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Best MBA application tips?

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Best MBA application tips? [#permalink] New post 15 Apr 2009, 11:49
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Collection of best Business School (MBA) application tips, recommendations, and advice from currently admitted students. Find out what application strategies worked and paid of and what did not. Have you been admitted to an MBA Program? Great! tell us what worked for your application process:

  • What are your top three app tips for new applicants?
  • What school are you in?
  • This could be for essays/the application/the interview/etc.


Edit: This discussion has been retired.
You can find the latest and updated thread here: best-mba-application-tips-from-elite-alumni-and-students-133967.html
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Re: Best app tips? [#permalink] New post 15 Apr 2009, 11:58
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The three general tips I have:

1) Don't apply to 10 schools in one round. Or even 8. In theory, this sounds doable. In reality, you end up rushing a couple of apps and really killing any hope of any free time during those 3 months. It's better to split them between rounds.

2) Pick your schools carefully. Someone told me when I was making the school list to only apply to schools that I'd actually attend. As in, make sure you answer yes to "if you only got into school x, would you go to x?". That'll help you save time and money in the app process.

3) Save vacation time. You'll need it to visit campus, do interviews. In my case, I also took a couple of sick days to finish my essays in time for the app deadlines.
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Re: Best app tips? [#permalink] New post 15 Apr 2009, 12:12
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In no particular order:

1) Don't apply to your favorite school first. As doubtful as I was about this, my applications did in fact get better as I applied to more schools. And not only for the essays...the biggest difference was with the interviews. I had learned to better position myself in a face-to-face setting after some interview experience and my last interview as my best because of it.

2) Decide early on which schools you MIGHT apply to and visit/research them early on. I thought I would shoot for only my round 1 reach schools, but then decided to diversify going into round 2 (thank God). But when I decided to pull the trigger on that it was too late to visit Dartmouth, which I knew I liked before then. Living close by and not visiting would have really hurt my chances of getting in and I decided not to apply.

3) If you are interested in Kellogg, do those essays first (unless maybe it's your top choice as per #1). Kellogg's essays were tough (I prefer word limits) but I found their structured nature to be helpful for completing other essays and I wish I had done them before doing my round 1 essays.
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Re: Best app tips? [#permalink] New post 15 Apr 2009, 12:13
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1) For international students: choose off-campus interview in your country instead of on-campus one. It will be much easier to explain all your achievements and motives.

2) think a lot then write and show your package (all essays + resume) to friends.

3) don't give up.
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Re: Best app tips? [#permalink] New post 15 Apr 2009, 12:35
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If applying to more than one school make a "master app" in word. Your master app should contain:
Your address
Work experiences + descriptions, addresses, contacts
Undergrad info + gpa/rank/ etc
extracuriculars, hours you participated etc

as you go through your apps keep adding to your master app so yoiu can just cut and paste.

Also before yoiur write really think about your experiences and how they will contribute to your future goals

most importantly MAKE SURE YOU ACTUALLY ANSWER THE QUESTION ASKED.

Have your friends look over your essays - this is key

will add if I can think of more
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Re: Best app tips? [#permalink] New post 15 Apr 2009, 13:44
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One thing that kept coming up over and over during this long app season, with friends, on forums, even for myself, is CAREER GOALS. Very very important! Only when I updated my career goals did I get accepted from the waitlist.

It seems many applicants spend most of their time and energy on explaining who they are and their past and why this school, but overlook the future and making meaningful and realistic career goals, which may be the most important part. When I updated my goals, they went from being very general and rather broad, to being very very specific, I'm talking specific to the point of company names, programs, and positions.

To get even just a few sentences of detailed career goals required weeks of research, maybe why many overlook it. I read hundreds of pages about my target industry and target specializations within it, I had to speak to many current MBA students in that track, and even spoke to successful executives in that field, etc, etc. Very time-consuming, but VERY important.

