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Joined: 25 Nov 2013
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Ask Insight Admissions [#permalink]

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New post 26 Nov 2013, 16:06
Hi GMAT Club Members,

You know what you want--admission to top MBA programs.

The bad news: You've got company. The field is ultra competitive and the bar keeps getting higher.

The good news: Getting into the business school of your dreams requires insight into your strengths, values, motivations, and vision; a sound marketing strategy; and fresh, engaging writing. I can help.

A Stanford MBA, I have served as an editor, writer, writing coach, and marketing consultant since 1994, collaborating with corporate clients, nonprofits, promising authors, and MBA candidates alike. Through my previous experience in management consulting and research work with best-selling management author Jim Collins, I am also an expert at mining for information and unearthing the hidden gems in MBA applicants' backgrounds.

If you would like assistance in planning and executing your MBA-application strategy from the outset, or if you would simply like me to help you strengthen and polish your material, please contact me via http://www.insightadmissions.com/ or (303) 587-5598. I can also help you prepare for interviews, get off waitlists, reapply successfully, and manage the stress associated with the application process. Feel free to provide your information (see next post for the details I'd find helpful) on this forum so I can assess your candidacy, or contact me for a complimentary 30-minute consultation.

Deborah Knox
Insight Admissions
http://www.insightadmissions.com/
(303) 587-5598
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Please read this before asking for a profile assessment [#permalink]

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New post 26 Nov 2013, 16:25
Hi GMAT Club Members,

If you would like a profile assessment, it would help me tremendously if you could supply the following information.

Undergraduate institution(s), degree(s), major(s), date(s):
GPA:
Awards:
Extracurriculars:
Age:
Additional education, training, certifications (e.g., CFA, Series 7):
GMAT score (please provide verbal and quant raw scores and percentiles):
Number of years of post-undergraduate work experience:
Employer(s)/position(s) held/career path to date:
Has your career been fast-tracked?:
What is your ranking in comparison to your work peers, if available?:
Reasons for pursuing an MBA/post-MBA goals:
Schools to which you’d like to apply (rank preference, if any):
Round/year in which you would like to apply:
International experience:
Volunteer/community engagement(s):
Other leadership experience(s):

Thanks!

Deborah Knox
Insight Admissions
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Tackling the Goals Essay [#permalink]

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New post 26 Nov 2013, 16:44
Hi GMAT Club Members,

I imagine many of you are in the thick of working on Round 2 applications (or thinking about it!), and you may be bumping up against the goals essay. "I don't know what I want to do longer term. That's why I'm getting an MBA! How am I going to come up with 500 (or 750) words about this?!"

Do not despair! After working with clients on this (and other essays) since 2004, I've come up with an approach that I think is effective, both in terms of delivering what admissions committees are seeking and helping you think about how to clarify a career path. Below is an article I wrote on the topic for Poets & Quants.

Deborah Knox
Insight Admissions

Making the Goals Essay Work for You

When most MBA applicants initially contact me, they’re pretty clear regarding which business schools they’d like to attend: Stanford, HBS, Wharton, Chicago, Sloan, Kellogg, and other top schools. When I ask them why they want an MBA, the answers are often less precise. Advancing my career. Finding a better job. Getting out of engineering and into management. Plugging holes in my background. Networking. Continuing to learn and grow. Being around smart people (no kidding!). Or it’s “to get the rubber stamp” because I’m going back to consulting/investment banking/private equity/venture capital.

If truth be told, it makes sense not to be completely clear about your future career trajectory. After all, if you’re accepted to an MBA program, you’re about to embark on a life-transforming journey, one which will expose you to an array of companies, industries, geographies, functions, and opportunities. Believe me, it’s like being a kid in a candy store. You may even meet the business partner you hadn’t yet dreamed about and become an entrepreneur! When I applied to business school, I thought I wanted to market luxury services and products in Europe after graduation, but after befriending ex-Bain and ex-BCG employees, I set my heart on management consulting and pursued that course for several years.

While HBS hasn’t held much stock in the goals essay in recent years for these reasons and made the bold move of eliminating it in this year’s application (unless you count the 500-character mini-essay asking how pursuing an MBA will contribute to your moving into your target post-MBA industry and function), most other top MBA programs still ask this question. (This season Darden doesn’t ask this question; Duke has mini-essay on the topic; and while MIT doesn’t ask about career goals directly, it does make sense to refer to them in your cover-letter “essay.”) And you’ll be hard pressed to fill up 400 to 750 words elaborating on how you want to learn and grow, so it behooves you to come up with a well-articulated post-MBA goal. At the same time, you don’t want to overspecify it such that it borders on being next to impossible. Saying “I want to be CEO of Company A in ten years” is pretty unlikely unless you’re referring to your family’s business. But something like “I would like to be CFO of a company in an industry that is beginning to take off, where there are no firmly established business models (e.g., in-home solar energy) so I can exercise my creativity and help shape the field” is sufficiently detailed but not overdefined. I actually think working on this essay is quite a useful exercise. Even if you don’t end up doing what you write about, you’ll have engaged in a process that you can use when you’re deciding what you’re going to do after school and beyond. And it shows admissions committees that you have the requisite self-awareness, drive, and basic business savvy to choose a winning path.

As I help my clients articulate their post-MBA goals, I ask them to consider what lies at the intersection of three broad questions:*

• What am I passionate about?
• What relevant skills and experience do I bring to the table?
• Is there truly an opportunity in this space?

Let me go into each of these in more detail.

What am I passionate about? (Am I excited enough to make a difference in this field?)
This question is important for two reasons, one very important and one less so. First, we’re talking about your all-too-short life here, and I really want you to be happy about how you’re going to spend it. Second, admissions committees want to admit passionate, energetic people who have big, yet realistic, dreams. When applicants are truly excited about the goals they’re proposing in their essays, this is palpable for those reading them. When applicants write that they’re so passionate about such-and-such but are just going through the motions and not demonstrating their passion via their actions, these essays can sound wooden or robotic. Admissions-committee members will spot this a mile away and will promptly be turned off by their lack of aliveness, depth, and sincerity. For example, which of the following grabs you more?

I am very passionate about helping people and I would like to get an MBA so I can be a social entrepreneur.

While I had an investment banking offer in hand, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to help Kenyan youth learn how to become entrepreneurs. Over the last two years, I put in the same 100-hour weeks I would have in banking, but it has been a labor of love. Watching these youth master basic business skills, stun us with their creativity and business savvy in our business-plan competition, and thrill us as they successfully launched their businesses has made every single minute worth it. There are thousands of budding entrepreneurs in developing countries just like the ones I was honored to assist, and I want to ready myself to better serve them and build the organizational capacity that enables us to scale and extend our reach. Getting an MBA is my next step.

If you have a beating heart, you’ll have chosen the second one.

So what are you passionate about? What do you love to do, whether at work or in your free time? I encourage clients not to initially limit themselves to what they think they should be doing based on their career trajectory so far, and I’ve actually directed clients to new opportunities they hadn’t considered before. Give your imagination some free rein. Now I realize that if you’ve been clocking 90-hour work weeks for the past two to three years, it can be hard to get in touch with this. You’re most likely passionate about being able to sleep for seven hours straight! It can really help to solicit input from others on this topic, whether through surveying friends and family (“What do you think I’m passionate about?”) or engaging an admissions consultant to assist you.

If you have a nontraditional background, you have an additional task to accomplish here. You need to show that you’re just gaga about business. Have you just finished Steve Jobs’s latest biography and are trying to get all your friends to read it? Do you wait with baited breath for the latest issue of Fast Company or the Economist? Do you go to business-related conferences that you pay for on your own dime? Make it clear that you aren’t just trying to escape your current career (“I can’t stand to look at another line of code!”); show how much you love to learn and think about business.

