post-MBA job in the Fall when Partner 2 is also submitting their MBA apps, but it’s possible to pursue opportunities with multiple location options kept open if you explain the situation to the MBA recruiters.

This may not work in practice because what if during the initial year of applying, one of you gets into Kellogg and the other gets into Columbia… which would you choose? You need to figure out the parameters by which you’d make the decision BEFORE anybody gets accepted anywhere.

Or maybe you decide to apply to multiple schools in the same city – Kellogg and Booth, Columbia and NYU (and Wharton), MIT and Harvard, Stanford and Berkeley, UCLA and USC. All of those schools are competitive (some ridiculously so) and this doesn’t guarantee anything, but certainly it could be a good option for the two of you to live together while attending different schools. Though you probably wouldn’t see each other very much!!

A smart first step in all of this is to get an honest assessment of your chances – yours, and your partner’s – so that you can make informed choices around which schools to be applying to. And you’ll need to have these honest conversations about your individual priorities and what level of sacrifice or compromise is appropriate from each side of the equation.

Do a little simulation for yourself. What would you do if you were admitted to Harvard – but your partner was not?

And do the opposite: How would you handle it if you got in to, say, Wharton, but your partner was accepted to Harvard?

Those two cities aren’t that far apart, but be honest with yourself. A long-distance setup can totally work for a lot of couples. Would it work for you?

Figure this stuff out BEFORE you submit.

It can get very sticky to work through these decisions later on if you don’t have a framework for them.

Good luck with it, Brave Supplicant!


($) A European BSer ponders the options – aka, considering geography in school selection

We worked with a wonderful Brave Supplicant last year who, despite some challenges in the profile, ended up with an abundance of riches, being accepted to multiple top MBA programs. This presented a problem: Which to choose? Here’s the quandry: Dear Snark, I know how busy you guys are during these applications rounds but I…

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Taking the GMAT? Or… interviewing? Trick your stressed-out self into chillin’.

Came across this quick video from Stanford awhile back – yeah, it figures. Stanford is definitely more “liberal” in its advocacy for such touchy-feely subjects. This video presents some techniques for visualization and otherwise tricking yourself into a calmer, more relaxed state. The video is titled The Mind and Body of Anxiety Management: Strategic Communications” and there’s some good stuff in there:

(Unfortunately, it does affect the credibility of the content a bit when the first presenter looks visibly nervous, but still… the advice is valid.)

We covered some related tips last year, in this post on how to best prepare – in advance – for the parts of the GMAT that you haven’t been cramming for. And this post, on how to do so-called power poses if you find yourself nervous before interviews (and GMAT tests). The Stanford video goes into those, too.

If you’re getting ready for one of these make-or-break moments — a big test, an interview, a presentation — then not only do you need to know your content cold, you need to be prepared for the emotions that are going to strike. The emotions can derail an otherwise-awesome performance.

Oh wait. You’re not supposed to think of it as a performance.

Just watch the video, it’s worth it. As you build your leadership skills, you’ll be called on more and more to do stressful and even scary things (like coming up with a lucid response that’s relevant and semi-coherent when your future bschool prof cold-calls on you). Find ways to manage that stress and it will take you far.

Personal observations from one woman at bschool

We recently shared with you the report on gender at Columbia Business School produced last year by the Columbia Women in Business club.

Since we’re on the subject, we thought we’d pass along some insights from a female graduate about her experience – and all you guys out there, don’t quit reading here because you think this post is only for girls. It’s not.

I would also add one more lesson I hadn’t really learned before business school. While we’ve heard a lot about women being afraid to speak up in the classroom, I’m not sure I struggled with that challenge. (stay with me, this requires a bit of explanation)

My mother says that the “#1 trait [of this family]” is being confident that you’re right all the time (according to her, it started early, roughly as soon as I could talk, I became the most stubborn child on earth). And, to her annoyance, it is more often true than not true that I (and my family members with this similar trait) are, in fact, right, which only encourages the belief that we are inherently right all the time. I would like to think I have tempered that inborn trait with age, that I can listen to both sides of an argument and that I learned to question what I believe to be true before insisting that it is. Part of the blessing of this inborn trait is that I found I was not as hesitant to speak as some of my female classmates in the classes where it was possible to be “right”, in quantitative classes like finance and economics. I did learn, however, that I struggled to speak up in the classes where I was offering an opinion that could be dissented with, especially if the professor was known to debate a point made by a student. For whatever reason, I think this is especially hard for me in a classroom setting, where I may not have the chance to “redeem” myself with follow-on comments like I might be able to in a smaller work meeting where I offer a dissenting opinion.

In summary, I think I learned a few key things:

  1. The women who struggle in business school (read: all of them, in my opinion) will struggle for different reasons! I don’t know if enough emphasis was placed on that in all the pieces that I’ve read in the media.
  2. My own personal struggles had more to do with a fear of conflict and my own perceived inability to defend my opinions in front of a large group. I’m not sure business school really taught me how to manage those struggles, but it did help me realize that I have them, which feels significant, I guess?
  3. I think I believed that business school would naturally create time for me to change and reflect. It didn’t. I finally realized that life doesn’t make space for you to develop personally and change on purpose. You change anyway, because life throws things at you that force you to adapt. But the change that comes from self-reflection and self-enlightenment (geez, I sound like a yoga teacher or a guru…) only comes by making space for it in life.

