Michigan (Ross) Admissions Essays and Deadlines for 2014-2015

The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business recently announced its application essays and deadlines for the 2014-2015 admissions season. After dropping from four required essays to three last year, the Ross MBA admissions team decided to shed another one, going down to just two required essays this year. And, the two required essays that remain are entirely new this year. The changes just keep coming!

Here are Ross’s MBA application deadlines and essays for the Class of 2017, followed by our comments in italics:

Michigan (Ross) Admissions Deadlines
Round 1: October 6, 2014
Round 2: January 5, 2015
Round 3: March 23, 2015

Here Ross bucked the trend that we’ve seen at other top business school — Ross actually pushed back its deadlines a bit this year. The Round 1 and Round 2 deadlines really only moved back by a few days apiece, but it’s interesting to see given that admissions deadlines have been creeping earlier and earlier over the past few years. The biggest change is in Ross’s Round 3 deadline, which comes about three weeks later than it did last year (although we normally advise applicants to aim for Round 1 and 2 if they can hit those deadlines). Note that applying in Round 1 means that you will receive a decision from Ross before Christmas, giving you at least a couple of weeks before most other MBA programs’ Round 2 deadlines come in early January.

Michigan (Ross) Admissions Essays

  1. What are you most proud of professionally and why? What did you learn from that experience? (400 words)

    As mentioned above, this essay prompt is new this year. This and the next essay question — and you really can’t think about one without considering the other — are asking you to be choosy and pick two things that you really want the MBA admissions committee to remember about you. Regarding this professional question, the best responses will demonstrate a time when you went outside your comfort zone or went beyond what was expected of you. Did you take a risk? Did you notice a problem that no one else was willing to tackle, and constructively solve it? While doing that, did you grow as a result?

    This essay is a great place to use the “SAR” method (Situation, Action, Result) that normally works so well in admissions essays. You only have 400 hundred words, so you need to strike the right balance between properly setting the stage (otherwise, admissions officers may not fully appreciate the significance of your accomplishment) and getting right into describing what you did and what results you achieved.

    Finally, don’t overlook the second part of the question, about what you learned about yourself. While what happened is obviously important, evidence of how you grew and how you got to know yourself better is even more critical. A great essay tells about how you learned valuable about yourself and how you were able to act and improve upon it. That’s the type of response that has the potential to stick with the application reader.

  2. What are you most proud of personally and why? How does it shape who you are today? (400 words)

    Even though this is about the personal side of you, our advice here isn’t radically different from what we wrote above. Use the “SAR” to succinctly help the reader understand the challenge or opportunity you faced, describe what you did, and then move into how you grew as a result. Again, how you answer the second part of the question is really what can turn this from an okay essay into a memorable one that will help admissions officers really feel like they got to know you better.

    A final thought: Don’t feel that your personal achievement needs to be something that’s outwardly impressive, such as completing a marathon or climbing Mount Everest. Some of the best essays we’ve seen have dealt with intensely personal issues, such as overcoming a speech impediment or putting life ahead of work to care for a sick relative. Be real and honestly discuss how you’ve grown, and odds are that you will write a great essay as a result.

  3. Optional question:Is there anything not addressed elsewhere in the application that you would like The Admissions Committee to know about you to evaluate your candidacy? (300 words)

    As always, only use this essay if you need to explain a low undergraduate GPA or other potential blemish in your background. No need to harp on a minor weakness and sound like you’re making excuses when you don’t need any. More generally, if you don’t have anything else you need to tell the admissions office, it’s okay to skip this essay. Yes, the fact that there are only two required essays in which you can tell your story, but don’t feel compelled to command admissions officers’ attention for an extra 300 words if you don’t need to.
  4. Do you plan on applying to the Ross MBA program? Get yourself a copy of our industry-leading book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

MIT Sloan Application Essays and Deadlines for 2014-2015

MIT’s Sloan School of Management has released its admissions essays and deadlines for the 2014-2015 application season. Sloan has actually bucked the trend we’ve seen lately; the school still has two admissions essays, and actually increased the maximum allowed word count for its second essay (which is new this year)! The new question that Sloan added is a good one, but it will present you with some unique challenges, which we discuss more below.

