One of the many ways things can get messed up with your MBA applications is rushing through the data entry task on your application. The app dataset is an important part of your pitch — not just a chore you need to get through as quickly as possible.
We’ve offered a range of strategic comments on the app dataset vis a vis the resume, and vis a vis the essays, among the various posts on this topic in the ‘snarchive. Today we’re going to run through some specific scenarios on specific schools’ Class of 2020 apps. These are issues we have seen, mostly small and not terribly significant, but in the Land Where Everything Counts, sweating the small-not-significant pieces still matters.
Columbia’s How will you fund the MBA? question
Why are they asking this? What are you supposed to say? How will this impact my chances? OMG this feels like a trick question!!!
It’s not, Brave Supplicant. It’s just a way for the school to see how you’re thinking about the MBA. You got a GMAT score and threw together some essays and managed to pull in a recommendation from a couple of your managers, but have you thought all of this all the way through? Getting an MBA is super expensive, at Columbia and anywhere else. It’s particularly expensive in New York City or Boston or any other big city in the U.S. This question is the adcom’s way of seeing where you’re at with your planning.
So, how do you answer it?
Answer it honestly. How do you plan to pay for the MBA? (Hopefully this is not the first time you’ve considered that question!)
If you’re planning to get your MBA paid for by other people through scholarship awards and fellowships, well, that’s not a plan. That’s a hope and a dream and a hugely presumptuous expectation. (Buzzkill: Nobody is going to pay you to get an MBA. Nobody can count on that at the outset of the process — especially not at Columbia.) The only exception is if you ALREADY have been awarded some scholarship or grant money, for example through a special program that your country offers in supporting its citizens who want to get educated abroad.
This question is to prompt you to think about the issue of finances in advance, at the early stage of applying. There is a lot of advance planning that’s needed for most people to pull off the significant expense of an MBA. (Tip: We cover some of this in our Accepted Student’s Guide too!)
What if you’re sponsored?
Other schools specifically ask about that in their apps. Here’s the question from MIT:
Do you anticipate sponsorship and/or financial support from an employer or other organization?
If you’re being sponsored for the MBA, it really needs to be handled quite carefully in the entire application. It’s very strange when someone answers “yes” to that question and then it’s never mentioned anywhere else in the essays or the recs. For MIT, it’s fine if you don’t explicitly tailor your cover letter to this aspect, but we would expect to see a recommender mention it (some schools like Yale directly ask recommenders if they are sponsoring the candidate — so obviously such answers need to line up!).
Another question that can trip people up is from Duke, in the Employment section, where they want a bunch of info on your current job and they ask:
How did you obtain this position?
This is not a trick question, people! They just want to know how you navigated the employment market in order to land your job. Did you know someone? Is it a family business? Did you submit a resume in response to a posting on a jobs site?
Same thing with the “reason for leaving” question that appears in many school applications. This is an opportunity to communicate something new and insightful to the adcom about your career planning process and why you have sought out this other position. Use that space wisely!
This is why the app dataset should not be treated as an afterthought, or a rudimentary task to plow through and be done with.
It really sucks to go back over your app after you’ve submitted it and notice where things were off. Take the time in advance of your deadlines next week to review and re-review your answers. Cross-reference. Double-check. Edit and revise and make them perfect (no typos!!). Make sure everything makes sense, both within a separate section and holistically across your app. Use the dataset as one more opportunity to convey important information about who you are and what you’ve done to the adcom. Each one needs to be done separately, as they are asking for similar stuff but they often are asking for it differently. Copy/paste is rarely the way to go. Understand the reason behind the question and why they are asking for it, so you can offer insightful and useful answers.
That doesn’t mean long answers; it means concise, and complete. They just need to make sense and match up with everything else you are presenting. If there are gaps and holes, explain them.
Be proactive in how you present yourself. It’s to your benefit.
Questions on any of these in-app questions? Lay ’em on us here if you want our take on them for your apps this year!