This article was written by Christina Yu. For more expert MBA admissions and GMAT prep advice, check out the Knewton GMAT blog.
While it would be nice if everything happened according to plan during the MBA admissions process, this isn't always the case. Don't let yourself be caught off guard.
Here are 8 contingencies to prepare yourself for in advance.
Scenario 1: Your interview might be shorter than you expect.
At just half an hour for schools like Chicago Booth, your interview might fly by and leave you wondering in its wake what happened to your hours of meticulous preparation. To prepare for this scenario, understand that no matter how tightly you manage the situation, something unexpected will probably occur (your interviewer may not speak English well, you may be meeting at a noisy cafe, your interviewer’s facial expressions may be stoic and unrevealing) and up the chances of your being thrown off track. So prepare your responses thoroughly and leave some room to be flexible and slightly spontaneous.
Tip: Perfect your elevator pitch, so you don’t end up rambling. With some interviews limited to 30 minutes, you need to compress your story to its most essential points.
Scenario 2: You might not get an interview invite for Dream School X.
Despite your stellar GPA, those killer recommendations, that twinkle in the officer’s eye at the info session, and that persistent feeling that you and Dream School X are meant to be, it is indeed possible your visions might not pan out. In fact, it’s possible you may not even receive an interview invite to Dream School X. The bad news is that this happens more often than one would expect, especially with top 10 schools where a high percentage of the applicant pool is qualified for admission. The good news is that this has no bearing on your chances elsewhere.
Tip: To prepare for this scenario, simply understand in advance that it may occur; do not let it throw you off track emotionally. You still need to perform at work and in your other interviews.
Scenario 3: You might become obsessed with MBA admissions forums.
Nothing is more tantalizing during a stressful wait period than a heated MBA forum, with its network of hyper-driven applicants and officious know-it-alls. Tempted to post your stats and spaz out communally? Do so wisely. Learn what you can to improve your chances of admittance, but don’t waste energy posturing, envying others (a good deal of the self-reported statistical information is exaggerated or made up), or engaging in inappropriate behavior.
Tip: Don’t let yourself get sucked into a week-long debate over what schools exactly compose the M7 (consortium of elite MBA programs) or which applicant has a better shot at an IB/HF/PE job post-MBA. Learn what you can from the forums, but pick your battles (you don’t want to be at a conference a year from now and have people recognize you as “that guy from the admissions forum”).
Scenario 4: The adcom might not be impressed with the achievement of which you are most proud.
In your eyes, the capstone of your application is the non-profit you started or your published thesis paper from undergrad or a rhapsodic recommendation letter from your CEO. Surely, you think, you won’t get dinged with that under your belt. Well, in business as in life: imagine your worst-case scenario. What happens if nobody is impressed by Big Achievement X? Ask yourself, “What else do I have?” Just as you don’t want to be without stardust factor, you also don’t want to be without the solid, necessary goods to back it all up (GMAT score, GPA, solid work experience).
Tip: Don’t over-think the process or become so enamored by certain resume baubles that you fail to overlook the fundamentals. Yes, some people do get admitted based on a unique achievement, but the majority get in based on stats (GMAT, GPA, etc.) and years of experience.
Scenario 5: The adcom might be impressed with something unexpected instead.
Maybe some of your responsibilities at work always struck you as administrative and not particularly interesting, but they might bring out an aspect of your experience which is rare, interesting or commendable in others’ view.
Tip: Know yourself and what you uniquely bring to the table. Chances are it’s something so inextricably intertwined with who you are that you might not see it as impressive. Be prepared to talk about all aspects of your application, including those which you consider mundane.
Scenario 6: Dream School Y might accept you with a scholarship even if Dream School X doesn’t invite you to interview.
So maybe you’ve been dinged across the board except for one school. Well, it’s certainly possible that you gain acceptance at that school and are even awarded a scholarship there. In short, think of the admissions season as an athletic event; just as you shouldn’t look behind you during a race, don’t let emotions affect your “performance.” What might be a significant red flag for one school might be easily overlooked at another school. So if you weren’t invited to interview at Columbia and Kellogg but scored an invite for Wharton, own that invite and present yourself to the best of your ability.
Tip: Don’t let your conception of yourself fluctuate too much during the process. And don’t rely too much on external validation. You need to have a solid sense of self no matter what happens.
Scenario 7: Your slacker classmate might get into Dream School X over you.
The admissions process is always both less or more mysterious than you expect. There are undoubtedly people with GPAs around 3.0 that will be admitted to schools that some people who have 3.9s won’t get into.
Tip: Understand that the process will not seem fair and make the decisions that are best for you.
Scenario 8: You might end up in purgatory.
In other words, you might be waitlisted. If you are, the good news is that you aren’t rejected and that you are indeed qualified for admission (which spells well for any future applications if you are ultimately rejected and decide to reapply).
Tip: Do whatever you can to increase your chances of admittance if you’re waitlisted. But don’t overwhelm admissions officers with material if you are not invited to submit additional information. Whatever you add to your application should indeed “add” to your application.