Here are the 2014-2015 MIT Sloan admissions deadlines and essays, followed by our comments in italics:

MIT Sloan Application Deadlines
Round 1: September 23, 2014
Round 2: January 8, 2015

MIT Sloan’s deadlines are virtually unchanged since last year. Keep in mind that MIT Sloan is fairly unique in that it only has two main admissions rounds, so there is no “Round 3 or not Round 3?” dilemma here. Although Round 2 is Sloan’s final round, you should not assume that applying in Round 2 is as bad as applying in Round 3 anywhere else. If you need the extra several months to get your application in order, then take that time to improve your chances. Round 2 is a very valid round in which to apply when it comes to MIT Sloan.

MIT Sloan Application Essays

  1. The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and generate ideas that advance management practice. Discuss how you will contribute toward advancing the mission based on examples of past work and activities. (500 words)

    This question carries over unchanged from last year (when it was new). Consequently, our advice mostly remains the same. At its core, it is a “Why MIT Sloan?” question. Sloan admissions officers have stated before that they don’t love explicit “Why this school?”-type questions, but it’s clear that this type of insight is what they’re looking for here, at least in part. The admissions committee wants to see that you have done your homework on Sloan, that you understand what the school stands for, and that you really want to be there.

    When Sloan asks you how you will contribute, it’s not just asking about what you will do while you’re in school for two years, but also about how you plan on taking what you’ve learned (and the connections you’ve built) and going farther than you could ever have without an MIT Sloan MBA. Note the very last part of the question: The key to a believable essay here will be to cite specific examples from your past when you got involved and make things better around you. Don’t be intimidated by the high-minded ideals in the first part of the essay prompt — making an impact (rather than just standing idly by and being a follower) is what they want to see here, even if it’s on a relatively small scale.

  2. Write a professional letter of recommendation on behalf of yourself. Answer the following questions as if you were your most recent supervisor recommending yourself for admission to the MIT Sloan MBA Program: [see the rest of the question here] (750 words)

    This is a new question for Sloan this year. In some ways, it’s a descendent of Sloan’s old “Write a cover letter describing your accomplishments” prompt that MIT Sloan used to include in its application. This is a tricky one because most applicants actually tend to be too humble when describing themselves. After all, it’s easy to fear coming off as too confident or obnoxious, especially when the stakes are this high, so your natural tendency may be to not toot your own horn enough.

    The key to tooting that horn, and doing in a way that’s believable, is to provide specific examples. This is exactly what we tell applicants to tell their recommendation writers, and this advice also applies when you write your own letter of recommendation. The easy part is that the specific questions Sloan asks (e.g., “Please give an example of the applicant’s impact on a person, group, or organization.”) make it very clear what the admissions committee is looking for. Now it’s your job to find examples in your recent professional past to show them that you have what they want.

    Finally, the question that asks “Which of the applicant’s personal or professional characteristics would you change?” don’t be afraid to talk about a weakness here. Even though you’re writing your recommendation (as if your boss were writing it), some introspection is really what the admissions officers want to see here. Here is a weakness or undeveloped area for you… here is what you’re doing to improve on it… and here is a recent example of how you have made progress toward this goal.

Think you have what it takes to get into MIT Sloan? To boost your chances, pick up a copy of our industry-leading book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Columbia Business School Admissions Essays and Deadlines for 2014-2015

Columbia Business School has released its application deadlines and essays for the 2014-2015 admissions season. Like other business schools, Columbia has done some more trimming to its essays, which we discuss in more detail below.

Columbia stands out among top U.S. MBA programs because of its January intake in addition to the more common August/September intake. Columbia’s “J-Term” program allows students to complete their degrees in less than a year and a half, and is ideally suited for applicants who don’t need a summer internship — especially those who plan on returning to the same job or industry, and those who plan on starting their own business.

Here are the Columbia Business School application essays and deadlines for the 2014-2015 admissions cycle, followed by our comments in italics:

Columbia Business School Application Deadlines

January 2015 Entry: October 8, 2014
August 2015 Entry (Early Decision): October 8, 2013
August 2015 Entry (Merit Fellowship Consideration): January 7, 2015
August 2015 Entry (Regular Decision): April 15, 2015

Columbia is fairly unique among top business schools since uses a rolling admissions cycle. One way to look at it is that the one truly hard deadline for entry in Fall ’15 is the April deadline. The advice that we normally give regarding admissions deadlines still holds, though: We recommend that you apply early rather than later. Applying as late as March or April means competing for one of the very few seats still open at that point.

