Tag Archives | MBA admissions tips

Choosing an MBA Program: What School Should Be on Your List?

Chosing an MBA schoolMany students who are applying to business school know they want to go to a top school, but don’t know how to come up with a target list.  You might have an idea from rankings, which are a place to see the names of schools, but I’ll say it right here: It’s not useful to just go through the rankings list and pick the top 4 or 5.  You can be more thoughtful than that.  But how do you begin?

10 Things You Can Do Right Now to Start Your List of Schools

Here are 10 things you can do right now to figure out which school should be on your long list.  Unless you absolutely hate a school because of its location, or you think everyone you’ve ever met from that school is a weenie, keep an open mind about schools you simply want to research. It doesn’t mean you have to apply, or if you get in, go. But it helps you clarify your thinking.

  • Ask trusted friends

Ideally, you want to ask friends who know what they are talking about, who have applied, rather than those who are just reading rumors on the internet.  Work colleagues, alumni of your undergraduate school all might have some insights from their own experiences.

  • Think of people you know and admire who hold an MBA

Ask them why they chose that school and how it helped them become who they are.

  • Look up people in your target field and see where they went to business school

LinkedIn has a variety of free ways you can search to figure that out (just make sure you put in “MBA” a search parameter). Or find the profiles of executives at companies you like and deconstruct their career paths.

  • Pick a school, any school, and look at their employment reports

It’s worth it to wander around the career section of a school’s website See who recruits at the school, check out top employers, dig into the actual names of companies that employ students. Also, LinkedIn can help you here – especially if you know the right tricks. (Spelled out in this blog post.)

  • Go to in-person events.

Because it is summertime when I am writing this, going to class is usually not an option. But every business school goes on international and national road trips. These incredibly worthwhile presentations include a mix of admissions officers, current students, alumni, and sometimes senior faculty. The best way to get a seat is to get on the school mailing list so they can email you details of all upcoming events.  Let me say that again in italics: The best way to get a seat is to get on the school mailing list so they can email you details of all upcoming events.  Note: you will not get dinged from a school if you register to a big event and cannot make it.

  • Read through school websites.

Not just the overall marketing material and student voices, which are helpful, but look at the academics. Look at courses, concentrations, special research centers, and initiatives. Many schools have special centers for entrepreneurship and social innovation; but what about real estate, health care, luxury goods, data analytics, or global operations?

  • Look at the school profiles.

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, a school profile gives the demographics and breakdown of an entering class.  Importantly, you’ll find the average (and hopefully range of) grades, scores, years of work experience, geographic breakdown, previous industry, and more fun statistics to see if you are in the ball park for that school. Be realistic, but don’t consider these numbers gospel. In the case of GPAs, for example, schools are more interested in the quality of your transcript as well as the absolute number. (I talk about it here in this Poets and Quants article. )

  • Look at all-in costs and probabilities of financial aid.

Poets and Quants has done some great work on the average grant size and number of students on financial aid for top schools. Combine this with their work on current costs of business school, and you might add or subtract some schools.

  • Look at a map.

Even in this global world, location does matter. But do keep an open mind.  Most schools are right near major airports, so you can explore and interview without too much trouble.  Still, location tends to have a visceral pull, especially if a spouse or significant other are coming along for the ride.  (And yes, ask for their input.)

  • Look at rankings.

Of course they matter.  But be smart about them.  They are imperfect, and they shouldn’t drive your entire decision.  Or you will drive yourself crazy, and life is so much better than that.

Tired of my advice? Great MBA admissions tips from someone who made it to HBS

Quora question about Harvard Business SchoolEvery so often I see a piece from a student that actually helps prospective candidates and is not filled with in-jokes or self-congratulations.  So, if you been searching around on the internet for advice on the application process, here’s are some down to earth tips from someone who does not advise prospective applicants for a living.

I found these Harvard MBA admissions tips on Quora, in answer to the question, “How Do I Get Into Harvard Business School?” There you will find your typical answers from admissions consultants, but in the midst of all the “I know more than you” bravado, there’s a brilliant, honest answer from a guy named Talal Khan, who is a member of the Harvard Business School class of 2016. I am unashamedly reposting it here.

My favorite parts of the must-dos?  Taking notes on your own story and working on your unique selling proposition. Favorite don’t? Have self-doubt.  It’s a lovely sentiment and true.

