Have An MBA Admissions Question? Ask Erika, Our Resident Expert

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Poets&Quants’ Resident Expert, Erika Olson of Stacy Blackman Consulting

Erika has been a consultant with the Stacy Blackman Consulting team since 2009.  She received her MBA from Harvard Business School, where she also served as an HBS Admissions Ambassador. Erika earned her BBA (with high distinction) at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, and spent the first two years of her undergraduate studies in University of Michigan’s Honors College, where she was named an Angell Scholar. In the spring of 2011 she was invited back to the Ross campus to help judge the undergraduate investment competition.

In addition to her admissions consulting work with SBC, Erika is a freelance writer who has written everything from corporate web site copy for design firms, to white papers and PowerPoint presentations for mutual fund corporations, to social media content and movie reviews for national DVD retailer Redbox. She is a board member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and attends movie screenings each week alongside the likes of Richard Roeper. What’s more, her first book, Zero-Sum Game: The Rise of the World’s Largest Derivatives Exchange, was published by Wiley in late 2010. It’s about the stranger-than-fiction multibillion-dollar bidding war that erupted for the Chicago Board of Trade while Erika was a Managing Director there. Erika’s thoughts on the exchange industry and mentions of her book have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and several other publications.

As the Managing Director of Marketing at the Chicago Board of Trade, Erika was not only taking down notes for her eventual manuscript, but also responsible for the exchange’s heavily trafficked web site, a multimillion-dollar advertising budget, and all product marketing materials. Further, she was selected by the CEO to be part of a small team dedicated to integrating the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s operations after the two companies agreed to merge.

Before joining the Board of Trade, Erika was the Vice President of Communications, Programs and User Experience at JPMorgan Chase. In this role she was responsible for the Commercial Banking division’s web site, as well as all marketing communications for Internet-based products and the company’s first-ever ethnographic customer research effort.

Prior to graduate school, Erika was an Internet strategy consultant and worked with clients in the financial services and pharmaceutical industries. She oversaw a five-continent, ten-country customer research project and opened the Chicago office for her Seattle-based firm.

Stacy Blackman Consulting and Erika have agreed to help MBA candidates with questions at Poets&Quants. Worried about your undergraduate record? Concerned about your GMAT score? Unsure of how to answer a specific essay question? Wondering who you should ask to write your letters of recommendation?

Erika will do her best to answer your queries. However, please keep in mind that individual profile reviews, assessments of your chances/odds at a certain school and advice on exactly where to apply are all pretty tough to give without an in-depth conversation. Here’s an opportunity to take advantage of Erika’s years of experience in admissions consulting to learn how to make your materials stronger.

Fire away!

 

  • Dave

    Hi Erika, thanks so much for your help!
    I had a question on taking additional courses to improve an application. I’ve read how acing courses at local colleges can help your application if you do not have a quant background or strong test scores. However, my GMAT and GPA are competitive for my target schools, and I was a finance major in undergrad. I was wondering if taking an extra course would still be valuable, even if my quant background is fairly strong.
    Do you think it would be helpful / a worthwhile investment to take a class such as a business strategy course at the Harvard Extension School? I was thinking this might help demonstrate motivation, and give me valuable exposure to the case method. Would this improve my application?
    Thanks again!

  • Erika Olson

    Sorry — I can’t help you make a personal choice like that. I feel like you should compare the data that’s available and ideally visit all campuses to figure out where you feel like you fit the best. I think cultural fit and your gut feeling is more important that statistics and figures, though, because it would be pretty miserable to spend two years and thousands of dollars in a program you don’t really like.

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    If your GMAT percentile is below 74% and you didn’t do as well in your quantitative classes in undergrad, then yes, I think perhaps taking a class now will help allay the adcom of any fears that you might not be able to handle their program. I would say in general your GPA is on the low end for the programs you’re interested in, so you are definitely going to have to do something to make up for that overall.

    We recommend the Mathematics for Management online course through the UCLA Extension schools. Adcoms are familiar with it.

    https://www.uclaextension.edu/search/publicCourseSearchDetails.do?method=load&courseId=144068

    It would probably benefit you to take this course before you apply. After you’re waitlisted it’s usually only NEW information on your candidacy that could help you out (if the school even accepts updates). So you’re better off presenting the strongest possible case when you apply.

    I would also ensure you keep track of all analytical work you’ve done/are doing and ensure it’s highlighted in your resume and by your recommenders.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    MBA programs rely on students to learn from each other and are therefore looking to pull together a diverse class in pretty much every way possible: ethnicity, gender, industry, role, country/citizenship, etc. So if an applicant is in an overrepresented bucket, such as Indian male engineers or Caucasian male consultants/bankers, they will have tougher odds overall than someone in buckets that are not represented in the applicant pool as much and will have to work harder to differentiate themselves from thousands of others who have similar profiles.

    Hope that helps!

