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Apply Now or Later? Business School Age Range

“When should I apply?”  “Am I too old to apply to business school?” Those are often the first things students ask when planning their MBA application process.  The highly personal answer depends on both strategic and tactical considerations.

The Decision is Part of Your Career Strategy

 

The “when” question is strategic because an MBA application requires asking yourself big questions about your career and where you want to go next. Often these decisions depend on the experience you already have. If you are looking at full-time programs, that means you have to figure out whether you have enough experience to convince an admissions committee that this is the right time to leave your current job and take on the hard-core leadership and managerial training to set you up for the next phase.  Remember, the admissions committee is trying to determine your value added to your future stakeholders: classmates, faculty, and alumni.

But I Hate My Job!

That’s among the worst reasons to apply to business school. It’s really better to apply from a position of strength. Sometimes you just need one more year to gain more work autonomy, or you might want to switch functions to round out your experience, or even push yourself in a completely different direction. If you are not sure now is the time , then you are probably not ready.

Is there a target number of years? Not exactly. Most schools publish their average age and years of experience on the class profile page.

HBS histogram

HBS range of years of experience

You’ll see that over the past 10 years, Harvard Business School’s students matriculated with a range of 41-54 months of full time experience.  And there’s a standard deviation of a about year  around that, giving you a plenty to work with.

If you are on the young side, think hard about the quality of the challenges and emotional intelligence you’ve demonstrated to influence outcomes. Remember, your teammate may be an astronaut, a West Point-educated Tesla employee,  a prize-winning athlete,   or just a high-performing consultant. Do you bring enough maturity, self-awareness, and resilience   to add to your teammate’s experience? It’s quite a tall order, and that’s why admission to the top schools is so competitive.

You’ll note that I’m not writing too much about someone with many years of experience. In that case, your question is not “when?” but “if?” If you think you are on the “more experienced” side, then don’t wait.  For a good, balanced perspective on the “too old” question, take a look at  Wharton’s (now defunct) Student2Student forum (answers saved at the link).

Round 1, 2, or 3?

The decision about Round 1, 2, or 3, is more of a tactical one. I’m writing this article in the first week of January, so chances are, if you are reading it in early 2017, you probably have already missed Round 2. However, if you are thinking of next year, all things being equal (and they never are) I recommend Round 1. You’d rather have an admissions reader who is fresh and not looking to fill a gap in a class that’s already half-full. Furthermore, as a practical matter, Round 1 lets you enjoy the holiday season more, and your family with thank you for that.

This does not mean that Round 2 is an overly-tough round. Thousands of students apply and are admitted in the second round. Many have skipped on the first round because they haven’t done enough personal reflection to make sure their story and purpose are clear. Others wanted to take the GMAT score again, and for others, life got in the way. All of these are great reasons to postpone to Round 2.

Wrangling Recommenders

Recommendations are often overlooked when considering your tactical timing. I call this wrangling recommenders. You’ll need to brief and rally your recommenders to make sure they do the very best job for you. It is your job as project manager of your application to take this part of the application seriously. You will want them fully on your side, and the whole process WILL cost you some political capital. And no, you cannot write your own recommendations and just have them tweak and sign. That’s wrong.

Am I Crazy to Apply Round 3?

Finally, it’s come to this: the Round 3 question.  I personally know or have worked with students who have gotten into every top school in the country that has a third round. (MIT does not). The odds are against you, but if your tactical timing is right, then it may just work. As Dee Leopold, head of Harvard Business School admissions says,

“We like Round 3 enough to keep it as an option. Although we have admitted about 90% of the class by this time, we always – ALWAYS – see enough interesting Round 3 applicants to want to do it again.”

Yes, it is a little on the late side, and if you are just starting to think about taking your GMAT, you probably should delay until next year. But! If you are already in the process, and ready to go, you may not be as crazy as you think.

The choice is always yours. Whenever you decide to apply, make sure you execute well. That probably means you shouldn’t rush. Business school is a big decision and a bigger commitment, so you should apply when you feel you are presenting your best, true self.

This prompt is partly about your ability to plan logically and partly about your ability to envision a wild future.

Around the World: Six Tips from the Trenches

Here’s an article by my colleague and friend, Candy LaBalle, founder of mbaSpain on international student approaches to the MBA admission process

MBA admissions consultants help applicants in everything from choosing schools to essay brainstorming to resume editing. But, when dealing with non-US applicants, we also have to do a little cultural translating. At mbaSpain, I face this reality every day, and, after comparing notes with several AIGAC colleagues, I’ve identified six application areas where cultural awareness is essential.

