Lots of you know from firsthand experience that it’s just harder for a qualified Indian candidate to get into one of the best U.S. bschools. It’s harder because all the schools are admitting something like 35 to 40% internationals — but that’s all internationals. If you’re an Indian American (meaning, a U.S. citizen of Indian…
— Carolina Williams (@justcarolina22) May 9, 2017
When seeing snippets of a successful app, PLEASE REMEMBER you're only getting (ahem) *a slice of the pie* – we will be discussing on blahg! https://t.co/QHK8sCC12H
— Essay Snark (@EssaySnark) June 6, 2017
This reminds us of the “tortilla essay” that made it into the Stanford GSB many (many) years ago.
You can read more about this current iteration of food in applicant essays at the Washington Post – including the news that this applicant chose Auburn instead of Yale. (wow, that’s pretty incredible right there)
Before you decide to write about pizza in any of your MBA essays this year, we wanted to break down a few things.
First, this is a college application. The rules are (somewhat) different. Applicants to college are like 17 years old. By definition, they have not yet gone to college. You have. The standards and expectations are different for them.
Second, any attempt to replicate another applicant’s success based on following some sort of formula is just so likely to backfire. This young woman was successful in writing about pizza because of the nature of her answer in the context of the question.
As a reminder, the question was “Write about something you love to do” and the space allotted was 200 words. It’s not all that dissimilar to what Columbia is asking in the two variations it’s given you for Essay 3.
One reason we feel this essay resonated with the Yale admissions peeps is because she didn’t overthink it. She loves ordering pizza. It’s meaningful for her, in multiple ways. The remark about how it made her feel like a grown-up when she was younger is particularly insightful; that alone shows some self-reflection took place before she wrote her answer.
However, what a 17-year-old can reveal about herself in a simple story about pizza is going to be different — we hope — from what you will be able to reveal about yourself in a similar short essay.
When most people are faced with the question of “what are you passionate about” they immediately go into I-must-impress-you mode. Many people will launch into stuff like “I am passionate about helping others” or “I am passionate about the environment” or whatever. Those are packaged responses; they may be true, but in many cases they’re more contrived than real. They don’t go very deep.
This young woman was able to show stuff about herself.
Note too how specific she got.
She didn’t say “I love pizza.” She said “I love ordering pizza” and then she described why, with examples. She took you into her world and how she gets excited by it.
It was a direct answer to the question.
It also tells us that probably this young lady did not have the help of an admissions consultant because that type of answer is often ixnayed by “the professionals” as being too meaningless. Instead, her true self came through.
Again, she didn’t overthink it…. but she did think it through. This was an essay she spent time on. She built in layers of her answer, and it reveals stuff to us about her as a person. Plus, it’s quirky; she opens with the bit about the doorbell before going into the true answer to the question. (That’s not necessarily a technique that we think works so great, but again, she’s a teenager; it’s fine.)
The last very important point that we will raise though: This was not the sole essay in her application package. This is what some schools call a “just for fun” question; it’s designed to be low-risk and sometimes high-payoff. You can answer ANYTHING for this type of question. There are no rules for how to handle it, as long as you give something concrete and specific. That’s also true for similar questions in an MBA app, like the aforementioned Columbia Essay 3.
Would this type of answer work for Yale’s single essay asking about a commitment?
Not only was that one essay as part of a set of essays, but the essays are just one part of the total application. We also know that this young lady is the first in her family to go to college. Yale and other elite colleges are actively recruiting from all socioeconomic backgrounds, and the “first in family” profile is particularly of interest to them in helping to increase specific elements of diversity.
Why did admissions officers comment on this essay?
Well, for one, it was memorable.
However, it’s quite likely that the reason that we even heard about this essay is not because of the essay, but because Yale was doing outreach and recruiting to this admit, trying to get her to enroll. Which is what ALL SCHOOLS do. And, in an effort to make that process as effective as possible, the admissions folks who reached out to her specifically commented on what she had submitted to them — in this case, the pizza essay, since it was distinctive and easy to relate to.