What skills and experience do I bring to the table? (Is it plausible?)
Now you don’t need to have every skill and competency necessary to land that post-MBA job now—if that were the case, you wouldn’t need the MBA in the first place (except in the few cases of rubber stamping). However, you do need to honestly assess whether you have what it takes to achieve a particular goal, especially if you’re applying to business school to change careers. For instance, if you’ve never sold a thing in your life and are congenitally shy, even the best MBA program under the sun isn’t going to help you make a career shift into enterprise-hardware sales. If you aspire to work in foreign country, you better know the native language or have the capacity to learn languages easily—plus it would be great to have traveled and even lived abroad, so you know that you can adjust and thrive easily outside your native country. If you’re thinking of becoming an entrepreneur post-MBA, I suggest you read my article on the topic entitled “So You Want to Be an Entrepreneur?” There I’ve posed a series of considerations to help you determine how plausible a goal this is for you.

There’s another question that I pose along with the above: is the stated career goal feasible? This is relevant, for example, when I speak with candidates age 30 or older who want to go into investment banking or private equity (and in some cases management consulting and venture capital) who have no related experience. Given the way these industries hire, it’s highly unlikely these folks will be able to land these jobs. I won’t allow them to write about such goals in their essays unless they find a company or companies that assure them they’re willing to hire them post-MBA. Since they’re usually unable to find any, we typically end up writing about something else!

Is there truly an opportunity in this space?
This is where I ask clients to apply their business savvy and do a lot of research. Are they interested in a high-growth industry? Have they identified some unexploited market? Is there a gap in the market they’d like to fill? Are there so many problems in this particular industry that there are ample opportunities to try to fix it (think healthcare or education)? Is a high ROI likely, whether in literal financial returns or social gain? If there aren’t players in this space yet, why? Do they have an idea in mind that would make moving into this space attractive? What are the trends that will be shaping this sector or industry over the next three to ten years? One of the challenges of articulating a post-MBA goal in any rapidly changing industry is that what you envision now may be completely obsolete by the time you graduate from school. With this in mind, you may want to take a broad-brush approach. Let’s say you noodle up some idea regarding a social-network app for kids related to education. Well, we really don’t know what the Internet landscape will look like in a few years, whether various platforms will have come and gone, whether Facebook will still dominate, etc. So I’d ask you what you really want to accomplish fundamentally. Providing enhanced learning opportunities at a low cost to users. Having kids help each other. Making use of existing communication infrastructure (you don’t plan to create the new Internet). In your essay, you could lay out your broader vision and basic parameters such as these without looking as though you’re clueless about the pace of change.

Let me give you an example
When I worked with Irina** a number of years ago, she wanted to move from civil engineering to something more business oriented, and she first floated the idea of real estate development. Having gotten a master’s in her field and worked on large-scale projects for a few years, she loved the technical aspects of construction as well as the project-management piece. She’d been working on some sustainable-design projects, and that had gotten her thinking. In her home country, formerly part of the Soviet bloc, housing construction—and building in general—hadn’t kept up with growing GDP and a rising middle class. Much of the built landscape was an eyesore, spotted with worn-down, utilitarian Soviet-era architecture. Putting her passions and opportunity together, she proposed a post-MBA goal of doing sustainable real estate development back in her home country. As for existing skills and competencies, she brought a lot to the table. She understood the technical, legal, and project-management aspects of working on projects. Since being a developer was going to involve selling others, it was crucial that she had the personality makeup that would thrive in that environment. Happily, earlier in her life she’d had some retail-sales experience, and she was outgoing and collaborative by nature. When Irina wrote her goals essay, in addition to showing how she was passionate about building, I had her discuss the shifting economic and social situation and resulting real estate opportunities in her home country. She also mentioned several real estate development firms in that region with whom she’d like to work after graduation, from which she could build practical experience and a network before launching her own firm. I think this is a great example of Passion + Skills/Experience + Opportunity.

Think big
As you may have noticed, Irina wanted to move into a nascent field so she could make a tangible impact in her country. You don’t need to envision developing and marketing the cure for the common cold to get into a top school, but you do want to think about how you might have an impact beyond the bounds of your job description. For Susan, who was married and had a child, this included creating career paths in corporate finance for women with families, both by doing so in her own company and working with industry associations to promote this. Realizing he was heading into a field with no universal standards, administrative infrastructure, or bodies through which to coordinate with other business players, Martin proposed being a leader in shaping this budding industry’s future. So think beyond the walls of your office/cube and your building/garage when you’re crafting your career goals.

Just a few words on “Why our school?”
I won’t be covering this in detail here, but in most cases when you’re asked about your post-MBA goals, you’re also asked how attending the school in question will help you achieve them. Really know the school’s program inside out and tie your goals to particular program features. This may sound obvious, but if they sell themselves for being strong in a particular domain that lines up with your goals, mention this! Do they have a reputation for cranking out alums who are successful in your chosen field? What unique classes do they offer that will help you learn what you need to learn? Are there professors there who are on the cutting edge of your field? Do they provide hands-on learning opportunities that will expose you very directly to the types of situations you’ll face? For example, if you want to go into management consulting, does the program arrange for you to work on substantial projects for real clients? Is the school located in the thick of your industry’s action (e.g., Stanford and Silicon Valley, or HBS and Route 128)? Does the school host conferences related to your chosen field so you can hear from and network with successful people working in that domain? Do you have access to other schools on campus—perhaps an education, government, medical, engineering, environmental, or design school—that might give you insight into your future stakeholders’ needs and perspectives? Do they have clubs related to your area of interest? Make sure to do an in-depth assessment of the things you need to learn to achieve your goals. Take, for example, Irina. Writing only about her target school’s real estate–related offerings would have been a bit narrow. She knew she needed to learn more about finance, negotiating, and leading teams of different stakeholders, and she conveyed that, plus we further differentiated her by having her talk about fun clubs in which she’d like to participate.
You get to show the admissions-committee members a lot about yourself in this essay, particularly how both visionary and practical you are. Take the time to do the in-depth soul searching, skills/experience assessment, and diligence regarding your targeted field to make this essay work for you.

*I’ve been using these three questions with clients for several years, and it only recently dawned on me that they’re somewhat related to Jim Collins’s “hedgehog concept” that he presents in his bestselling book Good to Great. I’ve worked on projects with Jim periodically since 1990 (though I didn’t work on Good to Great), so I’m not sure if my approach to the goals essay bubbled up from my subconscious because of what I know about his work or it just arose on its own. In Good to Great, Jim lays out a process through which a company can identify its fundamental strategy, which he and his research team identified after studying companies that had transitioned from being good to being great. The process involves looking at the intersection of the three following questions:

• What can you best in the world at (and, equally important, what you cannot be best in the world at)?
• What drives your economic engine?
• What are you deeply passionate about?

While I don’t require clients to be the best in the world in their stated future field, I do ask them to bring to it some essential skills and competencies, otherwise they’re likely to flop. I don’t ask clients in what field they can most “effectively generate sustained and robust cash flow and profitability,” but I do ask them to think about the overall attractiveness of the space they wish to enter, in terms of strategic, financial, and social-gain opportunities. Both Jim and I are passionate about people’s being passionate about what they’re doing.

**All clients’ names have been changed to protect their confidentiality.
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So You Wanna Be an Entrepreneur [#permalink]

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New post 26 Nov 2013, 17:16
Hi GMAT Club Members,

In my last post, I wrote about how to approach the goals essay. Here I'd like to offer a bit of a P.S. or addendum to that if you are leaning toward an entrepreneurial post-MBA career. Being an entrepreneur sounds pretty cool (and it can be if you have a particular makeup), but it can be a very miserable experience if you get caught up more in the fantasy of it than the reality. You might also blow your chances of getting accepted at schools of your choice if the admissions committee is not convinced this career path is a good one for you. To help candidates reflect more deeply as to whether they are constitutionally built to be successful and happy as entrepreneurs, I wrote the following article.

I really want to start my own company. I’ve got some great ideas that I think can impact the world in a big way, and I want to make them a reality. I want to create an über cool culture where I love to work and where lots of other people do, too. We’ll work really hard, but on our own terms. Oh, and I hope to make a bazillion* dollars in the process.

*Actual numbers may vary.

