There are gobs of reasons why you might have fallen in love with School X. Unfortunately, School X has heard all of them before. Some admissions consultants even spoonfeed their clients on what to say as a reason. That means that there are gobs of applicants citing the same things all the time. Some schools…
Say you’re in finance, and you hate it.
You’re good at your job, but you just feel like it’s not what you thought it would be.
(Pro Tip: Substitute any career for “finance” as you read along, to get the most out of this post. Presumably your current career is, in some respect or other, not what you thought it would be, so personalize this to your situation.)
You know you don’t want to do finance anymore.
Do you even try for the business schools known for finance? Since you’ve already done finance, maybe you don’t want to be surrounded by the focus on finance again. If you’re looking to explicitly branch out.
Part of this is knowing yourself, and understanding your priorities — which need to be yours and yours alone. If you’re looking to go back to school to revamp your career to do something more fulfilling, then that is going to direct your school research efforts accordingly. Or, if you know in your heart of hearts that you really want to make as much money as possible, then that too should be guiding your efforts. Neither of these is better than the other, by the way. Our world needs people who are motivated to make a lot of money just as much as it needs people who are looking for something personally fulfilling that may not be bank-account-focused. Truly, whatever is driving you is fine. Being explicit about that for yourself can be very freeing, and it can simplify decisions later on, when you’re (hopefully!) admitted to multiple schools and have to make a decision which one to choose.
Again, knowing yourself is the key.
For example, say you’re this finance person, who is really keen on jumping out of finance through the process of getting an MBA. What will be the temptation for you, once you’re in the program and starting the recruiting process, to set up one or two interviews with recruiters in finance, “just to see what happens”?
After all, someone coming from finance, wanting to stay in finance and go back to finance post-MBA, is likely to land one of the highest salaries in the graduating class.
Are you able to resist that siren call?
Now, to some degree, all of this is kind of an irrelevant conversation. Today, there’s no such thing as a “finance school” — not like there used to be. About a bschool generation ago, you definitely would have a very different experience at a school like, say, Wharton or LBS or Columbia which are famous as “finance schools” compared to maybe Kellogg which is the “marketing school” or INSEAD where everyone wanted to do consulting. These days, those lines have definitely blurred; the students who flock to MBA programs are much more varied in their backgrounds and interests (except perhaps that tech and consulting are the big drivers overall), plus the schools themselves have diversified, and worked to break out of their own limitations, of being branded as a “this” school or a “that” one.
If you know you want to go to a school to focus on X, then figuring out which schools are “the best” at X and applying there is a natural strategy to choose. Some categories of “X” are self-limiting; if you want to do something in luxury goods, then the main players are NYU and Columbia and Harvard. If you want to do fintech, then Booth and NYU and Columbia and Wharton are obvious choices. If you want to do clean energy, then Ross is a natural fit. If you’re looking at nonprofit, then Yale and NYU (again!) and certainly some others too would be your targets.
So Strategy #1, figure out what you want to specialize in, figure out which schools specialize in that too, and apply there.
Strategy #2 is apply to the opposite schools.
Maybe you honest-to-goodness do not know what you want to do with yourself. Maybe you’re nervous about getting “stuck”, like we said with the example about being lured in to some finance recruiting when you had planned to break out of the finance track. (Again, all schools are strong in finance to some degree or another, but there are a smaller number who are pretty much famous for finance. All MBA programs everywhere have a huge amount of content and programming and curriculum around finance. Remember, finance is considered the language of business. Or maybe that’s accounting. Whatever, if you’re getting an MBA, you’re going to be taking finance stuff. We’re just talking about what else you do and how you tailor the rest of your experience, considering all the curriculum that you have choice and flexibility with — and no, you really don’t need to know now what choices you’ll be making later for actual classes or concentration, but it can help to think these things through in advance.)
If you’ve decided you want to use bschool as a “clean slate” approach to explore all options and geographies and industries and functions, you may feel more free to do that at a school that’s really dissimilar to the schools that are famous for expertise in your current career. So for example, you have no clue what you want to do as long as it’s not finance: Then apply to Berkeley. It’s not that Berkeley doesn’t have great finance curriculum or connections. It’s just that they have so many other things too, that you’ll be immersed in everything and exposed to multiple new opportunities — ones you may not otherwise have even perceived, if you’d ended up at a traditionally more finance-y program.