Also, remember that “Early Decision” means that you’re committing to attend Columbia if you are admitted. If you go back on your word, the worst that can happen is that you lose your deposit, but don’t forget the ethics of the situation: You take away a seat from someone who wants to attend Columbia more than you do. So, only exercise this option if Columbia truly is your first choice.

Columbia Business School Application Essays

Short Answer Question:
What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (75 characters maximum)

Wow! Last year more than one admissions consultant said, “This response can’t get any shorter,” when Columbia asked this same question and gave applicants just 100 characters to work with (down from 200 characters the year before). Now, after the school has chopped 25 characters, we’ll take a risk and say it: It’s hard to imagine this response getting much shorter!

Almost regardless of how few characters you have to work with here, your main takeaway is this: Columbia’s MBA admissions team truly just wants a super brief headline about your post-MBA career goals to better understand where you think you want to go with your degree. That’s it. Think of the Short Answer Question as the positioning statement for your short-term career goals. Do you want to be known as the applicant who wants to start a non-profit organization, or perhaps the applicant who wants to sharpen his skills and return to the technology sector as a business leader? Columbia provides some examples on its site, and you’ll see that there’s nothing particularly creative or special about them (e.g., “Work for an investment firm that focuses on real estate.”). Avoid the temptation to get too gimmicky here, but remember that this is the one thing (about your short-term career goals) that you want the admissions committee to remember.

Essay Questions:

  • Given your individual background and goals, why are you pursuing a Columbia MBA at this time? (500 words)

    This question carries over unchanged from last year, and so our advice mostly remains the same. This essay prompt is the fairly typical “Why an MBA? Why this school?: question that most business schools ask in their applications. Many applicants fail to adequately to explain why Columbia is the best place for them to earn their MBA, given the school’s culture, academic strengths, ties to certain industries, etc. Yes, Columbia has a big name and proximity to Wall Street. Those strengths are obvious. What else does Columbia offer that you can’t find anywhere else? And why — given where you’re coming from and where you want to go — is Columbia the best place for you to grow as a business leader? This is what the school is looking for when it asks about “fit.”
  • Please view the video below:
    The Center
    How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business?” (250 words)

    This question is new this year, although it replaces a question that wasn’t radically different last year. Basically, Columbia swapped out two videos for this one, and changed the question’s wording a bit, but the meat the this question hasn’t changed dramatically. So, our take hasn’t changed much from what it was last year: We find it interesting that the Columbia MBA admissions team chose to put so much emphasis on its New York City roots — we don’t think that many applicants need to be alerted to the fact that Columbia is in Manhattan or need to be sold on the benefits of being in New York. If you want to go into finance, then your answer here will obviously touch upon this fact. (Columbia bills itself as “The Very Center of Business” in this video, but much of the message relies on New York City’s reputation as a global hub.)Don’t limit yourself just to this obvious New York City tie-in, however. What other benefits do you expect you will gain from living and learning in one of the biggest cities in the world? Also, We’ve noted before that Columbia doesn’t want to be viewed as a commuter school in the middle of a huge city… Keep this in mind as you spell out how you will fit in at Columbia. Especially if you already live in New York, be sure to emphasize that you’re excited about immersing yourself in the Columbia culture.

  • What will the people in your Cluster be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (250 words)

    This question was new last year, and Columbia must like what it saw since the question returns unchanged for this year. This essay doesn’t need to be whimsical (although it can be), but it should present something that is interesting about you as a person, rather than rehashing something that’s already in your application or your resume. Go back to our comments above about fit and about Columbia wanting to build a strong community. Have an unusual hobby or funny story that people enjoy hearing? Can you think of something in your personal life that makes you feel very proud? This is the place to use it!

Like may other MBA programs, Columbia also provides space for an optional fourth essay. Our advice here is always the same: If you really do feel the need to explain something, then address it in this essay and then move on. Whatever you do, don’t dwell on it or provide that weakness with more stage time than it deserves!

If you plan on applying to Columbia, take a look at our industry-leading book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Wharton Admissions Essays and Deadlines for 2014-2015

The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania recently released its MBA admissions deadlines and essays for the 2014-2015 application season. The trend that picked up speed last year has continued: After dropping its number of required essays from three to two last year, Wharton has announced that this year’s application contains only one required essay. We keep asking, “How much lower can they go?” but admissions officers keep finding a way to shed essays and put more emphasis on other parts of the application.

