Tag Archives | GMAT

The Growth Mindset and the MBA Leadership Essays

MBA leadershipI am not a very good athlete, so you can imagine everyone’s surprise when I decided to pick up a new sport. I decided to learn to row – not in a traditional rowboat, but in a long skinny shell with two 10-foot oars. It isn’t that hard, except you’ve got to do a few things right or you end up in the water.

But to really enjoy it, at least for me, I had to accept the fact that I was a novice.  And that meant not expecting myself to get it perfect from the very beginning.  As I found myself cursing my inability to square my blades, I realized that my mind was not allowing me to enjoy what should be a serene, zen-like experience.

I was guilty of what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls the “fixed” mindset instead of the more constructive “growth” mindset.  Dweck is an authority on things like brain science and learning. In her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” she describes the growth mindset as a far superior method for transforming effort into success.  The growth mindset allows you to focus on self-development, self-motivation, and responsibility for results.  A growth mindset keeps you from saying, “I’m a natural-born loser,” and instead saying, “I need to work harder at this.”  In a growth mindset, people are not afraid to make an error, look silly, or show a deficiency.

The growth mindset represents a key leadership characteristic.  It’s no surprise that since 2015, Kellogg’s MBA program has this preface to one of the application questions: Pursuing an MBA is a catalyst for personal and professional growth. How have you grown in the past? How do you intend to grow at Kellogg? 

Dweck’s decades of research are particularly relevant for people aiming for business school.  The growth mindset resonates on a strategic level, considering the personal leadership attributes sought by admissions officers of most business schools. It also resonates on a tactical level, in studying for the GMAT or GRE.


The Strategic: Leading
Business schools seek out people with attributes that will make them leaders who will change the world for the better. They are looking for people who don’t give up and see hurdles as a challenge. They want people who can learn from others to improve themselves and their environment.  I worked with one student, now on his way to Wharton, who appeared on the surface to be an all-or-nothing high achiever. At first, he looked like the “typical MBA,” never a good sign. But later, in his application and interview, he mentioned something both disarming and revealing: he never learned to swim. So as an adult, he decided to jump in.  When discussing his recent lessons in swimming, he said “It is never too late for a fervent beginner.” That’s the growth mindset.

The Tactical: Testing
Standardized tests demand a growth mindset. The computer-adapted tests, which give you harder questions if you answer right and easier questions if you score wrong, can send the fixed-mindset student into a failure spiral that will ruin any chances of a decent score.  The growth mindset, however, allows the student to work toward mastery. To put the time and the effort into learning the material and the process.   The growth mindset allows the student to embrace the possibility that skills can be learned (they can), and that sustained effort (and a good coach) leads to accomplishment.  The person with a growth mindset loves to conquer a challenge, while the person with the fixed mindset demands perfection right away.

There may have been a time when business schools were looking only for people with natural-born talent.  But as the world has changed and management science has evolved, MBA  programs want growth-mindset types in their classes. They want people who are willing to try new things, and are prepared to not be perfect the first time out.  They want people who think of themselves as works in progress.

And that’s why learning a new sport (or skill, or technique, or trick) isn’t so bad. I know I was clumsy and got it all wrong with my first attempt at rowing. But no harm done.  I’ll just keep trying until I get it right.

Whenever that may be.

You Really Want to Read this Article Now

Believe it or not, the admissions deadlines for 2016 entry is fast approaching. I’d rather think about relaxing during the summer and taking a break.  But MBA programs are releasing applications for the next cycle, and it makes sense to start your campaign for getting into your top choice business school.

To get you going, I’m offering just a few tips to get you going as you launch the application process.

1. Consider first round.

Whether it less competitive or not, the admissions committee has a blank slate for the class. Better they pick you because of you, rather than search for someone to fill a hole and it happens to be you. For portfolio managers out there, you know what I mean – if the portfolio is partly built, you tend to look for either non-correlated securities or to fill a certain area where you need exposure. MBA classes are built similarly.

2.  Make sure your GMAT scores are up to snuff.

The last thing you want is to have to deal with studying for a very annoying standardized test and project-managing the rest of the application. I am a strong believer in taking a course or hiring a tutor. Feel free to email me for specific suggestions.

3. Use your summer to talk with first-year and graduating MBA students.

You have a wonderful chance to ask the dumb questions and get a feel for your fit with each school.  If you are thinking of switching careers, find a between-years student or recent grad and ask how it has worked for them so far. The clearer your game plan for the next few years, and how it connects with the future, the better.

4.  Research by reading and watching everything published by the schools.

Let the school market to you. A college classmate of mine actually tells business schools how to market their services to prospective students. MBA programs pay good money to consultants and brand managers to make sure that what they are saying about themselves represents the school’s unique selling points.

5. Start thinking about your recommenders.

You want to make sure you have buy-in from the people who will help you the most. I’ve written about this a lot, including an article in Poets & Quants – and here’s the original blog post on wrangling recommenders, which culls the best advice from admissions officers and other experts.

