We’ve got a tradition here of keeping data on stuff, and sharing it with you Brave Supplicants, to try and make this whole process a little less opaque, and also help you to prepare (and encourage you to get started early!!) One of our annual posts is this one: When will the darned schools release…
Short answer: No. Except in perhaps one very limited case.
Long answer: Keep reading.
There are lots of admissions consultants out there who advertise themselves as former admissions officers, as if this is some massive advantage to you as their potential client.
We actually believe that in some cases – like when the admissions consultant is in their first or second year serving clients – that this could actually be a liability. After all, just because they know how admissions works at ONE school does not give them any special expertise on any other. That comes only from years of working with applicants to those specific schools. Bschool admissions policies are all specific to their school.
And, even if it might be an advantage to work with someone who last year served on the admissions committee at your target school, that advantage will fade quite dramatically the more time goes by. Things change at all the schools. Policies adapt, preferences shift, the trends in incoming applicants morph, and the priorities of a new dean at the school or in admissions take precedent over old ways. There’s one key situation where it would be helpful, and that’s if you have a specific one-off question (like what we describe here with GRE vs GMAT scores) about how things work in the depths of the admissions process at the one school they worked at. Of course, you could also pick up the phone and ask your question directly to the current admissions staff at that school, and see what they tell you. Most admissions offices are trying to be more transparent.
Another important consideration if you’re teasing apart these marketing claims: When someone says they “worked in” admissions, what exactly does that mean?
Were they a student who conducted interviews?
Were they an outside consultant who was brought in for helping with app reviews? (Many of the schools that get larger volumes of applications have seasonal help who work on a consulting basis and are first-line reviewers but not final decision-makers.)
Were they actually on the committee that makes the decisions on who to admit?
Was it for a couple months? A season? Many years?
There’s lots of variation and levels of takeaway knowledge and insights you can expect from each of these.
The biggest issue we have with former admissions people touting some specialized advantage to the marketplace of Brave Supplicants is that reading an application and knowing that it’s good and that you want to accept someone, or that it’s bad and you will reject them, is not the same as helping someone to strategize and develop how to create an application that’s good, that some admissions person will want to accept.
It’s like reading a novel and writing one.
You’ve probably done the former.
Have you ever attempted the latter?
What about helping some other writer figure out what’s good and bad, what should be kept and what should be tossed, in the novel that they’re writing?
These are all very separate skills.
We’re not trying to toot our own horn here (well maybe a little) but we do have years and years of experience working with BSers of all flavors and stripes, to bschools of every sort you can name. We’ve seen how different schools respond to different profiles. We’ve seen the mistakes that people make – and we can help you not to make them.
The only thing that will give someone any advantage in helping you with your apps is if they’ve done exactly that before. If they’ve helped OTHER PEOPLE – not just one, but multitudes – with successful apps TO THE SCHOOLS YOU’RE TRYING TO CRACK.
You can get good at a skill only by doing it.
A coach usually needs to have played the sport in order to be any good at coaching it.
The “sport” of MBA admissions and training to be good at applying comes not from judging the apps from on high but from writing MBA essays – or helping others to write them in a way that showcases their talents and helps them stand out from the pack of the other gazillion strivers.
Not something you learn by watching. This is a contact sport. Has the MBA admissions consultant you’ve talked to been out on the field and getting muddy? Or have they just been watching from the air conditioned luxury box with the open bar and a chauffeur waiting at the end of the night?
(Any admissions directors reading this now are laughing. Yes, EssaySnark knows there are no chauffeurs waiting at the curb for you. Not for us either. Let us indulge in our elaborate little metaphor. We are not actually criticizing the admissions directors; we know plenty of them who are miffed when a colleague leaves for the dark side of admissions consulting! Hope no offense was taken here.)
We even know of at least one case of an admissions director who transitioned into admissions consulting — and only lasted one season before bailing and going back to the sanity of the school admissions’ office again. Coaching candidates on making their message work is so totally different than bestowing a yes or a no on them after that work is done.
