How to Get Accepted to a Top EMBA Program: The Experts Speak [Episode 348]
Interview with Accepted MBA/EMBA admissions consultants, Cindy Tokumitsu and Jen Weld [Show summary]
Should you apply to an Executive MBA program or a regular MBA program? And if you decide on the Executive MBA, what do you need to do to get in? And which EMBA should you apply to? These are the questions that we are going to address with today’s guests, Accepted’s EMBA experts, Cindy Tokumitsu and Jen Weld.
Admissions consultants share tips for crafting an acceptance-worthy EMBA application [Show notes]
Our guests today, Cindy Tokumitsu and Jennifer Weld, are both Accepted consultants. Cindy joined Accepted in 1998. Since then she has carved out a niche for herself working with EMBA and older MBA applicants. She is the author of Ace the EMBA and Top Executive MBA Program Essay Questions: How to Answer Them Right. Jen Weld served for four years on the Cornell Executive MBA admissions committee and later joined Accepted in 2010. She has authored numerous blog posts on MBA and EMBA admissions including the new free guide, Perfect Answers to MBA Interview Questions.
Let’s say I’m in my early to mid 30’s and I’m in middle management and have c-suite ambitions. I have a fairly strong technical background. Should I apply for an MBA or an EMBA and why? [2:51]
Cindy: Linda, you mentioned early-30s and mid-30s, and for MBA programs I think there is a big difference between them. Early 30s is still the upper range of full-time MBAs, whereas mid-30s is really getting out of the full-time range, but also may be even early for an EMBA program. You need to look at what programs are looking at to see whether you qualify. EMBA programs sometimes want a certain level of experience and specifically managerial experience so it is important to consider that.
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Jen: It also can depend on whether or not you are interested in changing industries or job functions to get to a C-suite eventually. A full-time MBA can advantage you if you are a career switcher, but if you are continuing on with your organization or job function an EMBA might make more sense.
What makes for a good EMBA candidate? [4:36]
Jen: Having some managerial experience is important, as is being able to see that progression on an applicant’s resume. With a full-time MBA applicant, an admissions committee is really looking at career potential, but with an EMBA applicant, they should see that you have already been moving up the rungs of the ladder. I think it’s also really important to find someone who feels comfortable being an active participant in the program. You don’t want a wallflower in the program, but rather someone pushing the discussion forward, providing just as much learning as faculty who teach in the program.
Cindy: I totally agree, and to build on that, something I try to drive with clients is that to be a good contributor and participant, you need to be a person with something to say about your function or industry. Show that you are reflective, thoughtful, and have a point of view, and you are not afraid to express that.
How are the criteria for admissions different for Executive MBA vs MBA programs? [6:54]
Cindy: Key criteria are the same but weighted differently. Test scores and GPA weigh less, and career experience weighs more with an EMBA program as opposed to a full-time program.
Jen: Short- and long-term goals tend to be different for the different applicants as well. With full-time there is a general understanding that again a ladder has to be climbed – so if you are planning to go into investment banking, there is an understanding you will first be an associate, then a senior associate, then a vice president, and so on before moving into a senior role. EMBA students are often already on the precipice of moving into general management, already having a lot of depth in a particular subject matter and looking for more breadth to move into the c-suite.
What makes for a great EMBA application? [8:33]
Jen: Great essays! On an admission committee, you look at hundreds of applications in a season, and over the course of your career you will look at thousands if not tens of thousands. You get good at being able to tell quickly if you are going to want to learn more about this person or if this is another “yawn-your-way-through” kind of application. I tell my clients to think about what about your essay will make an adcom member leap out of their chair and want to meet you. No doubt any number of business examples could answer an essay question, but some stand out more from an impact and audience perspective. Think of someone who doesn’t have your technical skillset – how can you bring your achievement to life in a way that helps the adcom not only understand it but also want to learn more about it.
Cindy: I agree 1000%. That sense of engagement with the essay. Engagement is a word I use a lot. The essays are precious real estate, so make sure your personality comes through and ideas and thoughts come through. It is not a place to summarize your career or show you are qualified, that is a waste. Be strategic but let your voice and instinct come through as well.
How does an EMBA student’s part-time status (or full-time job) affect the application process? [11:51]
Cindy: It is important to remember that what you are doing day-to-day in your job is what you will bringing to your classroom, team, and study group, so show that in your application, usually through the essays. Give a glimpse of some of the challenges you have, essentially provide a lens into your day to day role. Also make sure that due to the fact the program is part-time you are prepared to demonstrate or express that you are able to handle that additional work and responsibility.