By pinning you down to very specific goals, the school can insure that you are a planned person on the path to success. Also, they can lump you into a demographic for their class diversity. So be careful about choosing a goal that is common, as you may place yourself into the most oversubscribed demographic, as a friend who went 0-for-5 did. I have very non-traditional goals (that fit my past and present), but now that I'm in I can take a well-traveled route if I choose.

Last edited by decemberblues on 20 Apr 2009, 16:40, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Best app tips? [#permalink] New post 15 Apr 2009, 14:09
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1. Be as specific as possible when it comes to career goals in your essays. Show the adcom that you have done a ton of research on the firms you want to work for and the industry you want to work in. My early apps said 'I want to do investment banking', while my later apps (i.e. the ones I got in with) said 'I want to do technology investment banking focused on SaaS companies because this is an emerging area of technology. I want to work at Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, or Thomas Wiesel due to their immense domain expertise and market leading position in this area...". The second sentance got me into Texas and Kellogg, while the first one got me dinged from UCLA and Chicago w/o interview. You do the math.

2. Your 2nd app will be better than your 1st, your 3rd better than your 2nd, etc. Don't do your dream school first. Maybe even wait for the 2nd round for your dream school. I know that requires some serious patience, but it may be worth waiting. At some point you'll see diminishing returns, but until you reach that point put off your all-star schools.

3. This may not be a universal opinion, but i say interview on campus whenever possible because if you really knock the interview out of the park, then you have a real live person sitting there in meetings pulling for you. If you interview with an alum, this excitement may not be as evident and could get lost in translation. It's always a good thing to have an AdCom on your side in admission decision meetings saying, "yup, this guy/gal was a pleasure and a joy to meet with. They certainly have my vote. I think we should definitely admit them." That can only work in your favor.
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Re: Best app tips? [#permalink] New post 15 Apr 2009, 15:56
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I am only going to give one tip...since most everything else is easily picked up on and I think many people do well at.

RiverRipper's one rule of applying to b-school: Be honest with yourself.
Honest about which schools you will be competitive at.
Which schools you will have the best fit, can you sell this fit to the schools themselves.
Is your career goal attainable...drastic career switches are not as easy as having the right school on your resume. Its a hard thing to accomplish these days.
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Re: Best app tips? [#permalink] New post 15 Apr 2009, 17:39
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Great thread isa.

1. Think long and hard about yourself beyond the numbers. What makes you different from the thousands of others applying? Forget your GMAT and GPA - they can't be changed. What is your best face, and how do you show that face to the adcoms on every single page of your application?

1a. Print a PDF of all your applications before you submit. Refer back to this PDF before your interviews to make sure your message is consistent.

2. Be humble and acknowledge your weaknesses directly in your essays (no one is perfect after all), and also why you think you can overcome your weaknesses to be a leader at b-school.

3. Show off a little bit in your essays - it's ok to be proud of what you've accomplished!

(at first glance, 2 and 3 seem to contradict each other, but I think the best essays show (a) pride in past accomplishments and (b) honest reflections about past mistakes/weaknesses)
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Re: Best app tips? [#permalink] New post 15 Apr 2009, 20:06
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I will give a similar seemingly contradictory advice.

1) You are better than you think you are.
2) You are worse than you think you are.

On your worse days, when everything you write seems to come out like gibberish, or every GMAT question seem insolvable, etc., keep in mind the first piece of advice. There's a lot to tell from even the smallest accomplishments, encounters, and experiences.

On your best days, when you feel you're not just writing the best application essay, but you think you'll become the next great author, keep in mind the second piece of advice. Many people with amazing achievements have applied to business schools, so don't even think about impressing the AdCom with achievements alone. The only way you can wow the AdCom is write from your own unique perspective, which can only be achieved by being completely honest.
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Re: Best app tips? [#permalink] New post 15 Apr 2009, 20:45
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I have some insight into R1, R2, R3 and so on

The best advice I can give from my experience which I did not know beforehand is that there is no difference between R1 and R2.

In fact, considering that you are highly likely to write better essays in R2, it might even be easier, in real world terms.

I made a huge mistake by "putting all my marbles" in R1, thinking it would help me very marginally to be early. It didn't. My R2 apps were better and I knew what the hell I was doing.

