Tag Archives | Dee Leopold

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.

Best of the Web: MBA Recommendations

As we come up to the business school application deadlines, thousands of aspiring MBA students are asking their bosses, former bosses, senior colleagues, and even clients for recommendations to business school. It’s tough to navigate, but there are resources out there, and most of them are on the web. Below are some excerpts and links to some excellent, easy-to-follow guidance on how to manage the entire process, from picking recommenders to putting together their briefing packages. If you click and read through all the links, particularly the link to Palo Alto for Awhile, you’ll find actionable advice to that can help you get stronger and ultimately, more helpful recommendations.

Take Admissions Officers at their Word
You can find many opinions about how to strategize MBA recommendations all over the web. But why go for conjecture when you can find real answers from the schools themselves? Admissions officers have come right out on their websites and told students what they are looking for in a recommendation, and I encourage you to take them at their word.

A classic article on this subject can be found on the Stanford Graduate School of Business website. Kirsten Moss, the GSB’s former Director of MBA admissions, offered clear advice for all applicants, not just Stanford. She purports that the recommendation is “about about bringing this person alive. How, if they left tomorrow, would [the] organization have been touched in a unique way.“

Note too, that admission committee members reading your letters of recommendation don’t want everything to be stellar. If all the recommenders say that the applicant is wonderful for the same reasons, or if the student looks like a demi-god, “it loses its authenticity.” says Stanford’s Moss.

Derrick Bolton, Dean of Admissions at Stanford’s MBA program also guides students with ideas to make the letters specific:

You might review the recommendation form and jot down relevant anecdotes in which you demonstrated the competencies in question. Specific stories will help make you come alive in the process, and your recommender will appreciate the information.

And from Harvard Business School…
Dee Leopold, the very experienced and candid ex-Director of Admissions at Harvard Business School, advises that recommenders answer the questions posed, and be specific. Furthermore, “Many recommendations are well-written and enthusiastic in their praise but essentially full of adjectives and short on actual examples,” she explains. “What we are hoping for are brief recounts of specific situations and how you performed.” Her blog is not indexed, so I recommend searching for her posts of August 13, 2012, Aug. 24, 2009 and June 17, 2008.

The always articulate Soojin Kwon Koh, Director of Admissions at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, allays fears that your recommenders must write perfect prose. “We won’t be evaluating your recommenders’ writing skills. We will be looking for content that helps us understand who you are as a professional and … the impact you had within your organization.” She also offers the following four specific tips

1. Choose substance over title (in other words, don’t ask your CEO)
2. Go with professional relationships
3. Make it easy for your recommender (For example, remind them of examples, in context)
4. Provide ample lead time

I’m a fan of Julia Campbell, from the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business, who highlights an important point: make sure the recommender likes you.

Sounds obvious, but you would be surprised how many candidates have letters of recommendation submitted by people who write just a few words (“She’s really great.”), come up with poor examples (“One time we had a problem with a client, and she handled it well”, or clearly just don’t think that highly of you (“She performs equally well when compared to her peers at a similar level.”  You might as well have asked a perfect stranger to write it and it probably would have come out better.

Really Useful and Excellent Resources: 
Several students and former students have chimed in on the MBA recommendations process. One of my favorite applicant blogs, Palo Alto For Awhile, thoughtfully offered a very specific step-by-step guideline for the recommendation process. [One caveat to her recommendations — use first person always when writing a memo for a recommender.  If you write suggested anecdotes in third-person, then it might look like you wrote the recommendation.]

Another generous soul is Jeremy Wilson, who was on the Northwestern Kellogg admissions committee and graduated from the JD-MBA program. He offers some answers on how to ask someone to write a recommendation who is very, very busy. His response is thoughtful, and action-oriented. I especially like his #3, “Highlight Why You Picked Them.”

Indeed, organizing and managing the recommendation process can be a challenge, especially if you are applying to a number of different schools. But it’s a lot like managing a project at work: you’ve got to get buy-in and meet the deadlines.

Ready? Now let’s go and get some professional love letters.

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The Official Word on Round 3 MBA Chances

I recently wrote an article for Poets and Quants on Round 3, checking in with a whole bunch of admissions officers for their official word on the subject.  The quick answer: it’s a smaller round, and if you do apply, do it with gusto.

