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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.

Reapply Next Year? Here’s Advice from a Top Business School

tuck springSo, you’ve applied to business school last year and you didn’t get the results you wanted.  It’s not great news, but it isn’t the end of the world, and you’ve probably learned something from the experience.

Now, many students I talk to are wondering whether to try again.  I usually say the answer is “Sure!”  But don’t take my word for it — schools are perfectly happy to have you reapply and will take your application seriously.  But are their things you should have or could have done? Tuck admissions folks have done us all a huge favor. They’ve written an article that helps people stop kicking themselves. How many times have I heard the same woes, I didn’t get in because

  • My GPA is too low
  • My GMAT score is too low
  • I come from a non-traditional background
  • I don’t have enough global experience
  • I don’t have enough leadership experience
  • I had too many jobs
  • My recommendation letters were weak

It’s possible all or none of them are true and you still didn’t quite get where you wanted. So… read Tuck’s sound, normal and grounded advice, have a few drinks, watch some baseball, and then think about trying again. Or not.

SOME THOUGHTS & FEEDBACK FROM TUCK’S ADMISSIONS OFFICE

If you’re unsuccessful in your first attempt at admission into your dream MBA program, first take a few moments to assess your application. Self-aware applicants can usually identify the places in their application that are lacking. Then, read on for advice on eliminating, or at least minimizing, your weaknesses.

My undergraduate GPA is low.

If possible, start by acknowledging this in the optional essay and providing an explanation (not an excuse!). Then, prove to us that you’re capable of handling an extremely rigorous, and quant heavy, curriculum. You can do this by scoring well on the GMAT (or GRE), taking additional, supplemental classes beyond your undergraduate degree and submitting well-written essays. It’s also important to clearly show us areas you do excel in; leadership, global experiences, community involvement, etc.

My GMAT score is lower than I think it should be.

First thing to keep in mind–a school’s average GMAT is just that, an average. One big advantage to this challenge versus a low GPA is that you can choose to retake the GMAT (or GRE), without consequence. After giving it your best effort, if you feel like there’s no amount of additional preparation that will improve your score, you’re still not out of the game. Again, you’ll need to prove you can handle a rigorous quantitative curriculum; high undergraduate GPA, supplemental courses with good scores (we often suggest financial accounting, statistics and microeconomics), etc. Finally, highlight areas of your background that shine.

I come from a non-traditional professional background.

Great! Tuck values unique experiences and individuals – many students decide to go to business school with the intention of switching careers and/or industries, so you won’t be alone. This in itself is not why you were unsuccessful. However, you do have to show us through your essays and interview how that unconventional experience will actually bring a different and positive perspective to your classmates. Also, while you may not have been crunching numbers, there’s a good chance you’ve been honing skills that will help you succeed in business; leadership traits, interpersonal skills, communication expertise, etc. Be sure to tell us the reality of the situation, not just what you think we want to hear. Is your previous work experience based on a passion of yours? Wonderful!  Let us know.

Additionally, take some more time to reflect on these important questions – for you and for us. What are your long-term goals? How will an MBA help you achieve them? Why now? Why Tuck? Once you answered these, if your path still leads you to Tuck, your sincerity and passion will be evident.

I have very little global experience.

Like everything else, global experience is an important factor in your application, but certainly not the only one. You may have more global experience than you think. Have you worked or lived outside your home country? Have you visited for an extended period of time? Have you worked with global clients within your home country? Do you know a second language? Make sure to think broadly.

Or, maybe this is the perfect time to jump on that international opportunity you’ve been postponing!

I haven’t had substantial leadership experience.

Like a lack of global experience, you may have more leadership experience than you think. Consider times you led without a formal title. Do you take the reins when it comes to projects with your colleagues? Was there a committee or sub-committee that you steered in undergrad or for a non-profit or athletic endeavor? Likewise, it could be a great time to volunteer for leadership roles in the workplace, or perhaps volunteer for this responsibility in a community activity you’re involved in.

I had a couple of jobs in a short period of time – or something else that might look bad.

This definitely happens and for a variety of different reasons.  The most important thing here is to explain the situation.  The less information you give us, the more we have to guess and though we’d love to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, this method may not be to our advantage, or yours.  The optional essay is a great place to address job switching and employment gaps.

I’m concerned about my letters of recommendation.

The most common concern here comes from not having been able to ask a current supervisor. While it’s certainly helpful to have the insight of a direct supervisor, not having one isn’t a deal breaker. Other good options could be the person you reported to prior to your current boss, current clients, a colleague who led a team for a project you worked on or the director of your department or team. The key thing to remember is when selecting recommenders, focus on people who can really speak to your strengths (and weaknesses) in key areas such as leadership, teamwork, and aptitude. Former professors, family members or your little league coach won’t help you.

Here’s the key: rather than resolve yourself to months of worry and regret over things you can’t change, there are many ways to actively turn a less than ideal situation into a more positive one. Also, you probably noticed a theme: the application process really is holistic. Really! We know that you’re way more than just one particular data point. Good luck!

Tuck has a very good business school blog — as helpful and thoughtful as any I’ve ever seen. Here’s the link to the article, and I encourage you to read through, especially the tags “advice” and “applying”.
https://www.tuck.dartmouth.edu/admissions/blog/its-feedback-season-in-the-admissions-office-some-thoughts

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.

