10 Tips for Getting into Business School — Tip 9: Work Only on What You Can Control

By betsy On Wednesday, July 07 th, 2010 · no Comments · In , ,

Welcome back to the 10-Tips series.  We’re down to the wire — here on Tip 9, Work Only on the Part You Can Control.

I was anxious about mentioning the element of chance involved in the business school application process. I didn’t want the excellent applicants, along with the hard-working, underappreciated admissions committee professionals, to think that I am calling it crap shoot. It’s not. But you cannot control the entire process, particularly the outcome.

It’s Your Strategy
You cannot control the ultimate outcome, but you have some power to influence the inputs. Let’s take undergraduate grades. Think your GPA is a done deal? How about an alternative transcript? Take courses you overlooked, or even flubbed, when you were an undergraduate, then get A’s, and you have put your GPA in context. How about the GMAT? Test prep resources are readily available — I can recommend several programs and methodologies to help you improve your score and stay sane. And as we’ve discussed, your career path is in your control as well. (See Tip 2 on career progression).

Practical Tactics
Here are some tactical things you can absolutely control: the schools you visit and choose to apply to, when you are going to apply (what year? what round?), and very importantly, whom you ask to be your recommenders. You can take them out for coffee and share your aspirations. See if they are on board with doing the thoughtful and time-consuming work of writing the best recommendation.

You can also control the application timetable. Applying to business school is a huge undertaking with lots moving parts. You absolutely need to get all the bits and pieces together by the deadline… in the right time zone. Believe me, I know someone who did miss the deadline because of a time-zone issue; it happens.

Still, you cannot control the entire process. You cannot control who else is applying, or what the economy will look like when you hit “send.” You cannot control the mood of your application’s reader, or when your application is read within a cycle (some schools are more flexible about that, but trying to game it will make you crazy). You cannot control what the universe decides is the outcome. You just can’t.

From a Wharton Student Expert
I’m not the only one who believes there is some chance involved – in fact, I got the courage to write about this point from a forum post on Wharton’s Engage website (a great resource!):

Says Victor M. Lee, Wharton, class of 2011,
To some extent, yes, there is an element of luck. As applicants, we cannot control who else applies. But I would contend that the vast majority of the application process is under your control (how you choose to put your application together, where and how you choose to interview, how much you do in research into Wharton, how much introspection you perform, how well you do on standardized tests and previous academic coursework, how effective and accomplished you are in your career and extra-curricular activities, etc).


Besides, would the reward be so sweet if you knew the answer in advance?