  • Keven

    Hi Erica,

    I took the following from a response you had earlier. What exactly do you mean by this? Thanks

    “”I also don’t know your ethnicity, which will factor in a bit””

    “””Hi there –

    Well remember there is a lot that goes into someone’s application that isn’t covered in your short message above, and I never give anyone “odds” or anything like that anyway. BUt I would say what you have working against you is that you are older than the average applicant (but you have a reason for that which you can address in the Additional Info field, briefly) and a GMAT on the lower and of the range for the toughest programs. WHERE you went to undergrad matters almost as much (if not more) than your GPA, and I don’t know that bit of info. I also don’t know your ethnicity, which will factor in a bit. I don’t know if you’ve moved up (versus just around/laterally) over those 7 years or what kind of leadership/initiative you’ve taken at work or what your recommenders would say about you. And it’s definitely not great that you don’t have strong extracurriculars, which can sometimes serve to outweigh other weaknesses in someone’s candidacy.

    I definitely think McCombs Early Decision was a good move because it shows commitment and ups your chances for that particular school, which is a great school. I would also suggest you look at other schools that have a higher than 25% acceptance yield in this slightly older chart that is still mostly accurate:””””

  • aspiringMBA19

    Hi Erika – Thanks for taking the time out to offer your expertise! I’ve included a few points about my candidacy below as well as a quick question for you regarding a supplemental course.

    Background: 25 year old African-American Male

    GMAT: 720 (Q48/V41)

    GPA: 3.0

    Major: Economics

    University: Large, well-known top 50 state school

    Work: Corporate insurance broker (property-casualty) at the world’s largest
    multinational broker, overseeing the insurance programs of clients spanning
    from defense contractors to consumer products. Job responsibilities include
    synthesizing information from actuarial and legal teams to source coverage for
    clients. Rotated through the firm’s 2 year rotational program and was promoted
    from analyst to associate after 2 years.

    Extracurricular: Solid extracurricular involvement with educational
    non-profit organizations.

    Goal of MBA: Transition to IB with a focus on covering large health insurers
    (either in the Financial Institutions or Healthcare group, depending on the
    bank). Long-term, I’d like to open my own firm, providing trading solutions to
    health insurers who need alternative means to manage their excess capital.

    Schools: Tuck, Wharton, Kellogg, Booth, Darden, Fuqua, Columbia, Ross

    My question for you is whether I should take a supplemental quant course (would most likely be finance) or if my application is fine as it is? In the event that I was waitlisted at any of the schools noted above, would having the supplemental course ready to go be helpful in pushing my application
    into the admitted pile?

    Appreciate any feedback!

  • Hi Erika,
    I have been selected to Olin Business School (Full Scholarship), Kelley Business School (20k Scholarship and 35k Graduate Assistantship), Mcdonough School of Business (20k Scholarship), and Jones Business School- Rice University (56k Scholarship). My tentative Post-MBA goal is to become a healthcare consultant. These goals may change during the course of an MBA. Which school would be best suited for me as an international student? My decision has to factor in the post-MBA salary, employment rate, cost of education, international prestige and the number of opportunities offered by the school. I am not able to choose a college. Can you please help me out?

  • John Chen

    Hi Erika
    Thanks for the reply. This and replies on other threads are really helpful.
    Thanks

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    It’s smart you’re thinking ahead like this, because as I’m sure you are already aware, you will have a lot to overcome as an Indian male engineering grad (THE most overrepresented bucket) in an overrepresented field (consulting) with a relatively low GPA.

    I think some things you can do are:
    1) Figure out what causes you are passionate about and more importantly, WHY. Then choose an organization to get — AND STAY — involved with for the next three years. Ideally there would be a personal reason for you to want to be involved with this cause. It’s not enough to give money or volunteer on and off, you must truly get involved and take on a leadership position with this group and also ideally take initiative to add something that isn’t already there/doesn’t already exist.

    2) Seek out leadership opportunities and ways to take initiative at work, both in your client projects and in the office. Go above and beyond in your role. Keep in mind that you’ll need people who will help set you apart in their recommendations, so you’ll need to keep track of everything you do and provide those mentors/bosses with lots of good stories to use three years from now. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll forget things you’ve achieved, so basically start a running list or continually update your resume as time goes on.

    3) At some point, consider studying for the GMAT again and taking several practice tests. If you are getting higher than 730, consider retaking the test. In a competitive bucket such as yours, it will help to have the highest score possible. But if you take it 2 or 3 times and get the same score or lower, I would then be happy with your score as-is and focus your time elsewhere. You would want to aim for a quant percentile of over 74%.

    4) Try to get international exposure, even if it’s not through work. If you go somewhere on vacation, seek out unique experiences that might become essay fodder one day.

    Hope that helps!

  • John Chen

    Hi Erika
    I am in my senior year of undergrad engineering at a top 5 Indian school. I will be joining a consulting firm just outside of MBB, among Oliver Wyman/Monitor/Roland Berger. I have scored a 730 in GMAT and have a GPA of 3.3. I plan to apply for business school in 3 years.
    What can I pick up on the side along with my professional role to help get into a top business school ?
    Thanks

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    I can’t really get into candidate-specific advice on this thread, but in general I would say that you would benefit from more work experience, especially for HBS. They’re looking for demonstrated leadership, which is hard to prove if you’ve only been working a matter of months or a year. I would say to wait at least two years. You have to have experiences that your classmates can learn from. You don’t need to found an NGO (I’m assuming you were being sarcastic there), you just need to take initiative at work, show leadership and some solid accomplishments, and keep on being involved in things that matter to you outside of work. Depth of experience and commitment to a cause is more importance than breadth. Meaning having really significant experience and reasons behind working with a certain organization/charity and taking leadership positions in it over the years is better than just doing volunteer work for several different places that mean nothing to you.