Without further ado, here are Wharton’s application deadlines and essays, followed by our comments in italics:

Wharton Application Deadlines
Round 1: October 1, 2014
Round 2: January 5, 2015
Round 3: March 26, 2015

Wharton’s application deadlines are virtually unchanged since last year. Note that applying in Round 1 means that you will receive your decision by December 16, which will give you about three weeks before most top school’s Round 2 deadlines. If you get bad news from Wharton in Round 1, you should still have enough time to pull together at least a couple of Round 2 applications (but don’t wait until the last minute!).

While many schools maintain that it doesn’t matter when you apply, Wharton gives pretty explicit advice on its website: “We strongly encourage you to apply in Round 1 or 2. The first two rounds have no significant difference in the level of rigor; the third round is more competitive, as we will have already selected a good portion of the class.” The school does add that there is room “for the strongest applicants” in Round 3, but your mission is clear: Get your application in by January 5!

Wharton Admissions Essays

  • What do you hope to gain both personally and professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)

    Yup, this is the only required essay in Wharton’s application this year. It has been reworded a bit, but this is really the same “Why an MBA? Why Wharton?” that the school has asked for years, so our advice mostly remains the same. Note the word “personally” in the question — Wharton isn’t only interested in what six-figure job you hope to land after earning your MBA, but also wants to know how you plan on growing as a person from the experience. You definitely still need to nail the professional part — you need to discuss clear, realistic career objectives here — but the admissions committee also wants to see maturity and introspection. How do you see yourself growing during your two years at Wharton? How do you hope the degree and the experience will impact your 10 years from now? This sort of depth will make the difference between a great response and a merely good one.
  • (Optional) Please use the space below to highlight any additional information that you would like the Admissions Committee to know about your candidacy. (400 words)

    We normally tell applicants to only use the optional essay if you need to explain a low undergraduate GPA or other potential blemish in your background. No need to harp on a minor weakness and sound like you’re making excuses when you don’t need to. However, as schools like Wharton have been cutting down on essays, the role of the optional essay has evolved a bit. No need to monopolize the admissions committee’s time, but since Wharton’s application now gives you far less space in which you can describe your interests and inject some more personality into your application, this essay provides the perfect place to do that. Have a passion or something else that goes “beyond the resume” and will help Wharton admissions officers get to know you better? This essay gives you room to discuss it and make your application that much more memorable.

    Our original advice still holds, too. If you have a blemish that you need address, then this is the place to do it. You don’t want to leave a glaring weakness unaddressed. However, if you don’t have too much explaining to do, don’t be afraid to reveal something personal and memorable about yourself here!

Are you thinking about applying to Wharton? Take a look at our industry-leading book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

AIGAC Releases Results of 2014 MBA Applicant Survey

Last week, at its 7th annual global conference, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) revealed the results of the 2014 edition of its MBA applicant survey. Since 2009, AIGAC’s MBA Applicant Survey has gathered and summarized the perspective of MBA applicants on the admissions process, helping member admissions consultants and business schools gain insights into applicant perceptions of each stage of the admissions process, from tools they first use to research programs and the reasons that they select programs to career and salary expectations. Many consultants and admissions officers consider it an extremely reliable read on the pulse of the graduate business education space.

This year’s survey was no different. AIGAC’s research partner, Huron Consulting Group, gathered more than 800 responses from applicants based around the globe. Among the 2014 survey’s most notable findings:

  • When it comes to choosing where to apply and attend, contact with alumni or current students and visits to the school are among the top five most important sources of information, more important, on average, than off-campus school info sessions or fairs.
  • When selecting an MBA program, men and women value the reputation and career impact at the same levels, but diverge on the importance of location and rank. Men placed significantly more importance on rankings than women.
  • 20% of this year’s applicants expect to start their own business upon graduation. This result is far higher than the 7% of recent graduates from top 10 US programs (per US News) who are self-employed post-MBA.
  • Approximately 80% of foreign students want to work in the US (20% only want to work in the US while a further 60% are considering a range of options that include the US). By contrast, only 40% of US students consider working elsewhere.

Perhaps one of the most interesting revelations of this year’s survey was the first significant reporting on MBA applicants’ reactions to the relatively new video responses that some business schools now employ, either as pre-recorded “essay” responses or as live online interviews. Looking at the numbers globally, applicants are positive about the use of video in the application process. 38% of those in the US who completed one or more applications with a video component felt the video response did represent them well. However, 50% of international applicants did not feel that their video response represented them as well.