This post is merely to say, evaluate any potential consultant with clear thinking and logic — EssaySnark included. What are their qualifications? What are they claiming to be the advantage they will offer you? Think through any such assertions and consider the way they’re marketing themselves, just like you (hopefully) would with any other purchase. There’s a lot on the line.
You may also be interested in:
Choice of recommenders for your MBA apps is partially a strategic one (who can say the most insightful things about you? anyone in a position to recommend you who’s also an alum of the school?) yet it’s also an exceedingly practical one. Who meets the standard criteria that the top schools are looking for? 1….
We know how this one looks. The optics for the ‘Snark aren’t so great. “Oh be careful, you vulnerable MBA applicant person! You might get influenced by the wrong type of no-good baddies out there who are going to steer you wrong!” We admit, we have a vested interest here. After all, EssaySnark is, ourselves,…
A crucial part of your school research process is talking to students, ideally on campus when you go for a visit, or second-best at a school’s recruiting event, or if nothing else, then hopefully at minimum by phone. You’ll want to talk to them in-depth about their experiences (Pro Tip: not about your apps). Do this with as many students as you can, at all the schools that you’re interested in.
But! Warning! This is a one-dimensional source of information!
The hardest thing of all is that once you’re talking to students at one school or another, all they do is rave about THEIR school, and perhaps explain why they chose School X over School Y when they were in your shoes — but it’s IMPOSSIBLE to do a truly apples-to-apples comparison since nobody goes through 2 bschool programs. So all they can say are the things they like (often parroting what the school promotes, like “Columbia! It’s amazing! We’re at The Center of Business!”) or every now and then you’ll find some disgruntled student who is more forthcoming on what they don’t like about their school…. but this is pretty rare, because they know how much student satisfaction ties in with rankings, and everyone wants their school to be highly ranked. Plus, once you’re there, you become part of the cult and you’ve drunk the kool-aid, so expressing negatives about your choice can make you feel ostracized from the tribe. Most people aren’t that brave (or aren’t that pissed off about whatever they’ve experienced as negatives to voice it to a stranger met in this context). And, having YOU choose their school validates THEIR own choice for having chosen it, too. Complicated human emotions.
Recent grads are sometimes better able to have perspective but they too can be subject to those same factors, and hop on that bandwagon to try to convince new admits to sign up.
Here’s a refreshingly introspective editorial piece from a current Stanford student (the college, not the bschool) who recognizes the issue.
Definitely keep talking to people. But as we’ve cautioned before: Be a sponge, yet have a filter.
In case you don’t follow us on Twitter (we don’t tweet often but we do tweet good!):
Whelp it’s happening! Harvard HBS MBA Class of 2022 requirements are starting to come out! Deadlines have been announced … expecting to see lots of such news coming this week. https://t.co/8n4aReYz86 Watch the blahg for more!
— Essay Snark (@EssaySnark) May 6, 2019
Harvard has confirmed that they’re leaving their main application requirement the same this year. You’ll have an unlimited-length essay to write in answer to this question:
So how do you answer it?? What more would you like them to know? How in heck do you even figure that out???
There are two main aspects to learning how to deal with this question in the most effective manner possible: You need to know about Harvard, and you need to know about YOU! Seems obvious when we say it that way, right? And even then seeing it stated directly, you still may not know what to do with that as an instruction. These are both non-trivial exercises!
The best way to answer an open-ended question is to figure out what the asker of the question values. What does Harvard prioritize? What does Harvard care about? What can you do to convey to them that you have those qualities?
Pro Tip: The first place where people fall down in their essays to business school is that they try to figure out what they think the adcom wants them to say. That is NOT what we are suggesting you do.
Read what we wrote again.
We’re saying to figure out HARVARD.
And the second step is to figure out YOU.
Harvard does not care about “school fit” nearly the same way that other schools do — and again, that’s not what we are suggesting you do for your Harvard MBA essay writing assignment. You’re not trying to convince them that you love Harvard so much and that’s why they should let you in.
This essay is about pitching yourself.
How do you demonstrate the qualities that show you as “Harvard material”?