I say you should have 3 groups scheduled:

In R1 you should choose that one lowest safety which you would attend if you got all dings, one from the top tier (but NOT your top), and one you think you would get into but aren't sure.

R2 should be your dream school, plus 2-3 from from your middle tier

I don't recommend R3 except for those schools which have 4 rounds like Carnegie Mellon. CMU is the perfect elite school to be applying to in March if you still aren't satisfied with your propects. You are certain to have very sharp essays and self-presentation by that time.
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Re: Best app tips? [#permalink] New post 16 Apr 2009, 04:09
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I'd agree pretty much with all the other advice offered by the other posters, especially about knowing yourself and your goals.

Beyond that, my advice would be to try to avoid getting totally absorbed by the process mentally and emotionally. I know I was partially guilty of this myself, and waiting sucks, but life goes on. It's a long process from start to finish, and you should try to make sure you take the time to step away now and then and enjoy it. Also, getting dinged isn't the end of the world, even if you get dinged everywhere you apply. The 2008 Zero Admits Revisited thread is full of examples of people who struck out last year, and got into some pretty incredible schools this year.
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Re: Best app tips? [#permalink] New post 16 Apr 2009, 09:21
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It's all about the essays.

My R1 was a disaster. I got an interview invite to Chicago, and nothing from Stanford and Berkeley. R2 was the exact opposite. Admits to Kellogg, UCLA and my safety school, Wisconsin, gave me full ride plus huge stipend.

This is what I figured out given my analysis of my essays combined with the results of my apps.

1. Have a story
-My Chicago story was about critical thinking and self-growth
-My UCLA story was about pursuing your dreams instead of doing what you should
-My Kellogg story was about self-discovery and redemption
-Stanford and Haas had no unifying theme, even though some of the individual essays were among my best ones (especially Stanford's what is important to you and why)

2. Have clear goals
-Chicago, Stanford, and Berkeley all fell short in this regard - my goals were totally abstract and unachievable
-UCLA had clear goals which fit my story
-Kellogg had clear goals that completed my story

3. Personalize your weaknesses and illustrate your strengths
-in my case, my greatest strength was also my greatest weakness (international experience, but no conventional business experience)
-For Stanford and Haas, I didn't really talk about the dark side at all, and simply listed my strengths
-While Chicago also did not address my weaknesses, it was also by far the most explicit of my round 1 apps in highlighting my strengths (in part thanks to the Powerpoint). That said, I fell apart at this point during the interview
-My UCLA's essays failed to address my weaknesses, but I covered it during my interview (which was after I figured it all out while doing my Kellogg app). UCLA's essays were also explicit in addressing my strengths (again I was helped by the audio recording)
-Kellogg is where it all came together. I illustrated my strengths in my best essay of the season, and also acknowledged the dark side in one of the most personal essays I have ever written. I was literally in tears when I proofread it. The only reason I did it - and the reason I'm writing this to save you from my struggles - is because I was desperate. I was dinged or on the verge of being dinged from all my R1 schools, my proofreader told me (accurately) that my essays sucked, and I had no choice but to write from the heart.

So I guess that's the biggest thing. Be honest. First and foremost, be honest with yourself. Don't dwell on your weaknesses, but do address them, preferably as personally as possible. Be proud of your strengths, but don't write about them, ILLUSTRATE them. And tie them all together with goals that address your weaknesses and are tailored to your strengths. I am fully confident I would get an interview to every school I applied to next year if I did it again. That's how much better my R2 essays were...

So to sum up:
Chicago - 1.5 out of 3 - dinged with interview
Berkeley and Stanford - 0 out of 3 - no interview
UCLA - 2 out of 3 - admitted
Kellogg - 3 out of 3 - admitted
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Last edited by monkbent on 16 Apr 2009, 09:26, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Best app tips? [#permalink] New post 16 Apr 2009, 10:32
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One thing that hasn't been mentioned is don't just apply to the top schools, even if you think you'll get into one. I figured I would only go and take on the debt if I got into a M7 school, so I applied to four of them and nothing else (1 admit/1 waitlist). Now I wish I had applied to some lower ranked schools and maybe gotten a scholarship. I would definitely give up M7 for a full ride to another top 15 school without hesitation, I can't see why some people on here give up that money. $100k to me is a big deal, a bigger deal than a few places in the rankings...

