We recently went over some trends in admissions as revealed by the Class of 2020 profiles being released by the top American MBA programs and we gave some cautions and lookouts for international vs U.S. candidates.
And we’ve been fielding questions from some concerned BSers as a result, among them:
If the competition is getting tighter for Americans, will it get as bad for them as it has been for applicants from places like Korea, India and China?
But if you have marked weaknesses in the profile, then be prepared for this to take two cycles to get through — or, if you’re bound and determined that THIS YEAR must be when you get in, then you must have a well-considered strategy of at least a handful of schools that are in range for you, not solely reach schools (or schools you think are safety but are actually reach).
No matter how you slice and dice it, there are far fewer openings for overseas applicants as there ever will be in U.S. schools for U.S. students. (And since that was an awkward sentence, what we’re trying to say is: There’s more room at the inn for Americans at American schools.) And even if the countercyclical pattern holds when the economy tanks again, which it eventually will, and likely in a sudden and scary way as it did in 2007, and the downturn in the markets and massive layoffs and increasing unemployment sends applicant volumes up again, then yeah, it’s gonna be tight.
What it means for you?
Well, it means that individuals are evaluated as individuals, as they always are, and that it’s not that helpful to get too caught up in patterns and trends and statistics. It means that HBS still every year admits someone with a GMAT score really low (like, for the Class of 2020, a 610, and in recent years, a 590 and even a 540). And they also admitted at least one applicant with a 800. And each of them is evaluated holistically.
It means that the essays COUNT and that what actions you take MATTERS and some schools are more sensitive to things like GPA than others. So choosing those schools carefully, and making sure you have a Plan B, and deciding if you’re the “HBS or bust!” type or if you really really see the value in an MBA and want to get one even if it means exploring other options that might be right for you. Because there are always other options.
It also means going into it with a reapp strategy — which means doing your darnedest to maximize the opportunity now, but also doing things like:
- Not papering the country with apps — more apps is not better! more apps is just more opportunity for you to cut corners and phone it in, and if that’s what you’re doing, those apps are simply not going to work out
- Saving a school you really like, like one of your top 3 choices, and not applying to that school at all this year. It’s ALWAYS easier to get into bschool fresh, with a new app rather than as a reapplicant
- As soon as your Round 1 apps are in, immediately start working on your profile. GMAT score low? Put in a retest strategy right away. Worried about your GPA issue? Take action on that now. Lack of impressive workplace achievements? Look around for where you can start to make a bigger impact on the job. No volunteering to speak of? Find an organization with a cause you admire, and jump in feet first.
Every year in around July, we have BSers coming to us saying, “What can I do to improve my profile?”
Not at that stage.
Sitting here in September, there’s even less you can do — though not nothing!
What you can do to improve your profile (and your LIFE) is to start TODAY to improve it.
The kinds of things that move the needle in MBA admissions — for international candidates and Americans and, well, everyone — are the kinds of things that impress a stranger. Where you tackled a big project and you pulled it off, and there are results to show for it.
Do this at work.
Do this in your personal life.
Do this with every element of your application.
These things always take time to manifest. Which means, if you want to avoid that nagging “What could I have done differently?” feeling later, it’s critical that you get started on them now.
If you need some straight talk on whether you’ve done this sufficiently before and if you’re what they call “differentiated” or not, our Comprehensive Profile Review is the perfect solution. It’ll let you know if you’re being realistic.
So to bring it back to today’s topic:
Is the competition increasing? Yes, and maybe no, depending on what your application category is and what school and the applicant pool you’re a part of.
As always, the lamely unhelpful answer is, “It depends.”
Do we continue to see pressure in certain categories, like the ones we have called out in past seasons?
Yes definitely — and we also see plenty in those categories make it in every year.
Is there anything useful to take away from this post?
Well, we hope the reapp strategy outlined above makes you think! A long-term approach to anything important is highly advisable.
We’ll also point you to this post on the Three Types of MBA Applicants for you to ponder and self-diagnose, and especially note the addendum towards the bottom.
And finally, this response we wrote to an international candidate many years back who was lamenting the “bias” they perceived against them — which really is just what a competitive applicant pool looks like when you experience it for yourself. If you’re an American applicant with a so-so profile then this may be useful to read through and remember for yourself, given the changing dynamics today.