Again, there are many ways to choose a school, and all of this is yet another exhortation to be embarking on these tasks of research and outreach today. Now is when you need to be kicking the tires and learning. Now is when you can be in shopper-mode. BTW, we acknowledge that much of this may sound a little esoteric. “I just wanna get an MBA!” you may be thinking. Is all of this stuff we’re suggesting even practical?
The answer to that is, it will be if you engage in it. It is highly (highly!) unusual for an applicant to present any level of sophisticated insight into their rationale for the MBA and reasons for choosing the school that they apply to. Adcom readers will sit up and take notice if you bring these reasons into your essay effectively. You will stand out, for sure — mostly because this stuff cannot be faked. Will it be easy for you to figure out your priorities and use those to guide the schools you will target? No, probably not. Will it offer tremendous payoff if you go to the effort of trying? Yes, almost 100% yes, we can assure you.
And remember, what one person calls a school is not necessarily the bottom line on what that school is about. That’s why asking many people for opinions and experiences is so helpful. Maybe EssaySnark names Ross as a clean energy school but you already work in energy and you know that Duke is way better. Leverage your network, ask questions, challenge assumptions. This process is about learning your own priorities just as much as it is in getting in to “the best” school.
“The best” school isn’t about MBA ranking. It’s about which school will let you do your best work, and which will set you up for the success of your own individual and personal path.
Shameless self-promotion: In our Comprehensive Profile Review, we offer commentary on the schools you’re currently considering, based on your unique profile and your stated preferences, priorities and criteria in considering that school. Plus, we suggest other schools you may not have thought of — and often, many months later, BSers come back to report that the school we suggested to them is the one that they’re going to! We have a pretty good track record of intuiting the fit between person and program. Hit us up if you want our assessment on your specific situation!
Want to start thinking about your MBA app strategy without doing any heavy lifting?
Here’s a great series of questions posted on the Darden admissions blog late last year . These are meant to illustrate how they look at candidates but they’re an excellent set of questions for you to sit down and consider right now, before you’ve actually started thinking about essay topics or which schools you’ll be trying for. Not all schools evaluate on exactly these dimensions, and even Darden was only using this to illustrate the perspective they take. But these are quite interesting things to ponder! They touch on things like teamwork and collaboration and leadership and all the standard buzzwords that you’ll get so sick of hearing about as you traverse this process of applying to bschool:
- Are you collaborative?
- What kind of teammate are you?
- Do you freely share your expertise?
- Do you enjoy learning from others?
- Do you want to be an active participant in your educational experience?
- Are you relationship-oriented?
- Do you value different backgrounds and perspectives?
Don’t just breeze over this list nodding your head and saying, “Hmm interesting questions!” Instead, get your MBA essay planning notebook and jot them down – consider putting each one individually at the top of its own page. Do some brainstorming. Can you think of an example from your life that fits each question?
Keep a running list as you go through the rest of the day, and week, and month.
This should be an ongoing process.
Some of these questions are actually quite deep. What does it mean to be “relationship-oriented”? Can you redefine that term? Now, can you think of an instance where you acted that way, that would demonstrate you being that way?
Don’t feel you need to be “relationship-minded” in order to get into or succeed in bschool. It’s OK if you answer “no” to that question. But give yourself space to ponder it. Maybe tonight on your commute home, set up some time for just thinking about these concepts.
But you will need to do some serious self-reflection if you’re going to be coming up with quality essay content in a few short months! That’s true at every school, definitely not only Darden.
The best essay topics are considered over time. Starting with this list will be your first effort to prime the pump and get that brain trained to spit out the good stuff.
We started this blahg series on “What can I do to improve my chances?” by answering with “Not much.” And then we proceeded to talk about things you could do! All on the GMAT front, but still, that stuff was “something”, not “nothing.” So in the mode of that “something” answer, we’ll continue: What can…
This is admittedly an odd post to be publishing on a blahg selling services to help you get into business school, but there it is.
Go watch this Exhibit A video:
Of course, that advice is 100% sound. It’s what we help applicants do in positioning themselves for success in their apps!
But that video….
That video is SO polished. It is SO slick. It is so obviously intentionally produced as MARKETING.
Not marketing Harvard Business School. Marketing the companies that are featured in it.
You get three beautiful students who are so incredibly amazing that they made meaningful contributions in entirely new industries in only 10 weeks during summer internships.