 

The Best MBA Resume Advice Ever

resume typewriter smallYou can find countless articles on general resumes all over the web, but very little on the perfect MBA resume. I did write about it,

walking through a template I’ve crafted after working with Stanford GSB first year students. But my colleague Candy LaBalle, who runs mbaSpain, came out with an outstanding article this morning. She has given me permission to reprint the article here — and I guarantee you will find it specific and helpful.

It originally appeared on Magoosh‘s website, but in my version, I’ve highlighted the parts that deserve mention

Six Steps to a Stellar MBA Resume

If you are applying to an MBA this year, you’ve probably noticed that top b-schools are not asking for many essays. Tuck requires two, Booth asks for a presentation only and Harvard has made its one essay optional. This reduced application content makes your MBA Application Resume more valuable than ever. In fact, HBS and Columbia even allow resumes that go beyond the “one-page” standard.

But, whether you prepare one or two pages, you need to follow some guidelines. Beyond using action verbs, avoiding “I” and having standard fonts no smaller than 10-point, to make your MBA Application Resume truly stellar, follow these six tips:

1: Focus on YOU

If your resume reads like a job description then it is not about you—it is about your job. Instead of focusing on tasks, highlight your achievements, and include details on team size, cultural exposure and quantifiable results.

  • Participate in M&A transactions
  • Advise clients on business strategy

becomes

  • Led teams of up to three, on four M&A deals in the energy, telecom and retail sectors, valued up to $5bn
  • Created a cost-analysis model for Chile’s largest telecom identifying 12% in savings; presented model directly to client senior managers

2: Skip the jargon

Adcoms are looking for leadership potential, collaborative mindset and interpersonal skills. Even if you are an aeronautical engineer, focus on your MBA qualities.

  • Coordinated advanced ABC testing to reduce drag on the XYZ series fuselage.

becomes

  • Led six engineers from three countries to improve performance on our best-selling plane by 21%.

3: Go beyond your daily tasks

Do you handle recruiting for your firm at your old university? Did you create a new work process that improves team efficiency? Do you organize birthday dinners, basketball games or other activities that encourage socializing outside of the office? These show initiative, impact and interpersonal skills and should be included.

  • Created company soccer team, recruiting players from various departments; team now competes weekly against other company teams

4: Show progression

If you were the only one out of 1,000 applicants to get the position, or you moved from a six-month internship to full-time employment in just 3 months, then say it!

  • Hired as Associate in September 2013 and fast-tracked to Senior Associate 13 months later (average promotion time is 18 months)

5: Highlight leadership

Leadership goes beyond supervising people. If you do lead a group, definitely include that on your resume, but if you don’t, highlight other examples of leadership: managing a project, coordinating client teams, mentoring interns.

  • Created my department’s first online “data warehouse,” reducing research time for projects
  • Trained 14 senior clients to use a new CRM, resulting in higher sales team efficiency

6: Don’t forget the fun stuff

If you play viola, were regional champion in judo, run 10Ks or enjoy juggling, include it!  Hobbies help you stand out from the crowd as well as show commitment, passion and leadership.

  • Founded a dining club that now has 42 members; organize monthly dinners at gourmet restaurants for up to 15
  • Began waterskiing as a child, advanced to national competitions in university, currently teach waterskiing to children
  • Travel constantly, have visited 46 countries on six continents, traveled from Europe to Asia by land only, created a travel blog

 

Use Your Summer Wisely

 

It’s summer in the northern hemisphere, which means time to get a little more organized about the admissions process. It’s a wonderful time to learn about schools. A little counter-intuitive, when students are out of classes and campuses are an empty husk of their former fall-to-springtime selves. But guess what! Many students are taking summer jobs and may be coming to your neighborhood. You can meet them for coffee, or just call them up and gab.

I could lecture you on the benefits of talking to students and recent grads about their experiences, but instead I will just repost this paragraph from a classic Tuck student’s contribution to the Tuck Admissions Blog. He’s closer to the ground than I am, and he says it probably more articulately.

Students are your greatest resource to find out more about the schools you are thinking about applying to or attending. MBA students are busy but almost everyone loves to talk about themselves and their experiences, and to feel helpful. So many of my classmates frequently have conversations with prospective students about life at Tuck, career planning, academics, etc. I pursued the ‘official’ route of visiting campuses (which, by the way, was the single most effective way of determining where I wanted to be) but didn’t make anywhere near as much use of current students, or even alums and faculty, as I should have through informal routes. If you have an idea of what you want to do after school, or what kind of clubs you want to get involved with while you are at business school, get in touch with people at your target schools to discuss their experiences. And feel free to ask them almost any questions, within reason.

Students and recent grads can help you get the feel for a school in a way that an admissions committee member cannot. They can tell it to you straight, and they can give you the good with the bad. You can see the fire in their eyes, or passion in their voices. You can tell if you want to sit next to them in class.

They won’t tell you what to write in your application, but knowing more about the school from real people will help you in figuring out whether you are the right fit. If all goes well, these conversations will inspire your campaign to get into the right place for you.

Ready? Set? Make the call.