Welcome to the second of my 10-Tip series to help you in your campaign to get into business school. The first tip encouraged you to start early – because indeed, it is a campaign, and the earlier you start thinking about the whole process, the easier it will be to put this massive project together. I cannot recall anyone I have ever met in my life who has said, after all is said and done, “That was a lot easier and took a lot less time than I thought!”
Tip 2 encourages you to take inventory. Business school admissions committees look for self-awareness, and what better way to figure out what you’ve already got and what you need, but an inventory list. It’s ok to be lacking in certain areas, by the way. No candidate is absolutely perfect. Believe it.
Fill in Your Weak Spot: Career Progression
Let’s start with your work experience. What kind of a track record of success have you demonstrated in your career so far? You don’t have to have invented the iPad, but you should have made a difference in your work environment. Were you put on the fast-track? Promoted faster than expected? Were you responsible for changing the way your group does business? The varieties of ways you can have made a positive difference on your workplace are endless. The important thing is to identify a pattern of excellence in your nascent career.
Often admissions officers talk about career progression – being able to explain how you went from point A to point B. Does it make logical sense? If there’s something missing from that progression – say you work for a government entity that doesn’t accelerate promotions – can you gain more responsibility in another way, even if it requires taking on extra work? Maybe you need to round out your leadership experience by leading a team, inside or outside the office. If there’s no easy opportunity in the workplace, you can look to your community or entrepreneurial activities to round things out. Remember to push your own limits – show that you know how to do something that goes beyond what is required.
Fill in Your Weak Spot: Academics
If your grades are good, but not great, you might want to take some business courses to show the admissions committee you know how to sit in a classroom and excel. I’m a big fan of the alternative transcript; I had a terrible undergraduate GPA myself. Once I focused on what I wanted to do with my life, I took night classes in math, statistics, accounting, finance, marketing, and received all A’s. This not only showed the admissions committee that I had the discipline and smarts to take all these classes and juggle a workload, but that I was interested and committed to a business education.
Even if you have a great quantitative/business background, you might want to round out your education with a course that’s unexpected, like in interpersonal communications, oral presentation skills, or theater. It turns out that these skills are core skills required of business school students. For example, Stanford GSB Duke Fuqua and MIT Sloan business schools consider improv part of the curriculum. It may sound crazy, but all of these tools help the geek in us so we can be more creative in our problem solving.
Fill in Your Weak Spot: GMAT Scores
Unfortunately, there’s no substitute for strong GMAT scores, and it helps to score over the 80% percentile on the quantitative portion of the test. (That’s the benchmark Berkeley Haas uses to determine which students need to take a math prerequisite.) If you haven’t taken a prep course, I highly recommend it. It’s worth the investment. If you are having trouble, find a tutor to help you learn how to take the test. The test-prep companies have a stable of great people, or you can go to a specialized tutor If you are still having trouble, explore other options like a test anxiety expert.
As you go through the inventory of what you bring to the admissions table, you may find yourself overwhelmed. Don’t panic. Slow it down. If you really want it, but aren’t ready yet, this may not be the right year for you. Performing an inventory tells you how compelling your case is right now. If you want to beef up your profile, let’s get started. But you’ve got to first figure out what you’ve got, and what you need. This end of the admissions process is up to you.