Why the disparity? A lot of it may come down to language differences, and applicants’ comfort with the English language. Kellogg and Yale SOM — two of the most prominent MBA programs that employe video responses — give applicants no more than two minutes to gather their thoughts after seeing a prompt for the first time. If you’re quick on your feet, you will do well with this format, but it’s obviously harder to do that when English is your second language. We can’t help but feel that many international applicants were left feeling dissatisfied with their output for this reason.

Of course, while U.S. schools try to be very globally-minded, the language spoken in their classrooms is English, and one reason MBA admissions officers like this format is that is lets them easily gauge applicants’ grasp of the language. From working in learning teams to speaking up and contributing in class to getting involved with student activities, a student’s fluency in English can have a significant impact on well a student does while in business school.

To read all the results of the 2014 AIGAC MBA Applicant Survey, go here to download a PDF report!

Do you plan on braving the MBA admissions waters this year? Grab a copy of our book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Stanford GSB Admissions Essays and Deadlines for 2014-2015

Stanford GSB has released its MBA admissions essays and deadlines for the Class of 2017. Last year Stanford resisted the urge to cut an essay (while many other top MBA programs did reduce their number of required essays), but this year is another story: Stanford now only requires two essays, including its famous “What matters most to you, and why?” question. Plus, the Stanford GSB admissions team made a curious change to what we thought was one of last year’s most interesting application essays.

Here are the Stanford GSB application essays and deadlines for the 2014-2015 admissions season, followed by our comments in italics:

Stanford MBA Admissions Deadlines
Round 1: October 1, 2014
Round 2: January 7, 2015
Round 3: April 1, 2015

Not many changes here. Stanford’s application deadlines are virtually the same as they were last year. Note that, if you apply in Round 1, you will receive your decision by December 10. That’s critical if you plan on applying to some other programs in Round 2 if you don’t receive good news from Stanford in Round 1. It gives you close to a month to get your applications ready in time for most top schools’ Round 2 deadlines.

Stanford GSB Admissions Essays

  • What matters most to you, and why? (650 – 850 words suggested, out of 1,100 total)

    Despite all of the changes that have taken place in the MBA admissions essay landscape over the past few years, this question manages to hang on. Before you start to work on this essay, consider the advice that the Stanford MBA admissions team provides: “Reflect the self-examination process you used to write your response.”

    This question requires a great deal of introspection, after which you should create an essay that truly answers the question asked, whether or not you feel that it’s directly applicable to the job of getting into Stanford GSB. Naturally, telling a random story that has nothing to do with anything of relevance can hurt your chances, but mainly because you will have wasted this valuable space to reveal something about yourself. Where many Stanford applicants go wrong is by writing about their grand plans for the future, rather than providing a real glimpse into who they are as people. The latter is much more powerful and, ultimately, much more effective in helping you get in. With the other essays in this application, you have ample opportunity to cover the exact reasons why you want an MBA from Stanford.
  • Enlighten us on how earning your MBA at Stanford will enable you to realize your ambitions. (250 – 450 words suggested)

    This essay prompt is new this year, and it’s sort of too bad that Stanford got rid of last year’s version, which asked, “What do you want to do — REALLY — and why Stanford?” We kind of liked that extra emphasis that they added last year, but for whatever reason, the Stanford admissions team has decided to tone it down a bit, and make it a bit more like the standard “Why an MBA? Why this school?” question that many business schools ask.

    Just like HBS, Stanford has the luxury of not having to spend too much time sleuthing how interested you are in the program. Most people who are admitted to Stanford end up going there. However, the guidance that the admissions team provides with this question (“Explain the distinctive opportunities you will pursue at Stanford.”) shows that they really are paying attention to see if you’ve done your homework, and if you have given any real thought to making the most of your time at Stanford (beyond “Plan to be insanely rich one day.”)

    However, you should resist the urge to do a few web searches and then simply drop the names of some programs or professors into this essay. An effective response will provide specific details that tie back to you (think about your past and your future) as much as they tie to Stanford. Many applicants will read that “distinctive opportunities” advice and think “The scavenger hunt is on! Let me find something no one else will write about!” but that misses the point. Stanford wants to know that you’re applying for reasons other than the fact that it’s such a platinum name in education, so spell out specifically how Stanford’s MBA experience (and not just any school’s program) will make you a better business leader.