If it makes you feel any better, applications for medical school are due in June.  Just think…you’ve got several months more!

And if you will be in Palo Alto, CA in July, I’m facilitating the Dartmouth & Harvard Clubs’ MBA Admissions Workshop.  Save the date of July 14 for a fun and interactive few hours that will help you clarify and organize your plans for the upcoming applications.


GMAT test successFor those who are applying to business school,  the question arises: should I take the GMAT or GRE?

Or if you’ve already taken one or the other,  you may be wondering if you should have taken a different test.

In all honesty, I think the answer is either, but it’s not entirely black and white.  These days, just about every top US business school accepts the GRE.  But read the fine print. Not all schools value it equally (UCLA for example) and some even have quirks (Columbia).

You’ll see a list at the end of this article that indicates, at least of this writing, which do and which do not. I’ve also put links to the school websites for further explanation. Things change all the time. The most recent data shows about 10% of students are using the GRE, and the numbers are growing.

Why do schools even take the GRE? Because they are casting a wider net to get more interesting students, and because they realize that lots of students think about joint degree programs.

Harvard Business School was one of the first schools to accept the GRE, because, as Dee Leopold said in 2009

HBS: Since many HBS applicants are also considering graduate programs besides the MBA, there is now no need for them to take the GMAT if they have already taken the GRE. We believe that the GMAT and the GRE meet our expectations of what a standardized test can tell us about a candidate’s ability to thrive in our MBA Program.

The Rumor Mill
Face it, both tests are standardized, and both are computer adaptive.  They are both annoying and require more studying than you want. Most, but not all schools are perfectly happy to take either. For example, this line is from Michigan Ross’s application instructions:

ROSS:Your performance on either exam will be used as part of our assessment of your academic ability, and you are at no advantage or disadvantage by taking one exam instead of the other.

But other schools, such as UCLA Anderson, strongly prefer the GMAT

ANDERSON: We prefer GMAT scores as the common denominator by which we have historically compared candidates, but we accept the GRE now as well.

That means you have to check carefully and rely on what you read and hear from admissions officers, beyond what is on chat boards, and even blogs like mine.

I thought the next few lines were hearsay, but they were just confirmed, May 30, 2014, in person, by senior members of the admissions office at Columbia.

COLUMBIA BUSINESS SCHOOL: If we have a GMAT score, we are going to use that. We will disregard the GRE.

I had a student who took the GRE for Columbia, did well, but felt he wanted to take the GMAT to prove his quant mettle. He didn’t do well because he had an off day, but because he HAD taken the test, Columbia took his GMAT instead of the GRE. What would have happened if he didn’t report the GMAT? Who ever knows? (He went to Yale SOM anyway, his first choice).

Other schools are much more relaxed.  At a May 2014 conference, Isser Gallogly, Assistant Dean of Admissions at NYU Stern, suggested that students try the GRE if they are sub-par in the GMAT.

NYU STERN: If someone is struggling with one test, try the other, the GRE

Your Quant Score
Most admissions officers admit that they want to see a balanced score on both verbal and quant. The general buzz is that around 80% on both is about right, but there’s definitely some give on both sides. So don’t fear if you get a 47 on the quant, which is turning out to be a 78% these days. As for the GRE, the population on the quant side is a bit less numbers oriented, so if you get an 80% in that pool, it’s pretty well known that you are being measured against a different population, usually not as quant-oriented as GMAT test takers. So shoot for a higher percentage, say about 85% on quant.

If you are worried about how you look by taking one test vs. another, I say, don’t worry unless they really make a point of it (like UCLA). All you need to do is get it over the net, and they pretty much tell you what a normal distribution looks like. Get within one standard deviation of the average, and you are fine.

Having said all that, if test taking is not your forte, you really should take a GRE or GMAT course. You don’t know what you don’t know about your own study habits. It’s worth the investment.

Future Employer Preference on GMAT vs GRE

One more thing–and perhaps this deserves a blog post all to itself, employers will take any statistics you throw that them.  At least that’s what representatives of the Career Development Office at Yale SOM stated on May 27, 2014, “Employers love points of data wherever they can find it. So gre or gmat doesn’t matter. They do like the numbers!”

MBA Programs: GRE in addition to GMAT

School GRE? Link
Cambridge YES Cambridge Judge
Chicago YES Chicago Booth
Columbia YES Columbia Business School
Cornell YES Cornell Johnson
Darden YES UVA Darden
Duke YES Duke Fuqua
HBS YES Harvard Business School
Kellogg YES Kellogg MBA
Mich Ross YES University of Michigan Ross
MIT Sloan YES MIT Sloan
NYU Stern YES NYU Stern
Stanford YES Stanford GSB
Tepper YES Carnegie Mellon Tepper
Texas YES Texas McCombs
Tuck YES Dartmouth Tuck
UCLA YES UCLA Anderson (GMAT Preferred)
Wharton YES Wharton MBA
Yale YES Yale School of Management
Haas YES UC Berkeley Haas (Part-time YES)
LBS NO London Business School
Oxford NO Oxford Said

If you are looking for more schools the ETS link has a full list of MBA programs which accept the GRE.  Further, to confuse, or perhaps clarify you, ETS also has a GRE-to-GMAT converter.