Every year I speak to a number of would-be (and occasionally existing) entrepreneurs who want to pursue an MBA to ensure greater success in their post-graduate ventures. Before we go too far in our conversation, I grill them to see whether they have the DNA of an entrepreneur. If they can’t convince me, I doubt that they’re going to convince admissions committees, much less have fun (or success) starting and running companies. If they can convince me, I'll have them weave some of their answers to the questions below into their applications:

Are you an initiator? Can you create something from nothing?
This could manifest in a number of ways. If you’ve already started a company, especially if you took it past the idea stage and got some traction, you’re in great shape. I already believe you’ve got a lot of what it takes. Take, for example, one of my clients. While in college, Jake** started an interview-preparation company that attracted two thousand customers and generated revenue. Or you might have started a business, but it failed. You’re fine as long as it wasn’t due to some really huge oversight, decisions that any person with a decent brain wouldn’t have made, or some ethical breach.

Perhaps you’ve started a smaller-scale money-making venture. Growing up in a former Communist country in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, Sasha had only her mother’s Soviet-era-style (read: unfashionable) hand-me-downs to wear. Determined to look chic, she deployed her sewing skills to repurpose these clothes, and soon her friends and others were clamoring for her to make them some as well. Amongst other things, this undertaking funded her eventual move to the U.S. for graduate school.

Or maybe you’ve created an organization, say a college club or a volunteer group. Even though you may not have generated revenue, you may have had to sell your idea to the powers that be to get funding, rally participants, or judiciously and creatively use limited resources to realize your vision. For example, Tony, whose parents were Chinese immigrants, founded an organization in his European birth country to increase political participation amongst the Chinese population living there.

If you’ve been working in a company, you still may have had opportunities show your entrepreneurial chops. This is often easier at tech companies that foster intrapreneurship, e.g., Google, which invites employees to spend 20% of their time on things that interest them. If something you noodle up appears to be a viable line of business and you get to head it up—voilà! Or perhaps even while working in a more traditional type of company, you’ve been able to champion and implement a new idea, for instance, an entirely new product/service or line extension. Working for a major retail chain, Jennifer spearheaded the first-ever in-store sponsorship, collaborating with a natural-foods company on a promotion for a health-related national nonprofit.

If you haven’t done any of the above, did you grow up in a family of entrepreneurs?
Maybe you haven’t launched the Next Big Thing yet yourself, but you were steeped in the entrepreneurial lifestyle growing up. Tony helped out at his family’s teeny restaurant while growing up. His father parlayed this business success into another one, and so on, eventually running a rental-car business and overseeing real estate deals back in China. Witnessing and participating in this, Tony learned some valuable lessons about entrepreneurship. Chaya was pulled into her family’s business at age 14 after the untimely death of her father. She began doing the books and attending client meetings with her mother, ultimately helping sell the business. Both of these clients understood the uncertainty, risk tolerance, resourcefulness, and resilience required to be an entrepreneur—which leads me to my next set of questions.

What’s your risk tolerance?
If you’ve always played it safe, you probably won’t enjoy being an entrepreneur. Are there some examples from your past when you took the road less traveled? What life decisions have you made for which the outcome was really uncertain? Have you made decisions that had a potentially huge downside? These decisions may have had to do with choosing your college or major, summer opportunities, job offers, etc. A prime example of this is Brigitta, who passed up offers at established bulge-bracket investment banks to help build out her company’s brand-new media M&A group. She wanted to be in a more dynamic environment where she could help shape business practices and the organizational culture.

How much security do you need?
This is closely tied to the question above. Can you really handle not knowing when you’ll have a paycheck? How about no health insurance? Are you really okay with ramen noodles and numerous roommates till you get funding (or beyond) after being used to a $100k+ salary plus bonus, “it” restaurants, and bottle service? Having previously chosen a job that paid less (or nothing) than other offers is one way to convince adcoms that you’ll be able to live more frugally if need be. (Of course, if you’re a Rockefeller, the security question really doesn’t apply!)

Are you resourceful?
Since (adequate) funding may be a long way off, do you have a track record for making good use of what you have on hand, or have a knack for finding or magnetizing resources? Have you found creative ways to manage cash (without completely angering your vendors), get things/services at steep discounts or for free, source cheaper or reuse materials, or redesign what you’re doing to save money or time (without unnecessarily sacrificing quality)? When starting your own venture, you won’t have access to the office-supply cabinet, both literally and figuratively. Can you prove you’ll be adept at bootstrapping?

Are you good at identifying and rallying support?
To some extent, this is a subset of the above. Are you resourceful when it comes to people? Are you good at spotting and enlisting people who complement your skills? Seeing how much a summer intern with search engine optimization experience could contribute to his online-directory startup, Tyler brought this intern on board as co-founder. A former VC associate, Tyler had also previously created and cultivated many ties in the VC community, and he very effectively leveraged those when he sought seed financing. As an entrepreneur, you are going to need A LOT of help—in terms of both money and people. Are you comfortable with the ask? Are you good at inspiring people, at either getting them to join you as employees, advisors, or board members; or convincing them to pull out their checkbooks? Can you come up with examples of this?

Are you adaptable?
You may have the greatest idea under the sun, but what if a competitor executes first and seizes your market? This could happen so easily, especially if you’re planning on being an Internet entrepreneur. What if you lose your biggest supplier? What if your funding falls through? Are you able to turn on a dime? Better yet, do you enjoy such challenges? I’ve had several clients who realized at either the prototype stage or even beyond (post-funding) that what they’d planned to do wasn’t going to work. At that point, some decided to give up the goal, while others persevered, rethinking and redesigning their offerings. In which camp do you find yourself?

It’d be ideal to demonstrate this quality through sharing examples of having started something and having been forced to change course; however, if you haven’t had such an experience, we have other options! Perhaps you play a sport that demands agility, like basketball. Or maybe you’ve trained for years in a martial art, so you’re used to having all sorts of unexpected things thrown at you and you’re unfazed by surprises. You may have also had to deal with a drastic change in your family—a divorce, an unexpected death—that may have required you to step up and dramatically shift course.

Are you resilient?
If you take the path of the entrepreneur, odds are, you will fail—at least once. Are you able to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, learn from what happened, and believe in yourself enough to go for it again?

One client’s experience with a beloved, yet maddening hobby provides a solid example of this type of stick-to-itiveness. Wanting to feel closer to her father, who was flying helicopters in the military, Kate saved her allowance to purchase a radio-controlled helicopter. Working tirelessly to construct the model, she thrilled as it took flight on launch day, yet within minutes, the helicopter crashed due to, shall we say, operator error. After fixing the battered model, Kate set it to the skies again and it crashed—ten more times, to be exact—over the following year. Never deterred, however, she eventually learned how to better fly the helicopter with the help of an instructor. When I heard this story in conjunction with the rest of her background, I knew Kate had entrepreneurial DNA.

Still wanna be an entrepreneur?
If the questions above have freaked you out, you may want to reconsider becoming an entrepreneur. It’s a crazy thing to do, if you really think about it. If you can answer “yes” to most of the questions above, can provide supporting examples, and feel even more passionate about the prospect of building your own business or social venture after reading this, fantastic! You’re on your way to convincing adcoms; and future partners, investors, employees, and customers as well.

**I’ve changed all of my clients’ names to maintain confidentiality.
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Am I to Old to Get an MBA? [#permalink]

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New post 27 Nov 2013, 10:36
Hi GMAT Club Members,

If you are coming to the application process through traditional channels such as investment banking, private equity, venture capital, and management consulting, this question probably isn't relevant to you. Your employers assume you will go get an MBA and they won't let you linger there too long! However, if you have been busy doing something else with your career, perhaps spending time in the military, medicine, academia, the arts, or some other field, it may have never dawned on you that you might be considered too old to get a full-time MBA. Becoming curious about this topic a few years ago as I started to have older candidates contact me, I did some research to see what I could learn about this--was it in fact true, and if so, was it true across the board. You can read my article below to see what I discovered.