    Yes, you would need in the mid-700s to be competitive and your quant percentile would ideally be about 74%, but if you had a strong GPA and analytically focused work otherwise, you may be able to get away with lower.

    I wouldn’t worry about figuring out your post-MBA plans just yet. The world will change by the time you’re ready to apply. Focus on making the most of your career and outside activities over the next few years and doing as well as you can on the GMAT.

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    I think if someone has a low GPA or GMAT score (especially a low quant score) then a CFA can allay the adcom’s fears by proving that the candidate will be able to think analytically and can handle the quantitative aspects of the MBA curriculum.

    Finance is not necessarily the same as accounting, though, so I’m not sure how relevant getting a CFA would be for your candidacy — it might actually raise questions. I feel like in general there are probably more other relevant aspects of your candidacy you could be strengthening to increase your odds than doing the CFA. Taking initiative to lead things at work, doing more outside of work, etc.

    However, if there’s something I’m missing and you believe having a CFA would help you even if you didn’t get into business school, then by all means, stay the course. But I wouldn’t ever recommend that someone do something SOLELY because they think it will help their odds if it otherwise doesn’t really make sense for them to do.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Sorry, those are not programs I am familiar with because I usually do not work on those applications with my clients. But I would think you could find out that info from their websites and other discussion boards or talking to students or directly with both programs’ career services centers. I would also suggest going to the admit weekends for both programs so that you can get a feel for which place you feel like you have a better fit with. Congrats!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    I think you are somehow viewing a weird version of the page. This column is very active. Choose the option to sort by most recent posts and you’ll see.

    Thanks,
    Erika

  • Brazuca

    First and foremost, thank you, Erica for your time! It’s pretty awesome what you are doing. So many of us dream of getting to a top MBA School and lack an insider’s perspective on the schools, mostly regarding admissions.

    In summary, I am a 25-year old Brazilian Engineer that works in PE and wants to get into HBS in 2018.

    I studied Mechanical Egineering (GPA 7.5/10, prob. among the 20% best) in Brazilian’s top University (top 5 in Latin America) and got a governmental scholarship right after graduation to do a master in Eng. Management (GPA 3.91) at Stevens IT, NJ. At that time, I took some MBA classes and felt in love with business and made a career shift. Coming back to Brazil, I started working as a business analyst for a boutique PE firm and got promoted after 6 months to a operational manager of invested companies, being the bridge between the portfolio companies and the board of the PE fund. There is a lot of room for growth where I work and I expect to keep moving up. Also, I worked as an intern (30h/w) for an year in a Engineering Consulting firm when I was in college, but I’m not sure if it counts as work experience. It’s woth noting that these are very masculine environments, I was the olny woman in the consulting office and same thing in the PE firm (except for the secratary and the cleaning lady).

    I graduated in june 2014, but, only started officually working in August 2016, since I was in a full-time master program the other 2 years. I would like to apply for HBS this year, but I’m not sure if I have enough work experience and whether my post-MBA plans are mature enough. Should I wait another year?

    In terms of extra curriculars, I have been very involved in local churches since my college times, having assumed managerial roles in technology departments, women leadership ministry and evangelistic events. I was also part of of the leadership group in Campus Ministry both in Brazil and in the US (Stevens). Right now, I’m not involved in anything, as work has been keeping me busy and I still need some time to find a new community. Are the previous experiences enough, or do I need to found an NGO or something?

    I’m a very good test taker and I believe I have a very good chance of getting a 700+ GMAT score, which I’m currently studying for. I’m assuming that is the right target. Please correct me if I’m being naive.

    My post-MBA plans are to either work in PE in the US; use my degree as a tool to become a partner in the PE firm I work or go to Strategy Consulting in the US. I’m not sure if this is too broad. I’m a planner, but I also like to keep my mind opened to new opportunities amd I’m afraid this might come out as not being strategic enough.

    Intereting fact: I speek German, Spanish and English and lived some time in Germany as well. I also did missionary work in Peru for a week last year, which I plan on doing again this year.

    I look forward for your reply. Thank you again for your time, Erika!

  • rahulbajpai.mba@gmail.com

    Is this thread still relevant? Can we still send queries and expect an answer on this thread? I’m asking this question because the last responded post on this thread is 8 months old.

  • Smriti Parashar

    Hey Erika,
    I have been accepted into the MBA programs in William & Mary and University at Buffalo. Which of the aforementioned colleges has a better curriculum for MBA in Healtcare and in regards to future job placements in the USA ( for international students ).

  • I’m earning over $7k four weeks at work part time . I kept hearing other human beings inform me what amount of cash these people can make on line so that I made the decision to research it . Actually , it seemed all real and has improved my everyday living . This is where i started>>> FL-Y.COM/3m09

  • Maverick

    Hi Erika,

    To what extent, if any, does the CFA help in the admissions process? I majored in Economics at a top 50 university, and work for a Financial Software Consulting firm now. With my lack of professional Finance experience, and my desire to get into Finance post-MBA, I decided to pursue the CFA designation. I am wondering if you have any thoughts as to whether this generally helps candidacies. Additionally, do you think that having the charter will benefit an applicant much more than a Level III candidate?

