A couple of months ago, we published a story that has quickly become one of the most popular pieces on PoetsandQuants: “The Presentation Only Elite MBA Applicants See.”
The PowerPoint slide presentation, given to top-tier consulting firms and Ivy League alumni groups by Inside MBA Admissions founder Jana Blanchette, brings applicants inside an admissions office to show how Adcom staffers evaluate applications. The presentation itself, along with a series of free webinars to P&Q users, sparked a number of questions from applicants. Blanchette gathered the best of them along with her answers.
Q: Are there any areas to emphasize if you’ve had more than average work experience, such as 6-7 years?
A: Focus on the positive aspects of your extensive experience. You will likely have more management experience and greater depth in your industry, than your less experienced peers. This experience will be both beneficial to you because you will a have richer insight into the case studies, as well to your classmates, as you will be able to contribute more to classroom discussions. Like all candidates, make sure you emphasize your leadership and extracurricular activities in the application. You will likely have more of these, as well. It is critical that before you begin writing your application, you spend significant time determining how to emphasize your strengths and navigate your weaknesses.
Q: Is a multifaceted part time job that connects you to the community an asset? I’m an integral member of a family owned community restaurant and bartend in my free time: I helped them get established within the community when they moved here
A: Again, your experience has some positives that you want to draw out. You are not going to get a lot of credit for bartending, so focus on the other areas of your role. For example, explain the value and leadership of the work you did to get the business established. If these skills can be parlayed into your career goals, then all the better. But recognize that your essays need to be genuine and Admissions committees will frown upon spinning a purely drink serving job into a sociology support endeavor. This applies to all activities and endeavors of questionable societal value.
Q: How do schools view students who did their undergrad in a non-traditional field (say Fashion Merchandising)
A: Schools will look closely to see if non-traditional applicants can handle the academic rigor of the MBA curriculum. They will look critically at your GPA and GMAT, especially the quantitative portions. Their aim is to understand why you now have an interest in business and need to get your MBA. Does your current career path require an MBA to progress? Do you want to do a career switch, and if so, what steps/homework have you done to understand and prepare yourself for this? The bottom line is that schools value diversity- a classroom full of all bankers and consultants won’t provide very unique case discussion. If you have a convincing reason as to why you need an MBA and can demonstrate that you can handle the academics, then your non-traditional background can be a great asset to the overall composition of the classroom.
Q: How important are campus visits, and are they used as a criteria in the admissions process?
A: Most schools track (either systematically or self-reported on the application) who attends school visits. Taking the time to visit the school shows a level of interest and commitment to their program. This aspect can provide a slight benefit for the candidates who are “on the bubble” in the admissions decisions process. However, at Inside MBA Admissions, we feel the biggest benefit of campus visits is for personal knowledge of the school. The only way to truly understand the difference between schools in terms of students and culture is through a campus visit. This information is obviously key for understanding which school you want to attend, but also helps you personalize your application to the school. We know from experience that applicants who visit campuses exude energy about the school, which helps them craft better essays and perform better during interviews.
Of course, admissions committees understand that visiting the school is not always possible due to financial, work, or personal reasons. If you are unable to attend a campus visit, then you need to find other ways to connect to the school, such as reaching out to alumni in your local city, contacting current students, or attending the school’s MBA information session at a city near you. These “touchpoints” with the schools will help as well.