Jen: I agree. There are some programs that expressly ask about the commitment in the application process. I always asked in my interview, “What gives you heartburn about joining the program?” If someone said, “Nothing,” that really gave me pause – they really had no idea what they were in for. This is an extra 20 hours a week on top of a busy work and personal life. It can be mind boggling.
On the other side though, there are some rewards. There are several Cornell students I have kept in touch with over the years and universally they say after they graduate, “I have so much free time on my hands now I don’t know what to do with myself, I’m going to have to take up three new hobbies!” So, by the end of the program your time management skills are going to be top notch, and you will reap that intangible benefit when you graduate.
How do you recommend applicants address adding the program in to their already busy lives? [15:43]
Jen: If it’s not asked specifically in an application you don’t have to weave it in but be prepared to answer it in an interview. Have you talked to your manager about offloading work, or your family about commitments that will have to go by the wayside, or are you pulling back from volunteer work to address the oncoming challenge? Think about it upfront.
Cindy: I always include it in the interview prep and counsel people to be specific. Give a few examples of what you will change, concrete things you will change in your life to be able to fully participate in the program.
MBA applicants sometimes struggle to fit in all that they want to tell admissions committees. EMBA applicants have so many more years of experience that the challenge can be even greater. How do you advise EMBA applicants to distill their experience into succinct stories and sound bites? [17:30]
Cindy: Don’t try to fit it all in, think about the 2-3 things you have to communicate, that will make your application be strong and focused. What is your message. Be disciplined, focus on those, and go into a little depth in those areas.
Jen: I always started with the resume when I went through applications, which is common for many adcom members, so I help my clients to have the most impactful and useful resume possible. If someone has a very technical background, I’ll encourage them to strip out the technical components that someone without a tech background wouldn’t understand, and make sure the resume is accomplishment-based. In that sense the reader will already have an idea of how impressive you are, and the rest of the application can build the 360 view rather than relying on the essays to do that for you.
What do you find is the biggest challenge your EMBA clients face and how do you help them overcome it? [19:41]
Jen: Can I really do this? There never seems to be the right time. It’s kind of the same situation with starting a family – there will never be the “perfect” time. EMBA application cycles are often very flexible and accept applications late in the process, maybe even as late as 1-2 months before, as applicants are still trying to put their ducks in a row in terms of the whole process. I am not encouraging this, but admissions offices are pretty flexible and do offer a deferral for a certain period of time, so if circumstances change, that could be an option.
Cindy: What I find is that applicants are so involved in their day to day work, and their application relates to that. It can be hard to step out to see things holistically and strategically. I encourage my clients to try and get a little distance, take a strategic look, and develop a message and focus so they are not just talking about “stuff.” I really like that EMBA adcoms are so helpful, which is so different from full-time programs – there are so many opportunities to engage, they are so willing to take a call, answer a question, and sometimes even offer an extension.
Any tips for the EMBA interview? [23:26]
Cindy: Practice! EMBA applicants are very sophisticated and have great communications skills, but for many it has been a long time since being in that particular seat. Sometimes the most polished people struggle the most through a mock interview. My advice for essays applies to the interview as well – be specific, have anecdotes ready.
Jen: There aren’t going to be any gotcha questions. They are often conducted on much more of a peer to peer basis and are more based on fit than anything else. It’s verifying that what you see in the application is what you see in person, so bring your application to life.
Any last words of advice for EMBA applicants? [25:46]
Jen: If at all possible, visit the programs There is no substitute for sitting in on classes, meeting students, and seeing if it is a good fit. If you can’t make it to campus, at least talk to alums or current students because you need a flavor of the program. It is so much time and so much money and you don’t want to make a mistake.
Cindy: I totally agree. Most EMBA applications have a goals essay and are sometimes longer than the full-time MBA application. Try to include both the practical information, but also some vision for what you want to achieve that inspires or motivates you.
What would you have liked me to ask you? [28:00]
Cindy: I think you covered the key points. People have a lot of questions about whether or not they have enough extracurriculars, but at this point go with your strengths.
Jen: There is a lot of pressure that rankings really matter. I go back to the earlier challenge to visit the program. Any of the top 25 programs will provide an excellent education. There are so many different formats – three Saturdays a month, every other Fri/Sat, one week a month, and proper fit is more important than that ranking “thing.” Ultimately, are they people you will enjoy being with for two years and being your network, and will they help you achieve your goals? That is what is important.
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