Deborah Knox
Insight Admissions

You’ve never felt better in your life. You just ran your fourth marathon, ranking in the top 20% of finishers. You’ve totally hit your groove at work, taking names, taking lunches, and taking home a nice bonus, despite the economic downturn. At thirtysomething, you’re accomplished, confident, seasoned, and ready for your next step: getting a full-time MBA at a top program.

After beginning to research schools, however, you get the niggling feeling that you might be in a dead zone, being a bit too old for full-time MBA programs and a bit too young for Executive MBA programs. If you were to examine the distribution by year of college graduation for HBS’s Class of 2013, for example, you might have ample cause for discouragement. (See June 21, 2011, post in HBS Admissions Director Dee Leopold's blog, "From the Director," which shows histogram for that class. I can't insert it into this forum post.)

For simplicity’s sake, if we assume students graduate at age 22, those who graduated in 2003 or earlier would be 30 or older. This is merely 5% of the entire class, or 47 out of 916 students. MBA candidates 32 or older represent 1.3% of the class. Thirtysomethings represented just under 2% of the class of 2012 and just under 3% of the Class of 2010. It’s data such as this that initially disheartened my client Saif*, who’d turned 31 when I began to work with him in July this year.

“Like everyone else, when you start thinking about applying for an MBA, you worry about the usual things: GMAT, recommendations, essays, interviews. However, when I was researching schools, I discovered another worry—my age. While I wasn’t much older than average, I learned that only a few candidates get accepted after they’ve passed 30.”

Given Saif’s goals, getting a full-time MBA from a top school was critical, so he decided to apply to four of the most competitive programs. (We will revisit his candidacy.)

So Is My Age a Problem or Not?
While the word on the street regarding older applicants’ chances of admission tends to be grim, if you look at the data, it’s clear that top schools are accepting candidates who are well into their 30s. Someone in UCLA Anderson’s Class of 2013 is even the ripe old age of 42, and MIT Sloan accepted a 60-year-old into their master’s in finance program this year.

What’s harder to determine at first glance is how many of them. HBS is possibly the only school that makes a histogram available from which we can come up with an age distribution. If you apply some of those great skills you’ve developed from preparing for the GMAT, you’ll notice that the average ages in the table below are closer to the lower end of the schools’ age ranges. We might then surmise that the age distribution skews more toward the younger end of the spectrum than the older one.

If you look at the data regarding the Class of 2012 compiled from Business Week below (for better formatting, visit Poets & Quants version of this article), you’ll see the middle 80% range for the months of work experience for each school in the list. Most of the schools featured hit the top of their range at the sevenish-year mark. If we assume that people graduate at age 22, go right to work, and have no gaps in employment (I realize these assumptions aren’t foolproof), that would suggest that 90% of these schools’ students were under or just hovering around age 30. Take heart, however; the European schools, Yale, USC Marshall, UCLA Anderson, and MIT Sloan have inched further into 30+ territory.

Age & Work Experience at Leading Business Schools

School Average Age at Matriculation

Work Experience*
Bottom End of Range
(In Months)

Work Experience*
Top End of Range
(In Months)

Oxford (Said) 29 36 108
USC (Marshall) 28 36 108
Yale 28 41 107
INSEAD 29 36 99
London Business School 29 48 96
UCLA (Anderson) 28 36 96
MIT (Sloan) 28 36 96
IE Business School 29 27 96
Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) 28 24 96
Duke (Fuqua) 28 36 92
Dartmouth (Tuck) 28 36 91
Michigan (Ross) 28 38 89
Indiana (Kelley) 28 30 89
Berkeley (Haas) 28 36 87
New York (Stern) 27 33.6 85.2
Northwestern (Kellogg) 28 37 85
Chicago (Booth) 28 36 85
Pennsylvania (Wharton) 28 36 84
Virginia (Darden) 27 37 83
Columbia 28 34 83
Stanford NA 25 71

Source: Business schools reporting to Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Top and bottom ranges reflect the mid-80% of the Class of 2012.

So top full-time MBA programs don’t take lots of thirtysomethings, but I began to wonder if these older folks were applying at the same rates as they were accepted. For example, if 10% of applicants to a particular program were age 30 or older, were 10% of those accepted 30 or older? I’d hoped to answer this question when I decided to write this article, but I found it difficult to get a precise answer. According to Bruce DelMonico, Director of Admissions of the Yale School of Management, these proportions are “roughly equal,” and according to Darden’s Assistant Dean for MBA Admissions Sara Neher, the ratio is “about 1:1.”

HBS’s Admissions Director Dee Leopold addressed this question a bit more obliquely with, “It’s not as if we get this overwhelming avalanche of applications from this demographic.” Other schools were hesitant to talk about the age topic in detail or at all. Julie Strong, Senior Associate Director of Admissions at MIT Sloan, directed me to the school’s nondiscrimination policy, which, amongst other things, prohibits discrimination based on age. After a little more sleuthing on my part (read: googling), I discovered that the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 prohibits discrimination based on age in educational programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. I then realized that I wasn’t going to be able to get an exact answer.

Nonetheless, I found it quite puzzling that HBS’s rate of acceptance for applicants 30 or older for the Class of 2013 was 5% (using the assumption I made above), whereas Darden’s was 12% and Yale’s was 20%. Some of this may be due to self-perpetuating myths—HBS wants younger candidates, so older candidates choose not to apply; Yale is a kind of alternative, so they attract more outliers in terms of background and age. Or is Yale getting more higher quality older candidates than HBS? Probably not enough to explain the fourfold difference. It seemed to me that some schools must be making decisions about how many older candidates they really wanted to take.

I still wondered, though, if older candidates were evaluated differently from younger candidates in any way. Did the GMAT matter more than grades since applicants had completed the former more recently? Did the choice of a post-MBA goal matter more (e.g., did applicants want to go into an industry known to take younger candidates)? Did how they spent their many years of time prior to applying to B-school matter more? I posed these questions to a number of admissions directors, some of whom said they looked for the same attributes and characteristics in all candidates while others expected more from older candidates. Below are the main takeaways.

Why Now?
Whether they ask this question explicitly or not, most schools want to know why applicants are choosing to pursue an MBA at this point in time. For the thirtysomething candidate, this question can take on the flavor of “Why did it take you so long?”

One of the best reasons you can have is that you’ve been involved with the military for a number of years and your obligations have just ended. Pilots are a prime example. You’ve clearly been doing something meaningful with your time while also building formidable leadership skills and discipline. These candidates are highly sought after these days, with Leopold noting, “They bring a perspective that is highly valuable to our classroom. That [the military] is the most frequently mentioned background that students and faculty would like to see more people from.” Neher mentioned that management consulting firms love to hire folks from the military, and I’m sure the same can be said for investment banks.

If you’ve taken time to get an advanced degree (e.g., a PhD in biophysics or engineering, or an MD) and are at an inflection point in your career—perhaps wanting to manage people, or lead or found an organization—you also have a good excuse! And you’ve already demonstrated your academic mettle, so they can trust that you’ll like school and will throw yourself into it. Just make sure not to appear to be a degree collector who is otherwise avoiding reality.

There are fields in which it can take a number of years to establish expertise and move high up enough in the organization to realize you don’t want to be doing what your boss is doing. For example, maybe you’ve been running audits for many years at a top accounting firm and now you have to sell work. This turns out not to be what you imagined and you really want to change careers. Alternatively, it may take you some years to discover you’ve reached an upper limit at your job. This often happens for engineers, who may move up to lead large-scale engineering projects, but who realize that all the “interesting” decisions regarding strategy and resource allocation are taking place on the business side of the business, not the engineering side. In these cases, you have a solid reason to account for the time you’ve taken to apply.

DelMonico underscored the importance of demonstrating ongoing growth and learning over taking any particular career trajectory. Yale is receptive to candidates who may have tried a variety of things, as long as they’ve been learning and developing. The question is, have you just plateaued and getting an MBA now is a perfect jumping off point, or have you been plateauing for a long time? Is this a natural next step based on your path to date and your post-MBA aspirations, or are you just throwing out a lifeline?