That’s a snapshot of your map to success with your Harvard essay. It’s also important to remember that the essay is just one piece of your application. They’re also going to have the entire app dataset, your resume, your full academic history including transcripts, your employment data, and two letters of recommendation (which should be from recent experiences, professional context vastly preferred).
This Harvard essay writing assignment is so complex that we’ve written a whole book on it — and hey lookee here! We’ve already updated it for the current year’s application! Our 2019 HBS MBA Application Guide has been refreshed for the Class of 2022 app, and is ready to roll in support of you and your essay-writing task!
But! Before you get too excited there, pardner:
Pro Tip: Please do not make Harvard Business School your first application!
While we would hate to squash the enthusiasm of some hot-to-trot Brave Supplicant who is chomping at the bit to get started, we strongly encourage you to slow the roll and make a plan.
Want even more support in the planning stuff? Or perhaps you’re a little nervous that you’re more a procrastinator than a planner?
The EssaySnark MBA Countdown to Round 1 can help with all of this too! The Countdown is accepting signups now and officially launches with the first weekly to-do list, sent via email on Monday, May 27th, and continuing with weekly support to keep you productive and focused all the way to the Round 1 deadline for Harvard in September. Of course, you can use The Countdown on any Round 1 applications; we just tie the scheduling to that HBS deadline since so many of you will be aiming for it. All the other schools will have their deadlines coming staggered thereafter for the month of September into early October, so making the HBS date your first target is standard, regardless of what other schools are on your short list.
Or, don’t know which ones should be short-listed? Our Comprehensive Profile Review can get you some input on that, too! Maybe you have some vague ideas of names of schools that might be worth trying for…. but you don’t really know. The Profile Review is a personalized review of your exact profile (thus the name!) against what you want to do and why. It will help you refine your list, and we usually can suggest some other schools to consider as well.
But back to Harvard.
Their application requirements have been published (“What more do you want us to know…”).
You know the date that it’s due (September 4).
So how do you get started?
Well, Shameless Self-Promotion: You really should pick up our guide. 🙂
We’re on Version 9.0 of our Harvard application guide. That’s nine years of revisions, updates, new insights, suggestions, ideas, and most importantly, exercises for you to unpack the prompt and do the investigation, inventory, and thinking that’s required to figure out a good way to answer it. There is not a single path to success with the Harvard essay, but you know what? There’s lots of paths that are total dead ends, and the vast majority of Harvard essays that we see from people who haven’t read our essay guide fall into all of those same traps. (Even people who’ve paid a bunch of money to some other consultant to help with their essay before coming to us; yes, unfortunately, that happens quite a bit.)
Last year, when a BSer who was invited to interview hit us up for help on preparing, they told us: “Also, your essay guide is amazing !” which was kinda cool to hear, given that we’d not interacted with this person at all and they were able to leverage this guide to make it to the interview stage. That’s always our hope, that you dive in and make the most of all the gobs of application goodies that we make available, you immerse yourself in this and figure out how to craft your own message, and then you pop out the other end of it and show us your successes. (Of course, we’re totally here to help with actually essay development and message crafting too! but it’s fun when someone is the do-it-yourself type who makes it happen on her own independently.)
We certainly cannot guarantee you’ll make it in to Harvard by reading this guide. But we can say you’re helping your chances immensely if you read it, and study it and do the work that we lay out that needs to be done.
If you’re reading this today, you are in the BEST POSSIBLE POSITION for success this year with applications. Don’t waste this opportunity! We’re doing all that we can to empower you with the tools, insights, and actionable information that you’ll need. We encourage you to take advantage of what we’re laying out. We’re here to help! Check out what we offer, let us know if you have questions, and no matter what, we hope you’ll be one of those who emails us excitedly in December with news of your admits.
International applicants whose education was not in English have additional requirements as part of their MBA applications. Not only do you need to take the TOEFL for many schools — the ones that haven’t done away with that requirement already, at least — but you also need to get a hold of your academic records.