Want to see if you have what it takes to get into Stanford’s MBA program? Take a look at our industry-leading book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Harvard Business School Admissions Essays & Deadlines for 2014-2015

And just like that, the new MBA admissions season is starting to happen. Harvard Business School has announced its application essay prompt and Round 1 deadline for 2014-2015. Last year we made much of the Great Essay Slimdown, in which many business schools cut their number of required essays or reduced word counts. Harvard went down to just one essay last year (and made it optional!) meaning that there wasn’t much more slimming down the school could do, short of eliminating the essay altogether.

Not only has HBS kept one essay this year, but it has also kept the exact same essay prompt. When a school carries over an essay from one year to the next, that means admissions officers like what they’re seeing in the essays they receive. Based on what we’ve learned from our clients over the past year (many of whom were admitted!), we feel very good about the advice we’ve been giving on this essay, so our advice mostly remians the same.

Harvard Business School Application Deadlines
Before we dive into the essay, one note on Harvard Business School’s admissions deadlines: The school hasn’t yet released its full calendar of deadlines for 2014-2015, but they did announce their Round 1 deadline — September 9, 2014. That’s one week earlier than last year, which was already the earliest the school had ever made its Round 1 deadline. To give you an idea of how much this deadline has crept up over the years, back in 2008 HBS’s Round 1 deadline came on October 15!

This means that you had really plan on having a great GMAT score under your belt by no later than early August. Why? Because very few applicants are successful when they’re writing their essays, managing their recommendation writers, and tracking down transcripts all while also trying to break 700 on the GMAT. And pulling together your applications (and doing it well) will take you at least a few weeks from start to finish.

Now, here’s that optional essay, followed by our comments in italics:

Harvard Business School Application Essays

  • You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy? (No word limit)

    HBS still calls this an “optional” essay, although the admissions office hasn’t given any concrete indication of what percentage of applicants (especially successful applicants) chose to skip this essay altogether. We bet that the number of brave souls who skipped this essay is very low. However, it is indeed conceivable that you could skip this essay. After all, this question is worded very similarly to how many MBA programs phrase their optional essays, and we always advise applicants to only use those ones if necessary. optional.

    On the flip side, be careful about the signal you send by not submitting anything: This is a huge opportunity to embark on a transformational experience early in your career. You really don’t have anything else to say? Harvard is one of the few business schools that don’t need to be convinced that you really want to attend, but not having anything to say is consistent with being a casual applicant, one who is applying for the heck of it, just to see if you get in. Don’t paint yourself as one of those applicants.

    Assuming you do tackle this essay, whhat should you write about? Notice that they didn’t ask, “What ONE THING would you like us to know?” in the prompt. You should, however, resist the temptation to cover half a dozen things here. Many applicants’ essays have had a high word-to-value ratio, and Harvard Business School has been trying to correct this by reducing the number of essays and the expected word counts. (When we say “value” here, we mean information that helps admissions officers get to know applicants better.) Keep this trend in mind as you decide what to write about here… Hitting on more than one theme here is fine, but resist the temptation to go beyond 1,000 words. (In fact, we expect that the best essays will be closer to 500 words than to 1,000.)

    We always tell every applicant that they need to do two things to get into HBS or any other top MBA program: Stand out vs. other applicants (especially those who are most similar to the applicant) and show fit with the school. If you come from a very common background — think management consultant, or IT consultant from Asia — then you need to stand out more, and this essay is your chance to do it. If your background makes you unusual vs. the typical HBS class profile — perhaps you have more than the typical amount of work experience or have zero quantitative abilities to point to — then you need to use this essay to demonstrate that you will fit in and thrive at Harvard.

    Also, If you have a real sore spot in your application, such as a low undergraduate GPA, then you should expect to devote some words to that here. Don’t dwell on it, and don’t sound like Mr. Excuses, but do address it and move on.

  • Post-Interview Reflection: You just had your HBS interview. Tell us about it. Did we get to know you?

    Note that the HBS admissions team has said little about whether the post-interview reflection will change or be replaced this year, but our assumption is that it will stay. Here we analyze last year’s post-interview prompt. (We will update this piece once this is confirmed.)