How do I get into Harvard Business School?

by Talal Khan, Harvard Business School, class of 2016

I have started this year, and thought of adding my experience to the conversation. This will be helpful to folks planning to apply sometime soon:

Things I’d do again:
A- Start research early: I started doing my online research (reading forums, connecting with people, getting profile reviews) a year before I actually ended up applying. In my case, this all started with random doodling on the web, and the thought that I might apply to Bschool next year. But to potential candidates reading this, I’d say start your research well ahead of time, as it’ll help you present a stronger case (better GMAT, stronger story – reviewed by more people) Oh and that’s the external research. You’d also have to spend time thinking about your own life (highlights/lowlights/decision points). This helps immensely with points B-F below. For me what worked was, that I took pen and paper (not laptop, so no social media distraction) and started jotting down any and all moments that I was proud of. I listed even the most basic achievements. When I picked up that paper a week later, it helped me see my own story in a new light. (Connect the dots looking backward, Steve Jobs reference)

B- Talk to (lots of, different) people: This is where (A) really helps. You should try getting advice from multiple people, from diverse backgrounds (geography, industry, school, function etc). Since you’d be talking to successful (i.e. busy) people – they’ll need time to get back to you. Not all people you engage will respond back. But if you request enough people for help, more than a reasonable number will respond (source: my experience only). In my case, I found that each of these conversations added a lot of color and nuance to my perspective on Bschools and applications (on issues ranging from how much work experience is sufficient, to which schools to apply to, to what a particular school defines as fit etc).

C- Engage with admission consultants:  Their years of experience helped me immensely in aiming high enough (for context: I was initially planning to apply to schools ranked between 20-30). This happened as they were able to succinctly point out my unique strengths (vis-a-vis the competitive pool that they’re so well aware of, given their experience). Highly recommended for international applicants.

D- Prepare your elevator pitch: Have a 3 line summary describing your candidacy. Since this is about summarising the best parts of your application, it will take time and thought to prepare this. But having a concise summary immensely helps people whom you’re asking for help with profile reviews etc, and in turn improves the response rate you get. As for what to include, I like to think of it as highlights from
i) where you come from (personal history, gmat/gpa etc)
ii) where you stand (current work profile, title)
iii) where you want to go (future goals- industry/function)

E- Follow Stanford GSB’s advice on recommendation letters: Nuggets of gold! To quote from the site,

…when I read a really great recommendation the person jumps off the page and they really come alive. I feel like I know them; I know the good, the bad, the warts; if I walked into a room, I could almost pick out this person.

F- Work on my USP: When advising me on essays, a senior asked me what differentiates me from everyone else? While this may sound cliched, it is an important question that needs a lot of thought. Another way to think about it (borrowing from principles of branding) what is the one unique trait that you’d like to be remembered for? Another spin: If the adcom member were asked about you 5 days after they read your app, what would you want them to say? ‘Oh XYZZ! the person who ………?’ For the adcom member to recall the …. part, there has to be one unique, remarkable trait displayed consistently throughout your app (resume/essay/reco letter)

G- Pray: Helps immensely in coping with pressure and sustaining morale. Definitely one of the most important things that kept me going till the end!

Things I wouldn’t do:

A- Miss the basics: submit application on last day, try paying through a card that wasn’t working for some reason

B- Become complacent: After my HBS interview went fine, I prepared little for my Booth interview. That led to some awkward pauses during the interview, and could’ve ended up costing me the Booth offer. For example, I went blank for a few seconds when my interviewer asked me, ‘So that’s about it from my end. Do you have any questions for me regarding Booth or life in Chicago?’

C- Take practice exam after practice exam: When I got lower scores than I was aiming for, I’d start taking exam after practice exam. Without drilling down to exactly which areas I was struggling with (topic, question type). I wasted precious time because of this approach, not improving my skill deficiency, and getting frustrated because of it.

D- Study GMAT without a practice partner: Again, this would have helped me save time and stay motivated. But I relied primarily on online material and a Kaplan book for help.

E- Have self doubt: This is that gnawing feeling inside you, saying ‘But I’m not good enough for this..’ This is all those times when you tried extremely hard and failed miserably, in plain public view. Pangs are sharpest as you draw nearer to hitting Submit. How does one respond to this? On a rational level, remind yourself of all the people you’ve talked to, all the thought you’ve put into this and that post all those weeks of discussion/thought, You decided that this was the best option (and it was never meant to be risk-free) On an emotional level, think of the inverse situations – where you had major doubts about your ability to do well, but you went ahead and aced whatever it was you were doing. That arts class. That debating competition. That heroic on sports day. That eternally-un-impressable boss. And add to that, testimony from countless successful candidates, saying that they’ve all felt something similar, at many points, in the application process. So have faith and take the leap!


Reposted from Quora with minor edits for clarity. To find the original, click here, but please skip the other answers, and go straight to Talal Khan’s, which is listed at about #8. I don’t know how they rank the other posts, honestly.