We’ve actually covered this in quite a bit of detail before so we’ll first direct you here:
- Requirements for international applicants and non-English transcripts and recs
- MBA programs that don’t require the TOEFL for international applicants
Today’s post is meant as a heads-up about these requirements, since they will take a long time to procure and you need to take advantage of the weeks you’ve got stretching ahead of you till Round 1.
If your transcripts are not in English, then you need them translated, and some schools have very explicit rules for what they’ll accept.
If recommended for admission we will require an official transcript and degree certificate issued by your University. We require that you send academic documents in both the original language and in English. We accept an official English translation by a university official or by a certified ATA translator. You can utilize the following websites to search for and reach out to a certified ATA translator:
ATA homepage: http://www.atanet.org/onlinedirectories/
ATA website for searching for certified translators in a certain country: http://atanet.org/onlinedirectories/individuals_tabs.php#tabs-2
*Only individual translators can be certified by ATA. Documents prepared by translation companies with ATA membership DO NOT suffice. Documents prepared by a certified ATA translator should show the ATA-Certified Translator Seal.
Again, that’s only upon admission and they will give you time to get all the documents together. However, if your transcripts aren’t in English NOW then you need to get them translated in order to apply and so you may as well go through this process of doing it the right way from the beginning. Meaning, using one of these approved translators, exactly per the terms that the school is going to require.
Most schools right now are bending over backwards to make it easier, not harder, for the applicants, especially those coming from outside the U.S. However, Berkeley Haas is subject to the rules of UC-Berkeley and they still tend to be more restrictive in some ways; the TOEFL requirements at Haas are also stricter than you’ll find at other schools. We’re posting this to show one of the more extreme cases. Not all schools will have this stricter ATA certified individual translator requirement, but the ATA-certified version will be accepted at all of them.
Meeting the most restrictive requirements now is only going to make it easier later — and if you have your details buttoned up and put together in the app itself then you’re only going to impress your admissions reader even more, because they will see that you have done your research on every last requirement. That tells them that you’ve taken the time and put in the effort, that you’re taking this seriously, and that you’re prepared and ready for the challenges ahead in pursuing your graduate business education in the U.S. All good things to convey!!
And of course you’ll need to write good essays, but there’s a little bit of time still before you need to be sweating about that. 🙂
(Besides not starting early enough. Which is the #1 mistake almost everyone makes, regardless of how much we warn about it. Pro Tip: It would be good to get started sometime soon!) While there are a near-infinite number of ways to muff up your MBA apps, there’s some common issues that we see crop up…
Say you’re in finance, and you hate it.
You’re good at your job, but you just feel like it’s not what you thought it would be.
(Pro Tip: Substitute any career for “finance” as you read along, to get the most out of this post. Presumably your current career is, in some respect or other, not what you thought it would be, so personalize this to your situation.)
You know you don’t want to do finance anymore.
Do you even try for the business schools known for finance? Since you’ve already done finance, maybe you don’t want to be surrounded by the focus on finance again. If you’re looking to explicitly branch out.
Part of this is knowing yourself, and understanding your priorities — which need to be yours and yours alone. If you’re looking to go back to school to revamp your career to do something more fulfilling, then that is going to direct your school research efforts accordingly. Or, if you know in your heart of hearts that you really want to make as much money as possible, then that too should be guiding your efforts. Neither of these is better than the other, by the way. Our world needs people who are motivated to make a lot of money just as much as it needs people who are looking for something personally fulfilling that may not be bank-account-focused. Truly, whatever is driving you is fine. Being explicit about that for yourself can be very freeing, and it can simplify decisions later on, when you’re (hopefully!) admitted to multiple schools and have to make a decision which one to choose.
Again, knowing yourself is the key.
For example, say you’re this finance person, who is really keen on jumping out of finance through the process of getting an MBA. What will be the temptation for you, once you’re in the program and starting the recruiting process, to set up one or two interviews with recruiters in finance, “just to see what happens”?
After all, someone coming from finance, wanting to stay in finance and go back to finance post-MBA, is likely to land one of the highest salaries in the graduating class.
Are you able to resist that siren call?