For those with only two minutes to read, here are some quick Do’s and Don’ts to guide you:

DO’S AND DON’TS FOR APPLYING IN LAST ROUND

You Should Consider Applying in Round 3 If:

  • You ran out of time in Round 2 and had some other target schools that interested you
  • You improved your GMAT or GRE score by enough to put you within the target school’s range
  • You overlooked a school and, after taking a closer look, you think you might be a good fit
  • After going through the whole application process, you finally realize you are less hung up on a Top-5 ranking.
  • You are looking at deferred-admit or a part-time programs

You should NOT apply Round 3 if:

  • You figure you can recycle the essays that didn’t work during Rounds 1 or 2
  • You are outside of the school’s 2015 class profile
  • You aren’t sure what you want to do
  • The thought of filling out another application gives you a rash
  • You hate your job and it just occurred to you to apply to business school last week

The article is here:

February and March are funny times of the year in business school admissions.  First-rounders are going to admitted student weekends and making decisions. Second-round candidates are waiting or preparing for interviews. And there are some students who haven’t applied yet. And many, who are staring at the calendar and thinking about the unknown future are asking, “Should I consider Round 3?”

Like most things in life, it depends. Like with any round, it depends on when you are ready; for example, have you even taken the GMAT or GRE? In other cases, students are wondering if it is worth a “Hail Mary” pass, and if so, what’s the downside?

Notably, there are fewer places in the class, as the super-majority of the class will have been admitted in the earlier rounds. That usually means chances are a lot lower. But not impossible.

YES, SPACE IS AVAILABLE

Students do get admitted to top business schools in Round 3. It’s not a myth. As Harvard Business School admissions director Dee Leopold has written in her blog about Round 3, “Yes, we have spots available. We always do.”

Admissions officers agree: the third round is not a joke. “All applicants are taken seriously by the admissions committee no matter what round they choose,” says Amy Mitson, Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Tuck. “The bigger question is are they taking the potential opportunity seriously. If an applicant just tosses their application into the last round because they didn’t have better luck elsewhere, they should reconsider applying and maybe wait until next season when they can bring some gusto to their process.”

There are plenty of legitimate reasons a student might apply in Round 3 – life or career changes, such as moving countries or companies might inspire a later-than-expected application. Or perhaps a student came to the decision somewhat late in the cycle and doesn’t want to wait a whole extra 18 months to matriculate.

Christie St. John, director of admissions at Vanderbilt’s Owen School of Business, is candid about the reasons a student might apply in Round 3. “There are various reasons, some being job dissatisfaction, layoffs, too much work to have had time to study for the GMAT– and of course, rejection from other schools,” says St. John. But they do admit “a good number of candidates in that round,” adds St. John.

The third round is perfectly OK for students in the deferred admit programs, such as those at Harvard Business School and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. As Dee Leopold explains in her blog, “Round 3 is a great choice for 2+2 applicants. Why? We can be more flexible about the number of 2+2 admits given that we are not worried about a ‘seat being occupied’ for this September. College seniors have another semester of grades to show us. And another semester of activities.”

A HIGHER BAR

No matter what reason you have for applying in one of the later rounds, given the odds, the bar is higher. Admissions committee members have been reviewing essays since September, and they’ve seen it all. Plus, they’re tired. And like it or not, fit is not just a three-letter word when most of the class has already been selected. Ann Richards, senior associate director of admissions at Cornell’s Johnson School of Management explains that during the final round, admissions committees are “continu[ing] to refine the make-up of the entering class.”  She advises students to make clear why they are choosing that school and what distinctive contribution they offer. “I think Round 3 candidates should make sure their application is tight, make a strong case for why a particular school is the right fit and be ready to clearly explain the unique contributions you will bring to that school and community,” says Richards.

The entire process of admissions is about shaping a class, and what Richards calls the “refining” process usually means filling in some gaps in the demographic makeup of the class, or it could even be that a certain industry is underrepresented. HBS’ Leopold writes that the students in the third round add value to the class. “We always conclude that 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. I know you wish I could define ‘interesting’ with pinpoint accuracy but I can’t. Sometimes it’s work experience, sometimes it’s an undergraduate school we wish we had more students from, sometimes it’s a compelling recommendation and sometimes it’s just ‘something’. I will say that it’s always that we have absolutely no doubts about a candidate’s leadership talent, character or academic capabilities–the same hurdle we have for the earlier rounds.”

LATE-STAGE ISSUES

Sometimes it’s hard for a school to manage the numbers of good applicants and run out of room by the third round.  Or in the case of UNC Kenan Flagler, Round 4. (The school offers October, December, January and March rounds). Because class size is a moving target, they may have to put candidates on a waiting list. “If the class is full, we may have to waitlist candidates who might have gotten in had they applied in an earlier round,” says Alison Jesse, Senior Associate Director of MBA Admissions at the UNC Kenan Flagler Business School.