Another thing that has been mentioned, but I'll say again, don't apply to more than 3 schools in one round. It sucks big time and makes the quality of each app suffer. Stick to 2-3 schools in rounds 1 and 2, and you should get into at least 1. Of course many people apply to more with success, but I just think life is too short to be writing essays for 8 schools in the same round!!
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Re: Best app tips? [#permalink] New post 16 Apr 2009, 13:40
I guess I'll chip in my worthless two cents here as well...specifically regarding interviews

Unlike job interviews, nailing a bschool interview is no guarantee to a spot at the school, especially schools that use second year students as interviewers. I might be very biased on this, but it seems that interview reports from 2nd year students just don't carry that much weight because after all, they aren't the ones making the call on admit/dings.

For example, I had great interviews at Chicago w/ a 2nd year student, and another great one with HBS adcom. My Chicago essays were actually a tad better than my HBS essays. Had great recs to both schools. Guess what, denied at Chicago and in at HBS.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is, don't freak out too much about interviews, it's not a do or die situation like job interviews (where the only criteria is how well u do on the interview itself). Of course, when you get a chance to interview with adcom, it's a good opportunity to really stand out.
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Re: Best app tips? [#permalink] New post 22 Apr 2009, 17:10
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I agree with what has been said - I've got one tip that really helped me.

1. Talk it out!

Tell your friends, family, coworkers, you want to get an MBA. This will spark a lot of natural questions - why? what schools are you applying to? what do you want to do after?

At the begining of my applications I sat down with jb32 over lunch to talk schools, goals, and application strategy. He brought up a bunch of questions I hadn't thought of. Point being by the time you talk to a bunch of people you will really have your story down. You will be ready for your applications and interviews. You need to know your "story" forwards and backwards.

The other thing I got better at is what jb talked about in his post being more specific (this came with refining my story) - when I got to Ross I had gone from "I want to do consulting" to "I want to do strategy consulting for a top firm focusing on the energy industry so that I can expand on my core skills and make a move into energy venture capital and clean energy."
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Re: Best app tips? [#permalink] New post 22 Apr 2009, 21:21
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My best advice is...

1. Write in your own voice (except for situations like the MIT cover letter where you should write business formal). Use humor, dialogue, an occasional colloquialism. You can get away with it as long as your grammar and spelling are perfect.
2. This sounds cheesy, but figure out what makes you unique. Whatever you're passionate about (yes, outside of your career) should be one of your main themes. During interviews you might want to talk about intellectual interests too. Art, feminism, and online privacy were all topics I explored in my essays and interviews.
3. Don't bore the adcom. I fell asleep trying to read the essays in Montauk's book. I'm sure the adcom is 100x more bored by that kind of essay because they see so many.
4. Be confident; don't be arrogant.
5. Ladies, it's good to be a bit stylish for your interviews. I think we feel more confident as young, hip professionals than we do when trying to dress like men in stiff, button-down shirts.
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Re: Best app tips? [#permalink] New post 24 Apr 2009, 08:06
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Research - Seriously Research. If you've found this place before applying you're at the begining of the right track. I didn't put my best foot forward this year because I didn't do enough research. There is a reasonly long line of Gmatclub members who have had the same experience their first go round. When you're looking at schools if you can't explain to someone else the differences between one school and another then you haven't done enough research. I used to think that the "what other schools are you applying to, what is the common thread between those schools" question that I got asked at Cornell was a tough question. Now I think it's a very very good question. If you really know enough about your schools it should probably be pretty easy. The same goes for careers but other people have covered that. GoBruins summed it up best for me when he told me that my goals looked like when a 5 year old tells his mom he wants to be a fireman.
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Re: Best app tips? [#permalink] New post 24 Apr 2009, 09:20
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Summary:
1) Take the GMAT early
2) Trust your writing/creative/brag-about-yourself style
3) Don't pretend. You are who you are.
4) Accept the randomness!