Somehow I always thought that would get easier as I aged, but the opposite has turned out to be true.

Interesting insights; and we tend to agree! Thank you to this long-ago BSer who has kept in touch with us to share value about the experience. Bschool can be a catalyst for change – but only if that’s what you want in the first place – and Life brings plenty of that sort of thing whether you do or you don’t! (sheesh, who’s sounding like a yoga teacher now?!??)

CBS Reflects: Columbia and gender on campus

Just over a year ago, the bschool applicant forums were buzzing with talk about a damning article that came out in the New York Times about gender inequality at Harvard Business School . A subsequent article was also published about class and accusations of elitism surrounding a clique of rich kids at HBS . EssaySnark offered our reaction after speaking with some students.

As with so many things in the world today, that news cycle has come and gone, and this year, in MBA admissions circles, nobody even remembers that all of that happened.

Those articles were definitely noticed last year, though. One thing that came of them was a discussion at many of the top MBA programs about gender. HBS held some (unfortunately closed-door) sessions with the Times journalist, and we know that those articles prompted many conversations at all the schools. Whether or not the Times article specifically was the catalyst, it also coincided with an initiative from the Columbia Women in Business last year that researched the issue on their campus. They generated a report in the Spring which was passed along to us, and we wanted to share it with all of you.

Here’s what our insider said when sending it over a few months back:

One of the things that I took on this year was a comprehensive look at the state of women at Columbia. Part of what I would say to those considering Columbia is that I have seen the culture move and change through the sheer will of the students behind an initiative. I’m not sure how many other business schools resemble ours, but I was certainly grateful that students were empowered to change the culture of the school.

Anyway, what started as a report called “State of Women” turned into an entire program called CBS Reflects , which aims to study our community from within and identify the best ways we might be able to change and adapt to better meet the needs of the entire student body. This year, obviously, we studied gender. … I am so proud of the work we accomplished [and] I obviously wanted to share with friends and family and colleagues. [I also wanted to share it with you as] someone in the professional world of MBA admissions who could post the work externally on the blahg to benefit the future prospective students looking at Columbia.

There is some truly fascinating information in this report (quotes are from the Executive Summary on page 6):

  • Regarding admissions: “There is a relatively small pool of qualified female applicants to all MBA programs; however, the portion of applicants to Columbia Business School that is female is at its highest point in four years.” In fact, a chart on page 10 shows that there are only around 2,000 women with an appropriate amount of work experience (4 to 9 years) who get a GMAT score above 640 every year. A “relatively small pool” indeed. It’s no wonder that the schools are fighting for the strongest female candidates. If Columbia wanted to have a 50% female student body each year, they’d need to pull in and convert apps from 25% of all available female candidates – in the world. Or, they’d need to lower their standards, which we’ve never seen them do. The report states that apps from women increased 2% in the prior year but their yield is lower for women than for men.
  • This “relatively small pool” is the reason why the average GMAT score for female students at Columbia is 707, compared to 726 for men (data from page 8). Columbia’s student body was 36% female last year – not the highest among its peers but not bad, historically speaking for bschools in general, and also not bad considering that they have so many students from the finance industry, which has a comparable skew in gender proportions. Pre-MBA, 18% of female students came from finance, compared to 26% of male.
  • Regarding academics: “The school is highly responsive to student feedback and institutes changes into the curriculum on an ongoing basis. The school is in the process of revising the pre-MBA program, with an emphasis on leveling the playing field for students who do not have finance or quantitative backgrounds.” Why do we mention this? Because women’s grades at Columbia are lower than men’s are – yet the average undergraduate GPA for women is 3.6, compared to 3.5 for men. Women’s grades are a lot lower in “technical” courses like finance and accounting, but they’re also lower in “social” courses like leadership and marketing. And, only 22% of female students report “high confidence” in their academic abilities, compared to 46% of men*. A full discussion of this phenomenon starts on page 18.
  • Regarding careers: “Women and men share similar short- and long-term career aspirations, but differences exist in expected salary” – women expect $125,000 to $149,000 while men expect $150,000 to $199,000 – “and future work force participation. Notably, both men and women are highly satisfied with their career outcomes.” Actual post-MBA salary data was not reported.

Those are just a few highlights. The report has interesting observations about the Columbia community, dating, happy hours, and lots of other aspects about the culture – along with plenty of commentary around academics and gender. They also asked questions in their students survey about things like whether they interviewed with a male or a female when they went through admissions, and if they felt any impact on gender during that process. Interesting stuff.

You can read the report below or download it from the CBS Reflects site .

If any current student or recent grad at any of the other top schools has additional insight or commentary, or formal reporting, that they’d like to share on similar initiatives happening on their campus, you may contribute in the comments to this post or send an email to the EssaySnark Team at gethelpnow at essaysnark dot com.

*It is worth highlighting that statistic: A vast majority of all students do NOT report “high confidence” in their abilities at bschool. Bschool is grad school and it is designed to kick your butt. This is why factors like GMAT score and undergraduate grades count for so much in admissions.