Admissions people at many schools do something similar. When they reach out to admits, they want to make a connection. It is, after all, recruiting at that stage; they’re trying to get you to choose them. (Yes, it’s an odd position to be in, when you have multiple offers come in and suddenly the SCHOOLS are courting YOU and wanting YOU to pick THEM; it can be a little surreal when it happens.)
We’d be willing to bet that lots and lots of Yale admits got very similar notes from these same admissions people. It is only because this enterprising young woman tweeted at Papa John’s Pizza to let them know that she wrote about them — and then Papa John’s did what any red-blooded American business would do, they instantly offered her free pizza and the whole thing went viral.
That’s why you heard about it. Because of standard 2017 marketing techniques.
Not because she got in with an essay about pizza.
We’re not knocking the young lady or her creativity. She earned a spot in Yale University, after all. That is not easy to do, whether it’s Yale SOM as an MBA or for undergrad. She deserves the attention.
But please don’t think that there’s a formula for success – or that it has anything to do with pizza.
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It’s so easy to let things slide.
One way to make sure that you advance yourself every year and get better and better as a person, and closer to your own specific goals, is to place a priority on those actions every week.
If there’s something very important to you, that keeps getting pushed off into the future, then make a point to accomplish a baby step on that project every day.
If you’re applying to bschool this Fall, then it’s too easy to say, “There’s nothing for me to do now, since deadlines aren’t till September.” And then you stay a lazy bum all spring and summer, until you go into Panic Mode in August and have a life of h3ll for two months.
Instead, you could be making progress even starting now, by making it a priority to get something small done every week.
For example, identifying your short list of schools, and being clear on the reasons why. This can only evolve through the concerted effort of school research.
There’s lots of steps you can be taking today.
However, today’s post is more general in nature. We’re not talking only about applying to bschool. We’re talking about improving yourself as a person.
Say you decide you want to learn how to program. Now that’s a big goal!
Maybe you get started on it. You take a class and learn about HTML. Or you have this great idea for a website that you actually began working on in college with a buddy, but you both let it lapse when you graduated.
Or you’re a musician, and you love writing songs, but just lately, you haven’t had the time. In fact, maybe you didn’t write one since August.
Or you want to start a blog — or you started one, but it hasn’t been updated since 2015, and you don’t think anyone ever reads it…. And now it’s become like a big downer. A huge ugh. You don’t even want to think about it since it makes you feel like a slug. One more datapoint for how you don’t get stuff done.
But every time you’ve ever made progress on this heart project you’ve got, you’ve felt SO GOOD about yourself.
But maybe it’s tough to get started.
There’s always something else pulling on your time.
Well here’s an idea: (ohnoyeswe’regonnasayit) JUST DO IT.
Meaning, do SOMETHING today – even right now if you can – to advance yourself towards this goal.
Even if it’s just SCHEDULING a time in your calendar for sometime in the next 24 hours where you CAN go do it. ‘Cuz right now, while you’re reading EssaySnark, you know that you really should be preparing for that meeting with your team in 20 minutes, and you don’t have time to do something for yourself at this very moment.
What you can do is set up a reminder in your calendar for later today or tonight (or better yet, tomorrow morning) where you will have the freedom to do it.
And then make it happen!
If there’s something that only your FUTURE SELF will benefit from, it’s all too easy for your NOW SELF to blow it off. Usually your NOW SELF is all about responding to the immediacy, the urgency, the I-just-want-to-take-a-nap-ency. Your NOW SELF is an enemy of your FUTURE SELF.
And what happens, when you live long enough, is you start to look back over the years accumulating and you realize, “Dang, if only I’d started this when I first had the idea, I’d actually be done by now.”
Instead, we blow stuff off and blow it off, and we don’t change. We stay the same.
But if you’re interested in getting an MBA, there’s something about you that’s driving you. That wants to be different.
Why not honor that self?