UPDATED: June 5, 2014.

Interested in admissions consulting? Email me at betsy@masteradmissions.com

Just have a question? post it at my Wall Street Oasis forum

GMAT vs GRE with Pictures!

GMAT test successMany students ask whether they can apply to business school with the GRE, thinking that they may be disadvantaged compared to students who are applying with the GMAT.  I’ve even quoted business school admissions directors, who are still undecided.  Last year at an AIGAC conference of graduate admissions peers, I heard arguments well in favor of the GMAT, and I tend to think that all things being equal, you should take the GMAT.  Further, if you haven’t taken much quant in your life, don’t be lured into arguments that the GRE is easier. It may be, but there’s a chance your higher relative score would be discounted.

To help with your decision, my friends at Magoosh, also based in Berkeley, released a very pretty GRE vs. GMAT infographic that presents a side-by-side comparison of the two tests.


Some Common Answers to MBA Questions

Now that most of the MBA application questions are out, I thought it might be timely to go back to basics for a little Q&A about the admissions process. This was just published in on a website called Varsity Tutors under the Ask an MBA Expert banner, and wanted to share it here on the GettyImages_91805592blog

VT: How much time should be set aside to adequately prepare for and complete the application for an MBA program?

Betsy: Applicants should start as early as possible to wrap their brains around the fact that they are competing for a spot at a top business school. There’s a lot to do! You have to study months for the GMAT, spend time and energy figuring out which programs appeal most, travel to see campuses, cold-call alumni, and corral at least two, maybe three people senior to you to write thoughtful, specific recommendations about your excellence.

To add to the indignity of it all, you have to write a set of personal, soul-wrenching essays that inspire admissions directors to pick you over the other potential Nobel Prize winners vying for your spot. It’s a head trip.

Having said this, I just learned today about a student who got into MIT Sloan off the waiting list who literally threw an application together in a few weeks. Stranger things have happened, but I don’t recommend her high-risk strategy.

VT: What would you say is the single most important thing to focus on for this kind of application?

Betsy: Take the process seriously. But don’t take yourself too seriously.

VT: What do MBA admissions officers look for most in the essay questions? 

Betsy: MBA schools look for authenticity. That means being yourself. Not the person you think the committee wants to read about – that person is nowhere near as interesting as the real you. Admissions officers want to read about your successes and foibles. They want you to present your case with maturity, humility, and humanity.

Admissions officers act as proxies for your future classmates. Those classmates want to sit next to, or work on a learning team with, someone who can really contribute to the party. They want people who know how to pull their own weight, compete on a very big stage, and make a difference in the world.  And also people who are talented, fun and funny.

You may be thinking, oh, I am just another cookie-cutter engineer/investment analyst/consultant/IT specialist.  But you aren’t. You are you, the real you. The more authentic “you” that shows in your application, the better your chances.

VT: What are the biggest mistakes one can make on this application?

Betsy: The biggest single mistake is to bore the reader to death through platitudes and unsubstantiated claims.  If an application sounds like it was downloaded from a collection of “Essays that Succeeded,” it’s all over.

VT: Is there anything that automatically disqualifies an applicant from being considered for an MBA program (i.e. low GPA, lack of particular work experience, etc.)?

Betsy: Like in tennis, you have to get the ball over the net. Almost every business school publishes a “class profile” which gives a range of stats about grades, test scores, years of work experience, and more. Students should fall within that range—which is a bit of a dotted line—it’s not hard and fast, depending on your profile.  Still, I do hear about people thinking they can get in on guts alone, and that’s a bit delusional.

VT: What kind of work experiences should be highlighted in the MBA application?

Betsy: You don’t have that much room in applications these days, so you should highlight work experiences that demonstrate your emotional intelligence, such as teamwork or ability to influence a group. Other emotional IQ characteristics might include flexibility, resiliency, and empathy.

VT: What advice do you have regarding GMAT prep?

Betsy: Invest the time and money to take a course or get a tutor who works for your learning style.

VT: Is it absolutely necessary to have work experience prior to starting an MBA degree?

Betsy: Yes.

VT: What are the characteristics of a great MBA program?

Betsy: Almost every top business school offers the following great characteristics:  incredibly smart, talented, international students and faculty, a great alumni network, good job placement, and wonderful facilities.

The more important question is, what is great for you? You might want to live on a rural campus and I might want to live in the heart of a big city. You might want to work in London after graduation and I might want to work in Silicon Valley… You might have gone to a small undergraduate school and want a big university environment for graduate school and I might want the opposite. There are so many variables! The important thing is to figure out what is important to you, not your parents, boyfriend/girlfriend, second-grade teacher, Mark Zuckerberg, or some guy who publishes ranking statistics. It’s about knowing yourself and what works for you. Otherwise, why spend the $150,000?