Now, to some degree, all of this is kind of an irrelevant conversation. Today, there’s no such thing as a “finance school” — not like there used to be. About a bschool generation ago, you definitely would have a very different experience at a school like, say, Wharton or LBS or Columbia which are famous as “finance schools” compared to maybe Kellogg which is the “marketing school” or INSEAD where everyone wanted to do consulting. These days, those lines have definitely blurred; the students who flock to MBA programs are much more varied in their backgrounds and interests (except perhaps that tech and consulting are the big drivers overall), plus the schools themselves have diversified, and worked to break out of their own limitations, of being branded as a “this” school or a “that” one.
If you know you want to go to a school to focus on X, then figuring out which schools are “the best” at X and applying there is a natural strategy to choose. Some categories of “X” are self-limiting; if you want to do something in luxury goods, then the main players are NYU and Columbia and Harvard. If you want to do fintech, then Booth and NYU and Columbia and Wharton are obvious choices. If you want to do clean energy, then Ross is a natural fit. If you’re looking at nonprofit, then Yale and NYU (again!) and certainly some others too would be your targets.
So Strategy #1, figure out what you want to specialize in, figure out which schools specialize in that too, and apply there.
Strategy #2 is apply to the opposite schools.
Maybe you honest-to-goodness do not know what you want to do with yourself. Maybe you’re nervous about getting “stuck”, like we said with the example about being lured in to some finance recruiting when you had planned to break out of the finance track. (Again, all schools are strong in finance to some degree or another, but there are a smaller number who are pretty much famous for finance. All MBA programs everywhere have a huge amount of content and programming and curriculum around finance. Remember, finance is considered the language of business. Or maybe that’s accounting. Whatever, if you’re getting an MBA, you’re going to be taking finance stuff. We’re just talking about what else you do and how you tailor the rest of your experience, considering all the curriculum that you have choice and flexibility with — and no, you really don’t need to know now what choices you’ll be making later for actual classes or concentration, but it can help to think these things through in advance.)
If you’ve decided you want to use bschool as a “clean slate” approach to explore all options and geographies and industries and functions, you may feel more free to do that at a school that’s really dissimilar to the schools that are famous for expertise in your current career. So for example, you have no clue what you want to do as long as it’s not finance: Then apply to Berkeley. It’s not that Berkeley doesn’t have great finance curriculum or connections. It’s just that they have so many other things too, that you’ll be immersed in everything and exposed to multiple new opportunities — ones you may not otherwise have even perceived, if you’d ended up at a traditionally more finance-y program.
Again, there are many ways to choose a school, and all of this is yet another exhortation to be embarking on these tasks of research and outreach today. Now is when you need to be kicking the tires and learning. Now is when you can be in shopper-mode. BTW, we acknowledge that much of this may sound a little esoteric. “I just wanna get an MBA!” you may be thinking. Is all of this stuff we’re suggesting even practical?
The answer to that is, it will be if you engage in it. It is highly (highly!) unusual for an applicant to present any level of sophisticated insight into their rationale for the MBA and reasons for choosing the school that they apply to. Adcom readers will sit up and take notice if you bring these reasons into your essay effectively. You will stand out, for sure — mostly because this stuff cannot be faked. Will it be easy for you to figure out your priorities and use those to guide the schools you will target? No, probably not. Will it offer tremendous payoff if you go to the effort of trying? Yes, almost 100% yes, we can assure you.
And remember, what one person calls a school is not necessarily the bottom line on what that school is about. That’s why asking many people for opinions and experiences is so helpful. Maybe EssaySnark names Ross as a clean energy school but you already work in energy and you know that Duke is way better. Leverage your network, ask questions, challenge assumptions. This process is about learning your own priorities just as much as it is in getting in to “the best” school.
“The best” school isn’t about MBA ranking. It’s about which school will let you do your best work, and which will set you up for the success of your own individual and personal path.
Shameless self-promotion: In our Comprehensive Profile Review, we offer commentary on the schools you’re currently considering, based on your unique profile and your stated preferences, priorities and criteria in considering that school. Plus, we suggest other schools you may not have thought of — and often, many months later, BSers come back to report that the school we suggested to them is the one that they’re going to! We have a pretty good track record of intuiting the fit between person and program. Hit us up if you want our assessment on your specific situation!
Fit: The Ferrari is super sexy but have you ever tried to drive one of those things? Or just ride in it – stiff. Or just get in and out of the darn thing.
Fit is when you find your peeps. It’s when you find your tribe.
We’re not trying to imply that everything about your bschool experience will be, or should be, comfortable. Maybe the challenge of driving a Ferrari is what you need for awhile in your life. Or maybe, if you’re already someone with caviar tastes, the challenge of driving a Ford is what you need to evolve as a person. You know, to, like, keep the ego in check and make you humble.
In bschool-land, fit comes in many forms. It comes in many questions. It’s things like:
Do you want to go to a large school or a small school?
When starting out your research for an MBA, a good way to filter out appropriate schools is by the size of the program. There’s a few angles to this, including:
- Does the business school have a lot of other degree programs? If so, there’s obviously going to be a lot more students on campus. Schools like Wharton and UC-Berkeley and Michigan and NYU offer undergraduate programs in business. While you probably won’t be interacting with the college kids at all during your MBA studies, it does make for an overall bigger school and gives the place a different feeling, with more stuff happening and more people involved.
- Does the school have a wide variety of MBA programs? If they offer a part-time and/or executive MBA, do students in those tracks interact with the full-time classes? Some schools have a more segregated approach, based mostly on class scheduling; part-timers and EMBA students are around during evenings and weekends whereas full-time students take classes during the day. Other schools like Columbia offer mixed classes where you may be studying alongside people from the different MBA programs along with law school students too.
- Most important: How big is each entering class of full-time MBA students? This information is easily found on the schools’ websites and on the BusinessWeek school listings.
Most people focus on this last metric – class size – when they talk about the size of a business school. Harvard is one of the largest MBA programs, with about 900 people in each entering class. This means that there are almost 2,000 students at school every day – which is quite a lot! It also means that their network is vast, global, and diverse. Many people feel that that alone is a key benefit to attending a big school.
By contrast, you have schools like Yale, Tuck, or Berkeley with only around 250 students in each class. Such a small class size fosters a more intimate environment. There’s a greater likelihood that you will get to know the majority of your peers at one of those schools than would even be possible at a larger school. It also means that there are fewer professors on campus, but the ones who are there are more likely to be permanent members of faculty and it is often easier to forge longer-term relationships with teachers who are more embedded in the university like that.
So, as you can see, there’s a tradeoff. What you should be thinking about is, what kind of environment will you do best in? Some like the experience of meeting new people all the time. Others feel that they may get lost in a community that’s too large. What’s your personal learning style? Think back to your college days, and what type of environment that was. Did you attend a larger school or a smaller one? Do you think that was the ideal for you? If so you can seek that out for business school, and if not then this might be an important factor to use in choosing your school targets.
Using school size as a filter can be an easy way to make the first cut on which schools might be appropriate for you, to start to narrow down your choices.
Another much less methodical approach is choosing schools by the people who went there.
Different schools attract different types. You find out someone went to School X; that gives you info about the school. Do people you work with have MBAs? Where did they go? As an extreme example, you could compare the manager who went for a local MBA vs CEO who went to Harvard (obviously we’re playing to stereotype there but often, stereotypes hold true). Look through your network, find out who you know went to bschool and — especially if they graduated within the last five years — reflect on what type of person they are. Sometimes (not always) that can give you a degree of insight about the school.
This really only works for more recent grads, however. It wasn’t until the past ten-ish years that schools began putting such an emphasis on culture, and they only have the luxury of doing so in times of increasing app volumes. When app volumes go down, then they select the best candidates they can out of the pool and they might not be quite so discriminating when it comes to character and these qualities of individual fit.
Or if all of this is too much trouble:
Don’t worry about “School Fit” — just apply to the Top 10 schools. It’s bound to work out!