What Do You Want to Be Now That You’re Grown Up?
I thought that candidates’ stated post-MBA career goal would play a role in how attractive they are. B-schools want to have good placement figures, so wouldn’t you want to prove that you’ll be eminently employable after graduation? I was concerned about the chances of success for older applicants who, for instance, want to go into investment banking and consulting. Don’t consulting firms and investment banks like ’em young? The admissions directors with whom I spoke didn’t want to make any categorical statements about this, and, after all, there are the exceptions, such as former members of the military or PhDs who are snatched up by these firms. My take is that you have to offer some very specialized expertise to offset the age differential if you want to move into these fields. To make your best possible case, research which companies take older candidates and begin to cultivate relationships with them. Identify what value you can add above and beyond less experienced candidates. And talk about these things in your goals essays.

Neher expects older candidates to have well-articulated and feasible career goals, and she also likes them to be clear about what level of jobs (and salaries) will be available via on-campus recruiting. Since Darden has an EMBA program, she occasionally refers those interested in pursuing MBAs or even those who have applied to the MBA program to the EMBA program when she believes they’ll be better able to achieve their career and compensation goals that way.

In contrast, DelMonico explained that the choice of post-MBA career “matters only a little at the margins,” adding one of my favorite quotes, “Candidates don’t have to identify their post-MBA career path to a metaphysical certainty.” Yale will take a shot at applicants if they’ll add value to the program and assumes that they’ll somehow make their career goals work.

Neher and DelMonico did agree that entrepreneurs (even those who have already failed at a substantial attempt at launching an entrepreneurial endeavor) can be attractive candidates, as these individuals’ experiences would be helpful to other students in the class.

While MIT Sloan does ask you to write a cover letter advocating for your admission to their program, they don’t ask about career goals explicitly, so this isn’t a factor they consider. As Strong wrote, “Unlike many MBA programs, we do not ask for a career goal. We don’t think it is particularly useful information since most of our students are coming to change careers and we hope to expose our students to ideas they may not know about.”

Saif, who hails from the Middle East, went to work for a global petroleum company after getting an engineering degree at a U.S. state university. His fast-tracked career began on the operations side, but he was recently moved to a strategy role, where he also weighs in on economic matters. His company is committed to fostering more entrepreneurship and innovation internally and externally, and they’d like him to spearhead this activity. Up until this point, he has been able to carry on his duties without an MBA, but now he needs to learn about entrepreneurship, innovation, venture capital, and finance, and he’d like to beef up his leadership skills. He believes he’ll learn best in the intensive two-year format and his company needs him to get up to speed for his new position very quickly, so he has a good reason for pursuing a full-time MBA program vs. a part-time MBA or EMBA program now.

The Numbers
“So how will admissions committees look at my GPA and GMAT score? Will my GMAT matter more since it’s more recent? How much do numbers matter at my age?”

The answer to these questions is it depends. Some schools, such as MIT Sloan, make no distinction. According to Strong, “GMAT and GPA are two data points that are never considered in isolation. They are considered like two tiles of a mosaic. . . It’s not until you have all the tiles that you see what you have.” Leopold stated that there was no formula regarding this, but she added, “There is a correlation between high test scores [and doing well] in the class. People we admit like to do well on things.”

DelMonico shared that the farther out you are from your undergrad education, the less GPA correlates with success in Yale’s program. However, if your GPA is below average (or out of their 80%) range, it’s worth taking a quantitative course such as microeconomics or statistics before applying. In doing so, your skills will be fresher and you’ll be more in the classroom mindset. (And in “kicking the tires,” you may even discover you really don’t want to go back to school if it’s going to look like this!) DelMonico also noted that amongst older candidates the verbal GMAT score correlates more with success in their program than the quantitative portion (while the latter is more predictive for younger candidates). That said, you need to demonstrate you can handle the analytical rigor of the program and can’t hope to breeze through based on your verbal mastery.

“We put more attention on work experience and goals than numbers,” said Neher. More interested in evidence of current performance, Darden weighs the GPA less heavily for older candidates. However, they won’t be looking favorably on that 2.0. And if you do have a low GPA or did poorly in quantitative courses in college, it may be worth it to build an alternative transcript. Neher recommended taking accounting in particular if you haven’t already. Darden also recognizes that older applicants haven’t been in test-taking mode for some time, so they don’t expect them to score as highly as younger applicants.

A non-native English speaker, Saif earned a 3.6 GPA in a rigorous U.S. engineering program and scored 700 on the GMAT (77th percentile quantitative, 83rd percentile verbal, 90th percentile overall) on the first try. We discussed his retaking the GMAT, but he really wanted to apply first round and put his energy into telling his story in his application essays. Given he came from an underrepresented region, had exceptional work experience, and had a compelling reason for needing an MBA, I let him off the hook, and he turned his attention to writing compelling, high-impact essays.

Other Factors
While admissions-committee members are looking to see if all candidates are mature, open-minded and curious, and team oriented, some mentioned looking particularly closely for these attributes in older candidates’ applications and interviews.

For example, Neher declared, “If they [older applicants] have poor communication skills, I don’t even look at the scores.” She also expects them to demonstrate greater maturity than early-twentysomething candidates. What you really don’t want is to have your recommender cite your lack of maturity as an example of critical feedback he/she gave you. Ding!

You also want to provide evidence that you aren’t set in your ways and that you’re open to learning from others. Leopold noted, “We’re also looking for people that, regardless of their background, are coming here not to sort of be in executive education mode where they tell us about their experience but instead have the same curiosity and open-mindedness that someone who is three years out of school would bring to the program. We’re not looking for people to be guest speakers who are locked into a role in a first-year section pontificating on how things were done at Firm X.”

When I asked Saif if he wondered about any factors that went into the admissions-committees’ decision-making processes when they evaluated older candidates, he wanted to know if being single or being married and with a family made a difference. I got a very uniform answer to this—NO. Most schools don’t even have access to such information. So do pop the question now if you were concerned about that.

In Saif’s case, we made sure to demonstrate his expertise, skill, and leadership in various areas over his nine years of work experience while also showing how he’s a lifelong learner and team player, curious and receptive to others’ ideas and feedback.

Am I Overqualified?
The admissions directors with whom I spoke had different views regarding this question. Strong responded that they don’t use the term “overqualified” at MIT Sloan. I asked DelMonico if he ever looked at candidates’ backgrounds and assessed whether they might be bored with the program and therefore not accept them on that basis. He replied that choosing to attend a school was a mutual decision and he wouldn’t make that determination for a candidate. Yale does offer a specialized EMBA Leadership in Healthcare track, however, to which he does direct more seasoned candidates pursuing careers in that field. As I mentioned earlier, Darden points applicants to their EMBA program if they think applicants’ career and salary expectations will be better met through that track. For Leopold, it’s more of an issue of whether you’re prepared to drop your current life and completely immerse yourself in the HBS experience: “There are people who may be much better suited to an EMBA. They are looking to hold on to their life. When you come here, you have to leave all that behind. . . Are you coming wanting to be as invested in your sectionmates as you are in learning on your own and do you believe that you have lots to learn from someone who is 24?”

On a related topic, on a few occasions I’ve been contacted by older applicants from outside the U.S. who have gotten an MBA at a less competitive school in their country, and who want to get a U.S. MBA to get the brand and access to the network. While this desire is understandable, this can be a hard sell. You need to demonstrate that there are things you absolutely need to learn to achieve your career goals that your current MBA does not provide and that your target school will. For instance, perhaps your previous program didn’t provide any experiential leadership training and you want to be managing a large organization, or maybe you’ve moved into the sustainability domain and need specialized coursework in this area. I advise checking with your target schools about this before applying.

While Saif has moved up quickly in his firm, having held numerous leadership positions, his understanding of management is largely self-taught. (You should see his library of business books, including some heavy-duty economics tomes that he reads for fun. . .) He has an immense amount to gain by being in a structured, integrated MBA program, and as such, he isn’t overqualified in my opinion.