    While the above essay is optional, this post-interview reflection is required. It gives you a chance to include anything you wish you had been able to mention in the interview, and to reframe anything that you discussed but have since thought about a bit more. You will submit this piece within 24 hours of your interview.

    Especially since this letter has no word limit, the temptation will be for you to cram in half a dozen additional things that you wish you had covered in the interview. However, less is always more — keep the note limited to no more than two or three core ideas that you want to highlight. Ideally you covered all of the important things in the interview already, but of not, then this is a chance to hit on those here. Keep in mind, though, that sharing these ideas in the interview is always going to be more effective than cramming them into this note.

    Finally, be realistic about how much this letter will help you. Chances are that it won’t turn a dud of an interview into a terrific one in hindsight.Do NOT go into the interview with this note already drafted; let it truly be a reaction to the discussion, which was hopefully an interesting and provocative one. If your interviewer reads this note and it sounds like a replay of an entirely different discussion than what he or she remembers, that will only serve to hurt you come decision time.

Do you dream of getting into Harvard Business School? Take a look at our industry-leading book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Do These 3 Things During Your Business School Visit

There’s no shortage of ways to to research the business schools to which you might want to apply. These days nearly every top MBA program has a great website including up-to-date articles, videos, professor profiles, and even chances to interact with students and staff. Many programs also have other social media channels where they share many day-to-day glimpses of life on campus. Beyond these great places to go for information, many schools also participate in traveling MBA fairs and online events where you can ask questions of admissions officers directly. Then there are books (like our own!) and other guides that give you a great feel for what life is like at each of the top schools.

Still, our favorite way of researching business schools will always be to visit them. Any school can look terrific in a polished brochure, or on a website home page featuring a dramatic headline about thinking boldly or changing the world. What you really need to do is peel back the shiny outer layers and make sure you really understand what makes an MBA program tick. And business school visits will always be the best way to do that.

Here are three things you absolutely must do when visiting a business school:

Sit in on a Class
With all of the excitement around spending the next two years of your life immersed in a world of new friends and opportunities, it can sometimes be easy to forget that you’re applying to business school to learn about business. How satisfying that learning part of the experience is will depend a lot on the classroom environment, and business visits give you a great opportunity to get a feel for what life is like in the classroom. How engaged are students? Is the class a one-way lecture, or is there active discussion? Do people seem supportive of one another, or are they competing for airtime? Of course, don’t put too much stock in just one classroom visit, but what you see with your own eyes will be much more valuable than what you read in a brochure.

Mingle Among the Students
Many MBA grads agree that the biggest benefit of attending business school is the chance to connect with so many other ambitious, interesting young professionals. Normally, a business school visit is the only chance for you to really get to know the people attending an MBA program. Wander through the common areas and strike up some conversations. Don’t be too pushy, and don’t interrogate some overworked business school students who are trying to finish up team projects, but chat them up as much as you can. Find out how the experience is going for them, hear which professors they like, and get their take on the job hunt. You will learn more in 30 minutes than you will from 24 hours of online research.

Find out Where People Go When They’re Not in Class
If you know when the school has its weekly social gathering (these usually happen on Thursday or Friday evenings at most top MBA programs), get yourself there and meet people! Learn where they like go after school. Find out where they live and — perhaps more importantly — where they think you should NOT live. This is all great info that you can never fully get from a slick website or brochure. After a few conversations you will probably be able to get a feel for how well you fit with the school’s culture, and vice versa.

Our MBA admissions book, Your MBA Game Plan, contains in-depth profiles of dozens of top business schools. Be sure to read it first before planning and conducting your business school visits. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

What to Do Now to Boost Your MBA Candidacy Next Year (Part III)

Today we’ll cover the last big area in which you can do work now to significantly improve your chances of MBA admissions success next year. In Part I of this series, we looked at how you can use a strong GMAT score and post-graduate college studies to bolster your academic profile. In Part II, we discussed the professional traits that admissions officers look for in candidates, and what you can do now to get more experience in those areas.

Today, we look at community involvement. This is a deliberately broad term that can include multiple areas, such as work for non-profit organizations, church involvement, hobbies, and athletics (to name a few). Think of these as the things you would bring up when asked, “What do you like to do outside of work?” Hopefully you can call upon some examples that help bring you to life when an admissions officer reviews your application. You’re not just a resume and a set of numbers; you’re a real, live person with an interesting story to tell.

