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Our Current #1 Favorite Business School

We got some great guesses yesterday! Ross, Booth, Stanford, Duke, and one almost-vote for HBS…

So which bschool is the top of our list of Five Faves?

To recap, #2 – 5 of our current Favorite MBA programs as listed out yesterday are:

#5. Darden
#4. Tuck
#3. Yale
#2. Columbia

And now we will reveal:

EssaySnark’s current #1 Favorite MBA program is…

NYU Stern!


You shouldn’t be!

We believe that this is a school that knows who it is, with no (ahem) brand identity confusion, and also no complacency issues. They are humble yet driven; they are willing to work. This goes for the faculty, and administrators, and students. You feel it when you meet them.

The Stern admissions team is a little lowkey but they’re also not trying too hard (we mean that as a compliment). They offer lots of advice on their website for applying, and they always have done so. (They were actually one of the first bschools to ever release a decent website and they got brownie points from us for that, too.) They are remarkably consistent in their application and essay questions, and they’re not trying to trick you. They give you enough space to provide some substance in your essays, and they give you options so that you can adopt a strategy that works best for your profile and your own individual messaging. They also have a remarkably flexible part-time MBA – the only one in all of the New England/Northeastern U.S. region.

As a school, Stern has been focusing on what are now “trendy” areas such as entrepreneurship and social venture and Big Data for years; they haven’t just jumped on some bandwagon of late, but instead these programs are well established at the school, and strongly regarded.

Another reason we like them so much? BECAUSE THEY DO THEIR OWN INTERVIEWS. There are very few schools out there where the admissions team handles all of the interviews themselves. Most schools outsource this important function to students or alumni. We appreciate that Tuck and Duke have an open-interview policy where (at least for a window of time in the Fall, at Duke) anyone can go to campus and have an interview. That’s a smart way to do it too. But we strongly feel that the NYU model is better. MIT and HBS admissions also do their own interviews however neither of them wins gold stars from EssaySnark for so many other reasons (we’re not going to do a school-bashing post here, there’s plenty of that to be found elsewhere on the blahg).

The adcom-managed interview means that there is a certain consistency in evaluation and a standard. You can be much better assured that everyone admitted to Stern is admitted for a reason when the critical interviewing step is being centrally controlled with quality standards. It’s possible that both Yale and Kellogg are benefiting in a somewhat similar way from their video essays but those are just not the same as actually meeting the person.

We talk about all these different interview policies in our MBA Interviewing Guide and we also cover some important info about the specific NYU interview process in our NYU MBA application guide. You can check out the NYU essay questions and our own repository of NYU advice here.

Obviously us appreciating Stern as a top MBA program with a smart set of admissions policies does not translate into a recommendation that everyone should try for Stern. It’s not right for everyone. Whenever we see someone targeting both Columbia and Stern, for example, we go “Hm. You probably only belong at one or the other.” There’s sometimes this attitude that people only end up at Stern if they can’t get into Columbia and we are here to tell you that that is NOT true. Stern attracts a very strong candidate pool and they can take their pick among winners. It’s possible for a BSer to get into both of these NYC schools, but each place is so different that it typically becomes kind of a no-brainer as to where the person truly fits (we’re not suggesting it is always Stern either; they really are different). You need to do your own research and understand your own priorities, and evaluate the schools based on the criteria that matter to you – not just Stern but all of them.

There’s also a few schools that we had some heated internal debates over, that were strong contenders for this Five Faves list. We may mention a few of them in a follow-up post.

What we will invite you to consider today is: When you put a school on your targets list, do you know why it’s there? What factors are you evaluating that make you feel this is going to be a good fit for you?

If it takes you more than five seconds to come up with some answers to that, well…. you have some more homework to do.

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…

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.

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?!??)