Tag Archives | 10 Tips

10 Tips for Getting Into Business School — Tip 10: Be Yourself

Happy August! Believe it or not, the summer is almost over — but not yet, so no need to be needlessly stressed. I’m finally going to discuss the 10th, and final tip of the 10 Tips to Make Your MBA Application Rock. It have been trying to stretch it out by interspersing with other blog posts, but now it’s time to wrap it up. (All 10 Tips can be found in the PowerPoint of the presentation I gave to 85 Broads. You’ll also find links to the first nine of the 10 Tips at the bottom of this post. )

The last of the 10 Tips is the most obvious: Be Yourself. I know it seems like a cliché, but I have heard admissions officers say over and over that they want to get to know YOU in the essays. Allison Davis, Associate Director of Admissions at Stanford GSB wrote those very words most recently in her July 7 blog post, even calling them “corny, but true.”

Get Real
The only way for you to do that is to show your authentic self. Not the person you think the committee wants to read about. I guarantee this one fact: YOU are more interesting than that mythical person. They want to read about your successes and foibles. I recall Peter Johnson, of Berkeley’s Haas Business School, remarking that he loves reading the stories where people learn from mistakes or failure. Those stories show a lot about a person’s true character. Remember, every business school class is made up of human beings, and the more you show who you really are, the more you will stand out from the crowd of generic applicants. No kidding.

If anything, this is the most important of all the 10 Tips. You can Start Early, Take Inventory, Connect with Your Inner Rock Star, Explore Career Paths, and Perform Service.  You’d be well-advised to Stay Sane , Daydream, Talk Around, and please, Work Only on what You Can Control.

But none of these 10 Tips will get you what you where you want to go unless you are the real you. So speak from your heart, be authentic, genuine, and just plain you.

The floor is yours.

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

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?

10 Tips for Getting Into Business School — Tip 8: Talk Around

Sorry for what may have appeared to be a break in the 10 Tips series, I gave a webinar for 85 Broads last week, where we reviewed all 10 Tips, complete with a snazzy PowerPoint presentation. In terms of blogging, I’ve still got three more tips to go, including today’s tip, Talk Around.

Along with Tip 6, Stay Sane, Talking Around is one of my favorite tips, because it is so beneficial – you can use it to test out your own ideas and then open yourself up to new ones. It has been said that the best ideas are talked about. Good ideas are inspired by, and refined with, conversation.

Right in Your Own Backyard
As you are mulling over your business school plans (Can I? Should I? When? Where? How?), you may start with friends and family, and then move on to a wider circle. If you can talk about it at work, find people who have gone down the route you are contemplating – recent MBAs, or my current favorite, people who might be in your town or your company for the summer. They are the ones right in the middle of it all, they’ve drunk the Kool-Aid of that particular school and are exploring or have decided upon an industry. What a fount of information!

Talking around is a great excuse to meet new people too. Many business schools have alumni ambassadors who make themselves available to prospective students. Columbia Business School even puts student names and email addresses on its website, so you don’t have to go through the admissions office to connect.

Getting the Real Lowdown

Current or recent students are great resources to help separate fact from fiction. Certainly each school has its own PR machine, and as I have said since the beginning, admissions offices are increasingly transparent about what they are looking for. But they cannot tell you about whether the career office is any good or not, or if the school felt too competitive, remote, lonely or overwhelming at times. Students can tell you whether the famous professors or the $150,000 price tag are worth it, or if all consultants are boring. Graduates, or professionals in your target industry, can tell you whether it is as fun and interesting as you hoped it would be. (Is private equity really that sexy?)

Talking around also has the benefit of teaching you to learn to think on your feet – a big part of business school and business training. You may even learn how to put together your own personal elevator pitch.

Hobnobbing for Fun and Profit
Another bonus is that you may meet new people simply for the fun of it. I know people who have, through networking, met romantic partners, buddies or roommates, been introduced to new hobbies, learned about new shops or restaurants, all while expanding their Linked In network! There’s really no downside to getting out; in fact, it’s good to get away from the computer now that social networking is all the rage. Yes, I have met friends through Twitter – my idol, Doug Barg, a of GeeMatters, is one, and we do have plans to meet at an event in Philadelphia in July. Indeed, a handshake is stronger than a tweet, and a lot more memorable!

10 Tips for Getting into Business School — Tip 7: Daydream

Welcome again to the 10 Tips series. Thanks to 85 Broads the networking group for amazing women, the series has been turned into a webinar. If you are a member of that august group, you can find them on the 85 Broads website, look for videos, and then Click on Jam Sessions. The PowerPoint will be up on SlideShare and I will have a transcript of the Q&A available.