Should I Apply at This Point or Am I over the Hill?
Taking all of the above into account (and taking a “better safe than sorry” approach), this is what I suggest:

◾First and foremost, make sure you’re very competitive. Are your GPA and GMAT falling within the 80% range for your target schools? If not, build an alternative transcript. You might even consider doing this if your GPA and GMAT are much below average. Do you have a track record of increasing work responsibility, evidence of impact on your organization, and a way to articulate what you have learned and how you have grown over the years since college graduation? Can you also provide evidence of leadership and contribution outside work? If not, you might want to look at less competitive programs, particularly part-time MBA options. And are you part of an over-represented group (see “Indian and Chinese MBA Applicants Face HIgher Rejection“)? If so, you already have a huge strike against you and your chances are microscopically slim.
◾If you’re looking to switch careers, do your research and find out if making the move to your new career of choice is likely. Talk to firms with whom you’d like to work and cultivate relationships with people who would be in a position to hire you.
◾Prepare the best application possible, which includes being very clear about your goals, your need for an MBA (beyond brand and network), and your fit with and likely contribution to each program in question. And apply first round rather than second or third round, before the class has already filled up with older applicants.
◾Consider applying to at least a few schools that have a higher average age, assuming you’d be happy to attend their program. If your post-MBA career is likely to be very global in nature, take a look at some of the European schools, which appear to be “maturity friendly” based on the average age of 29 for their incoming students. Oxford Saïd, for example, values substantial work experience, a high level of maturity, and evidence of leadership (vs. “leadership potential,” which some stateside schools consider sufficient).
◾Don’t completely reject the part-time and EMBA options, especially if you need the skills more than the brand and the network. (This is probably most true for people staying in their existing firms or industries, or for entrepreneurs.) While these paths may take longer, you won’t have the opportunity cost of missing two years of income, you’ll learn virtually the same material, and you won’t have some smart-alecky 24-year-old telling you where you’re wrong.

Saif received interview invitations from all four of the programs to which he applied. This proved to us that he was a viable candidate. I’m happy to report that he got offers from Stanford, HBS, and Wharton. Overall, it looks like he pulled the bell curve a little bit in the other direction.

*Saif is a pseudonym for my client, who wanted to maintain his anonymity.
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Am I to Old to Get an MBA? [#permalink]

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New post 27 Nov 2013, 10:36
Hi GMAT Club Members,

If you are coming to the application process through traditional channels such as investment banking, private equity, venture capital, and management consulting, this question probably isn't relevant to you. Your employers assume you will go get an MBA and they won't let you linger there too long! However, if you have been busy doing something else with your career, perhaps spending time in the military, medicine, academia, the arts, or some other field, it may have never dawned on you that you might be considered too old to get a full-time MBA. Becoming curious about this topic a few years ago as I started to have older candidates contact me, I did some research to see what I could learn about this--was it in fact true, and if so, was it true across the board. You can read my article below to see what I discovered.

Deborah Knox
Insight Admissions

You’ve never felt better in your life. You just ran your fourth marathon, ranking in the top 20% of finishers. You’ve totally hit your groove at work, taking names, taking lunches, and taking home a nice bonus, despite the economic downturn. At thirtysomething, you’re accomplished, confident, seasoned, and ready for your next step: getting a full-time MBA at a top program.

After beginning to research schools, however, you get the niggling feeling that you might be in a dead zone, being a bit too old for full-time MBA programs and a bit too young for Executive MBA programs. If you were to examine the distribution by year of college graduation for HBS’s Class of 2013, for example, you might have ample cause for discouragement. (See June 21, 2011, post in HBS Admissions Director Dee Leopold's blog, "From the Director," which shows histogram for that class. I can't insert it into this forum post.)

For simplicity’s sake, if we assume students graduate at age 22, those who graduated in 2003 or earlier would be 30 or older. This is merely 5% of the entire class, or 47 out of 916 students. MBA candidates 32 or older represent 1.3% of the class. Thirtysomethings represented just under 2% of the class of 2012 and just under 3% of the Class of 2010. It’s data such as this that initially disheartened my client Saif*, who’d turned 31 when I began to work with him in July this year.

“Like everyone else, when you start thinking about applying for an MBA, you worry about the usual things: GMAT, recommendations, essays, interviews. However, when I was researching schools, I discovered another worry—my age. While I wasn’t much older than average, I learned that only a few candidates get accepted after they’ve passed 30.”

Given Saif’s goals, getting a full-time MBA from a top school was critical, so he decided to apply to four of the most competitive programs. (We will revisit his candidacy.)

So Is My Age a Problem or Not?
While the word on the street regarding older applicants’ chances of admission tends to be grim, if you look at the data, it’s clear that top schools are accepting candidates who are well into their 30s. Someone in UCLA Anderson’s Class of 2013 is even the ripe old age of 42, and MIT Sloan accepted a 60-year-old into their master’s in finance program this year.

What’s harder to determine at first glance is how many of them. HBS is possibly the only school that makes a histogram available from which we can come up with an age distribution. If you apply some of those great skills you’ve developed from preparing for the GMAT, you’ll notice that the average ages in the table below are closer to the lower end of the schools’ age ranges. We might then surmise that the age distribution skews more toward the younger end of the spectrum than the older one.

If you look at the data regarding the Class of 2012 compiled from Business Week below (for better formatting, visit Poets & Quants version of this article), you’ll see the middle 80% range for the months of work experience for each school in the list. Most of the schools featured hit the top of their range at the sevenish-year mark. If we assume that people graduate at age 22, go right to work, and have no gaps in employment (I realize these assumptions aren’t foolproof), that would suggest that 90% of these schools’ students were under or just hovering around age 30. Take heart, however; the European schools, Yale, USC Marshall, UCLA Anderson, and MIT Sloan have inched further into 30+ territory.

Age & Work Experience at Leading Business Schools

School Average Age at Matriculation

Work Experience*
Bottom End of Range
(In Months)

Work Experience*
Top End of Range
(In Months)

Oxford (Said) 29 36 108
USC (Marshall) 28 36 108
Yale 28 41 107
INSEAD 29 36 99
London Business School 29 48 96
UCLA (Anderson) 28 36 96
MIT (Sloan) 28 36 96
IE Business School 29 27 96
Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) 28 24 96
Duke (Fuqua) 28 36 92
Dartmouth (Tuck) 28 36 91
Michigan (Ross) 28 38 89
Indiana (Kelley) 28 30 89
Berkeley (Haas) 28 36 87
New York (Stern) 27 33.6 85.2
Northwestern (Kellogg) 28 37 85
Chicago (Booth) 28 36 85
Pennsylvania (Wharton) 28 36 84
Virginia (Darden) 27 37 83
Columbia 28 34 83
Stanford NA 25 71

Source: Business schools reporting to Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Top and bottom ranges reflect the mid-80% of the Class of 2012.

So top full-time MBA programs don’t take lots of thirtysomethings, but I began to wonder if these older folks were applying at the same rates as they were accepted. For example, if 10% of applicants to a particular program were age 30 or older, were 10% of those accepted 30 or older? I’d hoped to answer this question when I decided to write this article, but I found it difficult to get a precise answer. According to Bruce DelMonico, Director of Admissions of the Yale School of Management, these proportions are “roughly equal,” and according to Darden’s Assistant Dean for MBA Admissions Sara Neher, the ratio is “about 1:1.”

HBS’s Admissions Director Dee Leopold addressed this question a bit more obliquely with, “It’s not as if we get this overwhelming avalanche of applications from this demographic.” Other schools were hesitant to talk about the age topic in detail or at all. Julie Strong, Senior Associate Director of Admissions at MIT Sloan, directed me to the school’s nondiscrimination policy, which, amongst other things, prohibits discrimination based on age. After a little more sleuthing on my part (read: googling), I discovered that the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 prohibits discrimination based on age in educational programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. I then realized that I wasn’t going to be able to get an exact answer.

