Over the summer we did a two-part series about “compare and contrast” in your MBA essays and it’s worth revisiting, since this comes up a lot in what BSers submit in their apps. This is another component that seems innocent enough (and it is) but it’s a style of communicating that doesn’t actually help you…
This may come off as basic, or even insulting — are we saying that people don’t do this? Why actually, yes. When you’re so focused on establishing “school fit” that you’re tossing out names of your target school’s classes and clubs hither and yon, it’s really (really) easy to lose sight of what this technique…
We actually posted this in May — but we’re resurfacing it again today because if you’re ready to take our advice from this week and want to gear up for Round 2, then school research needs to be happening NOW.
We’ve been saying it over and over again lately [errr– in May we did and we should probably be saying it again now — oh wait, that’s what we’re doing by reblahgging this here in November]: YOU NEED TO RESEARCH THE SCHOOLS.
But what if your response to that exhortation is, “Okay great I will! But what am I supposed to be researching???”
There are many facets to be exploring and plenty of things to uncover about a target MBA program.
First and foremost, you want to evaluate the basics, like location and size of the class. Geography is important — be sure to read the comments on that post about how easy it might be to recruit in one part of the country when you’re in a school somewhere else. Geography also affects climate, obviously, and if you’re allergic to the cold and the snow then that’s going to rule out a whole bunch of schools as possible targets. Class size matters a lot too, and there are legitimate pros and cons on both ends of the spectrum. A very small school has certain advantages, and a very large one has different ones.*
What are your priorities?
Knowing this is the first step.
Then, once you have a working list of schools — which will undoubtedly change, even perhaps dramatically, as you continue your research (since that’s the whole point of doing research in the first place! to validate and vet your initial ideas, and make sure that you’re honing in on the schools that are really right for you) — you’ll dive in with your efforts on each individual school. And yes, this is a lot of work — but it tends to be super fun work. You’re reading websites and logging onto chats and watching webinars and talking to people about their experiences. You’ll be continuing all of these tasks from now to
eternity the day you decide on a specific program, which is well past the time when you a) submit your app, b) do your interview, c) get your decision, d) attend the school’s Welcome Weekend, which won’t be happening until something like the end of January.
Yes, you’re going to be doing this for awhile!
Once you have a pretty good idea that yes, you will in fact be applying to a specific school in Round 1, then your main objective will be uncovering concrete facts and details about the program that can help you articulate WHY you want to go to this program.
Yes you want an MBA. Yes this is a great school to get one. But WHY?
WHY is it a great school?
And WHY do you need an MBA?
(Pro Tip: Having your career goals well articulated now, before you are knee-deep into researching the schools, can get you really far down the path of answering these questions!!)
Can you answer that simple question? Why do you need an MBA?
‘Cuz you’re gonna have to answer that when it comes time to write some essays!
What you must vow to us, right here right now as you’re reading it, is that you will never ever use the phrase “business acumen” in any of your essays.
It’ll make EssaySnark feel better.
Your goal in your school research, then, is in providing you with meaning FOR YOURSELF.
Knowing you want an MBA is one thing, but knowing WHY you want to spend two years of your life – plus at least one full year more in this blasted application process – and spend oodles and oodles of cold hard cash, and go through all the pain and suffering and trials and tribulations of not just applying, but flying around tarnation to visit these places, and the stress of the interviews, and then a massive major relocation that uproots everything in your life, and that’s even before you’ve started!!!
WHY DO YOU WANT TO DO THIS?
There are macro and micro answers to this.
You should be gathering notes on them both.
This is the raw material from which your most excellent essays will be drawn.
*None of that even starts to touch on the issues involved if you have a partner who’s going to be following along with you, relocating to a new city and building a life of their own there. We have posts here on the blahg about applying for an MBA with a partner and a bunch more in the ‘snarchive about couples applying together, so those are places to start if that’s you.
Annnnnnnndddddd….. It’s November! And as you’ve gathered from our posts this week, it’s ramp-up time for Round 2!! We’re not doing a Round 2 MBA Countdown this year but instead we’ll be offering concentrated and practical advice as progress through these coming two months for writing those essays and getting everything done. Consider this your…
In the category of well-intentioned but potentially damaging:
We keep having BSers tell us what they’ve been told by the current students attending the schools they want to go to.