    Thanks for the help,

  • Erika Olson

    I would advise contacting the program directly to ask about these scenarios — I wouldn’t trust any other advice other than what comes from the proverbial horse’s mouth!

    Good luck!

  • superman123

    Hi Erika,

    I had two questions on HBS’s 2+2 program.
    1) Can you apply to 2+2 this year if you graduated from undergrad Spring 2016 and are currently taking a gap year?
    2) Can you apply to 2+2 this year if you are graduating from undergrad Spring 2017 but do not have a full-time job lined up?

    Thanks in advance for your response!

  • danieljkeller20@gmail.com

    thank you!

  • Blake Kardashian

    Thank you for the quick reply, Erika. I think it would be best for me to focus on finding a full-time job, then.

  • Erika Olson

    Unless you are somewhat famous, I would probably say to wait until Round 1. My advice would also be based on how old you are — if you are already 5 years out of school, then you may want to take the chance to apply in Round 3. If less, than I think you’re safe to wait to apply in Round 1.

    I’ll admit that I don’t usually work with many clients in Round 3 specifically because I feel like it’s reserved for people who have really good reasons/unique situations as to why they didn’t apply in Rounds 1 or 2 — usually it’s things like military deployment, marriages/birth of a child, death of a close relative, some sort of international assignment or extreme travel, etc. Usually we advise people to actually state why they waited so late to apply (in the additional info section), so if you don’t really have a good excuse, they may question your commitment.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    I think what you need to keep in mind is two things: 1) Business schools are looking for candidates who can teach their classmates something based on their experience, so you have to think about how you would position yourself in that light if you don’t have any full-time professional experience to share. I think it would be tough. 2) You have to be very clear about why exactly you want/need an MBA, why you need one from that school specifically, and what exactly your short- and long-term career goals are. If you aren’t really clear about those things in your essays, I think it could come off like you are unsure of what you want to do and are trying to buy time to figure it out by going to business school. MBA programs are looking for driven people who know what they want to accomplish and have a clear path to get there and a proven track record.

    I am not familiar with UCI, but UCLA is considered a top program with a mere 17.8% acceptance rate, so I think you will need to widen your net significantly and do VERY well on the GMAT in order to be competitive.

    I think that unless you have other things about your candidacy that would be compelling to an MBA program, you do need to gain some full-time professional experience before applying. You ultimately might want to consider a part-time, weekend or nighttime program as well.

    As far as speaking to someone, I would suggest going on campus tours and sitting in on a class as a first step, as well as doing significant research into each program and its average class profile before you go any further.

    Hope that helps!

  • danieljkeller20@gmail.com

    Hey Erika,

    I’ve been a professional soccer player for the past two years and after a
    few injuries I think enough is enough. I’ve always had ambitions of
    going into Private equity after getting my MBA. I was a finance major,
    econ minor with a GPA of 3.7. I scored a 740 on the GMAT and I’m
    considering Harvard, Stanford, Booth, Kellogg, and Kelley (I’m from
    Indiana). Unfortunately, rounds one and two have passed and my chances
    of acceptance/scholarships have diminished. However, with my unique career and credentials, do you think it would still be worth applying round three, or should I wait for round one next year? Thanks.

  • Blake Kardashian

    Hi Erika, I just found this blog and I think what you do here is great.

    I see that you don’t give “odds/chances” of personal situations, but I was wondering if you had any advice for me. I graduated in 2012 with a B.A. in political science from UCI (3.0 GPA). After graduation, I worked as a salesman at Nordstrom for a year and then I got a job as a high school substitute teacher (going on three years now). I got this job to support myself as a musician. You know, like an how an actor serves tables. I guess I’ve given up on that dream, but my problem is that I’ve been applying for a full-time job for over a year now and I still can’t get an interview. I see that b-schools either require or recommend full-time work experience to get into their program. I haven’t even taken the GMAT yet because with my resume and GPA, I don’t know if I’m wasting my time or not.

    Should I hold off on grad school and focus on the job hunting? Are there ways/certain people with whom I may speak at these schools to make connections for work/grad school? I’m not looking to apply to an ivy league school, but more like UCI or UCLA.

    I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.
    – Blake K.

  • MBA for Dallas

    Very helpful. Thank you so much for weighing in!

  • Erika Olson

    Have you considered UT-Austin? They are a top program, in Texas, and are very energy-focused…

    In general I strongly believe someone should attend the best program they’re accepted into. That degree will hold more weight in job interviews for the rest of your life, no matter where you are. It’s part of your brand, and it’s something no one can ever take away from you. I think to choose by location might be a bit short-sighted. Trust me, I could’ve NEVER called all of the twists and turns my life has taken personally and professionally since business school, so I would hate for someone to make such a big decision based on where they think they want to be geographically RIGHT NOW (even if you think you want to be in Dallas forever — the reality is you really don’t know what might change in the future).

    Hope that helps! Good luck!

  • MBA for Dallas

    Hello Erika,

    I have a question that is not directly related to admissions, but I appreciated your take on many of the questions that others had posted and thought it would be great if you could weigh in on my question!

