Monthly Archives: April 2010

Boosting Your Admissions Chances on the MBA Waitlist

Every year many waitlisted business school applicants proclaim, “I wish they would have just dinged me, rather than sticking me in the admissions Purgatory that is the waitlist!” While this isn’t entirely rational — Wouldn’t you want some chance of being admitted, rather than none? — it is somewhat understandable. In this case, while your fate may not entirely be in your hands, there are definitely things you can do to improve the chances that you will be one of the applicants that your dream business school admits from the waitlist.

Except for instances where schools explicitly say, “Don’t contact us, no matter what” (and even in some of those cases), erring on the side of thoughtful, succinct outreach can only help your chances. What frustrates many applicants is that it may not do anything to improve their chances, but proactive outreach will almost always leave you better off than will doing nothing.

How to go about it? Here are four things to do (or not do):

Addressing weaknesses is good, but also emphasize strengths!
When you’re on the waitlist, it’s only natural to say “I didn’t get the outcome I wanted, so I must fix whatever is wrong,” but being waitlisted — as opposed to being denied admission altogether — means you did something right. Find out what made you so attractive through admissions officers (if possible), or other admissions experts, and play to those strengths in your waitlist outreach.

Don’t bother having current students go to bat for you.
Normally, letters from current students do nothing more than communicate enthusiasm (“He’s a great guy and he really wants to come here”), which the admissions office probably already knows. While you should certainly emphasize your enthusiasm when reaching out to the admissions office, avoid submitting new letters of support unless they a) bolster key themes in your application, b) shore up any perceived weaknesses and c) come from a new source, preferably a manager or direct supervisor who can speak to progress since you crafted your original application.

If the school is your #1 choice, let them know!
Top business schools are notoriously concerned with managing their yield — the number of admitted students that matriculate. Assuming you really, truly want to attend the school, and have a deposit ready should they be accepted, be sure to communicate that intent in their waitlist outreach. Now that’s doubling down!

If possible, do all of the above in person.
If you can, visit the school, go to the admissions office, ask to meet with an admissions representative and make your care. Explain your strengths and addressing weaknesses, introduce new letters of support, and communicate excitement and intent to enroll if accepted — face-to-face.

For more help in getting admitted from the waitlist, pick up a copy of Your MBA Game Plan, one of the world’s most popular books about MBA admissions. And, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter for more advice on the business school application process.

How a Job Change Can Affect Your Business School Admissions Chances

Recently we were asked, “I’m thinking of looking for a new job right now. Since I plan on applying to business school this fall, would it be a bad idea to consider changing jobs now?”

The actual act of changing jobs, by itself, shouldn’t help or hurt you in the admissions process. But, as it almost always seems to be, the answer is “It depends.” Admissions officers understand that young professionals may have several jobs before they enter business school, and as long as your reasons appear to be good and your overall application “story” makes sense, this won’t be a hindrance.

If you take a new job, ideally it will be to take on a new role with increased responsibility and more pay. (Why does pay matter? Because it’s the most objective measure of how much more responsibility you took on. A new job might have a fancier title, but if the pay is the same, it may appear that this is a promotion in name only.) Or, if it’s a different industry or function, then ideally your new job is more consistent with your stated pot-MBA goals. Or, if it’s a different industry or function, then ideally your new job is more consistent with your stated pot-MBA goals. For instance, maybe now you work in banking, but you want to ultimately start an NGO after business school, and right now you’re considering moving into a new role in a non-profit organization. Either of these switches would make perfect sense to an MBA admissions officer.

Where a job switch can look bad is if you appear as a “job hopper,” someone who’s never happy in the role she’s in, and who just starts looking for a new job as soon as things start to get tough in her current role. If you’re just bored or don’t like your boss, or have some other fairly pedestrian reason for wanting a new job, then the switch won’t help you, and could even hurt you, if it gives the impression of someone who’s making the change to get away from a bad situation, rather than moving towards a real opportunity.

Along these same lines, we get a lot of questions from applicants who ask, “I have the chance to take a new job with [Blue Chip Firm]…. The job and the pay are the same, but the name of the company is better. Should I take it?” In this case, we normally tell applicants that — all things being equal — they can probably help their admissions chances more by achieving more in their current role than by landing at a fancier company, where it will probably take a while to build their connections and really start to make an impact. If you’re still a year or two away from applying, then trying to build your track record at the bigger-name firm may make sense, but if you’re less than a year away from applying, then you have a better chance of making a bigger positive impact in your current job, and that (Impact!) is what admissions officers care about, more than the name of the company you’re coming from.

If you’re just starting to plan your MBA candidacy, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter for more advice on the business school application process!

