Tag Archives | Duke Fuqua

What the Best Business Schools Look for in MBA Applicants

MBA admissions

Barbara Coward

A guest post from Barbara Coward, a top education industry analyst, and founder of Enrollment Strategies, an advisory service to businses schools.

If you are applying to a “top” business school, you’re far from alone. The full-time MBA programs recently ranked in the top 10 by U.S. News & World Report received 54,694 applications last year. The acceptance rate for these schools topped at 23.6 percent, and the lowest acceptance rate was even more daunting. Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, for example, accepted only six percent of full-time MBA applicants in fall 2016.

It’s no wonder there is so much anxiety and stress involved in the admissions process. Despite all the resources available for prospective students on business school websites, blogs, and social media pages, the selection criteria can still seem quite murky.

So what do business schools really look for in MBA applicants? If you are applying to the best business schools worldwide, there are three key things to keep in mind.

  1. Academic Ability

While an MBA is viewed in most workplace cultures as a career passport, it is first and foremost an academic degree. The importance of the academic nature of the program is underscored, for example, in the U.S. News and World Report ranking methodology. All surveyed business schools are required to have AACSB Accreditation, and business schools must meet strict quality standards for student learning to earn accreditation. As a result, prospective students applying to AACSB-accredited schools need to provide evidence of academic ability.

A school will determine your academic potential primarily through your GPA. However, the GMAT is also a key factor in the selection process and provides an opportunity to strengthen your application. You can’t go back in time to improve your GPA, but you can demonstrate your academic ability through the exam and retake the GMAT every 16 days.

Yet there can be extenuating circumstances for applicants whose numbers fall below what some business schools look for, and admissions officers often take those situations into consideration. For example, I’ve evaluated applications from candidates all over the world who have high test scores but an underwhelming undergraduate transcript because of an illness in the family or a serious personal challenge.

In fact, admissions officers often become quasi-detectives as they dig through application materials searching for proof of potential. The more evidence an applicant can provide, the stronger the application will be. 

  1. Leadership, Team, and Communication Skills

Although they’re known as “soft skills,” these characteristics are considered hardcore in the application evaluation process. After all, business schools are developing a talent pool for employers and need to develop skills that companies demand, which today extend beyond technical expertise. In fact, the top two reasons companies hire MBAs are to build a leadership pipeline (62 percent) and to support company growth (53 percent), according a new survey of corporate recruiters by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC)®.

Business schools look for evidence of emerging leadership skills, which include integrity, humility, and a global mindset, among numerous other attributes referenced on Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business website.

One that’s near the bottom of the list, but certainly not the least important, is team skills. Employers across all industries rank the ability to work in and build strong teams as one of the top five performance traits for recruiting and hiring business school talent, as indicated in the same GMAC survey.

Communication skills are just as critical. Among the employers surveyed by Bloomberg Businessweek in recent years, strong communication skills were the most frequently mentioned attribute for an MBA graduate. This ability is even more important in our age of digital communications. Students need to be able to communicate effectively (clearly, concisely, compellingly) across digital platforms such as email and video conference platforms, especially considering the rapid growth of remote workers and the fact that more companies are focusing on virtual recruitment. Business schools are adjusting their admission requirements accordingly. Georgetown McDonough’s School of Business, for example, recently introduced a one-minute video to evaluate how candidates will look in front of corporate recruiters as well as how they will contribute in class.

If employers are seeking these skills post-graduation, you can bet that business schools are seeking them pre-admission. Therefore, admissions officers will be searching for evidence of soft skills in MBA application materials, typically through a resume, letters of recommendations, essays—and now video.

  1. Clarity of Goals and Contribution

The question is easy, but the answer is deceptively difficult: why are you considering an MBA? Business schools want to know more than your desire to advance your career or change industries. That’s a given. They want to understand your personal story. They need to see that you are ready and prepared. They seek a picture of your vision for the future. Admissions officers at the best business schools look for evidence of maturity, self-awareness, and an alignment of expectations that are based on a concrete definition.

Also, admissions officers need to understand how you will contribute to their MBA program. The Wharton School’s Adam Grant, one of the world’s 25 most influential management thinkers, says that people tend to have one of three “styles” of interaction. There are takers, who are always trying to serve themselves; matchers, who are always trying to get equal benefit for themselves and others; and givers, who are always trying to help people.

The most successful leaders, he argues, are givers.

The challenge for prospective MBA students, however, is that they are understandably in the taker mindset during the application process. How will the program get me a great job in consulting? How will the school increase my salary? How will the career services team introduce me to my dream company?

Successful MBA applicants are those who frame their candidacy in the giver mindset. How will I enrich learning in the classroom? How will an MBA enable me to contribute to my community? How will this business school help me improve society at large?

There is an endless list of attributes that the best business schools seek in MBA applicants, starting with adaptability, ambition, and an analytical mind.

That’s just at the beginning of the alphabet, although there is one more “A-list” word that business schools look for in applicants. Authenticity.