1. Sell Yourself

Call it branding, positioning, or tooting your own horn, what is second nature to US applicants is often taboo to non-Americans.

“With Middle Easterners, particularly women, I spend a lot of time encouraging them to talk openly about themselves, their accomplishments and initiatives, and their dreams,” notes Tanis Kmetyk, who handles EMEA applicants for Accepted.com. With Asian applicants, she says, “Standing out is not considered a ‘plus’… so helping them to, well, stand out, is important.”

In addition, many foreign applicants believe an MBA application means all business. Rocio didn’t think the fact that she co-founded one of Spain’s most important youth sporting events to be relevant. “But I was in university, wouldn’t the schools rather hear about my banking experience?”

2. Embrace your Failures

“Even physical hurdles that people face (like handicaps) are seen as a weakness in many countries,” says Tanis. We have to push them to realize that the value of that failure, what they learned can actually be a strength for their application.

Some non-US applicants try to avoid sharing failures by thinly veiling achievements. Jaime was determined to tell LBS that his failure to graduate number one in his class (instead of number two) was due to his demanding role as captain of the rugby team! It took a bit of coaxing to help him realize that his initial struggle with leadership was actually a more powerful story.

3. Answer the Question

Getting non-US applicants to clearly tell a story is another struggle. Vince Ricci who runs VincePrep.com in Japan notes, “Japanese storytelling emphasizes context – a long wind-up before the final punchline.” With this approach, they’ll run out of words before they get to the point.

Spanish applicants love to share mucho ruido, pocas nueces (a lot of noise, few nuts). Though it is good advice for all MBA hopefuls to stay focused and answer the question, non-US applicants benefit immensely from the application of STAR: Situation, Task, Action, Result.

4. Commit to the Tests

Standardized tests provide their own cultural challenges. Victoria Pralitch of MBA Consult in Russia says “My applicants see GMAT as just a math test, and our schools in Russia give a great math training, so no need to overstrain. As a result, the percentage of those who pass successfully the first time is not that high.”

“German applicants are typically exasperated about the GMAT requirement,” notes Dr. Marlena Corcoran of Athena Mentor. “They are convinced they are superior candidates, and their less-than-stellar scores on a standardized exam must mean the exam is unfair.”

Other applicants choose to ignore their English test until it is too late. “I have a 720 on GMAT and use English everyday,” Pedro, a very promising candidate told me last November. “I don’t have to prepare TOEFL.” He got a 104 and had to put off his Harvard application for a year.

5. Recognize Extracurriculars

“Most Western Europe governments take care of their people from ‘cradle to grave,’ so community activity here is not at all the same as it is in North America,” notes Tanis.

Maybe our non-US applicants haven’t done typical extracurricular activity, but most likely they’ve played team sports, served on an events committee at work, helped a family member open a business, or participated in some activity that allowed them to take initiative, have impact and show leadership.

Ricardo was convinced he had no extracurricular activity to share. Then I found out that when he was in university, his family went bankrupt. He used his computer skills to make 20,000 euros in an online venture which helped his father get his business back. Talk about impact!

6. Go Beyond Rankings

“I have to educate my non-US applicants about the diversity of schools – many are just focused on the top 10 and it’s frustrating, whether it’s not realistic for them or just there’s a better fit,” says Yael Redelman-Sidi of Admit1MBA.com based in New York.

While a top-ten obsession is typical among most MBA applicants, non-US applicants also face the cultural pressure of attending a brand-name school. Everyone in Spain, China and Brazil knows Harvard, not so many know Babson or Kelley or Tulane. It is our job to mediate their expectations (not all of them can go to Harvard) and open their eyes to other schools that could be a better fit.

Authenticity and Admissions Consultants in the MBA World

As a board member of AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, I feel especially motivated to uphold and spread the word of our mission, which is to promote high ethical standards and professional development amongst graduate admissions consultants, increase public understanding of graduate admissions consulting, and enhance channels of communication with complementary organizations and entities.

Ethics and open communication is a big deal. Not just in business school applications, but in business and life. The Director of Admissions at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business recently addressed the issue of the admissions consulting business in her recent blog. It’s an articulate and cogent argument for “buyer beware” when looking to use a consultant. I’ve posted it below in its entirety, because I think more people should read what she has to say.

As a member of the admissions consulting profession, I do not believe everyone would benefit from working with one of us. And we are not all equal. I think it’s a decision one should make, like choosing whether to go to business school at all, with care.

