OK, picking up the discussion of reapplicant strategy from yesterday (which was mostly focused on HBS/Stanford reapplicants): For a school like Yale, they typically review the prior-year app in tandem with this year. Same with MIT, and Columbia, and many others. In that case, then an obvious improvement in a metric like GMAT score is…
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!
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.
Apparently it’s time for our “Is there a bubble?!?” post. We write these every few years (2015 version: Our annual “bubble” post; 2014 version: The whole “MBA bubble” thing rises again; 2011 version: The cost of education/is there a bubble? 8-part series), because apparently it’s a cyclical trend. The media gets bored, or someone (usually…
Everybody is interested in entrepreneurship now, and many applicants have tried their hand at something entrepreneurial in the past. That’s especially true since the entrepreneurship emphasis has filtered through society into colleges, and many younger applicants are now trying for bschool after having had school-sanctioned venture-ish experiences while earning their bachelor’s. Or, maybe a buddy…
We came across this awhile back: “Is 30 too old to work in a startup?” Hmmmm. If there’s a bias against “older” in startup recruiting, and “older” is defined as over 30, and there’s already a bias against MBAs in Silicon Valley… Peter Thiel and Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have all been on the…
We made some snide remark (shocker) yesterday in our “figure your life out” post about going to strike it rich in California. That’s not to say we don’t think you can launch a company!! We don’t see the majority of BSers who claim that they want to become entrepreneurs in their essays actually go on…
Why do schools ask you about career goals?
Not all of them do, but some of them do — and those that do often tend to care a lot about how you respond.
No you don’t really need to know what you will do in three years when you (hopefully!) will be graduating with that shiny new degree.
But actually yes you do.
The whole point of going to get an MBA is to either advance your skillset significantly to accelerate your progress in your current career path — say, someone in finance who wants to study much more advanced topics in finance, and specialize further. Or, the MBA is to help you switch paths completely.
Almost everyone these days is trying for an MBA for that latter option.
There’s something about your current career you’re not satisfied with, either feeling like you’re in a dead end, or you’re in a technical role when you want to move into management, or you’re in an analyst role and you want to move into tech, or whatever it is.
Or maybe you’ve got that holy grail idea that you’re going to be the next Zuckerberg. You’re gonna blaze a trail to California and strike it rich in the Valley. launching the Next Big Thing, sweeping the world by storm. Or at least get a job at Facebook.
It’s true that sitting here right now, you likely have no frickin clue what exactly your life will look like in three years. Honestly, that’s true for every single one of us.
But the things that are worth working towards in life tend to take time and effort to actualize, and like the sage Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
So there’s this weird dichotomy, where you know you want to do something different, you’re pretty clueless what that might be, and yet the business schools want you to have answers you don’t have in order to jump through their hoops of admission.
Heck, you probably don’t even need the MBA to go do it.
Actually, that’s an 100% accurate statement: You do not need the MBA at all.
You’re smart. You’re already accomplished. You’re likely already in the top 10% of whatever measure you might want to use to judge yourself against your peer group. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t even be in a position to be considering higher education and advancing your career.
If the bottom line is that you want to make more money, and you know that those spit out the other end of an MBA program tend to command very sexy salaries, then that alone might be sufficient motivation for you to apply.
Yet you still need to figure out why you’re doing this and how you’re going to navigate your life.
It’s totally true, the immersive experience of two years in bschool is designed to help you figure yourself out. You’re surrounded by smart people, coming from all sorts of paths, and you’re exposed to massive amounts of new ideas and opportunities. You’re forced to take classes in subjects you never would’ve volunteered to learn about otherwise. The entirety of that experience will change you, and you’ll uncover new talents and interests, and (probably) realize what new path you want to explore.
Or, you’ll do it like so many others do, and you’ll just follow the herd into the career du jour, which these days is tech and product management (even though there’s actually a gazillion other jobs available in tech beyond that), or default to consulting if you can’t settle on anything else. In which case, you’ll still not really know what you want to do with your life, but at least you’ll be getting paid more to do it.
What we’re talking about today is not just figuring out the right thing to say in an MBA application when you’re asked to describe your short-term career goals. Yes, you can take the short-sighted view and try and finesse your answer so that it “sounds good” to the admissions committee (Pro Tip: This rarely works in reality. Read up on the entirety of this blahg to understand why. Or go here.)
What we’re talking about is figuring out at least a little bit what makes you tick, what you have learned that you’re good at — what you perhaps already know that you really don’t like. And researching the world of work to understand where you might apply those gifts that you’ve been given.
We’re all born with a certain set of skills that may need practice and training to sharpen, yet once they’re revealed, become so obvious in informing a path-forward in life that it almost is laughable. You likely don’t know fully what those innate abilities are yet, and absolutely, the MBA will be totally valuable in helping you to discern them.
But so can many other educational programs, whether other master’s tracks or a doctoral path or just a Coursera certificate. And many other life paths also can teach you. Sure, the MBA is a fun two-year vacation full of excitement and Instagram-worthy travel and do-gooder tasks. The MBA will make your mom proud. The MBA can easily get you somewhere new. It’s a proven track to a new destination, that by definition will be different from where you began.
Spending time now, before you even have your first application written, to explore some of those options in the Big Bad World and understand what the MBA can do for you, and how, is a worthwhile investment. You’ll continue with those tasks and that research all the way until you’ve signed the acceptance letter for that first post-MBA job, so this is not a one-and-done assignment we’re giving you. All of this is about learning who you are and having an appreciation for why you’ve been put on this earth. Yes it’s that big — and no, your purpose in life does not have to be some massive altruistic charitable effort. You might have been put here to be a consultant. The world needs consultants. Nothing wrong with that at all. You being a consultant might totally fulfill your destiny. Or it might be a stepping stone, to build more of those skills and shape more of those abilities into full-blown utility, so that when you realize, many more years post-MBA, that you’re again in a dead end and needing to make a change, you have the foundation of strength to build from, and the confidence in knowing how to navigate to something entirely new all over again.
Looking for more practical support in actually figuring out how to present your post-MBA career goals in an MBA app?
The Career Goals App Accelerator is designed exactly for that!
We’re not exactly advocating this as an actual strategy for selecting your MBA programs to target. But it’s something to consider! It’s certainly more practical and intelligent (yes we said it) than using rankings as the priority tool to choose where to apply. If a top MBA program has a special scholarship fund earmarked only…
This is the second part in our reblahgged series for the crazy folks super-motivated ones. Yesterday we explained in broad strokes what a pre-MBA summer internship is and probably got some of you a little bit excited about it. However, there are also some important downsides that you need to be clear on, before you…