“Never Set Your Goals Too Low: Apply Only to Those Schools You Dream of!”
Kate Katashinskaya, Darden School of Business graduate and MBA Strategy client, had met a school's representative at the MBA25 fair in 2014 and successfully applied in R3 in 2015. In this interview, Kate gladly shared her insights about the application process.
How to choose a BS
Initially I selected about 10 business schools for myself – all of them were situated in the US and, of course, were considered top-schools according to rankings. Those criteria were not random. During my university studies, I had an exchange year in the USA, so I was aware of the educational system, the quality of higher education, and people's mentality there. Of course, there also were some obvious reasons to study business in the USA, such as the level of the country's economic development, practice-oriented academic approach, or the number of Nobel Prize winners and other prominent scientists in top schools' faculty.
The next criterion was a school's ranking, and I paid specific attention to top-10 schools. Besides, while making my decision, I considered schools' location, class size, graduates' reviews, teaching methods and so on. During that stage, I cut off a number of options and then, due to strict deadlines (I postponed my GMAT exam) I had finally chosen four diverse, but highly attractive programs for me.
Today I realize that one of the greatest pieces of advice I had received from MBA alumni during my application process was never to set goals too low and prepare application only to those schools where you really want to study. However, this was a risky decision in R3, given my GMAT score, which was not impressive at all. Finally, the risk paid off, and I received interview invitation from three schools out of four.
Application Process and Tests
It took me one year to prepare my application package since I had selected the schools. It remained me a hot race, where I had to combine a full-time job with tests preparations. Of course, I made mistakes: I neglected the TOEFL exam prep since I hoped that my knowledge of English would be enough to succeed. As a result, due to the tricky test structure and hidden pitfalls, my result was much worse than it could be.
The most time-consuming part was the GMAT. You should not be afraid of taking the test. However, you must treat it seriously, as GMAT is one of the key selection criteria in business schools. For the reason of the test format, one cannot win if only having solid quantitative skills and English language proficiency. One has to be purposeful, develop a personal preparation plan or maybe attend courses. On average, beating the GMAT may take around six months.
Among the essential components of preparation is thorough planning, when you know exactly which step is next. Knowing the right direction increases chances for success, and as for my planning, I would definitely say thank you to MBA Strategy guys. All I had to do was to realize our plan step by step, and everything was prepared on the highest level and within the stated deadlines.
The next pivotal stage in the application process is an interview with an Admission Officer. International Students are allowed to complete an interview via Skype. I had a conversation with Deputy Admission Director, and basically the only question she had asked me was "Tell me about yourself", and I had around 40 minutes to reply. In such cases, mock interview services are truly helpful: I was not nervous and easily gave a memorable self-presentation.
What I realized after passing three business schools interviews was the fact that there is no Admissions Committee that desires your failure. You make things easier, proving to be a successful candidate, so they could easily admit you without overthinking. An interview is just another opportunity to know you better and make sure that you are a lively and communicative person. Therefore the worst thing you can do is to be paralyzed with fear or to reply using prompts learned by heart.
The Key Thing
What was the most challenging for me during the MBA admissions process was building my personal brand. It is torture when you try to do it alone, as you need an objective evaluation of your candidacy, achievements and failures. I was highly supported by Eugenia Sineva, MBA Strategy consultant, who professionally identified my strengths and weaknesses, which helped me shape my story and express it in application essays in the most efficient way.
In a Nutshell
First, you have to conduct a thorough research on business schools and understand where to apply and why. The application process is long and challenging, and it would be very hard if you have no clear motivation. Second, since the moment you determined your choices, you should start preparing as soon as possible, avoiding a situation of postponing your application from one round to another. Take every opportunity to win: ask former students about their old drafts or just for a piece of advice. Additionally, consider asking a professional to review your application – this works. Always.
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