For many people, the most precious time of the day is the morning. If you make a commitment to yourself to do something – ANYTHING – to further your own personal project as your first task of the day, then that’s guaranteed to let you actually make real progress on it over time. You need to be vigilant. Carve out the time. If it needs to happen before you leave the house for work, then find a way to do it – even if it’s only 5 minutes at first. Even 5 minutes is valuable.
The trick is to establish that as part of your routine. If you ALWAYS take 5 minutes, every morning, for two weeks, then you should be able to easily enough expand it to 10 minutes.
If you’re working on something for 10 minutes in the morning, then you’ll be thinking about it on the commute to work, and you may get some spark of inspiration that hits you during lunchtime, and then you’re so excited to implement that idea that you go home from work and you do more on your personal project that night.
Then the next morning, your 10 minutes grows to 15 minutes, and you’re on a roll with it! And you are so jazzed by it that you actually wake up before your alarm the next morning (omg that never happens!!) and instead of going back to sleep you’re wide-eyed and bushy-tailed and you GET UP and you go to work on your big idea.
And voila, in no time at all, you’ve changed.
Now you’re someone who has energy. Who’s inspired. Who’s excited by life. Now you’re working towards something.
One of the hardest parts is GETTING STARTED.
So today is an invitation.
Make tomorrow morning your first day of 5 minutes.
How will you use the time?
A Brave Supplicant named Rahul was recently reading the post “Why is the average GMAT score at LBS so much lower?” and he asked us this:
As a genuine question, why does LBS take people with 600 gmat score whilst rejecting those with 700+. Im fully aware of the whole idea of GMAT just being part of the criteria and that application and essays and internships and experience count too. But my point is, what could someone with 600 gmat score possibly have that someone with 700 doesn’t that warrants them a place and not someone with 700. Im going to be frank and say that someone with 600 is just not as smart as someone with 700 and does not belong in LBS, I mean seriously how can one of the best business schools in the world legit accept someone with 600 whilst for courses like MiF they have a minimum of 650. I personally got 690 and I’m terrible at maths (Q: 44 V:40) despite the gmat being biased towards those who are good at maths.
There’s a fair amount of truth sprinkled about in that question but there’s also possibly some unclear thinking or simply a lack of perspective, too, and we wanted to devote a full post on this today.
The GMAT is a very difficult test. We will absolutely give you that. However, it’s hard to go along with the assertion that “someone with 600 is just not as smart as someone with 700” — and we definitely cannot agree with the claim that they “do not belong” at LBS or any other school.
Is the GMAT measuring intelligence? Or is it measuring the ability to perform well on a standardized test?
Men are statistically more likely to score better on the GMAT.
Young people also perform better than older people.
Do these stats mean that men are smarter than women? That young people are smarter than older ones?
(If you are male, or if you are young, and especially if you are both, we suggest that you be very careful how you answer those questions, even if you are doing so only in the privacy of your own skull.)
The GMAT tests for certain types of skills. It’s not a be-all/end-all test of intellectual capacity, and it definitely does not evaluate potential.
A GMAT is just one aspect to a candidacy, and it’s a very small part of the candidate.
Just like with Billy Bush, whose entire life has now become defined by one very short ride on a bus on a studio backlot, with Tic-Tacs , it’s not fair to sum up a person on the basis of a test score.
There are multiple types of intelligence, and there are many, many different types of people. If the top schools like LBS were only looking for students who are awesome at taking standardized tests, they could EASILY fill their classes with only that type of applicant. LBS could get at least a 720 average GMAT if they wanted, without even breaking a sweat.
But bschools are interested in a variety of types, because there are many many different paths that are possible from the MBA, and it isn’t only the strong standardized test-taker that are going to excel in all those capacities.
The other very important point to make, seeing as you shared your GMAT score breakdown: The schools look not just at total scores but at the individual components. EssaySnark is not sure where you are in your application process but we are quite nervous about a 44Q for someone trying for LBS. Hopefully you’re aware that that’s a significant weakness that may cause many admissions reviewers to hesitate. It depends of course on the pool you’re in and what the rest of the profile looks like.