    I am essentially trying to decide where to apply: I am not exactly sure what I want to do when I get out of business school, but I am sure that I want to be in Dallas (near all of my family) for the rest of my career. Of the programs based in Dallas, I believe the right choice for me would be SMU (I was really impressed in all of my pre-application meetings with them), but I have a strong application (I’m sure there are ways that it could improve, but for the sake of this question, please assume it is strong enough to get into anywhere) and I am debating whether going for a top school located elsewhere would be a better choice?

    I guess to boil the question down, should I go to a school that is located where I want to build a career to start building a network, or should I go to top school that will stand out on my resume and probably provide a better experience?

    If the latter would be your recommendation, do you know any top schools that have strong ties to Dallas for any reason? I have an oil and gas background (mostly working with Chevron out of Houston) and Mechanical Engineering degree from a state school – I am not looking to go to a school that specializes (i.e. Wharton), but one that I could choose my path as I gain more interests throughout the program.

    Much Appreciated,
    Zach

  • Kimmy

    Thanks so much for your quick reply– definitely understand and would want to complete a boot camp if accepted. Looking into the Berkeley course now, sounds like a fit. Thanks!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    I think the course you found sounds good — to be honest, I think it’s more about you making the effort to strengthen something you know is a weakness than anything else. (Meaning I think they’ll care about the fact you DID SOMETHING to improve your candidacy more than they’ll care about what class it is you took.)

    The reality is that if the school feels like you might struggle in their program, they will likely make your acceptance contingent on attending their pre-MBA “boot camp.” Many top programs have this sort of multiweek program right before everyone else gets to campus. So I think it’s great you’re going to take a class to not only show you’re self-aware enough to understand that there’s something you can strengthen but then also hopefully get a good grade in that class… BUT be prepared that they may still make you take the boot camp.

    Another class we recommend in situations like this is UC Berkeley Extension’s online class Math for Management. All of the adcom programs are familiar with it.

    Good luck!

  • Roger

    This is immensely helpful – thanks as always!
    -R.

  • Kimmy

    Hi Erika,

    Thanks for all of your great advice on this board. A question that I hope is not too specific to my own application: I’m a female Boston College graduate with a nontraditional background (Sociology and Theatre, GPA 3.75). Pursued acting post-grad and then started a video production company that has worked with clients like The NYTimes. Took my GMAT this summer, got a 740 (47Q), but know that I would like to bolster my application with a finance/accounting/statistics course.

    Have been researching online as to which classes would be best (won’t apply until Fall 2017) and wondered if you recommend one subject over the other — I found an Intro to Corporate Finance at NYU’S SPS — I live in the city — but would an Accounting/Calc/Stats class be preferable?

    Thanks so much,
    Kimmy

  • Erika Olson

    I definitely would not recommend a professor. That usually raises a red flag if it’s for a candidate who is already in the workforce (as opposed to someone who’s still in college).

    The schools prefer people who are senior to you because both of the questions (at least the two main recommender questions for most top programs) can really only be answered by those in a supervisory position: 1) how does the candidate compare to others in a similar role, and 2) what constructive feedback have you given and how did the candidate react?

    Those questions are hard for a peer to answer. But if you are desperate and there is no one else you can ask who is senior to you, then a peer will have to do and you should write a one-sentence explanation about it in the Additional Info space (or whatever field is most appropriate on the app).

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    I had posted a response before but it doesn’t look like it went through — apologies.

    Unfortunately I do not have any experience with Canadian business programs, so I don’t think I’m a good person to answer your questions. I would advise going to info sessions, talking with current students/alums, and looking at class profiles to get a sense of which programs might be open to older candidates.

    Best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    First and foremost, congrats! Do you have any idea how many people would do some pretty crazy things to be you right now? (THOUSANDS.)

    So I think trying to negotiate some $$ is definitely worth a shot, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up that it will happen.

    The way to go about it is to first either email or call any person from the adcom that you have already had direct contact with (if that’s not the case, then email/call the general address/number but be prepared for it to take a while for them to get back to you as they are swamped with Round 2 deadlines/the holidays). Per that last point, I would actually wait a few days or at least a week after both schools’ Round 2 deadlines or else it’s unlikely you’ll get their full attention.

    If you email them or leave a message, I would keep it short and sweet, something like: I’m so excited about the opportunity to attend X, but I have been offered a significant scholarship at another program that is making my decision difficult. I was wondering if I could talk to you about this or if there is another person you could put me in contact with?”

    When you actually talk to someone, be prepared to say the amounts you’ve been given, but do NOT say which programs you got the scholarships from. I feel that’s just kind of tacky/unnecessary. If they ask, that’s one thing, but I wouldn’t proactively offer up that info.

    Be prepared that there might not be anything they can offer you besides the option of taking out loans like everyone else. (I myself still have tens of thousands outstanding in student loan debt, so I know the decision you’re facing is not a small one.) But it’s still worth it to try!

    At the end of the day, after you’ve talked to both schools and can compare things financially apples-to-apples, you will just have to ask yourself what choice you might be happier with when you look back on your life one day when you’re old and gray. Will you always wonder “what if…?” if you forego the opportunity to go to HBS or GSB for another school because of the money? Or are you more likely to regret possibly still being in debt years/decades later? Or are you in a field that is so lucrative that you might be able to easily pay off the debt so it’s not that big of a deal in the end? I think only you can know yourself well enough to know what you might regret doing or not doing down the line.