For those who are trying to plan in advance, or are international candidates trying to get visas, the uncertainty of the third round may just present too much uncertainty.  Certain schools discourage those with visa issues, but not all.  In fact, according to Stephen Sweeney, Director of Full-Time MBA Admissions at Texas’ McCombs School, they are trying to make it easier for internationals to apply all rounds. “This year, we are opening our Round 3 up to international applicants and have tweaked the timing so international admitted students can complete their necessary visa requirements. We are hopeful we get great domestic and international applicants in round 3 this year.”

So do you go for it in Round 3?  If you can put together a great application, and the timing is right for you, why not?  If you are a serious candidate, you will be taken seriously. “We spend hours selecting and trying to bring in the most talented group of students,” says Kenan Flagler’s Alison Jesse. “If someone in [the latest] deadline would add special value and we have room, we are going to try and offer admission.”

People really do get into business school in the third round. I personally know students who have been accepted at HBS, Stanford, Wharton, Booth, and Fuqua in the last round. Even so, business school is a big decision and a bigger commitment, so you should apply when you feel you are presenting your best, true self.

 

Harvard Business School’s really good essay question

hbs-clientI love the way HBS presents information about the application process. They are the gold standard for transparency and trying to have conversations with students.  And personally, I think they get it.

So, here’s the essay question for HBS for the class entering 2016:

It’s the first day of class at HBS. You are in Aldrich Hall meeting your “section.” This is the group of 90 classmates who will become your close companions in the first-year MBA classroom. Our signature case method participant-based learning model ensures that you will get to know each other very well. The bonds you collectively create throughout this shared experience will be lasting.

We suggest you view this video before beginning to write.
Note: Should you enroll at HBS, there will be an opportunity for you to share this with them.

And here’s Dee Leopold’s (assuming it’s Dee who is writing all of these easy-to-read posts) explanation:

Yes, it’s “new”…but most of you are embarking on this business school application journey for the first time too!

Why do we like it?

• It’s just about as straightforward and practical as we can make it.   It gives you a chance to tell your story however you choose. Imagine simply saying it out loud. This is what we mean when we’ve been encouraging you to use your own “voice” when approaching this part of the application.  We have no pre-conceived ideas of what “good” looks like. We look forward to lots of variance.

• It’s useful. You will actually be introducing yourself to classmates at HBS.

Why did we drop the “optional” option?

• We were trying to signal that the essay wasn’t The Most Important Element of the application so we thought saying “optional” might accomplish that. But, this season, every applicant submitted a response. We get it. You want to tell us things.

Tell us again what the essay is for?

• For you: an opportunity to pause and reflect. Business school is a big experience –  it’s exciting, it’s an unknown,it’s a beginning, it’s an investment in your future. Stopping to reflect and gather your thoughts in writing is a useful exercise. That’s not just our opinion –  it’s what we hear from students all the time.

• For us: a chance to get to know you beyond the elements of the application that feel fixed and stationary. Can also be a starting point for interview conversations.

The link to the HBS webpage with all this great stuff is:
http://www.hbs.edu/mba/admissions/Pages/from-the-admissions-director.aspx

How to Navigate the Harvard Business School Application — Step-by-Step

Here’s a step-by-step “How to Navigate the Harvard Business School Application” video that was also posted on Poets & Quants. Believe it or not, the application’s short answers give you a really great way to present yourself as a true, and worthy member of the next class.  Take every advantage of this opportunity!

This year, the HBS application takes on a disproportional importance, as it has been made very clear by the head of admissions, Dee Leopold, that the application, plus the optional essay is simply there to determine who is going to go through their face-to-face interview process.

Of course the essay is important, but it is likely that the application that will weigh heavily, especially as they determine who will be interviewed.  Given the application’s importance, you’ll want to read through and think about it well in advance.  Note that they require you to log into the HBS site and click through about 10 times to even read it.  And then if you do, you would have to take about 20 more screenshots to even figure out what’s going on. That’s why I made this video; I went through every page and found the most important areas to differentiate yourself.

Don’t leave this all to the last minute.  But incorporate the application as part of your overall strategy to make the right impression before the admissions committee, by getting clear on what you want to say in the short answers, text boxes, and even in the additional information session.

For those of you who aren’t able to see the video, (or don’t have six minutes to spare), I’ve posted the main takeaways below:

1. Start by reading through the entire online application–without typing anything in those annoying little boxes.

2. Gather all your GMAT and employment data to fill in at the same time.

3. Don’t craft substantive answers in the text boxes. Use your Word program or pen and paper to assure your answers are as good as they can be.

4. Take advantage of these opportunities to tell the truth about yourself.

Have fun with the essay, but the application will probably weigh more up front, at least as admissions officers consider the first cut.