And that’s really the most important thing. You claim to appreciate that the GMAT is only a part, and that application and essays and internships and experience count too — but they really really do. It’s not just “experience” in the context of work experience (though that does matter a lot). It’s “experience” as in “life experience.” What if the applicant is the first in her family to ever attend college, and she had to go to a school close to home because it was all that her family could afford, or maybe she was needed to help care for a sick relative? And because of her lack of resources in high school, she never got the best education in quant subjects, and that held her back in college? Or she loved reading and decided to major in literature instead? It’s not that she lacks intelligence, it’s that she didn’t have the same opportunities. This is real.
From the New York Times recently we learn that “poor students rely on their parents for college advice, and many of them end up going to less rigorous colleges than they can handle” (h/t Akil Bello aka at the moment, Proctor Dre ). We’re betting that a less rigorous college is going to produce test-takers who do worse on the GMAT. Does that mean they are not as smart? Or does it only mean that they came from a disadvantaged financial background?
Or what about someone coming in from the military, who has a strong aptitude but studied those subjects many long years ago, and was very rusty in tackling them again for the GMAT? And on top of that, he’s been constantly deployed to war zones and conflict areas, and had a difficult time getting good mentoring or support on the test prep?
You see, people are coming into it from all different circumstances. You can’t take your own experience and extrapolate to the entire universe of applicants, and you have to be very very careful about interpreting too much — or judging others solely on — a test score.
The business school adcoms are looking at the whole person. Employers who recruit at these MBA programs are equally interested in life experience and skills, beyond just the marks on the GMAT. A test score alone is not representative of who you are.
That’s why the schools ask you to write essays, and why they have extensive interview processes, too. It’s an imperfect system, but it’s what they have to work with.
They could easily fill their classes with top scoring applicants if they chose to. That’s not how it works though. They’re in the business of education, and it’s part of their mission to contribute to society. It’s not formulaic. There are many ways to evaluate potential.
Which is awesome, because it means everyone gets a fair shot at admission.
Yes they have standards. They’re not going to admit someone who they think will have trouble with the curriculum. To be sure, they’re not admitting gobs of candidates at the 600 level. Some schools even will offer a conditional acceptance for certain candidates, where they require that you bring up your score before they’ll let you enroll. The test scores are not insignificant.
But they’re just one piece of the puzzle, and they don’t tell the whole story. There’s plenty of candidates with a 700 who come across as true jerks. Or they just don’t put in the work that’s required to communicate themselves effectively in the app. They’re not showing themselves to be differentiated. A high test score is not an instant pass, just as much as a low one is not an immediate rejection.
The adcoms know a life cannot so easily be distilled down to one small component.
EssaySnark suggests a widening of the perspective. Let’s not be so quick to paint others with such a broad brush.
We think Billy Bush, circa 2017, would agree.
Update: Akil Bello, test prep wiz, tweeted this in response:
— Proctor Dre (@akilbello) May 23, 2017
Direct link to the post he references about underrepresented minorities and standardized tests is here .
Update #2: This article on leadership and controlling emotions includes a list of the “types of intelligence” as identified by Howard Gardner from Harvard in 1983:
- Linguistic—good with words
- Mathematical—good at numbers
- Musical—good with rhythm and sound
- Visual-Spatial—good at thinking in three dimensions
- Bodily-Kinesthetic—good at physical activity
- Intrapersonal—good at understanding oneself
- Interpersonal—good at interacting with other people
The GMAT tests two or maybe three of these.
Well-meaning or not, a BSer we worked with this past season ended up executing on an application strategy decision that, had we known about it, we would’ve advised against. This person used our help to apply to a bunch of top-tier Round 1 schools. They did a good job on those essays. Apparently somewhere along…
The spike of adrenaline and rush of endorphines around getting an admit.
The frantic phone calls to family, and high-fives around the office.
All of that subsiding over the course of the next few days to a happy hum of contentment: YOU DID IT!!! You got into bschool! A top MBA program actually accepted you!!
Fast-forward a week or two, or maybe a month, or maybe it doesn’t hit until you get on campus for the excitement of Welcome Weekend (or Admit Day or whatever your school calls it)… And suddenly you start to feel oddly uncomfortable.