Authenticity and Admissions Consultants

Dir. of Admissions at Ross School of Business Soojin Kwon Koh

Business schools are well aware that many applicants pay hired guns to assist them with the application process. Candidates may think that admissions directors categorically view admissions consultants as a negative element in the admissions process. Not true. If consultants have relationships with schools, they can help disseminate information about each school’s programs and their application processes. For that reason, I, along with admissions directors at other top schools, participated in a conference organized by the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC), as mentioned in Poets and Quants last year. The conference provided admissions directors and admissions consultants an opportunity to exchange insights about the MBA market and our schools.

My occasional concern is that applicants will feel like they need to pay admissions consultants to get the “inside scoop” on what Admissions Committees are looking for. The best source of that information is the schools themselves – through our blogs, newsletters, info sessions and application workshops. As Ross applicants from previous years know, I try to make our process transparent to minimize the mystery and stress. Often, the advice may sound broad and general, but that’s because there is truly no “formula” for admission. There is a wide range of candidate profiles, stories and stats that have been successful in the admissions process, so to prescribe a certain approach or a certain profile to portray would be misguided. And if anyone tries to convince you that they know what it takes to be admitted to a school, they must have a crystal ball that admissions directors don’t have. Even I can’t perfectly predict where I will land on an applicant.

Some admissions consultants can be helpful in guiding candidates through their application journey. I met with a few while I was in Brazil a couple weeks ago – to learn about how they assist their clients, to hear their perspectives on the MBA applicant market in Brazil, and to exchange insights on candidates that would be a good fit at Ross. I was pleased to learn that they approach the relationship with applicants as that of a coach. They clearly knew each of their candidates well and were very selective about whom they were willing to advise. They remembered not only their names, but also their life stories, priorities and circumstances.

If you choose to go the consultant route, here are some things to be mindful of:

1. Consultants who claim to have “inside” knowledge of the MBA process or to have reengineered a school’s admissions process are almost certainly overstating the case. Putting aside the question of the accuracy of such claims, schools regularly re-evaluate and revise their admissions and evaluation processes. So someone who worked at a school in the past is unlikely to have current insight into a school’s processes.
2. Run away from consultants who offer to write or heavily edit your essays for you. If there’s any hint of an application not being your own work, your chances of admission are doomed.
3. Similarly, steer clear of consultants who provide you with a template for essays that have been successful in the past. If they’re offering it to you, they’re offering it to other applicants. An off-the-shelf approach to essays is a sure way to distinguish yourself – in a negative way.
4. Beware of admissions consultants who inflate or falsify their credentials (e.g., their title, length of employment, responsibilities or all of the above). If they’re willing to bend the truth about themselves, they may lead you down a similar, less-than-truthful path. Like many schools, we verify admitted students’ credentials to ensure that our students have done what they say they’ve done. If a consultant’s credentials are part of the appeal of a particular consultant, you would be well-served to do some due diligence before hiring him/her.

All that said, the majority of applicants don’t use consultants. And you don’t need to use a consultant to be successful in the admissions process. I give more credit to an applicant who submits a self-produced account of their experiences, goals and perspectives than an applicant who submits a perfectly packaged version that reflects someone else’s thoughts, capabilities and work. Can we always tell the difference? No. But if a person’s true capabilities don’t undo them during the admissions process, it will certainly catch up with them during business school or beyond.


You Can Help Make the MBA Admissions Process Better

Take the MBA Admissions Survey.

Applicants turn to Master Admissions as a source of reliable information and valuable advice on the MBA admissions process.  As a board member of the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC), I hope you will fill out this very brief survey.  We’d like to invite all of our readers to share their school selection priorities and views on the MBA application process.

Yes, there’s a Give-Away
And to prove this is not just a one-way relationship,  the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants will be giving away an iPod Touch and two iPod Shuffles as a token of our gratitude!  We’ll also be sharing the results of the survey this spring to help candidates better understand today’s applicant pool.

Simply click here to begin: MBA Admissions Survey

Please let me know if you have any questions on this survey or the admissions process. I can be reached at
betsy@masteradmissions.com

Take the MBA Search Survey!

I am a member of the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, (AIGAC), an organization committed to upholding the highest ethical practices in graduate admissions advisory services. We have created an annual survey which we publish and share with schools, the GMAT folks, and other affiliated groups.

The results of this survey will help us better understand MBA applicants’ goals and needs; we would like you to share their school selection priorities and views on the MBA application process. And we’re luring you in with the promise of a free iPod.

This online survey should take just 10 minutes to complete. We would love to receive as many responses as possible before the closing date of Friday, April 9th – and will be giving away an iPod Touch and two iPod Shuffles as a token of our gratitude! We’ll also be sharing the results of the survey this spring to help candidates better understand the nature of today’s applicant pool.

Thanks in advance for your participation!

Simply click here to begin: MBA Survey