Tag Archives | MBA admissions

Best of the Web: MBA Waitlist Strategies

japanese_girl waitingQuite a few of you are trying now to figure out what to do while hanging out on the waitlist for your top-choice MBA program. It’s a tough position, you just want to get out of purgatory.  First, the good news: people are admitted off the waitlist, even from schools few want to turn down, like Stanford or Harvard.  But then there’s the bad news: it is very difficult to predict.  Admissions officers do their best to figure out how many will turn them down, but the numbers vary from year to year.  Some schools, like it seems Yale in 2017, seem to have a pretty big waitlist. [Anecdote: one student told me that he and five others kept in touch after their Yale SOM interviews. Of the six, two were admitted in Round 1 and four were waitlisted.  My guess is that Yale SOM has enjoyed a spike in applications, but doesn’t really know whether a big percentage of those they admit will say yes. So they are hedging with a robust wait list.]

MBA admissions officers themselves try to demystify the waitlist process.  For example, Kristen Roth, of the Tuck admissions committee offers waitlist advice which is straightforward and to the point. I love her  recommendation – FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS.  If the school doesn’t want to hear from you, don’t violate it, and if they do, be judicious.  Stay focused – and don’t overwhelm them with lots of data points. Keep it crisp.

MBA admissions committees do want to hear about any material changes since you submitted. Promotion or new job, even a coveted assignment might be called material. If you have been elected to a leadership position in an activity outside of work, that probably holds less weight, but it could be useful.  If you have relocated offices to another country, that’s quite significant. Especially if your international exposure is limited.

Students have written “How I did it” articles for Poets and Quants and their own blogs –for example here’s a guy who was waitlisted at four schools. Another link that I like very much is a podcast from a student who lobbied his way off the waiting list into MIT Sloan. It’s a fun story, and you get really excited for the student, Galen Li, and his enthusiasm.

You can also get some ideas from schools who have been willing to do online chats about waitlist strategies, including  the aforementioned MIT, UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business or Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and Cornell’s Johnson School.

Also, you might want to look at this post on “Admissions in the Age of Video” something Chicago Booth seems to favor.

My favorite piece of advice comes from Jeremy Wilson, who was a student member of the Northwestern Kellogg JD/MBA admissions committee. His article, “Playing the Waiting List Game,” is both thoughtful and action-oriented. Please do remember, however, that his experience is from Kellogg only. And it’s a few years old. But it’s really very cool.

Generally, the waitlisted applicants are considered solid candidates, even star candidates. Now is the time to showcase more subtle aspects of your profile. Be ready to articulate your story again, but this time better. Give them a few golden nuggets you may have forgotten to dig out from your past and put in your essays. Also, distinguish how you stand out from the other number-crunching bankers, consultants, or whatever professional you are and how you can add perspective to the classroom.

And be more introspective the next few weeks, so that you’re better prepared to talk about your leadership or entrepreneurial goals. Instead of using industry buzz words, overused resume verbs, and clichéd MBA language, think more deeply about your leadership style and talk more about stuff that motivates you, what you did, how you felt, and what you learned. And if you’re really up to it, try really spilling your guts a bit more and really putting the details out there—always remembering to stay professional of course—because this might just be your last chance.

What Not to Do

I say this with true compassion for those who are waiting. And do not just have an alumni send a letter because he or she graduated from the school. Or did well there. Or is successful now. UNLESS that letter adds value. Sure, OK, if you are waitlisted at the University of Chicago, and the letter comes from David Booth, I take it back. But otherwise, please heed the advice offered by Matthew Moll, Associate Director for Admissions at Columbia Business School: He’s quoted in a ClearAdmit blog as saying, “Be certain that additional recommendations add quality insight to your application.” That is, if the additional information in the letter says something about you that they don’t already know from you LinkedIn profile, consider it material. Otherwise, be careful about just bombarding them with fluff.

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.

On a Great One-Page Resume

You use a cleaner font, I’m sure

Got questions about your MBA resume for your application? You are not alone. Everyone who has applied to an MBA program or for any job worries about their resume.  How on earth do you fit your entire life story into one page?  And what a challenge that someone actually thinks you can!

Your resume has almost nothing to do with your real life. It’s about your professional life, and it’s about your achievements.  I have heard MBA admissions officers and career advisors say that the resume is not a list of job duties. It is a record of your accomplishments.  That means you don’t need to put in the stuff that bores even you.

For example, I had a client who worked for a financial startup, so she wore many hats on the job. She created new financial tools, traded securities, and established deep relations with new and existing clients.  She also handled the monthly newsletter, which took a lot of time, but didn’t represent her highest talent.  So we cut it.  She’d already shown achievement in her other, more productive areas of her job, so she emphasized the best part: influencing the organization in tangible ways.

Follow the Rules, It’s Easier
Remember, you have three-to-five bullet points per job, and anything longer than two lines per bullet becomes too dense for the reader, so put in the highlights: your tangible, measurable accomplishments, using active verbs and concise language.

Still, the resume has one place where you can show your individuality – the “Additional” section. Everyone reads that stuff. Promise. You have two or three lines to talk about interests, skills, and all that other stuff. Any hobby is fair game – I’ve seen everything from canine agility to financial system reform.

A few rules to follow:

Avoid acronyms and industry jargon

  • Don’t try to make the reader learn new acronyms for your company. They don’t have time to figure out what RMD or HSDRC means

Try to keep bullet points to no more than two lines, if possible

  • Anything longer is too dense and the reader just skips it

Don’t feel like you need to use up four or more bullet points – three is fine

  • You can include only two or fewer bullet points for part-time jobs and internships

Use 12- or 11-point type, depending on the font you choose.