    For the record, I don’t regret taking on student loan debt. It is a manageable amount to pay off monthly, and most lenders will really work with you on that front to make it doable based on your income. I wouldn’t trade my HBS experience for the world. But I also believe ALL top programs offer a life-changing experience and that you really can’t go wrong on that front!

    Best of luck! Circle back to let us know what happens — I’m curious!

    – e

  • Roger

    Hi Erika – thanks for always being so helpful with these posts. Quick question for you.

    I was recently accepted into HBS and Stanford, as well as two other top 5 schools (both w/ generous merit scholarships). Assuming I am eligible for [some] need-based aid from HBS and Stanford, to what extent can I negotiate these ‘need-based’ amounts? I know both of these schools pay close attention to their yield numbers, so I’m hoping I can use this to my advantage. If so, what’s the best way to go about doing this (i.e. phone/email/in person)?

    Thanks so much for your help!
    -R.

  • Orangepeel

    Hi Erika,

    Thank you for your reply. I was surprised by that 50% number. A lot higher than I imagined.

    One last question (sorry), in that case, can a peer recommendation work? For example, somebody who worked at the same team (small, 5 people) at the same level (didnt supervise me) for two years and now working elsewhere

  • VineethM

    Hi Rimond,
    I had considered IMD but the cost was higher than my preference. Also hadn’t done much research into european schools since was concentrating mostly on Canadian schools.

  • sgaball22

    Thank you so much! Happy Holidays!

  • Erika Olson

    Nope, you really can’t do that. But rest assured that a significant percentage of applicants do not submit letters of recommendation from their current boss (probably 50% of my clients don’t) for one reason or the other.

    So that will not work against you, but ideally you could still find someone else at the company who you trust and who has managed you to be able to write the letter, as well as perhaps a manager from a previous role/company.

    But I’ve never seen anyone submit work reviews and I would strongly advise against that.

    Good luck!

  • Rimond

    You should seriously consider IMD in Switzerland, I feel your profile will fit there.

  • VineethM

    Hi Erica,

    I am a 35 year old geologist with couple of Masters in Geology and around 7 years of experience in multiple countries in both public and private sectors. I am currently planning to switch fields and planning to move to a strategic management position. I do understand that at my age part time might be more advisable but my preference is in full time position. My question is whether my age is going to be a critical failure for my application or if I manage to explain why I am planning an MBA at this stage well enough would my application be given equal chance. I am also planning to apply to schools in Canada and not US.

  • Orangepeel

    Hello Erica,

    GMAT score of 750. I haven’t shared my MBA plans with people at work yet. Have you seen anybody attaching formal work reviews along with explanatory additional essay on why no recommendation letters from the current supervisor?

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Again, I never ever ever tell people chances/odds. That’s impossible for anyone to know without knowing who is directly applying against you in both industry and demographic buckets.

    I think it sounds like you have a compelling story as long as you demonstrate your fit with and knowledge of Haas, which is the third-most competitive program to get into, which I don’t think a lot of people realize. It’s very very tough, so I always tell people to widen their net and not get their heart set on ANY of the programs in the top 10. But everything you’ve told me sounds solid and it’s great that you have promotions and progression to show. Where you work is less important than what you’ve done and what your motivations are for being in the field you’re in.

    Hope that helps! Best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Yes I think the adcom definitely considers your GPA, major and your career when assessing whether or not they think you will be able to handle their curriculum, so I do think those things would help mitigate a lower GMAT quant score.

    I absolutely know they don’t just straight-up deny people with a lower quant percentile. They will always take your complete candidacy into account and then compare you against others in similar “buckets” and go with who’s most compelling to them/who’s the best fit with their program.

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    If you got lower grades in quant classes you could address those in the additional response, but quite frankly I think with your GMAT and experience I think you seem to have most everything covered on the analytical side and I don’t think they would be concerned about your ability to handle their curriculum (again, this is without knowing the details of your transcript). Best of luck!

    – e

  • Erika Olson

    Yes, I think your age will have to be something you address in your MBA applications as you are significantly older than the average candidate and they will wonder 1) why you waited so long and 2) why you’re just now wanting to switch careers.

    You might have an easier time applying to part-time, night, weekend or executive education programs, which tend to have an older student base.

    I don’t advise on job opportunities (working in consulting) — only MBA applications.

    Good luck!
    – e

  • Halil

    Hello Erica
    I am from Turkey and my gmat score 740.
    I am looking for an mba program so that I can start to work in consulting.
    But My age is 35. Do you think I can work in consulting or my age will be a problem.
    Thank you.

  • JSquash

    Hi Erika,

    Thank you so much for doing this! I have one larger question, which is based off of my profile (shared below) is there anything you would recommend emphasizing more or tightening up as I put final touches on my application over the next couple of weeks? And then specifically, Haas seems to have a wider view on the “is there anything else we should know essay”- should I address my quantitative background/skillset if I feel like it’s not coming through strongly enough as an “NGO-guy”

    25 yr old white male from US (26 at matriculation)
    Undergrad: Top 15 Small Liberal Arts College, 3.43 GPA, major: poli sci minors: econ and arabic
    GMAT 750 first attempt (99% V, 65% Q)

    Work experience: 3.5 years at a large (about $1 billion/year) international development organization on a business development team (I.E. preparing proposals for USAID, Gates Foundation, etc. for things like girls rights’ education, health, etc. in developing countries) with 5 promotions including starting as an intern. Was seconded to one of the big four consulting firms ‘international development’ teams to further my organizations partnership with them.