Nonetheless, I found it quite puzzling that HBS’s rate of acceptance for applicants 30 or older for the Class of 2013 was 5% (using the assumption I made above), whereas Darden’s was 12% and Yale’s was 20%. Some of this may be due to self-perpetuating myths—HBS wants younger candidates, so older candidates choose not to apply; Yale is a kind of alternative, so they attract more outliers in terms of background and age. Or is Yale getting more higher quality older candidates than HBS? Probably not enough to explain the fourfold difference. It seemed to me that some schools must be making decisions about how many older candidates they really wanted to take.

I still wondered, though, if older candidates were evaluated differently from younger candidates in any way. Did the GMAT matter more than grades since applicants had completed the former more recently? Did the choice of a post-MBA goal matter more (e.g., did applicants want to go into an industry known to take younger candidates)? Did how they spent their many years of time prior to applying to B-school matter more? I posed these questions to a number of admissions directors, some of whom said they looked for the same attributes and characteristics in all candidates while others expected more from older candidates. Below are the main takeaways.

Why Now?
Whether they ask this question explicitly or not, most schools want to know why applicants are choosing to pursue an MBA at this point in time. For the thirtysomething candidate, this question can take on the flavor of “Why did it take you so long?”

One of the best reasons you can have is that you’ve been involved with the military for a number of years and your obligations have just ended. Pilots are a prime example. You’ve clearly been doing something meaningful with your time while also building formidable leadership skills and discipline. These candidates are highly sought after these days, with Leopold noting, “They bring a perspective that is highly valuable to our classroom. That [the military] is the most frequently mentioned background that students and faculty would like to see more people from.” Neher mentioned that management consulting firms love to hire folks from the military, and I’m sure the same can be said for investment banks.

If you’ve taken time to get an advanced degree (e.g., a PhD in biophysics or engineering, or an MD) and are at an inflection point in your career—perhaps wanting to manage people, or lead or found an organization—you also have a good excuse! And you’ve already demonstrated your academic mettle, so they can trust that you’ll like school and will throw yourself into it. Just make sure not to appear to be a degree collector who is otherwise avoiding reality.

There are fields in which it can take a number of years to establish expertise and move high up enough in the organization to realize you don’t want to be doing what your boss is doing. For example, maybe you’ve been running audits for many years at a top accounting firm and now you have to sell work. This turns out not to be what you imagined and you really want to change careers. Alternatively, it may take you some years to discover you’ve reached an upper limit at your job. This often happens for engineers, who may move up to lead large-scale engineering projects, but who realize that all the “interesting” decisions regarding strategy and resource allocation are taking place on the business side of the business, not the engineering side. In these cases, you have a solid reason to account for the time you’ve taken to apply.

DelMonico underscored the importance of demonstrating ongoing growth and learning over taking any particular career trajectory. Yale is receptive to candidates who may have tried a variety of things, as long as they’ve been learning and developing. The question is, have you just plateaued and getting an MBA now is a perfect jumping off point, or have you been plateauing for a long time? Is this a natural next step based on your path to date and your post-MBA aspirations, or are you just throwing out a lifeline?

What Do You Want to Be Now That You’re Grown Up?
I thought that candidates’ stated post-MBA career goal would play a role in how attractive they are. B-schools want to have good placement figures, so wouldn’t you want to prove that you’ll be eminently employable after graduation? I was concerned about the chances of success for older applicants who, for instance, want to go into investment banking and consulting. Don’t consulting firms and investment banks like ’em young? The admissions directors with whom I spoke didn’t want to make any categorical statements about this, and, after all, there are the exceptions, such as former members of the military or PhDs who are snatched up by these firms. My take is that you have to offer some very specialized expertise to offset the age differential if you want to move into these fields. To make your best possible case, research which companies take older candidates and begin to cultivate relationships with them. Identify what value you can add above and beyond less experienced candidates. And talk about these things in your goals essays.

Neher expects older candidates to have well-articulated and feasible career goals, and she also likes them to be clear about what level of jobs (and salaries) will be available via on-campus recruiting. Since Darden has an EMBA program, she occasionally refers those interested in pursuing MBAs or even those who have applied to the MBA program to the EMBA program when she believes they’ll be better able to achieve their career and compensation goals that way.

In contrast, DelMonico explained that the choice of post-MBA career “matters only a little at the margins,” adding one of my favorite quotes, “Candidates don’t have to identify their post-MBA career path to a metaphysical certainty.” Yale will take a shot at applicants if they’ll add value to the program and assumes that they’ll somehow make their career goals work.

Neher and DelMonico did agree that entrepreneurs (even those who have already failed at a substantial attempt at launching an entrepreneurial endeavor) can be attractive candidates, as these individuals’ experiences would be helpful to other students in the class.

While MIT Sloan does ask you to write a cover letter advocating for your admission to their program, they don’t ask about career goals explicitly, so this isn’t a factor they consider. As Strong wrote, “Unlike many MBA programs, we do not ask for a career goal. We don’t think it is particularly useful information since most of our students are coming to change careers and we hope to expose our students to ideas they may not know about.”

Saif, who hails from the Middle East, went to work for a global petroleum company after getting an engineering degree at a U.S. state university. His fast-tracked career began on the operations side, but he was recently moved to a strategy role, where he also weighs in on economic matters. His company is committed to fostering more entrepreneurship and innovation internally and externally, and they’d like him to spearhead this activity. Up until this point, he has been able to carry on his duties without an MBA, but now he needs to learn about entrepreneurship, innovation, venture capital, and finance, and he’d like to beef up his leadership skills. He believes he’ll learn best in the intensive two-year format and his company needs him to get up to speed for his new position very quickly, so he has a good reason for pursuing a full-time MBA program vs. a part-time MBA or EMBA program now.

The Numbers
“So how will admissions committees look at my GPA and GMAT score? Will my GMAT matter more since it’s more recent? How much do numbers matter at my age?”

The answer to these questions is it depends. Some schools, such as MIT Sloan, make no distinction. According to Strong, “GMAT and GPA are two data points that are never considered in isolation. They are considered like two tiles of a mosaic. . . It’s not until you have all the tiles that you see what you have.” Leopold stated that there was no formula regarding this, but she added, “There is a correlation between high test scores [and doing well] in the class. People we admit like to do well on things.”

DelMonico shared that the farther out you are from your undergrad education, the less GPA correlates with success in Yale’s program. However, if your GPA is below average (or out of their 80%) range, it’s worth taking a quantitative course such as microeconomics or statistics before applying. In doing so, your skills will be fresher and you’ll be more in the classroom mindset. (And in “kicking the tires,” you may even discover you really don’t want to go back to school if it’s going to look like this!) DelMonico also noted that amongst older candidates the verbal GMAT score correlates more with success in their program than the quantitative portion (while the latter is more predictive for younger candidates). That said, you need to demonstrate you can handle the analytical rigor of the program and can’t hope to breeze through based on your verbal mastery.

“We put more attention on work experience and goals than numbers,” said Neher. More interested in evidence of current performance, Darden weighs the GPA less heavily for older candidates. However, they won’t be looking favorably on that 2.0. And if you do have a low GPA or did poorly in quantitative courses in college, it may be worth it to build an alternative transcript. Neher recommended taking accounting in particular if you haven’t already. Darden also recognizes that older applicants haven’t been in test-taking mode for some time, so they don’t expect them to score as highly as younger applicants.

A non-native English speaker, Saif earned a 3.6 GPA in a rigorous U.S. engineering program and scored 700 on the GMAT (77th percentile quantitative, 83rd percentile verbal, 90th percentile overall) on the first try. We discussed his retaking the GMAT, but he really wanted to apply first round and put his energy into telling his story in his application essays. Given he came from an underrepresented region, had exceptional work experience, and had a compelling reason for needing an MBA, I let him off the hook, and he turned his attention to writing compelling, high-impact essays.

Other Factors
While admissions-committee members are looking to see if all candidates are mature, open-minded and curious, and team oriented, some mentioned looking particularly closely for these attributes in older candidates’ applications and interviews.

For example, Neher declared, “If they [older applicants] have poor communication skills, I don’t even look at the scores.” She also expects them to demonstrate greater maturity than early-twentysomething candidates. What you really don’t want is to have your recommender cite your lack of maturity as an example of critical feedback he/she gave you. Ding!