  • 10-point type can be too small. Anything else is ridiculous
  • Leave a one-inch margin all the way around

Place education at the bottom if you are working full time and career is the most important

  • If you are a current student, education leads the resume

If you held a leadership position in a non-profit, be sure to include it

If you are interested in a free resume template based on the work I have done as a resume coach at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, please email me and I’ll send it along.

Wrestling with MBA Application Essays

You are thinner, of course

Writing MBA essays can be hard work. If you know anyone who is applying to business school you may have heard them muttering to themselves, “What does matter most to me and why?” (Stanford GSB) or  “What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA?”  (or any other school).  They may be victims of an energy-draining syndrome that shows itself every year about this time called MBA essay nightmare.  It’s a regular sinkhole of drafting, pondering, redrafting, questioning, redrafting, wondering if it is getting better or worse, redrafting, and whining.

The essays matter.  Of course the GMAT does too, and, but the real differentiator is the answer to the question behind all those questions, “Why should we admit you to our business school?”

Your answer is going to be as unique as your own DNA. But getting there is quite the chore. You could watch this MBA Podcaster video on YouTube regarding essays (in which I feature with admissions reps from Wharton and Columbia Business School), or you could read on.

Writing is HARD. You aren’t the only sufferer.

I’m going to tell you a secret.  Writing isn’t easy for anyone.  Oh, every so often, someone will tell you that they whipped up their essays the night before the deadline and were accepted everywhere they applied.   Fine.  That person is in the minority.

If you are finding that you are writing and rewriting, and rewriting again, and then stumbling, and rewriting, you are not alone.  Ernest Hemingway was said to have rewritten the ending of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” 39 times. That’s just the ending.  That means he already struggled with getting words down on paper for the first time.  Remember the movie “Adaptation,” where the main character  nearly drives himself crazy from writers block?   That should remind you that lots of people have faced down a blank page.

To write those essays, you have to start somewhere, and believe me, your first try doesn’t have to be perfect.  In fact, it can be terrible. Annie Lamott, author of Bird by Bird, a wonderful book on the writing process, life, and everything else, says it is ok to write whatever comes into your mind. “For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous,” she says. “In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.”

Death by Rewriting

Or what if you are looking at an essay that you’ve rewritten two or three times, and it still isn’t going anywhere?  It feels like it is getting worse word by word. Don’t be afraid to stop writing.  Read it first thing in the morning if you are an early person, or right before you go to bed if you are a late person. Or both. Keep your computer or a pen and a printout of the draft by your bed.  Print it out, walk around with it.

If you hate it, talk the essay over with a friend, confidant, or advisor.  Tell them the story without worrying about the words on the paper.  Does it makes sense? Are you excited by it? If not, go back and forth with this other person: have them tell you when they feel your energy.  If they don’t feel your energy at all when you tell them your story, believe me, the admissions officer won’t feel it either.  You may have to start all over.

These are just some quick ideas to remind you that it is perfectly OK for you to feel stuck. This is really, really normal.  Just don’t be afraid to rewrite, revise, and reconsider your own assumptions.  You probably don’t have to go around 39 times, but give yourself permission to work it until it’s right.

MBA admissions Q&A: GPA, Integrated Reasoning score, alumni engagement

Some MBA admissions questions from clients and friends — answers below

On the Integrated Reasoning score

q and a

Q: My overall score was 770, but my IR was only 5….I was wondering if this low IR (integrated reasoning) score would have a negative impact on me please? How do the schools look at IR scores, and are there any that use this as a criteria? Should I retake it?

A:  No! Do not retake the GMAT. At this stage (summer 2016) admissions officers are still pretty agnostic about the IR score. I’ve heard them say in conferences that there is not enough data to make a real assessment on the IR score alone.  I’ve also heard from GMAC people that the IR correlates pretty well with the quant score.  So if you have a high quant score and a low IR, your quant score outweighs it.  If you have a low quant score and a high IR score, that’s actually less powerful, sadly.

On a low-ish GMAT, but from one of the best schools in the USA in chemical engineering

Q: How much does our GPA from undergrad matter, especially if it is lower than the average reported GPA from the business school? Does this significantly disadvantage us?

A: Not all GPAs are alike.  You’ve told me that you have a degree in chemical and biological engineering. That major and those courses will offset courses everyone knows are just not as hard. I was a political science major and I know, (as does every admissions officer) that my GPA in should be discounted against a chemical engineer.

The other thing they look at is the trend.  They are ok if it gets better over time.  Most schools weight your junior and senior years higher than your first 2 years. That makes logical sense as well.

Finally, they do look at the whole picture, and your work experience, international experience, and publishing experience will all play into the whole picture.

If you have one course where you really did poorly, that might require an unemotional explanation in an optional essay.  But that’s really only the case if you got a D, or something like that. I don’t think that a C is really that big a deal.

SPECIAL BONUS: Answered from Tuck Admissions Officer Kristin Roth

Q:  Why is alumni engagement at Tuck so strong?

A: This is an immersive experience, whether you’re on campus in Hanover or around the world for on-the-ground learning opportunities. People don’t disappear after classes are over; they stay together in a living, learning, and social environment. This intimate experience requires students to learn how to engage with each other, support and challenge each other, and work through problems collaboratively. They also experience the support of alumni during their time as students which translates into strong alumni engagement. People pay it forward to the next generation of Tuckies, because they experienced that themselves. It’s a virtuous circle.