    Goal: Develop and scale more disruptive/innovative business models in the international development sector such as social enterprises and Development Impact Bonds by successfully leveraging the best attributes of the public and private sectors. Looking to business school as a chance to develop a toolkit/skills on the ‘private sector side of that equation’ and then would look at consulting opportunities with boutique firms in this space like like Dalberg, FSG, IDEO, or larger social impact/emerging markets teams within firms like Accenture, Deloitte Monitor, or Bridgespan.

    Extracurriculars: Coaching squash (played at collegiate level) as part of an urban youth program

    Essays focus a lot on what I’ve described above with my desire to generate social impact on a global scale and some experiences (such as visiting a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan) that have shaped that view.

    Feel good about both of my recommendations.

  • sgaball22

    Hi Erika!

    Thank you for your time and help. I am applying to CBS and Stern as my top choices, I graduated from a top liberal arts college with a 3.5 in econ and math minor and have worked in finance for ~2.5 years and have passed the first two levels of the CFA.

    I scored a 710 on the gmat, with 98 percentile in Verbal and 55th percentile in quant — I know the 55th percentile is low but how much will the CFA/financial background make up for it? Do admissions committees look at applications in this way, or is the view more of a 70th percentile+ quant score or you’re denied? Thank you for your help!! I understand you don’t do odds but just wondering how the committee will view this score given my background

  • Jay Pat

    I have years of experience as a data analyst with three promotions over the span of six years. I have had three years of experience at the manager level. Sorry for not being specific but it is relevant corporate experience. And particularly I meant to ask whether working at a blue-chip company like Verizon would increase my odds of getting into Haas with a GMAT score of 700, UG gpa of 3.7 in Information Systems Management at top-200 state level school, and a Masters GPA of 3.5 in Business Analytics at the same institution. I also have several publications in the field of data analytics. I am also active in extracurriculars such as volunteering as a mentor for a coding camp, relay for life chair in marketing and operations at my local chapter for the past decade, and running marathons (Boston marathon, etc). Additionally, I am an expert chess player and participated and placed at over hundreds of tournaments over the span of a decade. I also developed my own chess engine which has an available beta version on the iOS and android app markets using data analytics and artificial intelligence. What kind of chances do I have? This is my second post and I do apologize for being super vague in my former question. Thank you for the help Erika.

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    As stated in my column above, I don’t do individual profile reviews here and I never give anyone their “odds” because I don’t believe that’s possible. I do think that the main thing you will need to overcome is your GPA (especially the early grades), GMAT (especially if your quant percentile is below 74%), and the fact you might not have much analytical experience in your career to date. Your Masters degree in finance and high GPA in that program will certainly help mitigate any concerns they may have, but if you have NO analytical experience in your career I do think they’ll still pause over the GPA/early grades and GMAT. So I would try to highlight that type of work on your resume and through your recommenders as much as possible to ensure they know you can handle the curriculum.

    I think you have a clear career story and your goals make sense, but it’s just about convincing them you can handle the curriculum. I had a client with a similar background to yours who was accepted at CBS, so there’s definitely hope!

    The other thing you can do is ensure you’ve REALLY done your research on the programs and visited the ones local to you (CBS, Stern), talked to alums, have lots of program-specific details in your essays, etc. That will show them you’re serious and committed.

    Hope that helps — best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    I’m not really an objective person to ask on that front because I went to HBS and loved my experience and would do it all over again in a heartbeat. And you know they certainly cover Operations at HBS, right? : )

    I think one thing to consider would be if he gets any money from any other school. Student loan debt is no joke (again, speaking from experience here — I am still tens of thousands of dollars in debt).

    I also think he should attend the Admit Weekends of all schools he’s admitted to (if possible) to get a feel for the people he’d be in class with, the campus, the culture, etc, if he hasn’t been able to visit or sit in on a class already. It would be no fun to be somewhere you don’t click with for two years (not to mention sinking over $100k into the place) if you were miserable there, all for the “brand.”

    Ultimately it has to be his decision based on his gut and what he wants out of the experience. I personally don’t think there’s any wrong choice except going against his gut.

    Congrats to him!

  • Erika Olson

    I think most schools know that no applicant is 100% sure on what they want to do in the future, so I think while they certainly want to ensure you’ve thought through your career plans at this moment in time, it’s more about WHY you want to do the things you want to do that interests them. What you’ve achieved to date, your GMAT, GPA, outside activities, etc are all a part of the picture that will tell them whether or not they think you have potential to do great things in the future. I think they are less concerned with exactly WHAT you want to do and more concerned about WHY you want to do it and how their program fits into the picture.

    I always tell people to stay true to themselves. Everything — your essays and interviews — will be stronger as a result.

    Best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    I don’t have an answer for that — 6 years as a call-center representative vs 6 years working your way up to a management position … ? Adcoms at all schools judge you on your full package, including GPA, GMAT, quality of work experience and progression, outside activities in both college and post-college, so there’s no simple answer to what you’re asking — sorry!

