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.

($) When you can update your MBA app after submission

We recently talked about sending a new GMAT score to the admissions office after you’ve submitted your MBA application. Or sending them a transcript from a class you have completed since applying. There are some other situations when the school also deserves an update: if you get laid off you get (gulp!) fired possibly (possibly)…

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($) Adding stuff to your app – after it’s been submitted.

Sometimes a school will allow you to update them with information after you have submitted your MBA app – but the type of information accepted, and when you can submit it, varies radically from school to school. This question comes up from time to time and a Brave Supplicant asked about it again over the…

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This is not a test.

Frequently after going through a couple rounds of feedback, a Brave Supplicant we’re working with starts to get a little frustrated, and sometimes they toss out a question asking, “Is this what you want me to say?”

We did a rant on this some years back, with the observation that this is often a cultural issue. If you don’t have a lot of exposure to the American way of doing things, then you may be more of a passive learner, someone who is studying to the test but not necessarily working to absorb the lessons and connecting the dots of meaning.

And, more than one Brave Supplicant along the way has fallen into the trap of trying to come up with the “right” answer that will get them admitted, to say the “right” things in those essays. Trying to say what the adcom wants you to say is a recipe for a set of very boring, and often totally unbelievable, MBA application essays.

Even more important…. People, you gotta remember, this is your LIFE we’re talking about.

When you’re working out your goals and figuring out which school to go to – it’s not about coming up with the answer that’s going to get you admitted. It’s about figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your career. These are big questions.

First, you don’t want to outsource the answers. Don’t look to someone else to tell you what you should be saying.

And even more important: This isn’t about gaming the system to get the coveted admit to an impressive-sounding school. It’s about planning your future.

Yeah, for realz.

That being said: There’s a good way and a not-so-good way to be pitching your goals to the adcoms. There are mistakes that many people make and things that you should probably avoid saying in your essays. Our job is to help you not make those mistakes.

But our job is not to tell you what you want to be when you grow up.

Every now and then, we get a BSer who says, “Do you want me to say X?”

No, Brave Supplicant. No. This is not about pleasing EssaySnark. It’s not about coming up with the right answer on a test.

It’s about coming up with a realistic and believable plan for yourself – that you actually intend to pursue - and sure, things may change as you go through the process, but for now it’s your #1 actual plan.

That is a personal decision, that only you can make. Yes you can solicit input and opinions, and most definitely you should be doing research on what that career looks like, to vet it and make sure it sounds like something you’d actually enjoy doing – and that you have skills that can be put to good use in that endeavor.

Swapping out goals on a whim because we give feedback that it’s not coming across well is not the best use of your consulting time with us. It’s fine to be kicking the tires on multiple ideas but hopefully you will have done enough of that groundwork BEFORE you submit stuff to us for review that you are already pretty convinced that it’s the right path for you. If one comment from EssaySnark prompts you to throw away your entire plan and go off in some other direction…. well, we’ll sort of wonder why you actually need an MBA.

The MBA is the means to the end, it’s not the end in itself.

Yeah, we get it, there’s a whole wide world out there and sure, you could do so many things! It’s exciting! Sometimes people come across as a little fickle, or flakey, or flighty, or in other ways perhaps not quite ready for the whole MBA proposition, when it’s so easy for them to jump on the next new bandwagon.

Our feedback is meant to help you refine, and revise – and yes, sometimes overhaul – your plans. Hopping from one idea to the next is probably not the way to go about it, though. Bringing some level of self-reflection and insight into the process – and maybe doing more of that needed homework – will take you far in this process.




Now that you’ve made it through a month of them… Which day is best for a deadline? For you last-minute types: What day has been easier to deal with? Monday, so you can allocate the weekend prior? Earlier in the week? Or is Friday better? Do you care?