Yeah, we know, that’s the premise behind the summer internship experience that most MBA students at all schools are supposed to be going through.
EXCEPT IT’S NOT.
An internship is where you’re an intern — someone new to the field who is learning how it works. Who by definition knows little to nothing about it.
Yes, the companies that hire interns are hoping to get a return on their investment and have the interns actually be productive.
But who are we kidding. In your first three months of any new job, did you really learn much more than where to find the restroom?
Yet this is touted as if these ah-ma-zing Harvard students are so fabulous that they hit the ground running and learned a full statistical programming language (R) and used it to product insights on a new industry they’d never worked in before.
We’re really not trying to harsh on these students. This is ALL the fault of the marketing department at Harvard Business School who came up with this ridiculous concept and sold it to the companies that come recruiting on campus.
THIS IS A PROMOTIONAL VIDEO TO EMBELLISH THE BRAND OF HARVARD AND BOOST UP SOCIAL MEDIA SIGNALS FOR THE COMPANIES WHO DO THEM A FAVOR BY HIRING THEIR GRADUATES.
No. Didn’t think so.
Instead we get taken on a tour of trendy offices with open-floor layouts and smart-looking people in white lab coats. The video is pretending that this is everyday life and how all interns breeze through their days. How brilliant they all must be! So successful!
This is so polished it’s ridiculous.
Truly, we apologize to those three HBS students — this is NOT directed at them. We know they must be incredibly accomplished or they never would’ve made it to Harvard!!!
But that’s kind of the point.
Why does HARVARD need to produce a video like this?
C’mon people, IT’S HARVARD!
We know your students are smart. We know they’re super accomplished.
WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS VIDEO?
Who is the intended audience? What is the reaction supposed to be?
The only thing we can tell is it’s intended to boost social signals FOR THESE THREE FIRMS in a modern-day quid pro quo.
They may all be wonderful companies.
This may have been produced with no conscious ill intent.
It’s just marketing. It’s just showcasing our students.
But puh-lease people. Why the need for this – what is it meant to actually convey?
Yes this struck a chord.
Because it just seems so disingenuous.
Like, Harvard Business School needs to market in this way?
They’ve already got 10,000 poor souls a year falling over themselves trying to get in.
This video, dunno, for some reason it comes across as really pompous and smarmy. The students are being taken advantage of, like they’re the product that this gleaming machine is spitting out.
It just feels somehow a teensy tiny bit evil, like we should be looking closer, opening up the hood, examining.
What is really going on here?
Is this our 2019 Stepford Wives???!?
And so, a challenge.
For any bschool admissions folks who may wander into this post:
Why not BE AUTHENTIC yourselves and share what the MBA really is like?!???
And for all of you interestd in bschool, for those of you wanting to change the world, for all of you professing your interest in making a difference, for those gearing up to this next exciting phase of your careers:
Maybe what the world needs is less spin and more real.
Based on the title of this post, you may think that EssaySnark is just being friendly. Oh no, ma cherie. We are talking about interviewing!!! There are so many basic questions that can so thoroughly trip up an unsuspecting (aka unprepared) BSer. Your interview, as you know, is your time to shine. As we’ve been…
This comes up surprisingly often. Do you even know why you need an MBA? Almost all of the schools, in one form or another, ask questions in their applications about why you’re interested in going there. The best way to answer that, of course, is to talk about how you need such-and-such new skills or…
You do not need to be fixed.
You definitely do not need to be packaged or branded.
You don’t need to be spun, or promoted, or polished up to a shine. (OK, maybe you need a shower, but…)
The problem with this process of applying to business school is that it sends the signal that who you are now is not good enough.
Average GMAT score? Not enough.
Decent grades? Not enough.
You pour your heart out into your essays and you still get rejected?
Clearly the schools are saying, You’re not enough.
You’re not good enough.
You’re not talented enough.
You have not done enough interesting things.
But hold up.
Let’s look at this.
From our perspective, sitting on the snarky side of the fence, there are only two requirements for getting into a good MBA program:
1. You must be willing to work hard.
2. You must give yourself enough time.
If you’re rushing, it’s highly unlikely you’re going to have as much success in this process as you could if you’d
not procrastinated the entire fall season away started on the process earlier and kept working diligently until it was done.