Now down to the business of daydreaming.

Daydreaming is also good for you. Really. I know, you wished you could have told that to Mrs. Palmer, your third-grade teacher, who was always bringing you back down to earth during long division. But it is an effective source of inspiration for your essays and your story. (And it’s a great excuse for procrastination, um, err, processing, but please don’t let it get out of hand.

Daydreaming Inspires Insight
Daydreaming serves a purpose. It helps you generate ideas, conceptualize stuff that may just be a feeling, and helps you find new and unusual ways to solve complex problems. Research shows that daydreaming allows the brain to make new associations and connections. Neuro-psycholgist Dr. Malia F. Mason, daydreaming expert argues,

“By allowing your mind the freedom to roam, the chances that you’re going to have an insight are much higher…Daydreaming builds on this fundamental capacity people have for being able to project themselves into imaginary situations, like the future. Without that skill, we’d be pretty limited creatures.”

No wonder she is an expert on decision making and teaching “Managerial Negotiations” and the core leadership course at Columbia Business School!

Daydreaming helps you imagine possible worlds. This is why I recommend that potential MBA candidates look over the application essay questions well in advance to let your mind explore the possible answers you may not even know about. As Dr. Mason might advise: project yourself into the future! Application questions are deliberately open-ended, with the hope that you do some creative exploration before writing. And what better way to do that exploration but daydreaming?

See Yourself in the Future
How about those daydreams when you were little? Some of them may not feel so farfetched now, and they may have led you to where you are today. Every application has a short- and long-term goals essay. I encourage you to reverse the order the question – switch it around to your long and short term goals. When you daydream about your long term goals, do you see yourself as head of the World Health Organization announcing that AIDS has been eliminated? Are you the head of the Senate Banking Committee? Or are you running your own private equity firm?

Daydreaming allows you to think big without having to fill in all the pieces yet. This part is about your destiny. You don’t have to have every little detail right – how can you? But you do want to be able to show that you are able to come up with creative solutions. Because after all, tomorrow’s business leaders need to have creativity to solve some really really big problems.

10 Tips for Getting Into B-School — Tip 6: Stay Sane

Of the 10 Tips in this series, this one – stay sane, is my favorite. I’ve subtitled it “Get a Life” because it’s really, really easy to fall into the habit of spending 200% of your life focusing on the application process. You see, the whole thing can make even the most grounded person a bit crazy, so staying sane needs to be a top priority. Furthermore, the process requires a lot of energy: to do it right requires supreme project management skills. It also requires other traits like diplomacy (asking your boss who doesn’t want you to leave to fill out 10 recommendations can be a bit touchy) and discipline (resisting the vortex of the GMAT Club message boards). You need to eat right, get enough sleep and stay balanced.

Get Your Life On
So, you’ve got to get a life. Sure, you’ve got your work life – don’t we all – but then there’s the rest of it. You need to do things you enjoy that have nothing to do with work or school. Like I mentioned in Tip 5, you do want to perform some service… but you also want to do something that clears out your head. I encourage you to do something as far from your regular routine as possible. For example, business school, and probably your work life is really in your head. I suggest getting out of your head by going out of doors, exercise, get back in shape, or do something that is not competitive (for some of you it may be the first time evah!). Do something really different, like take apart a motorcycle engine and try and put it back together, take up the accordion, or fencing, or horseback riding. Use your right brain to get out of your left brain – art comes to mind, but what about creating mashups, or getting lost in ikebana, parkour or rooftop gardening?

Alternatively, you just can make a list of things you like to do when not worrying about work or school. Sure, video games, shopping, going to raves, beach volleyball all count. Why not? You are going to need this handy list once you’ve got the application in and you are going through the interminable and maddening waiting phase. Otherwise, you’ll just end up on the chat boards and drive yourself even crazier.

Ikebana, Anyone?
The funny thing about doing other things is that by going outside of the norm, you actually find creative solutions to those problems you are not supposed to be thinking about. If you are stuck on an essay, leave it alone, go camping, and you may have new insights. It’s an organic process – getting outside of the routine may help reveal some things about yourself that you didn’t even know. (Who knew that you had a talent for making dugout canoes? And what does that say about you?)

Furthermore, having a life may bring more experiences to bear on your application, and may give you some insight into “what is most important to you and why.” You never know who you may meet, and what you will learn at your next beekeepers’ convention.