($) The challenges of pitching an entrepreneurial goal for bschool

We’re very pleased to announce the publication of our first Career Goals Starting Point Research Guide! If you’re interested in ENTREPRENEURSHIP as your post-MBA goal – whether short-term or long-term – this is your best resource to figure out how to pitch it! Today’s post also describes some of the challenges with this particular post-MBA…

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Reporting your GPA when registering for the GMAT

MBA admissions teams have become more customer-friendly in recent years – so much so, that we had thought this one issue had been put to bed. But then we were reminded that no, it has not. There’s this thorn in the side of most international BSers that apparently won’t go away.

What thorn is that?

The need to convert your grades to the U.S. 4.0 system.

This came up yesterday when we saw a very reasonable question posted over on Beat the GMAT, in the Ask the Test Maker forum where the official GMAT people hang out.

Used to be, many top U.S. bschools required applicants to report their final undergraduate grades using the American system. Which meant that many if not most international candidates had to go through a stressful exercise of figuring out exactly how to do that.

For anyone whose undergrad marks are reported as a percentage, or on a scale of 1 to 10, or even a 5.0 scale, this idea of “converting grades” is challenging to say the least.

ESPECIALLY since there’s no one agreed-upon method for doing the conversion.

We wrote about converting your college grades for your MBA apps way back in 2011. We were happy when we were able to update that post as “old” and tell you that you don’t need to worry about it anymore.

Well guess what? This question from the Brave Supplicant on Beat The GMAT has prompted us to revisit the issue.

The obvious question is, why in heck does the GMAT ask you for grades in the 4.0 scale anyway? That’s pretty outdated stuff there, as our quick history of this problem belies. And, it’s sooooooo American-biased. The GMAC people (the makers of the GMAT) like to insist how their test is culturally neutral. The apparently test the test, by putting the questions to people of all sorts of different nationalities, to see if there is any bias or slant that would give American test-takers an advantage. They say they’ve removed any of that from the GMAT exam itself – so why this leftover artifact of pure pro Americanism?

Why not just let applicants enter their grades as their school has reported it, in the native scale?

We can guess as to the answer for why not: Because GMAC likes to mine their data (YOUR data) and then come up with fancy reports to issue to the schools, to help support their marketing position of how important their test is. (Sorry. We’re doing a bit o’ GMAT bashing here.) If everyone reported their grades in whatever native scale their college used, then the value of asking test-takers for their college grades in the first place is vastly diminished.

GMAC forces YOU, the test-taker, to self-convert your grades. They clearly don’t care if you do it right nor not. They just want the data.

Well, you may be asking yourself, “So what?”

If GMAC is using this data for their report, what does it matter?

It’s not like it’s going to affect your GMAT score.

True, Brave Supplicant. True.

But guess what?

The GPA you report in that little field DOES get included on your score report that goes to the schools when you apply.

Now, please don’t get too hung up about this, but we do have to issue the gentle reminder that the schools see the GPA that you report in your GMAT profile.

“Uh oh,” we hear some of you saying.

Very often, for international candidates, we take a glance at their GMAT score report and we see the GPA they entered, and we’re like, “WHAT?”

Either someone naively enters “4.0” or they enter something crazy low like “2.3.”

There are very very few people in the world who earned a 4.0 cumulative GPA in college. As in, hardly anyone. A good chunk of those who did attended a lower-regarded school. One that was a little less challenging curriculum-wise. Yes you see kids graduating from Princeton and Harvard and Yale with a 4.0 but it ain’t common. Nope, not at all.

If you’re coming from even a very good Indian university and you enter “4.0” in your GMAT profile GPA field, well, that’s just a little bit questionable.

Even worse perhaps is when someone uses one of these online grade conversion tools and it spits out a very low GPA – like the 2.3 we just cited. This happens all the time.

If you have a 2.3 GPA from college, you are going to have a VERY difficult time getting into a top MBA program.

But the thing is, you probably don’t have a 2.3. If you did even halfway decent in undergrad, your GPA is equivalent to at least a 3.0.

That’s the challenge with the Indian universities and their disparate grading systems. It’s very often an apples-to-oranges comparison. What one BSer ended up with as a 70.2% could mean something very, very different compared to the 70.2% that another BSer eked out.

And obviously, a 70.2% when strictly translated to the American 4.0 scale is quite a low GPA indeed.

So all of this is a bit of a minefield.

If you’ve already taken the GMAT and you realize your converted GPA is out of whack, then maybe it’s possible to correct that before you send your scores to the schools. We have no idea how that works (if anyone does, please leave a note in the comments of this post so we can be educated on it).

If not, then please do not sweat this. It’s never going to keep you out of bschool. If you have a low GPA and you were already realizing the need for an optional essay to go with your apps, then this might be something to mention there, along with your discussion of your college experience and whatever else you have to say about the performance at the time.

One main objective with your MBA apps is, you don’t want the adcom reviewer to have any questions. About anything. You want to be proactive and pre-emptively address anything for them that might come up in their minds as they’re going through your materials.