 

“Sometimes we get asked questions from prospective students about, ‘How do I stand out? How do I make myself more appealing to the admissions committee?’” said a member of the admissions team at Columbia Business School. “The truth is all the applicant can do is be themselves.”

Or as Oscar Wilde famously quipped, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

More on MBA admissions strategies:

Resilience as a Leadership Trait in MBA Admissions 

How to Convey Authentic Leadership in MBA Applications

 

 

How to Convey Authentic Leadership in MBA Essays and Interviews

Many aspiring business school applicants wonder how to present themselves as authentic leaders before an admissions committee. They worry they don’t have a fancy title, they don’t have direct reports, or they haven’t thrown themselves in front of a land mine to save their fellow soldiers. Those are great examples, but there are thousands of students who are admitted to top programs who have none of those attributes, and easily viewed as leaders by their communities.

I’ve encouraged people to look at Daniel Goleman’s classic article about emotional intelligence, “What Makes a Leader;”  it is a helpful framework. In so many words, MBA admissions officers are coming out and saying that they look for emotional intelligence in a candidate.

Leadership guru Bill GeorgeStill, it’s hard to apply the principles directly. It’s not that believable to say, “I’m a great leader because of my empathy.”   Bill George, professor of management practice at the Harvard Business School, focuses on “authentic leadership,” has been writing about this topic for over a decade, and articulately revisited the basic tenets in a recent article,  “Authentic Leadership Rediscovered.”

Here are my takeaways from that article that will help you with interviews, and writing your essays or personal statement

  1. Authentic leadership is based on your own life story. According to George, authentic leaders incorporate their personal stories. That means talking about where you come from and showing some vulnerability. It doesn’t mean that you need to hang out all your personal secrets, but it does mean that you don’t want to be bulletproof, for example, in the answers to Stanford’s “What is Most Important to You and Why,” the HBS “Introduce Yourself” prompt, and Columbia’s “Pleasantly Surprised” essay (specifically referring to CBS Matters).
  1. Authentic leaders embrace failure. Bill George calls it a “crucible moment,” and we’ve all had them. Business school essay prompts aren’t focusing on failure as much as they used to, but they are looking for change and growth from being tested.  Kellogg, for example, in one essay asks you about challenges you faced, and in another asked you how you have grown in the past.  Again, this doesn’t mean you have to write only about how you’ve crashed and burned, and risen like a phoenix, but it does mean that you want to show some resilience as well as a sense of humor about yourself.
  1. Authentic leaders are not perfect. Nor do they know everything. One of the things business school teaches us is how to make better decisions.  One of the ways to do that is to ask for help. In most business school essays which ask for an accomplishment, such as MIT Sloan’s “Tell us about a recent success,” because you can’t know or do everything, it’s likely you asked for support, and in doing so, you had to convince others to join your cause.
  1. Authentic leaders support and develop others. Look at the principles of Team Fuqua, in particular, “supportive ambition… because your success is my success.”  This is wedded into Tuck’s definition of leadership,  “helping others achieve great things.” And UCLA Anderson’s focus on shared success gets at the same idea. To quote Bill George from his book, True North.  Only when leaders stop focusing on their personal ego needs are they able to develop other leaders”

Bill George is not the only management guru who focuses on character-driven leadership. Wharton’s Adam Grant, also takes a broad view of leadership, in his book “Give and Take” he shows that those who elevate others are more effective leaders than “takers.”  Just look at the subtitle of his book, “Why Helping Others Drives Our Success.” 

As you look for ways to illustrate your leadership, take a look at the current best-practice thinking on leadership. It’s surprisingly personal, and as a result, shouldn’t require you do gymnastics in your interviews or essays to demonstrate your leadership character.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview Tips for When It REALLY Counts

Note: this post is not just relevant for business school, but appropriate for any position in a team-based company.

Welcome to the MBA admissions waiting game. And it’s interview season! The rules for interviewing for a spot in the next business school class are really no different from the rules for interviewing for a coveted job. I reckon that most of you reading this have passed that test several times over, so you are already more than halfway there.

Whether it’s for work or for school, the goal of the interviewer is to figure out what kind of a person you are in the flesh. But there’s a question behind that question too—they want to know how you will fit in. It’s partly about being likeable, but most of all, it’s being able to contribute. Consider the following:

1. The interviewer wants to know how you will be as a learning team member

Are the other members of the team going to be excited because of your industry or academic perspective? Will you be able to add something from a global perspective? From a business success or failure? The interviewer is looking for someone who is going to pull her own weight and make the team stronger.

You’ve got 30 minutes to show your stuff. Your interviewer is channeling those three or four other study group members, those who have earned their way into a very competitive school, and want to know what you bring to the table.

2. Create a portrait through vignettes

You’ve got to tell stories. I like to think of these stories as vignettes – brief scenes, as in a movie. According to Wikipedia, a vignette is a “short impressionistic scene that focuses on one moment or gives a trenchant impression about a character, an idea, or a setting.” You are telling stories that give a “flash” impression of you. Another definition of vignette is a portrait; you are filling out the portrait of yourself that you began with your essays.