Going beyond that, ideally you will also be able to show that you have taken action to improve your community around you. Similar to how admissions officers want to see examples where you took the initiative to pursue opportunities or solve tough problems on the job, they also want to see evidence of this trait in your personal life. You’re supposed to be a future business leader, so how are you currently contributing to society?

Think quality over quantity here: MBA admissions officers are much more impressed with one thing that you are clearly passionate about, to which you have dedicated yourself and where you have made a demonstrable impact. Even if it’s not a particularly sexy cause, just showing passion and commitment can be enough to impress admissions officers. Have you run your local volleyball club for the past couple of years? Great! No one else took the initiative, but you did.

What if you don’t have this kind of experience? Don’t worry… There’s still time. To be clear, our advice is not to hurry up and go join Habitat for Humanity or work a ladle in a soup kitchen once or twice in a desperate effort to improve your MBA candidacy. First of all, you won’t really make much of an impact, so why bother? Second, business school admissions officers see this halfhearted trick all the time, and trust us when we say they can see right through it.

But, taking something that you already do and doing it even more (such as taking over leadership of the volleyball club you’ve belonged to for the past couple of years) is entirely reasonable and consistent with your overall applications story. Again, the goal is not to get involved with a dozen different things, but to demonstrate that you’re someone who takes on a leadership role, is not afraid to do dirty work, and genuinely cares about the world around you. If that means tutoring inner-city kids, great. If it means playing the piano in an amateur jazz band, that’s great, too. Passion and a desire to get involved are really what business schools want to see, and between now and your application deadlines, you actually have more time than you may realize to go even further with those activities.

That wraps up this series! Remember that, no matter when you apply, that application is merely a snapshot of all of the work you have done since college. The longer you have until you apply, the more you can do to improve your chances. Even if you only have a few months, though, that’s a lot of time in the life of a young professional… Use it!

To get going on creating your own application strategy, pick up a copy of our MBA admissions guide, Your MBA Game Plan. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

What to Do Now to Boost Your MBA Candidacy Next Year (Part II)

Last week, we discussed a couple of steps you can take now to bolster your business school candidacy, even if you’re still months (or even years) away from applying. In that first installment we primarily focused on the academic areas in which you can boost yourself in admissions officers’ eyes. Today, we’ll talk about some of the ways you can boost the professional experience part of your candidacy.

Of course, your work track record is built up over a few years (or however long since you graduated from college), and it’s not something you can overwrite in mere months. Most of your pre-MBA legacy has already been written, unless of course you’re reading this two or three years before you apply to business school, in which case we congratulate you! Assuming you’re less than a year away from starting your applications, then you don’t have a lot of time, but figuring out what to work on between now and the application deadlines is actually pretty easy.

So how can you do this? Just look at the questions that some top MBA programs ask in their admissions essays:

  • “Tell us about a time in the last three years when you identified and pursued an opportunity to improve an organization.” (Stanford)
  • “What have been your most significant leadership experiences? What challenges did you face, and what impact did you have? This is your opportunity to explain how you Think Bravely.” (Kellogg)
  • “Describe a time when you pushed yourself beyond your comfort zone.” (MIT Sloan)

Those are just three examples, but they give you an idea of the attributes that MBA admissions officer look for in candidates. Do you just show up to work every day and do what you’re told, and no more? Or do you stop from time to time, look around, and seek out ways to improve the organization around you? When things go badly on a project, are you the type to roll up your sleeves and do what needs to be done, or are you happy to step back and let others do the dirty work? When your ideas are challenged, do you respond in a constructive way?

If you can already think of answers that you have for these questions — ideally answers that draw from your most recent work experience — then you’re already in great shape. But, if you’re struggling to answer some of these questions, then you have yourself a road map for what kind of work experiences you should seek out between now and when you apply to business school.

Ask to be put on that project that seems like i will be a lot of work. Seek out a peer who is struggling with something, and see if you can lend a hand. Think of something at work that makes you wonder “Why do we do it that way?” or “Why don’t we start doing this?” and make a case for why things should change. Not only will you improve the organization around you, but you also will force yourself to grow professionally, and pick up some great stories in the process!

Next week we’ll cover the last area in which you can start working now to improve your MBA admissions chances!

If you plan on applying to business school in the coming year, grab yourself a copy of our book, Your MBA Game Plan, which is now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!