It’s awesome when they report to us about their experiences or what new changes are happening or some amazing popular course or professor.
It’s often cringe-inducing when they tell us what the students are claiming about admissions to their schools.
Current students just LOVE to tell you how to get in.
Problem is, mostly, they’re wrong.
Current students rarely have the perspective offered from seeing massive amounts of data on who is getting in – and not. They hear about ONE case or ONE applicant – or maybe a handful – and they make all sorts of interpretations about that.
As in, “If you’re a military candidate, you have to have more than 8 years of experience to get into a Top 10 school.” We’re paraphrasing, but that’s essentially what a BSer reported to us recently, that he gleaned from conversations with current vets at different schools.
That is untrue.
No school makes admit decisions like that.
Wait, no, we take that back. Many schools DO make admit decisions on LACK OF experience. But the implication with what was reported to us is that these military candidates believe that they need MORE experience than average to have a shot at a good school.
There’s also huge danger in isolating ONE candidate profile who, for example, didn’t make it into H/S/W. This happens on the applicant discussion boards all the time. Someone has their stats posted in their profile – 750 / 3.8 / PE or whatever. And they have the little log of all the Top 10 schools they tried for, and as decisions come out, you start to see the Rejected flag show up on the best schools.
And then you’re like, “D@mn, even a 750 + 3.8 isn’t good enough for Harvard!”
No, Brave Supplicant, no. That is not the conclusion to draw from it.
Someone with a 750 + 3.8 should be exceptionally well positioned to have a go at H/S/W” and if they play their cards right, AND IF THEY HAVE SOMETHING NOTABLE TO PRESENT ABOUT WHO THEY ARE IN THE ESSAYS then this person should have NO TROUBLE getting into at least one of those schools. Or at MINIMUM getting the interview invite.
Yes you can quote us on that. With stats like that, there’s practically NO EXCUSE to not at least make it to the interview stage at one of those schools.
Now, we’re completely going against our own advice about how a good consultant would never predict someone’s chances based on these two core stats alone. In fact we call that borderline professional malpractice.
What you will note, though, is the very big disclaimer that we’ve put on this prediction: That the person has something worthwhile to present about themselves in the app.
Of course it’s not enough to simply have a 750 + 3.8.
And of course it’s always possible to get in with a 650 + 2.8.
In ALL CASES it comes down to how you actually pitch yourself.
Which really boils down to: What have you done in your life?
The danger of listening to current students offering advice on how to get into bschool is that they have only a tiny sample size from which they’re drawing their conclusions. And current students should KNOW BETTER. They took stats in their first term!
Even for those schools that have current students help with admissions interviews, it’s rare that those students are so intimately involved with the behind-the-scenes decision-making that they can give out meaningful insights about the actual factors that their admissions people are using to issue admits by. Sure, they may hear an anecdote here or there – but anecdotes cannot be used to draw your own strategy from. You have no idea what other factors may have played a part in one individual’s acceptance or rejection.
So just like our exhortation that friends don’t let friends read their essays…. this is important to understand.
Yes you want to be reaching out to the schools and talking to students. And sure, listen to everything that they have to say.
But treat it as gospel? Like they have some insider access or privileged information that can help you get in?
We say, be careful with that.
The only way for a non admissions person to tell you what happens in admissions is to have volumes of data to analyze about what different applicants have presented at that school, and how their candidacy turned out. And the only way to extrapolate full-system trends and insights from that is to have the appropriate volumes across the ecosystem of schools.
It’s also a reason why you want an admissions consultant who deals with lots of clients every year. That’s the only way for the consultant to be able to give valid advice.
Talk with lots of people. Then talk to some more.
Then carefully filter out the information that your different sources are offering and evaluate it based on what the source actually has access to.
There are so many myths and misconceptions in this industry. You don’t want to get thrown under the bus inadvertently by a well-meaning friend.
