We’ve long used a term here in Snarkville to try and capture what it means to be a candidate who’s actually got a chance of acceptance at Harvard Business School: The Harvard type. We’ve used this term (and the complementary phrase “Harvard material”) frequently as a way of giving BSers a heads-up on what’s required…
The whole notion of ‘theme’ in MBA applications is a slippery one – and frankly, it’s not something you need to actively worry about too much. Not that active worrying ever accomplished anything, anyway. Getting a handle on what theme is can help you know what you’re aiming for, but we don’t propose that you…
Some of you may have guessed what we were alluding to in yesterday’s “What’s wrong with this picture?” post, but if not, here you go.
That person sounded like they were definitely headed to Booth, right? Based on how they related the results? Did you examine where else they applied and what their outcomes were?
You may have noticed the admit to the Columbia J-Term, and wondered if we were going to comment on that. Nope, that’s not the issue. The J-Term is not binding. The potential wrinkle is that this person also applied to Duke.
The results didn’t say, but Duke has a Round 1, and an Early Action. Early Action at Duke is like Early Decision at Columbia: They are both binding.
It’s totally possible that this applicant applied in Duke Round 1 with no strings attached. But just in case there are some people considering Duke EA along with their other schools in Round 1, or Columbia ED, we’d like to talk through the options you’re looking at.
We already posted about Columbia Early Decision at the end of June, so none of this is news. We spoke there about how it’s a binding process — but we know that this seemingly obvious stance on how to navigate decisions in life is not universally shared. There are many MBA admissions consultants out there who apparently have no qualms about advising their clients to act unethically. It’s not something we will ever be able to understand. 😕
From a purely practical level though, the advice is flawed from its foundation. The idea is this: Try for Columbia Early Decision. If you get in, then that means you have a chance at a better school, because clearly you did something right!
But actually, no.
Columbia Early Decision tends to be easier to get in through – marginally so, at least, and dependent upon many factors.
So the logic being proposed is: “I’m going to try clearing an easier bar, and that means I’ll have success at the harder one!”
It’s like saying you are going to send your resume out for jobs at the Manager level, and if you get a job offer, then you’ll accept that offer, and then immediately send your resume out for jobs at the Director level, to see what happens.
These are different playing fields entirely.
Maybe the issue is, you’re thinking about it a little bit off. Maybe you’re thinking of it like running.
You run a 5K as preparation for the marathon.
Does that analogy hold?
Well, kinda. If your goal with trying for Columbia first is to learn what’s required to put a good application together, then sure. Applying to Columbia and getting accepted means you did a good job on that.
But these two separate goals — getting into Columbia, versus getting into Harvard or Stanford — they require optimization on different dimensions.
What Columbia cares about in its applicants is really not the same as what Harvard or Stanford care about.
Sure, there are overlaps.
But making it to the end of a 5k isn’t that big of a deal. Heck, OutOfShapeSnark can do it.
Making it to the end of a marathon is a whole ‘nother beast.
They’d be scooping this ‘Snark up off the course at sundown if it were us that were trying it.
The execution of a 5k and a marathon are really quite different.
If you want to get into Harvard or Stanford or wherever, then apply to Harvard or Stanford. Getting into Columbia first does not say anything about whether those other schools will work out. It just says you got into Columbia.
While we understand the thinking with this strategy, to try for Columbia ED and then use that to determine trying for other schools, and while yes, we know people do it all the time, that does not make it right.
Just because other people do it does not mean it’s okay. Do you want to be like other people?
Here’s the real problem with the Columbia/Duke “early” app as a planned first step and a H/S/W/whomever later app in the works (in case our point has escaped you):
Columbia Early Decision is binding.
You would be giving your COMMITMENT to Columbia by applying through their Early Decision process.
Your commitment is your word. It’s about honor. It’s not about the money that you would forfeit by paying a deposit and walking away from it if another school lets you in. It’s about following through on a promise that you make. You can examine the text in the Columbia application and reflect on what you would be promising to them. It may feel trivial, but in our perspective, decisions on every level matter in life.
We have many posts about this:
- “I’ll just apply to Columbia Early Decision as an insurance policy” (because obviously you’re not the first person to be thinking this way)
- Renegging on an Early Decision offer
There are actually more posts than that, in case you’re really into hearing us lecture, but those capture the gist of it.
Ethics are what let us live a noble life, one of honor and character. That’s what EssaySnark stands for, and we are always so inspired to work with others who share those values.
Oh hey wait.
Where have we heard that word before???
Oh that’s right. It’s what so many schools are saying they care about now.