Maybe it first hits when you meet some kind of superstar admit like an Olympic athlete who’s now going to be going to this school, and then a White House aide, and then the next woman already has her own business that’s the top seller on Etsy. And you meet like 15 people in a row who work on Wall Street or McKinsey or Google. And pretty soon, you start to not look forward to new-classmate introductions, when you have to keep telling them what your job is.
Or maybe it happens when you overhear someone casually say that their company offered them a $50,000 raise if they’d stick around at their job instead of leaving for bschool… and your entire salary is only a little more than that right now.
Then the thought pattern starts:
“Wow, they’re all so much better than me.”
“Sheesh, it seems like everyone has a 770 GMAT.”
“Dang, how am I going to keep up with them?”
“I think the adcom made a mistake.”
BSer, please don’t let this thinking sabotage you.
What you’re experiencing is super common, and it’s something you’ll want to become aware of, and not buy into.
Your own thoughts can completely derail you – and all of those thoughts are NOT TRUE.
What this is describing is a phenomenon called Imposter Syndrome and it happens to lots of really successful people. Women may be more prone to it but it’s an equal-opportunity brainf@ck. It creeps in and takes hold of you, and it can make you absolutely miserable. If you’re not careful, it can suck the life out of you, taking away all motivation and making you feel worthless.
This post is to alert you of this phenomenon so that you can be on the lookout.
It happens to lots of people.
That Olympic athlete? Oh yeah, you betchya, they’re comparing themselves to everyone else and thinking, “Oh CRAP I’ll never survive here, what was I thinking, applying for business school?!???? I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT BUSINESS! I’m doooooooomed!!!!!!!!”
That entrepreneur chick? She’s probably sweating bullets about whether she’ll be able to afford bschool at all, given that she’s been on a shoestring salary for a year already, trying to bootstrap her business, and she’s nervous about every single happy hour where she has to pull out her credit card in front of everyone, in case it might be declined. She thought that the MBA might be her salvation to take this business to the next level, and now she thinks the whole thing might be yet another colossal mistake, especially when she hears about everyone else who wants to start a company through bschool, and their ideas seem so much better than this little thing she’s been trying to make happen.
That Wall Street guy? He’s feeling paranoid that he’s never going to be able to make it out of finance – which he hates. All he can think about is the competition he’s seeing, and how much better-positioned YOU are for the type of post-MBA career jump he’s trying to make.
Everyone is dealing with their own insecurities. Everyone thinks that everyone else is better than them. We can guarantee you, lots and lots of those super impressive future classmates you’ve met have been thinking the same kind of awe-struck thoughts about YOU and your incredible story as you’re thinking about them. It happens all the time.
The bottom-line truth is, if you were accepted to bschool — ANY bschool — that means you’ve done something right. You’ve worked hard and gotten somewhere in life already. You DESERVE the spot they’ve offered you in their incoming class. The adcoms do not make mistakes.
If this imposter thinking happens to you, please don’t let it take you out. Talk to your friends and family. Simply voicing the feelings and saying them outloud often dissipates their power. Maybe you can even laugh about it.
Or maybe the school did make a mistake, and your 700 GMAT looked like a 780 when they viewed it on their computer screen, and oh sh!t anydaynowtheyregonnacallyouupandtellyouitsallovernowyoureonthestreetgetouttahereyabum and your life will be in ruins.
Nah. Prolly not. You’re prolly safe from all that happening. 🙂
If you’re headed to bschool in the Fall, Congratulations, Brave Supplicant!! The rollercoaster-ride of MBA admissions is not yet over even once you have that admit in hand.
No, not really.
We spent all this time telling you about which schools we think might change their prompts for their Class of 2020 applications yesterday. But even when the schools switch up their questions, it rarely signals a change in their strategy for evaluating applicants. There are very infrequently any events that happen that cause admissions teams to do that.