2011 U.S. News MBA Rankings

Recently U.S. News & Word Report released its annual business school rankings for 2011. It’s easy to get too caught up in the rankings and let the tail wag the proverbial dog in choosing which schools to apply to or attend.

Still, it’s too much fun NOT to pick apart the new business school rankings a little. Without further ado, here’s our look at this year’s results:

U.S. News Business School Rankings for 2011
Last year’s rankings are in parentheses.

1. Harvard (1)
1. Stanford (2)
3. MIT (Sloan) (5)
4. Northwestern (Kellogg) (3)
5. U. of Chicago (Booth) (5)
5. U. of Pennsylvania (Wharton) (3)
7. Dartmouth (Tuck) (8)
7. UC Berkeley (Haas) (7)
9. Columbia (9)
9. NYU (Stern) (11)
11. Yale (10)
12. U. of Michigan (Ross) (13)
13. U. of Virginia (Darden) (15)
14. Duke (Fuqua) (12)
15. UCLA (Anderson) (14)
16. Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) (15)
16. UT Austin (McCombs) (18)
18. Cornell (Johnson) (17)
19. Washington U. in St. Louis (Olin)
20. USC (Marshall) (20)

You can access the full rankings here.

Among top-10 and top-20 business schools, there weren’t many dramatic changes. While Harvard hangs in to the top slot, it now shares it with Stanford. MIT Sloan nabbed the #3 spot (passing Kellogg and Wharton) after sharing the fifth slot with Booth last year. Wharton can’t be happy about falling from #3 to #5, although we’re sure their answer would be (as it is for all top schools), “We don’t pay attention to the rankings.”

One of the more interesting stories that’s played out over the past few years is NYU Stern’s steady march up the rankings, to the point where it’s now tied with Columbia in the race to be New York City’s highest-ranked business school. We want to see what will happen in the next few years… Will Stern finally overtake Columbia in the rankings?

Rounding out the list, kudos to Wash. U. and USC for making it into the top 20 (bumping out Georgetown and UNC in the process). We always say that the happiest schools in the rankings are those at the very top and those who just made the “top ten,” the “top twenty,” etc.

For more news and advice on getting into business school, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter!

How to Think Like an MBA Admissions Officer

While you will put dozens and dozens of hours into your business school applications — and may even put that much work into a single application — the fact of the matter is that your fate is often decided in a matter minutes as an admissions officers reviews your candidacy. While this may seem unfair, put yourself in the application readers’ shoes for a moment: Needing to get through literally thousands of applications in each admission round, they need to be able to quickly and efficiently separate our the wheat from the chaff.

How do they do this? Whether they’re always doing it deliberately or not, they do it by picking out certain markers in your application, each one telling them “This is an applicant that you should look at more deeply” or “Not much to see here… You can probably safely move on.” Understand what these markers are, and you can give yourself a significant advantage over other business school applicants.

While no two people are the same, after an admissions officers sees thousands of applications, very predictable trends start to emerge, and some of these are pretty easy to spot. The result of this somewhat predictable process is that there’s a critical first “moment of truth” — the first 60 seconds or so when an application reader picks up your application and starts to immediately form opinions about your candidacy. While much more time will be spent on your application before a decision is rendered — and admissions officers tell the truth when they say it’s a holistic process, everything is considered, multiple people usually ready your application, etc. — the reality is that your outcome largely depends on how that first moment of truth goes for every admissions officer who picks up your application.

After spending just a minute or two with your application, what key things do you think an admissions officer will take away about your candidacy? Some admissions experts call this your “brand,” and while we like this term, some applicants forget that their brand is not what they present, but rather what admissions officers perceive in their applications. And applicant may think of himself as the “motivated banker who does Habitat for Humanity and wants to get into consulting,” but admissions officers might see a “pushy banker without any community impact with ill-defined career goals.”

Successfully affecting the initial impression that admissions officers form in that first moment of truth really is almost as powerful as doing Jedi mind tricks — and potentially a lot more lucrative if it can get you into a top-ten business school. Watch this blog for a few specific tips to help you successfully steer admissions officers’ first impression of your candidacy.

For more MBA admissions advice, pick up a copy of Your MBA Game Plan, the leading book on the subject. And, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter for more advice on the business school application process.

MBA Waitlist Strategy: Do Additional Letters of Support Help?

Every spring, we get lots of questions from waitlisted applicants about whether or not they should solicit additional letters of support from their past supervisors and co-workers. Assuming that your target school welcomes additional input, such letters can help, but only if they meet certain criteria.

Just last week we spoke with an applicant who was ready to get two former co-workers, both of whom are current students at Fuqua (the applicant’s target MBA program), to write letters of recommendation for him. While it can certainly seem like knowing someone “on the inside” has got to help, that’s not necessarily the case.