What kind of stories are you going to tell? It’s ok to tell some of the same stories that were in your application. But tell them in a way as if you were talking to your three or four classmates. Tell them, with specific examples, why you will work smoothly together, how you will help them with their thinking about a problem, tell them how you will help them succeed.

3. Make it Stick

Stanford business school professor Chip Heath and his brother, Dan, a fellow at Duke’s Fuqua Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship, wrote a book called Made to Stick. This book, about how ideas gain traction, made it very clear that people have to “get” your message. And what’s the biggest recommendation? Tell stories. Tell stories that are concrete, with a real problem and a real solution. And who is the hero? You.

4. Stay humble

Granted, you are telling stories about why you are great. (P.S. You are!) But don’t overdo it. You’ve done some great things, and you can add to the party, but your classmates will be turned off if you show up like you are too cool for school. UC Berkeley comes out and says that they their students possess confidence without attitude. I think they are onto something.

So tell them sticky stories (without being arrogant) about what you will bring to the classmates of this very competitive business school.

Piece of cake.

–Betsy Massar

Don’t forget to check out our new book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting Into a Top MBA Program

January 2013 Update

This is embarrassing. I haven’t been on this blog since last November. It’s all for good reasons; I’ve been working one-on-one with my new friends who have applied to some wonderful schools. It’s funny when you have a boutique practice like mine; I get to see all of the top business schools. Of course I get a lot of HBS, after all I went
there and keep up with the school. I also get a fair amount of Stanford GSB applicants — that’s partly because of the work I do down there on writing and resume coaching — and partly because I live in the region. But funny enough, I only got a few Berkeley applications this year, so the regional argument doesn’t seem to hold.

For some strange reason, this year I had a lot of Tuck applicants, and all of the first-round applicants did quite well. In fact, they may all be visiting each other in Hanover next year, for after all, Tuck is very self-selecting. I also had quite a few Duke applications, which made me smile, because the 25 Random Things essay is a lot of fun. If they keep that essay next year, or if you are crazy enough to apply in Round 3, I encourage you to do the Duke application first, because it helps you wrap your brain around some of the things that make you unique.

So it’s been a successful Round 1 — no bad surprises, some great fun surprises, and even some cash money surprises!
For Round 2, let’s see where it goes; right now a few students are finishing up the NYU Stern application, MIT Sloan Fellows is also this week, and Haas’s third round (out of four rounds) is also this week.

I’m tee-ing up some other blog posts to make up for lost time, so stay tuned. Also, if you’ve got a burning question, feel free to email me, or check out my forum on Wall Street Oasis.

Happy New Year, Western and Lunar

Go Global with an MBA Exchange Program

The World is Your Oyster

Many MBA programs allow for, if not encourage or require,  study abroad, and students who leave, as well as those who host, are amazed at how much they learn.

International exchange programs were brought home to me at a Forté Foundation event last week in San Francisco when I met Katie Cannon,  a London Business School student currently on exchange at UCLA Anderson. Katie’s infectious enthusiasm for LBS and international study—and her passion for the arts and her interest in media management— make a semester in LA perfect for her.  There’s no question that the Anderson students will be learning from Katie as much as she will be learning from them.

Katie is hardly the only one studying abroad during business school.   More than half of the top MBA programs offer full-term international exchange programs. London Business School is a good example. It’s a particularly international school; about 35% of its students spend a semester in a foreign country, and a typical class may have people from over 60 different countries.  To facilitate exchange, LBS partners with over 30 schools worldwide, and students at those schools can also study in London.

UCLA Anderson, located in southern California, is an ideal exchange choice for students like Katie who want to pursue careers in film, television, or talent management—or even financial services and venture capital.  It’s also a great home-base business school for students who want to study abroad— 20% participate in an international exchange.   UCLA—along with Cornell Johnson, Duke Fuqua, NYU Stern, Chicago Booth, and Michigan Ross—is a member of the Partnership in International Management network , an international consortium of business schools, and it also has exchange agreements with schools outside that network.

UC Berkeley Haas offers exchange programs established with several leading b-schools, “if,” says the website, “you can bear to be away from Berkeley.” (Click on the Haas link for useful descriptions of each of the exchange schools.)  In addition to international offerings, Haas also has an exchange with Columbia Business School, giving students the chance to spend a semester in New York City.

Most other top schools require some form of international experience during their MBA years. For example, Yale School of Management mandates that students take a short-term trip abroad in the second semester of the first year.  Professors lead the trips in countries they specialize in, from Brazil to Estonia to Israel to Japan.  Yale also offers a more traditional fall term international exchange for second year students.  Stanford GSB  also mandates a “Global Experience Requirement” which can be fulfilled by study trips or a summer immersion program.

Another resource for current or prospective b-school students interested in international study are the Centers for International Business Education and Research (CIBERs), created by Congress in 1988.  To date, there are 33 CIBERs, located at universities around the country, including UNC Kenan-Flager, University of Texas McCombs, and George Washington University.

It’s all there for the asking – so make sure your passport is up-to-date and push yourself out of your comfort zone.