But guess what? You didn’t. You had noble intentions, but then Life got in the way, and you had trouble motivating yourself. You were probably THINKING ABOUT your apps nearly all the time since the summer, but you too often got faced with that demon of “ohgawdidontknowhowtodothisorwheretoevenbegin” and you flinched, and you escaped into Netflix again. And that’s what happened to the month of August, and September, and then again in November. That’s not a personal failing. All that is, is being overwhelmed by what seems like a monumental task (WRITING ESSAYS UGGH!) and then the pesky habit of Time took the months away.
When we boil this down, it actually ends up revealing itself to be #1 in disguise.
For most people, procrastination is not a sign that you are a loser. It does not even mean that you’re lazy. It’s just the simple human reaction when faced with fear of the unknown. The brain is wired to seek comfort; to run from risk.
Our ancient ancestors had a thought like this:
“Ooo look there’s a tiger!”
The human brain got deeply wired to react with:
“OMG GET THE F. OUT OF HERE!”
Applying to bschool is just our modern-day tiger.
You’ve set this very big goal for yourself — you want to go on the hunt! Shoot an animal for dinner! Provide for your family!
So you set out on the savannah to find an antelope or a buffalo or a wildebeest.
You make all the preparations. You sharpen your tools (study for the GMAT). You get ready for the expedition (take the GMAT). You learn about your prey and its habits (stalk the adcoms on twitter and facebook). It rains, so you adjust your plans (take the GMAT again). You have all your gear, and you’re committed to the task, and you head out onto the plains, and you scout your targets (decide on which schools to apply). You put yourself in position. You’re all ready to go, you’re going to definitely make a run for it now, and —
“Oh crap what is that oh sh!t no it’s a lion. It’s a lion? YES IT’S A LION RUN RUN RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!!”
Well dang. That didn’t work like you’d hoped. Stupid lion. You tried for a gazelle. You end up nabbing a warthog. At least you’re not going to starve tonight.
You’re just super embarrassed when you have to go back to the village without the prize you went out there to hunt.
Talk about ruining your self esteem.
Talk about a great way to make you feel like a total idiot.
You talked up a good game, but when push comes to shove, what do you have to show for yourself?
Now you have to ask your recommender to do more recommendations. Now you have to admit that you failed.
We are here to tell you that you have not failed.
You simply have not succeeded yet.
Getting into bschool is about picking the schools that are right for you, and then working diligently on creating a set of application materials that present who you are authentically.
That is the secret to getting in.
It’s not about saying the right thing or figuring out a formula (except to the extent that yes, this is a competitive process, and things like GMAT and GPA do matter).
It’s not about coming up with the right wording that that school will respond to.
It’s about spending the time and effort to figure yourself out.
How do you know what schools to apply to?
You need to know yourself.
How do you write an essay that the school will respond to?
You need to know yourself.
What is the only fundamental requirement to make all of this happen?
You need to be willing to do the work.
Or really, a truer statement is, you need to be willing to go into the unknown.
Writing essays is facing the tiger. It’s saying, “No no no, I know your tricks. I know you’re just an oversized pussy cat.”
This is true in ALL things. In ALL of life.
Unless you’re someone who is literally hunting her meals on the plains every day. In which case, a tiger is actually a tiger, and we hope you will run from it!!!
But in modern-day life in the 21st Century, in the challenges that most of us humans are facing, the tiger is not really a tiger.
The tiger is only in your mind.
When your brain conjures up thoughts of “Oh sh!t I don’t know what to do, this is a very big project and the whole thing of me going out into the world and doing something this big and this important scares the holy eff out of me” then all of a sudden your brain is seeing TIGER!!!! when one doesn’t exist.
The only thing stopping you from getting into a great MBA program is your thoughts. If you are letting the fear of the tiger prevent you from doing the work that’s required, then let’s go back to square one:
From our perspective, there are only two requirements for getting into a good MBA program:
1. You must be willing to work hard.
2. You must give yourself enough time.
If you did not give yourself enough time, then with almost 100% certainty we can tell you, it’s because you let the FEAR OF the tiger get in the way.
There is no tiger.
You just imagined there is one.
And you reacted as any sane person facing a tiger would do.
So #2 is just that you got confused, and you let fear win.
So what about #1?
If you’re interested in an MBA then you have already been successful to some degree or another in life. At minimum, you have successfully completed college — which sounds basic, but remember, not everyone does that. You know how to work towards a goal. You know how to apply yourself and be productive. It’s also likely the case that you have taken the GMAT at least once and scored something decent, which again shows that you are able to put in the effort to achieve a purpose. You studied for the test (even if haphazardly) and you got a score that is in range for a top MBA program.