You also want to provide evidence that you aren’t set in your ways and that you’re open to learning from others. Leopold noted, “We’re also looking for people that, regardless of their background, are coming here not to sort of be in executive education mode where they tell us about their experience but instead have the same curiosity and open-mindedness that someone who is three years out of school would bring to the program. We’re not looking for people to be guest speakers who are locked into a role in a first-year section pontificating on how things were done at Firm X.”

When I asked Saif if he wondered about any factors that went into the admissions-committees’ decision-making processes when they evaluated older candidates, he wanted to know if being single or being married and with a family made a difference. I got a very uniform answer to this—NO. Most schools don’t even have access to such information. So do pop the question now if you were concerned about that.

In Saif’s case, we made sure to demonstrate his expertise, skill, and leadership in various areas over his nine years of work experience while also showing how he’s a lifelong learner and team player, curious and receptive to others’ ideas and feedback.

Am I Overqualified?
The admissions directors with whom I spoke had different views regarding this question. Strong responded that they don’t use the term “overqualified” at MIT Sloan. I asked DelMonico if he ever looked at candidates’ backgrounds and assessed whether they might be bored with the program and therefore not accept them on that basis. He replied that choosing to attend a school was a mutual decision and he wouldn’t make that determination for a candidate. Yale does offer a specialized EMBA Leadership in Healthcare track, however, to which he does direct more seasoned candidates pursuing careers in that field. As I mentioned earlier, Darden points applicants to their EMBA program if they think applicants’ career and salary expectations will be better met through that track. For Leopold, it’s more of an issue of whether you’re prepared to drop your current life and completely immerse yourself in the HBS experience: “There are people who may be much better suited to an EMBA. They are looking to hold on to their life. When you come here, you have to leave all that behind. . . Are you coming wanting to be as invested in your sectionmates as you are in learning on your own and do you believe that you have lots to learn from someone who is 24?”

On a related topic, on a few occasions I’ve been contacted by older applicants from outside the U.S. who have gotten an MBA at a less competitive school in their country, and who want to get a U.S. MBA to get the brand and access to the network. While this desire is understandable, this can be a hard sell. You need to demonstrate that there are things you absolutely need to learn to achieve your career goals that your current MBA does not provide and that your target school will. For instance, perhaps your previous program didn’t provide any experiential leadership training and you want to be managing a large organization, or maybe you’ve moved into the sustainability domain and need specialized coursework in this area. I advise checking with your target schools about this before applying.

While Saif has moved up quickly in his firm, having held numerous leadership positions, his understanding of management is largely self-taught. (You should see his library of business books, including some heavy-duty economics tomes that he reads for fun. . .) He has an immense amount to gain by being in a structured, integrated MBA program, and as such, he isn’t overqualified in my opinion.

Should I Apply at This Point or Am I over the Hill?
Taking all of the above into account (and taking a “better safe than sorry” approach), this is what I suggest:

◾First and foremost, make sure you’re very competitive. Are your GPA and GMAT falling within the 80% range for your target schools? If not, build an alternative transcript. You might even consider doing this if your GPA and GMAT are much below average. Do you have a track record of increasing work responsibility, evidence of impact on your organization, and a way to articulate what you have learned and how you have grown over the years since college graduation? Can you also provide evidence of leadership and contribution outside work? If not, you might want to look at less competitive programs, particularly part-time MBA options. And are you part of an over-represented group (see “Indian and Chinese MBA Applicants Face HIgher Rejection“)? If so, you already have a huge strike against you and your chances are microscopically slim.
◾If you’re looking to switch careers, do your research and find out if making the move to your new career of choice is likely. Talk to firms with whom you’d like to work and cultivate relationships with people who would be in a position to hire you.
◾Prepare the best application possible, which includes being very clear about your goals, your need for an MBA (beyond brand and network), and your fit with and likely contribution to each program in question. And apply first round rather than second or third round, before the class has already filled up with older applicants.
◾Consider applying to at least a few schools that have a higher average age, assuming you’d be happy to attend their program. If your post-MBA career is likely to be very global in nature, take a look at some of the European schools, which appear to be “maturity friendly” based on the average age of 29 for their incoming students. Oxford Saïd, for example, values substantial work experience, a high level of maturity, and evidence of leadership (vs. “leadership potential,” which some stateside schools consider sufficient).
◾Don’t completely reject the part-time and EMBA options, especially if you need the skills more than the brand and the network. (This is probably most true for people staying in their existing firms or industries, or for entrepreneurs.) While these paths may take longer, you won’t have the opportunity cost of missing two years of income, you’ll learn virtually the same material, and you won’t have some smart-alecky 24-year-old telling you where you’re wrong.

Saif received interview invitations from all four of the programs to which he applied. This proved to us that he was a viable candidate. I’m happy to report that he got offers from Stanford, HBS, and Wharton. Overall, it looks like he pulled the bell curve a little bit in the other direction.

*Saif is a pseudonym for my client, who wanted to maintain his anonymity.
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Re: Ask Insight Admissions [#permalink]

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New post 07 Dec 2017, 03:09
Hello Sir/Ma'am,

I'd like to kindly request you to evaluate my candidacy for Full-time MBA programs for the Class of 2021. Below is a brief description of my profile.

Background:
Ethnicity: Indian
Gender: Male
Current age: 24 years
GMAT: Target 760 (Scored ~700 on mocks after a month of preparation)

Education:
Business graduate from a Tier 1 business management undergraduate college in India (Top 0.1% selected out of ~30,000 applicants based on a written aptitude test)
GPA: 63.3% on a percentage scale

Work Experience: ~3.5 years (4+ years at the time of applying)

1. Analyst, Ernst and Young in Gurgaon (India)
Duration: June 2014 – June 2016 (2 years)

-Member of the Ethics and Integrity Due Diligence Team - worked on 70+ due diligence engagements spanning across various sectors over 2 years

-Key engagements include:
Conducted pre-investment due diligence for one of the largest Indian e-commerce companies looking to acquire a popular online recharge portal for USD 467 million
Conducted pre-investment due diligence for a leading private equity firm on a USD 34 million investment in a real estate firm
20+ similar high profile engagements for leading private equity clients

-Received the KUDOS award in July 2015, awarded for consistent superior performance amongst peers in the year-end appraisal
-Received multiple emails of appreciation from the Partner and Senior Managers for exemplary performance on various projects

2. Co-Founder, Garment Manufacturing Company
Duration: July 2016 – Present
The garment manufacturing company is based in India and is engaged in manufacturing women’s winter accessories such as shrugs, ponchos, stoles, capes, mufflers, gloves and caps, among others as well as women's summer tops and dresses.

I started the company with my mother who works as the production and operations head and my father who works as the CEO of the firm. I directly manage a team of ~10 people, heading the business development and marketing functions.

-We have grown to 80+ clients (retail outlets) across India with an annual turnover of INR 6 million in ~2 years.
-We sell on various e-commerce websites which amounts to an annual turnover of INR 500,000.
-We aim to increase our customer base to 150+ clients with an annual turnover of INR 15 million over the next year.

Internship:
Worked with the strategy consulting team at KPMG India for six weeks during the summer before the final year of undergrad

Extra-curricular:
Strong volunteering experience spanning 5+ years at a specially abled children's school, old age home, juvenile prison as well as experience of teaching less fortunate children.

Letters of Recommendation:
1. Senior Manager at Ernst & Young with whom I had a direct reporting relationship over my stint of two years at the firm.
2. Top billing client with four retail outlets – have been dealing directly with the client since inception of the garment company.

Post-MBA goal:
Business development/Strategy role at an early/growth stage startup.

I would be highly grateful if you could guide me with the following queries:

1. Please evaluate my candidature for top 20 US schools as well as top 5 schools in Europe.

2. Please suggest areas where I can improve my profile over the next year before I apply to schools in September 2018.

Thank you very much!
Re: Ask Insight Admissions   [#permalink] 07 Dec 2017, 03:09
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