Some reasons for a switch in the schools’ strategies are:
- A change in the applicant population, such as a marked increase in candidates from certain parts of the world
- An economic shock, specifically the financial crisis in 2007-2008 and how it affected the applicant pools (lots of candidates fleeing from finance jobs)
- A cultural shift, such as the growing interest in entrepreneurship among Millennials that we’ve been seeing take hold, concurrent with the hype/glam/esteem around Silicon Valley and the tech industry
- An interest in attracting a specific population, such as the efforts that many business schools have been making in the last decade to recruit more women, or a campaign to attract candidates from a particular part of the world, such as Stanford’s interest in African countries and in the American Midwest
You can contrast these reasons to a change in tactics of evaluating candidates – which is what the actual essay prompts represent. These change in tactics can include:
- New innovations or a change in technology, such as the proliferation of video capture to consumers that allowed Yale to incorporate short video questions into its app, which then prompted them to ditch the TOEFL requirement as redundant and unnecessary
- Lobbying from the test maker and other market forces resulting in a new acceptance policy for additional admissions tests
- Big changes in essay requirements from Harvard Business School in particular
Yes, many schools are very reactive to what other schools are doing – especially when that other school is HBS. The best example of that is when Harvard started reducing the number of essays. In 2011, HBS had four essays. In 2012 they went down to two, which definitely caused other schools to pull back on their essay requirements, out of fear for losing applicants. The fear was, More essays = more work = maybe you won’t bother applying here. The schools don’t want to turn away you happy Brave Supplicants based on (gasp!) forcing you to write more stuff for them. Schools began dropping essays right and left.
Then the very next year, Harvard went down to omg no a single essay of unlimited length and they even said at the time that it was OPTIONAL.
Nobody actually took that bait though; only something like 2 applicants out of the thousands who applied chose not to submit any essay at all (and the adcom actually admitted one of those, if we remember correctly!). Harvard rolled that “optional” thing back the following year, so now the essay is again a required component of the app, but they’ve maintained a similar open-ended-essay philosophy since then.
These changes forced adcoms across America to rethink things. The European schools resisted somewhat; it took a few years before INSEAD and LBS started whacking off essays from their requirements, but they eventually followed suit.
Same thing happened about five years ago with the GRE in MBA admissions – as will be happening, we can easily forecast, with law schools starting literally today (March 8th). Harvard Law School only just announced that they’ll be accepting the GRE instead of the LSAT for admission. Wow. That’s earth-shaking news. Other law schools have dabbled with the idea and they were always criticized for it. The LSAT has been a rite of passage for becoming a lawyer in the U.S. Now you can take the GRE instead? Harvard Law has found that they’re comparable in predicting success in the first year of school. It won’t be long before the GMAT is also accepted along with the GRE for law school admissions, too. After all, lots of universities already accept the GMAT and the GMAT alone for candidates to their JD/MBA programs. And, we can easily see how the GMAC marketing arm will take up the project of getting the GMAT accepted.
The reverse trend happened in bschools not long ago. For ages, it was GMAT only if you want an MBA, and then slowly, some adcoms began accepting the GRE. It took a few admissions cycles, but now there is not a school that we can name that won’t take the GRE in lieu of a GMAT score for applying for a graduate business degree.
Does any of this matter?
No, not really — because all of it is outside your control. These types of changes are happening to all of us (the social/demographic/cultural changes that schools must respond to), and anyway, there’s nothing you can do about the core facts of your demographic makeup. If you’re coming from an oversubscribed candidate pool, all you can do is be the best that you can be and present yourself with clarity and authenticity — but you’re not going to change the fact that there are many others competing for the same limited spots as you. (The one big strategy for YOU as an individual applicant is whether you take the GMAT versus the GRE, and we have lots of posts and plenty of recommendations and cautions for you to explore on that.)
Whether or not the schools change their essay questions really does not matter. If you’re applying to bschool in the coming season, you’re stuck with the questions that they ask.
What you have control over is a) getting ready now by working on your profile and fixing the gaps and weaknesses to the best of your ability, and b) not procrastinating on any piece of the puzzle.