So right there, we have two datapoints to prove it. We know that you are CAPABLE of working hard.
Then what could the problem be? If you’re CAPABLE of working hard but you have not yet managed to get into a top MBA program, it boils down to:
A. You’re CAPABLE of working hard on other things, but you DID NOT REALLY work hard on your apps (you may have PRETENDED to work hard, by writing a few essays and sending them in, but you know in your heart if you REALLY worked hard on them or not). If it’s this, then it’s a problem of self-delusion. You fooled yourself. No big deal. We do that all the time, on all sorts of things! (“This first bite of Ben & Jerry’s tastes good! This second one tastes good too! I’m just gonna keep eating it!! [ 5 mins later…] Ugh I should not have eaten the whole pint omg this feels awful.”) The remedy? Work harder!!
B. The fear of the tiger got in the way, which is another way of saying, you weren’t WILLING.
When fear comes into your skull, it seems like there are no options.
You WANT to achieve this thing, but dang. Real life. Overwhelming. It’s too big.
Or whatever the fear-thoughts manifest as in your own specific incarnation.
If you got stymied by B — not being willing to work hard (which is another way of saying that you were deterred by the fear-thought, since we already have established that you WANT this for yourself, and you are CAPABLE of it) — then we have a trick for you.
You don’t have to know how to do it.
You don’t even have to know how to be willing to know how.
You just have to be WILLING to be willing.
If you’re reading this and it’s not making any sense, that’s OK.
But if you’re reading this and it’s clicking for you in some way, then good.
Most people reading this now are either in an egg nog stupor of celebration around the holidays and having already gotten into one of their top-choice MBA programs, and they’re simply still in the habit of reading the ‘Snark every day.
But there’s a whole slew of others of you who are coming here with a sense of dread and mild panic over all of the work to be done, and many doubts and insecurities about this whole process.
You don’t have to know how to get in. You just have to identify one thing to be done at a time, and go do it.
Maybe that means writing an outline. Just one. For one school. Map out your ideas. Put some structure to it.
Maybe it means figuring out your career goals, and making sure that they are detailed and specific enough.
Maybe it means re-examining your list of schools and making sure you’re tackling the right schools for you, based on the reality of your profile, that you really have a chance of getting into.
Maybe it means filling out the app form for one school. Or going back over the app and verifying and validating the data.
Do one thing. Right now. Be like Nike and just do it.
Then make a list of all of the others.
And when you’re feeling stuck, and overwhelmed, when staring at the screen full of words that you don’t feel are right and aren’t making any sense and you’re doubting whether any of it will work anyway. And you’re tempted to just close the whole thing down and go back to your WoW game. When you’re feeling discouraged — or just unable to tear yourself away from the party and go upstairs to work on the essay. Even though you told yourself that that’s what you were going to do this weekend, that you’d spend time with your family for awhile but then you were determined to make progress on your apps in the evening, yet here it is, “evening” and you don’t feel like doing it.
Just remember: THE TIGER IS NOT REAL.
The only thing you need in order to be successful with getting into bschool (or getting to any other huge major success in your life) is you have to BE WILLING.
You have to see that it’s your thoughts that are holding you back.
If you are WILLING, then you don’t need to know how to do it. You simply become open to trying.
If you don’t feel like you’re willing — if you feel like the fear of the tiger is too strong — then there’s a solution for that, too.
You just have to be willing to be willing.
Anybody can do that.
And please do not forget.
This process of applying to bschool — even when you’re rejected — this is not a referendum on who you are.
You are perfect. Already.
You don’t have to package yourself up into somebody else in order to get in.
You just have to do the work of uncovering who you are. And sharing that on the page in an essay.
And the only way to do that is to be willing.
But please don’t write it in an MBA essay. We originally started this blahg because we saw too many earnest MBA applicants (aka BSers) saying earnest MBA applicant things in their essays. That was nine years ago (and we’d already been reading MBA essays for many years before then). Alas, not much has changed. :-(…
Well that should be obvious. But apparently it’s not! And, we actually mean it in two ways: 1. There is only one YOU – so if you share who you are with the adcoms, they will see your individuality. This is the essence of the Strategy of Authenticity — which really shouldn’t be called a…