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We often stay in touch with certain former BSers as they go through the actual GOAL of this whole process and launch into their MBA adventure, and it’s so helpful and interesting to get reports back from the field. One comment from a current student in a recent private exchange with us is worth sharing:…
When a starry-eyed wanna-be-bschool-student tells us that they are only interested in the M7, then we assume we’re in for some trouble. Using the “M7” designation is just another way to say “I care about brand and reputation more than anything.” We’re not exactly bschool insiders, but we’ve been around quite a bit – and…
This is a GREAT time to make massive progress on your MBA applications!!! Whether you’re in go-go-go! mode or you’re chillin on this whole application thing there is a low stress and FUN!! task you can (and should!) be tackling right now: School Research. The goal of school research is to figure out if you’re…
This “school fit” thing is really a nebulous concept.
At least, at first it is. When you’re first trying to figure out what schools to apply to and everything. It can be truly overwhelming. Where do you start, and how do you understand this “fit” thing in the first place?
Often this only is revealed in its final form much later in the process.
Initially people will decide where to apply based on multiple and myriad factors. The list will change frequently. The value of “school fit” initially is it tells you where NOT to apply.
How it works is this:
You come up with your list of schools, based either on where other people you know have gone, or maybe just only on rankings. Or geography. You decide you don’t want to go to school where it snows. Or that you want a place with an outdoors culture.
And then you go visit. (Hint: Now would be a grand time to do that!!)
Or if you can’t visit — and even if you can — you start talking to people. You connect with the school. You attend their webinars and go to a local info session when one is in town. You hook up with some students in a coffee chat and learn about their experiences.
Through these points of contact, you start to form impressions. Those opinions will guide you. You will discover what school has people you resonate with.
This is what is meant by “school fit” — at least, it’s one key dimension of it (and, to EssaySnark, really it’s the only one that matters).
The other aspect of “school fit” is a more clinical one, namely: Are you a fit to what type of student they typically accept? It’s coming from the direction of the school, and how you present yourself to them. That’s a whole different topic which we should probably discuss in full another time — or, just read all of the posts on this blahg about planning your strategy and writing your essays, and pick up the school strategy guide for the school that you’re targeting. We cover this stuff 24/7 here.
The final arbiter of “school fit” often does not manifest until very late in the process. That’s when you’re faced with decisions on which offer to accept. If you’ve done your homework and played your cards right and applied to the right set of schools in Round 1, then almost guaranteed you will be faced with the difficult decision of choosing between multiple options.
Sometimes that choice is a tormented one. BSers often agonize in the end, over which one to select, when there are multiple choices on the table.
But sometimes, the choice becomes obvious even before it has to be made (or sometimes it’s made for you).
An example from Round 1 last Fall is a BSer who was invited to interview at three top schools. But then as decisions started getting released, one of those was a “no.”
Here’s what we said to this person in response:
OH NO! How disappointing about [School X]!!!!!!!!!!
(But you wanna know a secret? We see you as more of a [School Y] or a [School Z] person anyway!!! When it comes down to values and all that!!)
Still, really bummed to hear that [School X] said no in the end. 🙁
It’s incredibly happy news to know that [School Y] accepted you, and let’s see what [School Z] does next and maybe you’ll have a difficult decision to make in the coming weeks!!!
Fingers crossed for this last one!
And, here’s what that BSer said back in response:
Thank you!! To be honest, I felt the same way, and have shared with a few close friends that I felt like it might be really hard to pick [School Y] or [School Z] over [School X] if I got into [School X], so getting that off the table almost feels like a relief (though of course I am disappointed). [School Y] and [School Z] were absolutely my favorites! I cried when [School Y] called me – she said very nice things about connecting with my essays and what a great fit I’d be for them. And hey – NO MORE ESSAYS or APPLICATIONS! Let’s see what [School Z] says!
BTW, this person did get into School Z as well.
So the moral of this story is:
Do your research — starting NOW.
Expect your list to evolve.
You’ll be making many decisions along the way, but you won’t likely know that how you’ll feel about any school until you get further into the process of applying, and learning about them, and experiencing those choices firsthand.
There is no One Size Fits All answer to the question of school fit. It’s totally personal and individual. But it’s just like falling in love: You know it when it happens to you.
Doh! This post was supposed to go up BEFORE yesterday’s! When we give feedback to a BSer in the Essay Decimator process, sometimes they come back with questions of “Why?” Like, “Why do I need to do that, when I’m already doing this?” A common one is when they ask about our recommendation to lay…