Details for the masochists:
1) Take the GMAT early. My best decision was to get it over with well before applications were released with enough time for at least one retake (luckily not necessary). This will help you focus on applications.

2) Trust your writing/creative/brag-about-yourself style. I spent a lot of time writing for Booth and did Wharton's last minute. Result: admit at Wharton and double-waitlisted at Booth. I have to go back to high-school for validation on essay writing since I studied and worked as an engineer, but I never started one essay earlier than the day before it was due and I usually got good grades. That is just how I work. (That doesn't mean I wasn't thinking about what to write, just didn't put it on paper) I don't recommend this, but don't change your style just for b-school apps. Also, I am self-deprecating and have trouble bragging about myself when there are many others out there who seem much "better" than me. So that's how I wrote. Threw in a few jokes, talked about what was fun for me, and showed this during my interviews as well.

3) Don't be afraid to admit who you are and what you do in your applications. I wasn't a "save the world" kind of guy and it wasn't worth trying to force it (aka no volunteer work). I didn't think I had a great chance at the top schools, so I figured I'd admit to what I really like to do. I may be one of the few who left "social chair" on their resume and included my eagerness to organize tailgates. I can't say for sure that these things helped, but these schools know they need people who can handle the academics and contribute to the fun factor. Also, no special gift or quality is too aged or small to mention if it may excite an app reader. They get bored.

4) Accept the randomness! Unless you are the ultimate bada$$, then it will require luck to get in to many top schools. Who interviews you, the mood of essay readers, the landscape of other applicants, and the strategy of the school all contribute and are out of your control. This is true in your career, search for a mate, and pretty much most of life. Don't be too hard on yourself.

Wow. This post got long. If you got this far, then congratulate yourself and go do something fun or interesting.
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Re: Best app tips? [#permalink] New post 04 May 2009, 08:32
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2. Is it better to interview on campus or in your local area? I imagine doing interviews with alumns A LOT easier than adcoms. You won't be as nervous, and the conversations would go much smoother. But then again, these alumns don't have as much pull as an adcom. Should I take the risk and go interview with an adcom?

After researching this topic last year, I decided that optimally I should go on-campus for interviews and pray that I got an adcom. I feel like I interview well (especially to ease the engineer stigma), so this appeared to be my best option. I focused on Booth as a reach school, so I flew out for a day and got interviewed by an adcom (female too which I thought was another advantage since I seem to interview better with the opposite sex). Interview was quick, professional, and a little boring, but overall I felt it went well (disclaimer: not an innuendo and description does not parallel my "personal" life) Result: waitlisted twice.

Wharton felt like a super-stretch for me, so I went the opposite direction and got interviewed by an alum at the Starbucks down the street. Went out late the night before, popped two excedrine in the morning, and ordered a large ice-water before he arrived. He tried to ask the formal questions and take notes, but that lasted about 2.5 minutes and we basically just had a conversation for over an hour. Had no idea what to make of it and figured I wouldn't get in anyway. Result: got in 2 hours after Booth WL'd me.

Tough to make a conclusion based on this, but I'll take a stab. On-campus is definitely not a guaranteed advantage and may in fact be a disadvantage in certain situations. It seems more likely to have a relaxed, conversational interview with an alum (same experience with Haas), so if that fits your personality don't feel obligated to go on-campus (especially if you've already visited). Also, if you live in a region separate from the school you'll be interviewed by someone who has a perspective on both areas. This can help you find things in common during the interview and you can ask questions very pertinent to your situation (e.g. "Will I have a nervous breakdown if I move from SoCal to Philly?")

Still, luck and randomness are likely to throw off any pre-planned strategies, so don't spend too much time worrying about the decision.
Re: Best app tips?   [#permalink] 04 May 2009, 08:32
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