This oddball GPA thing on the GMAT score report could certainly raise an eyebrow in some cases – we know that it has with us in the past. We don’t think it merits writing an optional essay if it would be the only issue you’re covering – but it also would not be out of bounds to do that. It really depends on the entirety of your pitch and how “off” the GMAT-reported GPA actually is.

Questions on any of this? Lay them on us in the comments and we’re happy to help.

And to you GMAC peeps if you’re reading this? We know you’ve got these test-taker-friendly GMAT-experience-improvement initiatives going on. Maybe this is an item to look at in that context?

“How long is all of this gonna take?”

Nobody’s actually asked us that. But they should. This applying-to-bschool thing takes TIME. Yet when we’re still in the Spring, when Summer hasn’t yet arrived and only a few schools have even released their essay questions, then who in heck cares how long it’s gonna take you to write your essays? Dayum, bro, those deadlines aren’t till September! What is WRONG with you? Talking about essays now??

Well, some of you are smart enough to recognize that it will indeed require some time, and you have even signed up for the Rd 1 Countdown. Congrats to you! (If you didn’t sign up yet, you still can! Details are here.)

Here’s a realistic accounting of how much time you’re going to need to allocate to the process of writing your essays and getting your Round 1 MBA apps together:

After working with hundreds of Brave Supplicants over many many years, we’ve done a very thorough study of each of the tasks involved, and reverse-engineered a grand-total estimate of the averages of all the inputs that are required to construct a quality application.

The official EssaySnark estimate that you should use for your own budgeting and scheduling purposes is:


As in, this is gonna take you A LOT of time.

In fact, it’s gonna take you A LOT longer than you ever in your wildest dreams suspect.

And, it’s also very likely gonna cause you A LOT of headaches.

Don’t believe us?

Ask any former Brave Supplicant who’s previously gone through the process.

It’s completely spectacularly awesome that you’re here now, reading this in May, already thinking about the things you need to do to get this done.

And we encourage you to begin, even with some baby steps, putting some plans into motion. Read back over our “Class of 2018: Start Your Engines” posts if you need to.

Put some ideas on paper for, like, career goals and stuff. Or even sign up for some feedback on said career goals, with our Career Goals App Accelerator. And definitely keep moving forward with your school research, which we know a lot of you are diligently undertaking.

Some people are already starting to submit their applications to Columbia Business School. Yeah, crazy, isn’t it?? We don’t say that to make you feel the pressure of competition. The first apps in the door at Columbia are not typically the strongest ones, at least, not the ones we have seen this early in the cycle. The reason we point this out is only to remind you that the season is actually underway.

There are many pieces that need to be assembled to get a quality application together. Most people don’t get started on it until August. That is really late. It’s possible to still pull it off but boy is it stressful. The essays in particular will take you WAY longer than you expect – that is, if you want to do a good job on them.

OK, for anyone still with us after all that who’s curious to get some real numbers, here’s some estimates:

  1. Most people will require at least three major revisions per essay – often many more.
  2. We cannot imagine that the first set of essays you produce will require less than five hours per essay. Probably more.
  3. Therefore, plan to spend at least ten to twenty hours total on that first school. That’s just the essays.
  4. For those hours to be invested wisely, they will need to be spread out over many editing sessions, over an extended period of time. That’s simply how the creative process works.

You just can’t expect to produce quality content all in one go. Not when you’ve never done it before. Sure, it’s possible to cram all of this work into a couple pre-deadline weekends, but it’s not the route to a solid set of essays that you will have confidence in.

This, of course, is why we’re beating this drum over and over again.

We’re impressed that you’re already around Snarkville at this stage – now don’t squander your early mover advantage! Get to it, Brave Supplicant!

What if you work for a no-name company? Can you still get in to bschool?

We’ve told you before that in terms of getting into bschool, it does not matter if you don’t have a name like Deloitte or Tata or whatever impressive-sounding corporation you can think of on your resume already. We covered this in a “3 Myths” post back in 2013 and then expanded on it more fully in a subsequent post after being questioned by a BSer, and it’s something that we repeat on a fairly regular basis to stressed-out BSers who are manufacturing more problems for themselves than necessary in their application strategy research.

So how can we make such claims when this admissions person at Goizueta clearly states the opposite?!???

At 1:32, in describing the ideal candidate for their 1-year MBA, the Emory rep mentions career progression, and working for a “brand-name organization”, among other things.

How in heck does that sync up with what we have said?

GOOD QUESTION, BSer! It’s a confusing situation, we admit.

We never ever would want to imply or suggest that what we tell you should trump what you hear directly from an admissions person at a specific school. The official word from the school is ALWAYS the gospel – way more weighty and significant than what any ‘Snark person might be offering up to you here on the blahg or through our one-on-one consulting services.

That being said: We take this whole MBA admissions advice thing verrrrrry seriously, and how could we knowingly be talking this sort of smack when there’s a direct contradiction available from an actual business school?

Let’s parse this out.

First of all, that video is defining the ideal for a very specific track at one specific school. A one-year MBA at ANY U.S. business school is a different type of beast than the standard two-year MBA which offers a more leisurely pace (comparatively speaking – nothing about bschool is technically “leisurely”!!) and, importantly, an opportunity for an internship. The one-year MBA is appropriate for a different type of person. Almost always, it’s a requirement, or at least a very very strong recommendation, that the candidate to this sort of program come from an undergraduate business background of some sort, and/or have extensive business experience pre-MBA. It’s necessary, in order for the student to hit the ground running and be able to leverage the graduate business education in that accelerated one-year format.

That’s just one example, to show how the profile of a typical 1Y student is just different from what the 2Y MBA programs can accommodate and support. Please remember that unless we call it out specifically, any and all post on this here blahg is written for the audience of BSers who are trying for the most competitive U.S. MBA programs – meaning, the two-year full-time tracks at the top schools. We don’t call that out at the beginning of every post because it’s just assumed that you know that that’s what we’re writing about.

No, working for a name-brand company does not automatically give you this business background that you would need for the 1Y track; that’s not why we’re discussing these things together. What is true is that having a brand-name company on your resume can make recruiting easier.

That’s the case for ANYBODY. At any school.

You know how the M/B/Bs of the world and the highly coveted bulge bracket banks all use the top MBA programs as a funnel into their hiring processes? They do this not entirely because of the massively useful skills that they get out of the MBAs that the hire. No. (Sometimes in fact they have to UN-train their new recruits based on what they mistakenly learned in bschool.) The reason that the large consulting and financial services firms like to hire newly-minted MBAs from good schools is because the schools have done so much of the work in vetting and screening them. Just the fact that you get IN to a top school is a rubber stamp in terms of the qualities and attributes you’re exhibiting, that the top firms also value. Things like hard work and perseverance and proper career progression. All the stuff that the adcoms look for is also stuff that the recruiters care about too.

This same model holds true, at least to some degree, with getting hired by a brand name firm BEFORE you get your MBA. If you graduated from college and were able to land a plum position at a big-name company, well, that means that you kicked some butt in school and you impressed the recruiter at that company. You jumped through their hoops and managed yourself well in the interview, and they hired you. They put up some obstacles, and you overcame them. You passed.

It’s not a universal statement that everyone working for a brand name company is capable and qualified. But having a big company on your resume can give a sense of assurance to the recruiter. It’s a signal that you can work the system and succeed.

We stand by our statement in that previous post that adcoms don’t care where you work, and that you’re not at a disadvantage if you’re at a small company, as long as you show that you’re a go-getter who’s done stuff in the environment in which you work.

Then the other point – and we suspect this is just going to come across wrong but so be it: The school whose video we have posted here is simply not the most competitive place in the country. They don’t get oodles of apps. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a good school, and we have helped quite a few BSers make their way in. You can’t just waltz into the place without proving yourself.

But let’s be frank, this is not Harvard. And getting into a 1Y track – any 1Y track, anywhere – is often much less competitive than the 2Y program at the same school (this is true at Kellogg and at Cornell – there’s simply less competition for the slots – and we suspect it’s true at Emory too).

Given these realities, how can a less-competitive place improve their standing in the world? How can they increase their ranking and thus in the future, potentially attract stronger candidates, and then eventually, end up changing their reputation based on the quality of graduate that they send forth into the world?

By setting the bar high(er) for their applicants.

That Emory admissions rep was describing an ideal profile for their specific program. It’s absolutely a true statement that having a brand-name company is ideal if you’re interested in the 1Y MBA at Emory. They would probably also tell you the same for their 2Y MBA. And in fact, if pressed, we’d guess that many other admissions people around the world would agree that it’s ideal to have that.

But we’ve seen it stated on the HBS admissions blog over and over again that it’s NOT necessary to get into Harvard. And we’ve heard directly from other admissions people at a vast spectrum of schools that it’s not necessary for them.

We wanted to dedicate a post on this, because we’d hate for someone to see that video from Emory, or any other thing that some specific admissions person at some school said some time, and have people wonder about the contradictions there versus what we’ve claimed. These things are nuanced, and you need to consider the exact details of the situation being described. All bschool information stated by a school is specific to their school (and also, quite unfortunately, sometimes the school reps contradict each other!). Sure there are commonalities and patterns and trends across schools, but with everything you hear in your quest for an admit, just consider the source and understand the context, and spend some time teasing apart the rationale behind the advice being given. And if you ever come across a similar such contradiction, we hope that you will PLEASE let us know about it so that we can have an opportunity to explain and clarify – or if we’re wrong, retract what we’ve stated before.

‘Cuz accuracy is what matters. We want you to be successful, BSer!

Thanks to this year’s early release of essay questions, we managed to update our Ross MBA essay guide already! This is a great school to do as your first project.

The Countdown is starting!

Hey BSers!

Today is the Memorial Day holiday here in the States so it’s an abbreviated post from Snarkville, mostly just to remind you that it’s a great time to be getting started on your MBA apps! The Round 1 MBA Countdown launches today – full details are here – sign up now and you’ll get all the goodness from Week 1 till D-Day!

Countdown subscribers, look for your first installment today!