In general, we do advise waitlisted MBA applicants to be fairly aggressive in communicating with the admissions office, especially with programs (like Fuqua) that are open to hearing from you. However, as was the case with this applicant, many applicants tend to overestimate the effectiveness of letters from current students. These letters often say nothing more than, “He’s a really good guy and he REALLY wants to come to Fuqua,” which the admissions office probably already knows. It’s nice to communicate your enthusiasm (and you should certainly do that when the situation calls for it), but a current student probably won’t be able to add that much to your application.

The more important question is whether or not an additional letter of support can bolster themes in that applicant’s application or address any perceived weaknesses in his profile. Perhaps he hasn’t held any official management roles yet, but an additional letter of support could highlight new examples of how he displayed leadership skills, got a team organized to tackle a problem, etc. This is what matters to MBA admissions officers, not that he knows current Fuqua students and therefore is probably Fuqua material by association.

When possible, it can help to get an additional letter of support from a supervisor or someone else who normally serves in a supervisory role and has a great deal of experience mentoring and/or evaluating people.This should be someone who hasn’t already written a recommendation for you, for that school. If that person can say, “I’ve worked with this applicant for the last few years, and I can confidently say he’s a strong performer with a great deal of potential,” that certainly helps. At worst, it doesn’t hurt you. That letter can also emphasize your enthusiasm for the school, but “enthusiasm” by itself won’t be enough… You need to give them another reason to consider you when they start to select applicants from the waitlist.

As far as giving your target school significant updates goes, don’t underestimate the importance of this. If you’re able to get your waitlist contact on the phone, see if there’s anything specific that would help, such as a higher GMAT score or some additional college coursework. Frequently the conversation will tend towards very obvious weaknesses — e.g., a relatively low undergraduate GPA — but use this conversation to learn as much as you can about why they waitlisted you and (perhaps even more importantly) why they DIDN’T reject you despite the weaknesses in your application. They couldn’t admit you, but they decided not to reject you… Knowing why can help you craft a successful waitlist strategy.

For more advice on getting off the waitlist and into a top-ten MBA program, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter for more advice on the business school application process!

HBS 2+2 Program Admissions Essays for 2010

Recently Harvard Business School announced the 2010 deadline for its HBS 2+2 Program. While the deadline has changed quite a bit since last year (it’s several weeks earlier than before), but the program’s admissions essays actually remain the same.

Since the essays themselves are unchanged, our advice mostly remains the same, but it’s still worth sharing it again. Note that there are a few subtle nuances in our advice that are new this year, based on feedback we’ve heard directly from successful HBS 2+2 Program applicants this past year:

HBS 2+2 Program Application Essays

  1. What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such? (600 words)

    This is exactly the same question on the traditional HBS application. While you are obviously younger than the typical HBS applicant, the school still expects to see several separate, concrete examples of how you made a positive impact on the organization, community, or people around you. Having a hard time coming up with many? Don’t despair… You just may want to consider the more traditional route of working for several years before applying to business school.
  2. What would you like us to know about your undergraduate academic experience? (400 words)

    This question is unique to the 2+2 Program application. Being that you probably don’t yet have any full-time work experience, the admissions office is willing to dig deeper into your undergraduate experience to learn more about you. Don’t simply recount your transcript here. Why did you choose your major in college? What motivated you to choose certain course? Were there any instances when you really pushed yourself out of your comfort zone? Focus on just one or two themes here, ideally showing how you have grown academically over the past three years. Harvard want to transform you from young raw ingredients into a polished, finished product. Showing glimpses of such a transformation in the first three years of college can help the HBS admissions office picture you thriving at HBS.
  3. What have you learned from a mistake? (400 words)

    This is also taken directly from the standard HBS application. Just like with all mistake essays, you want to show introspection (What did you learn?) and a motivation for self-improvement (How did you use what you learned to better yourself and avoid that mistake again?). While you won’t have the same experiences as a twenty-five-year-old applicant to draw upon here, look for experiences in all aspects of your life where you learned a valuable lesson. There’s a good chance that your richest story will come from outside of your academics.
  4. Optional Essays (choose one)

    - Discuss how you have engaged with a community or organization. (400 words)

    - What area of the world are you most curious about and why? (400 words)

    - What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you? (400 words)

    All three of these are also taken from the standard HBS application. We always recommend that applicants err on the side of discussing themselves, the decisions they’ve made, and the impact they’ve made on those around them — not on a person or an idea that they hold dear. The former is really the only way the admissions office will get to you YOU, and without knowing you, how can Harvard admit you?

    These specific examples of your initiative and leadership are extremely valuable, especially if you are relatively inexperienced. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t answer one of the other questions, but make sure yoo go beyond big-picture generalities and let the Harvard admissions committee get to know the real you.

For more updates on the HBS 2+2 Program and similar programs at top business schools, subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter!