Monthly Archives: November 2011

Four Things That Tend to Make Many International MBA Applicants Sound Alike

We get no shortage of inquires from international business applicants. (By “international” we mean people based in other countries who apply to U.S. business schools.) In fact, we sell more copies of Your MBA Game Plan internationally than we do in the United States! While we love helping international applicants, we find that there are many themes we hear over and over when talking to them. While many international applicants hold some great assets that make them attractive to U.S. business schools, they sometimes fall into some very common traps that ultimately make it hard for them to stand out vs. the competition.

Here are four things that we tend to see a lot of in international applicants. None of these things is terrible or will certainly keep you out of a top-ranked MBA program, but if you read this list and it sounds a lot like you, then consider this a wake-up call that you may need to work a little harder to get into a top U.S. business school:

Strong GMAT scores and academics, but not much else
For the past decade, we have talked with countless applicants who have, at first, merely introduced themselves with the name of their university, their class rank, and their GMAT score. When it comes to extracurricular activities, hobbies, or anything else that can help admissions officers see them as real, interesting people, they often have very little to talk about. When trying to stand out versus thousands of applicants with 700+ GMAT scores and fancy degrees, you can’t fight fire with fire. In other words, what will help you stand out is not an even higher GMAT score, but something else that helps tell the story of who you are, even if (especially if) it has nothing to do with your job or your academics. And keep in mind that admissions officers are not fooled by a half-hearted attempt to do just enough community service to be able to write about it in your business school application. You need to show passion for something and how you have made an impact. That will help set you apart.

Very similar-sounding career goals
The growth of the markets in India and China has caused many applicants to come to the same conclusion about their career goals: “My goal is to earn my degree and then to return home to launch my own business (or run my family business).” To be clear, there is nothing wrong with this career goal. It’s realistic and specific, which are both very im- portant. But be aware that hundreds of other people from your country who are applying to the same school may have the same goal in mind, which will make it even harder for you to stand out. If this is truly your goal, then don’t change it for the sake of being different—but realize that something else in your application will need to help set you apart from other applicants.

Unrealistic career goals
For some international applicants, this is a function of not having enough information about graduate business school and the opportunities it can provide. For others, though, the problem is that they don’t want to have common-sounding career goals, so they write things such as “My goal is to start a multinational telecommunications firm and conduct an initial public offering worth $1 billion within five years.” An impressive goal, to be sure, but one that will make admissions officers wonder about how realistic or well-researched your career goals are, which, in turn, may make them wonder if you are a good fit for business school.

A background in technology

Again, there is nothing wrong with this. But be realistic about the fact that so many other applicants will have the same type of professional background. Why should admissions officers want you over 20 other similar-sounding engineers? (And don’t answer that your GMAT score is higher!) One way to overcome this weakness is if you can demonstrate leadership abilities on the job. Maybe you haven’t managed your own employees, but have you led a project or gone out of your way to make a positive impact on your organization? If so, be sure to emphasize that in your application. The key point: Admissions officers are much more interested in your leadership potential than in your technical proficiency. Remember that extracurricular experiences, community service, and hobbies can help you here, too.

Today’s advice was taken from our book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition! And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Get to Know: The Wharton School

In our new “Get to Know” series, every so often we will profile one of the world’s top MBA programs, uncovering some of the less well known facts about a school to help you learn each MBA program better. For our first installment, today we take a closer look at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School

Wharton is one of the most prestigious MBA programs in the world, and every year the school attracts thousands of applicants from all over the world. Whether or not you get in may come down to how well you know the school. Today we dig into three things that contribute to Wharton’s unique, high-energy learning environment. If reading about these attributes make you even more excited Wharton, then the school might be a good fit for you:

Experiential Learning to the Core
Nearly every elite business school is advertising its “action-based” or “experiential” approach, but Wharton deserves credit for the way it puts a premium on student involvement in campus activities and organizations. Gaining knowledge and putting it into practice is seamlessly integrated into the student experience through initiatives such as the Global Consulting Practicum.

Leadership Everywhere
Building leadership acumen is a core of the Wharton program. While we’d be hard pressed to say that leadership is more important at Wharton than it is at Harvard, opportunities to build this skill abound at this school. Wharton features a dedicated Center for Leadership and Change Management, which spearheads multiple leadership-driven initiatives including Leadership Ventures (outdoor experiential leadership experiences and global leadership treks) and the Leadership Fellows Program (a leadership development/mentor program). Leadership is also baked into the Wharton experience through its entirely student-led community and the many opportunities to be a leader outside of the classroom through programs such as the International Volunteer Project and Wharton Community Consultants.

Heavy Student Involvement
Inside and outside of the classroom, students play a leading role in defining the Wharton experience for themselves, their classmates, and for future students. The expectation is that Wharton students will be active members of the community — a standard that manifests itself in all aspects of the Wharton experience as evidenced by more than 100 student run clubs that evolve each year depending on student leadership, the existence of the Dean’s Graduate Student Advisory Committee and the Wharton Graduate Association, and student participation in the admissions process.

To stay on top on all of the latest news and analysis of Wharton admissions, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Stop Worrying About What Other People Do!

With some popular outlets recently reporting that your odds of getting into a top-ranked MBA program have improved since last year, we want to revisit an idea that we have written about before. The main thrust is this: Whether application numbers are up or down barely affects your chances of admission.

Yes, most top-ranked business schools reported that their application numbers were down in the 2010-2011 admissions season when compared to the previous year. This certainly isn’t bad news if you hope to get into one of these MBA programs this year (assuming that the trend continues; this is a reasonable assumption, but not a trivial one), but the problem with all of this is that statistics can be useful in the aggregate, but using them to judge an individual case can lead to some off-base conclusions. In a nutshell. you should stop worrying about how many applicants are trying to get into each of your your target schools, and start worrying about how many GREAT applicants are applying.

See where we’re coming from? Let’s say you apply to Snooty Business School (SBS), which takes 500 new students each year. Last year SBS received 6,000 applications and admitted 600 of them, for an acceptance rate of 10%. (100 of the lucky admits decided to instead matriculate at the Lavish Graduate School of Business instead.) This year, the school will receive 7,500 applications and will still admit 600 of them (they expect yield will be the same), for an acceptance rate of 8%.

Oh no! SBS’s acceptance rate just went down by two percentage points (from 10% to 8%), and you therefore must be 20% less likely to get in! Well, what if we told you that those additional 1,500 applicants all had unremarkable work experience, GPAs under 3.0, and GMAT scores lower than 600? You’re a lot less worried about those additional competitors now, aren’t you? You Now what if we told you that they all were rock stars in their jobs, they all earned 3.8+ GPAs at Ivy League schools, and not one of them has a GMAT score below 740? You’re pretty darn worried now, right?

Of course, you don’t know who those additional people are, just as, when application numbers decline, you don’t know who’s not applying but did apply a year ago. In this hypothetical case, your true competition comes from the portion of applicants who realistically have a fighting chance of getting into (and doing well at) Snooty Business School. In the case of SBS, we’ll estimate that it’s about a quarter to a third of the applicants (this is very consistent with what we hear from admissions officers)… Their job is hard not because they need to choose among the 7,500 people who apply to SBS, but rather because they must decide which of the approximately 2,000 great applicants they will admit.

If those 1,500 “new” applicants are all jokers, then the admissions committee’s job isn’t really that much harder. And if you’re strong enough to be one of the approximately 2,000 great applicants that the admissions committee is really considering, then you should be too spooked by those additional 1,500 applicants. Again, the total number of applicants, by itself, is almost meaningless if you don’t know anything about who those people are. Hearing that SBS’s acceptance rate dropped from 10% to 8% should not have any effect on you as a rational decision maker.

The argument works the same way when the number of applicants drops: If SBS gets 500 fewer applicants this year, you’re happy to hear that. But if all 500 of those people wouldn’t have gotten in anyway — perhaps they were the classic “bad economy fence sitters” who applied on a lark, with miserable GMAT scores and laughable recommendations — then this isn’t exactly super news for you. It ain’t bad news, but it’s not much more exiting than hearing that your second-favorite hockey team just moved from fifth to fourth in the standings.

We’ll leave you with the final piece of advice, which is always true in any kind of weather: You can always help your chances the best by focusing on what you can do to make YOUR application terrific. Let let the rest just happen, because that’s all you can do.

Want more MBA admissions advice? Take a look at our book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!