And, the best part is: You don’t need to cheat in order to get in to Columbia!
If you have a solid profile, you’re going to have just as much shot at getting in through Regular Decision, if you apply at the right time and you present yourself effectively. Early Decision has been an advantage more so in highly competitive seasons. Which this season is unlikely to be (at least, not at that level). There is strategy involved, yes. There is execution required, yes. (Shameless plug: We go into all of this in our Columbia Essay Guide!!)
What could be a “weakness” for Harvard or Stanford is not even going to be noticed at Columbia — provided your essays are really strong, of course! Columbia cares a lot about the essays; the essays are very important there, regardless of which round.
This means that there isn’t much logic to the plan of trying for Columbia before trying for the others. That’s a common fallacy of a “trade-up strategy” and we just don’t see it work out that often. Admissions to each school is an independent event; the only reason that there is correlation between admits to multiple schools is based on underlying attributes in a profile, but the execution of each of those apps needs to be quite different in almost every case – and that’s ESPECIALLY true for the presentation of material for Harvard and Stanford compared to Columbia.
Someone who’s admitted to Harvard or Stanford, also being admitted to Columbia and MIT? Yes, absolutely, that’s going to happen all the time.
Someone admitted to Columbia or MIT also having a solid chance at Harvard and Stanford? No, sorry. Doesn’t work that way. Correlations fall apart when you move that direction.
Oh hey look! We cover this in multiple posts, too!
- The typical futility of aiming higher
- You got in somewhere good. Should you now try for somewhere better?
- Round 1 and your favorite school
There have been several years in a row now where admissions was all whack. The adcoms didn’t know what to expect in terms of numbers of applications, and how many would matriculate. This year is likely to have some uncertainty associated with it, but unless there’s a major shock to the economy, we do not expect it to be anything like what’s been seen previously. In other words: It looks like things are more stable. Predictable. If you want to play a risky strategy and try “trading up” then there’s no harm in trying — but having a sound Round 1 strategy in place first is really important. That’s the conservative way to do it.
Try for your most important schools early. Then if they don’t pan out, figure out why, and go at it again in Round 2 with that learning under your belt.
If you’d truly be thrilled with an admit to Columbia and wouldn’t be tempted by other schools later, then go for Columbia Early Decision. If you cannot commit to them upfront, then don’t.
It’s not necessary, and every time we compromise our values, a little shadow darkens our souls.
The other takeaway message from that results post from yesterday: This is a GREAT TIME to be reapplying to bschool! With a forecast of a softer season ahead — especially if you’re trying in Round 1 — it could totally turn into a set of happy results like this other BSer racked up. Congrats to him from last year! Maybe you’ll be in a similar wonderful (difficult!) position of having to choose between great programs in a few months.
Last December, a BSer who’d asked us for a Reject Analysis after his prior-year season didn’t turn into an admit reported back to us with these results:
Columbia J-term – Accepted
Booth – ACCEPTED!!!! (still can’t believe it.. specially as a re-applicant)
Kellogg 1Y – Accepted
Duke Fuqua – Accepted with scholarship
Wharton – Denied without interview
Darden – Denied after interview
Michigan Ross – WAITLISTED AFTER INTERVIEW AGAIN!!
NYU Stern – Interview Invite but I withdrew my application.
Exciting results, right! Definitely something to be proud of.
But there’s a possible hitch.
What’s (potentially) wrong with this picture? Can you spot it?
Update: ANSWER HERE!
And congrats to this super successful former BSer!!
When Tuck’s MBA essay questions came out last year, at the beginning of the admissions cycle, we thought they were kinda awesome. They were novel. They were focused on Tuck’s culture. And then we started trying to support BSers in writing their apps for Tuck. And that’s what inspired this: https://twitter.com/EssaySnark/status/1080921731664044032 By the end of…
We’ve kind of been hitting this theme a lot so far this season and partly that’s because you come to EssaySnark for the goodies you can’t get just anywhere. Nowadays, with the admissions offices being (slightly) more transparent with how they handle their admissions processes, and with more and more admissions consultants out there hawking…
Today we’re gonna put together some themes we’ve been discussing in separate, seemingly unrelated posts just recently.
Before the July 4th holiday we were talking about the trends of application volumes decreasing at business schools in the U.S.
Then earlier this week, in your rude awakening back to real life on the Monday morning after that holiday, we launched straight into the importance of career goals in your MBA apps.
Now let’s put those things together.
Imagine for yourself, won’t you? A little thought experiment. What happens to you as a motivated, striving, earnest MBA student who’s headed into their second fall of bschool, after the internship, in the midst of a job search to secure that picture-perfect post-MBA job… and the economy falls apart?
Because that’s the one more factor to consider that’s marginally related to this question of application volumes, and that’s the question of trends in the world.
Not so much because you need to worry about how much competition you will have when you submit your apps (that’s out of your control) but more because you should have an awareness of trends and an appreciation for what the world’s economies may do in the future — as in, the time you will be graduating.
This is WAY more important than whether HBS et al saw apps go up or down last year.
Because of the importance of that, let’s look at these charts in combination:
graph from EssaySnark datasets
graph from GMAC Researchers
As you either already know, or you’ll learn in bschool: The first chart, capturing MBA application volumes, is what’s called a lagging indicator — it shows what has already happened in the market (in this case, the “market” for getting accepted to bschool).
We can’t look at these numbers in isolation, though. People apply to bschool for a variety of reasons, but many of them — most of them, probably — are economic. If someone’s job is going well and they are getting paid a satisfactory wage, they’re less likely to leave to go back to school. And, if someone’s job is at risk, where there are layoffs being threatened, then that’s an excellent time to jump ship — even more so if it’s an industry-wide downturn and you want to seek a safe harbor for two years (aka bschool), to ride things out. So app volumes are a lagging indicator, because they show what people do in response to a change in the economy.
Just for purposes of illustration, the second chart is a leader indicator in the context of a slice of the application market: It shows hiring intent of major companies for international MBA grads only. This particular graph doesn’t actually show us an economic indicator, as it’s not saying that those companies think that their economic outlook is worse. Instead, it’s one predictor for what will happen in the future to application volumes for the non-resident applicant pool. (By contrast, if this were an economic chart, depicting hiring plans for major companies, then it would be an economic/market indicator rather than an application market indicator.)
Want to see a leader indicator for the economy?
Duke Fuqua’s Professor Campbell Harvey was quoted here:
"Yes, the economy looks good right now, but the yield curve is about the future"
— Duke Fuqua (@DukeFuqua) July 3, 2019
(Pro Tip from Not-A-Pro: Nobody can predict a recession — and whenever a recession is about to hit, especially when it’s a big shock like what happened with the dot-com meltdown or the housing markets, there are a gazillion pundits saying “Oh, but this time it’s different!” See article .)
That third chart above is what the underlying American economy did over time. The main line is the number of unemployment claims. The fewer unemployment claims there are, the lower the unemployment rate, and a low unemployment rate indicates a healthy economy. (Unless it gets too low, and then there is all this hand-wringing about inflationary pressures. Rising inflation should be occurring right now. It’s not. That’s why the economists don’t know what to make of things in this specific moment in time.)
That spike in the third chart above with unemployment numbers depicts the very bad era of layoffs and sadness that happened when the housing market collapsed in 2007-2008 and everything went into a tailspin. That spike is bad.
If you think of that bumpy line inverted, it gives a directional sense for economic expansion: The more people working, the better shape all of us are in. If that line were flipped, then it would loosely mirror the stock market, and if you’ve been paying attention to those charts, you know they are ratcheting higher again. And, as you and Mr. Newton both know, anything that goes up has to come down, and insofar as the stock market and our record-breaking economic expansion, that’s where the ‘Snark gets concerned.
Here’s the first graph overlaid on the third.
We took liberties of adding in our own projection of what app volumes did at these two schools in 2018-19 via the dotted lines on the graph.
That does seem to indicate that NOW is a window of great opportunity in applying to business school.
Because, if the economy weakens — strike that, when the economy weakens — it’s going to send people flooding into the grad school market. App volumes will again go up, perhaps not immediately, because it takes time to jump through the hurdles of GMAT testing and all. But on a lag of some reasonably short duration, the effect will be seen in the admissions offices again. Since that hasn’t happened (yet — though there are signs of weakness in some industries including manufacturing and trucking) then that means that this year is indeed looking to be an advantaged one for all of you planning for the Class of 2022.
We’ve mentioned this caution in passing before, and we don’t want to be all alarmist and make a big deal about it, because you need to live your life now, and plan for the future, and go for your dreams, and you can’t get paralyzed by what the economy may or may not do. And besides, we have no crystal ball to tell you for sure if you’re gonna get in, or the economy will do this or do that in the next six months or six years.
So the point of all this is to only get you to take stock.
What if you put all these plans into place, you execute flawlessly, you have the wind at your back and you make it into the school of your dreams?
What if you relocate to that new city and have a fabulous first year, and go off to your internship, and head back to campus in August 2021… and the world falls apart at the seams?
Talk to any MBA grad from the Class of 2008 and you’ll know what we mean.
Thinking through your plans, as best that you can, is an intelligent thing to do as you are embarking on something this big.
Maybe putting more extra money aside than you think you might need, not just for those two years of bschools but for at least another nine months or a year thereafter too.
Remember, your student loans will start coming due for repayment in about six years after you graduate — whether you have a fancy new job or not.
All of this may seem amorphous and unreal, thinking about it now. After all, you haven’t even been accepted yet! But looking for contingency plans, and considering worst case scenarios along with those rose-colored best, is a good way to vet your plans and decisions and make sure you’re pursuing a sound plan as you can from the get-go.
A point that sometimes escapes excited Brave Supplicants thinking about post-MBA plans: The school has no obligation to find you a job. They will do all that they can to support you, to make opportunities available, to work relationships with in-demand companies and get recruiters to campus to meet you. But if the job market implodes and hiring freezes are enacted, the school will have no more options for you than your Uncle Bob would in finding you that prestigious new job.
If your dream post-MBA job becomes impossible, what would you do? Go back to doing what you’re doing now? What options would you explore?
It may not be fun to think about, but it’s kind of like the stock trader who’s made a killing, year after year — and has only ever picked stocks in an economy with full employment. It’s hard to imagine what you have not experienced, but it’s useful to force yourself to sometimes anyway.
We live in uncertain times. It’s impossible to predict what will happen in the economy (whenever we do, we tend to be wrong, though that doesn’t stop us from trying). This MBA admissions season is likely to be similar to last one, and last season, lots and lots of BSers made it in. If you’re getting your ducks in a row to try for the Class of 2022, then we think you should end up with some success — with proper preparation of course! (Shameless self-promotion: Our Complete Essay Package can support you in that!) It’s not going to be a cakewalk but it also shouldn’t be a bloodbath this year.
We wish you luck, and beseech you to GET STARTED NOW!
When they ask you on the app if you waive your right to view your records, should you say yes? This is not a consequential thing in the context of your actual app strategy. But it’s the type of thing that can cause applicants stress, and some recommenders may wonder about it, how it works,…
Today we’re doing a
lazy lame VERY HELPFUL thing and instead of blathering on about some MBA admissions topic, we’re going to simply redirect you to this post where a former Brave Supplicant who ended up at their top choice MBA program illustrated in detail why the schools want you to figure out your post-MBA career goals NOW, before you apply.
And we’re doing the
lazy lame VERY HELPFUL thing of copying in what an admissions director said about goals , as reinforcement:
And, we’re doing the definitely lamer thing of shameless plugging our Career Goals App Accelerator at the same time.
The schools seemingly care less about career goals than they used to. True that. Most schools have dropped questions about “long-term goal” from their essays and apps, because heck, we can’t even figure out where we’re gonna be at the end of this year, much less in 5-10 years. But you still should be mapping out some plans for yourself. Stanford asks you to “Describe your aspirations” and even if your goals may change radically from what you’re thinking today, you still need to have a reason for pursuing an MBA. And you need to be able to articulate that. Goals have less of an emphasis in apps but if you’re not prepared, they will come up when you don’t expect it — so, plan on them coming up.
This is the first thing you can do to build your app strategy.
EssaySnark don’t know you.
Who is EssaySnark to say?
Ahh, au contraire, little buttercup, EssaySnark DOES know you.
EssaySnark knows your heart.
EssaySnark knows who you are.
And EssaySnark knows that what will cause you the most pain in the next six months’ time comes down to one thing:
How can we be so sure???
1. You are reading this.
2. You want to apply to business school.
3. You are human.
Yup, that about sums it up.
You are a procrastinator.
Some of you will suffer ungodly amounts over this; others, just mild or relatively minor suffering — though all of it feels the same to the sufferer.
Despite your best of intentions, there will come a day in the next, oh, say two months… and possibly much much worse three months after that…. when you will be absolutely cursing yourself and possibly crying.
Because there will be
We write this today, weeks and even months before the first deadline is upon us, to exhort, implore, entice, plead, and somehow convince.
GET STARTED EARLY.
Like hey! Today is a good day!!
So how are we so convinced that you too will fall into this Procrastination Trap and be subject to suffering? Because we’re writing this on January 4, 2019, when we’re watching the fallen remains of exhausted and sad BSers all over the battlefield of Round 2, and we know that that’s your fate, too, unless you intentionally plot a course of awareness to avoid it.