  • Erika Olson

    I have not had any clients do this and am not familiar with whether or not Stanford has a program for college students to apply like HBS does with its 2+2 program.

    Assuming you are not applying through a specific program for college students and without knowing anything else about you other than the fact you’re currently in college, my advice would be to not apply this year unless you have done something absolutely incredible to change the world. (I’m only kind of being facetious.)

    The reason why is because one you apply, if you aren’t accepted, you will forever be a “reapplicant” to Stanford, which is a tougher thing to overcome than a net-new applicant (in my opinion). They’ll know they will have already rejected you once.

    Business school is all about learning from your peers, and usually that’s achieved through people sharing the trials and tribulations and achievements of their career. I would imagine there are only a very few spots in GSB’s small class for those without any full-time real-world experience.

    In general, Round 3 is meant for people with compelling reasons for not applying in the earlier rounds (military service, weddings, having kids, other extenuating circumstances) and also usually skews toward really really unique candidates.

    Hope this helps and best of luck!

  • superman123

    Hi Erika, thank you for the advice!

    As an undergraduate senior graduating in May 2017, is there any difference in applying to Stanford GSB round 2 vs. round 3?

  • Jay Pat

    How does 5-6 years of experience at Verizon look like when applying to UC Berkeley Haas?

  • John

    Hi Erika

    How much does an applicant’s post MBA goals affect their application?
    I’m currently a Mech Eng, and I am pursuing a MBA to make a career switch into finance. Specifically, PE.

    I understand that this is an unorthodox career switch, and that PE jobs are already tough to get. I think I have a competitive application:

    Top 5 Eng school
    3.5/4.0 GPA
    740 GMAT (50/40 Q/V split)
    5 years of experience at matriculation in engine design at a fortune 500 earth moving company

    Additionally, I think I have a good explanation for this career switch. Will my post MBA goal hurt my chances at getting into a top school? Would I be helping myself if I change my goal to Consulting?

    Thanks for your insight

    John

  • AngryRider

    My son was just accepted into HBS, Haas, and waiting to hear from MIT (I assume he’ll get in) No other applications. He’s leaving the military after 8 years of service, two war zone deployments, and 500 air combat missions. From a post-MBA employment view does it make sense to go anywhere but HBS (even if he’s interested in operations)? Thanks in advance.

  • brendan

    Hi there Erika! I’d like to know the business schools I have chances with, specifically HBS, Stern, Sloan, Columbia, and Wharton. What schools that I haven’t listed might I be a match for?

    APPLICANT PROFILE:

    Age 26, white male

    710 GMAT

    3.3 Undergrad GPA from Top 50 private university

    3.9 Master’s GPA in Finance from Top 50 private university

    EDUCATION:

    -Boston U., Film and TV, 3.3 GPA (went from 2.85 to 3.30, every semester increase)

    Activities: Philanthropy Chair of Fraternity, Division 1 Men’s Lacrosse player

    -New York University, M.A. in Finance, Strategy, and Marketing, 3.9 GPA

    Activities: Teaching fellowship

    EXPERIENCE:

    1) Interned for European major media giant (Sky), for major Hollywood talent agency (ICM), and for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (NBCUniversal)

    2) Alumnus of prestigious/selective (sub-10% acceptance rate) NBCUniversal Page Program, a century-old program for most promising college graduates (in media), they work in every major sector of media at NBC over the course of one year, and also work as NBC studio tour guides at Rock. Center in NYC

    3) (Entry-level) Associate, branding/strategy for NBCUniversal

    4) (Junior-level) Manager, branding/strategy for NBCUniversal, handles hiring and managing of a team of 3-5 people

    PHILANTHOPY/SERVICE:

    -50 hours/year community service: “motivational counselor” to students in low-income, low-graduation rate high schools in Greater NYC Area

    -In the works of creating an annual fundraising/awareness event for undocumented traumatic brain injuries to athletes (I sustained two serious concussions in college which ended my lacrosse career early)

    Goal:

    -I want to become the CEO of NBCUniversal one day. I feel I have the tools (leadership ability, work ethic, integrity, and intelligence), but I need an MBA to figure out how I can effectively use those tools. I care deeply about NBC and it’s continued success, and I want to build my career there specifically.

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    I don’t feel comfortable advising anyone on career moves, sorry! I feel that in general, NO ONE should do something because they think it will look good on an MBA application. That’s a surefire way to be miserable day in and day out. You should do what you’re passionate about and what you have talents for — that is how you’ll rise to the top, stand out, and be the kind of candidate that top programs want.

    Adcoms look at what you’ve done and, more importantly, WHY you’ve done it. That’s what you’ll have to explain in essays and interviews. They don’t care about public opinion, and you can’t really worry about that either, because it’s unknowable for the future.

    So I would advise doing what you have passion for and what you want to do and leave b-school out of the equation until you’re ready to apply. Your applications will be strongest if you focus on making an impact somewhere you believe in. Those are always my most compelling clients, and they come from all industries. It the “why did you do this” that makes all the difference and can set someone apart.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    As is stated above in my profile, I never tell anyone their chances because I believe that’s impossible to discern without knowing directly who’s applying against you at any school for any specific round. There’s also a lot more I would want to know about you that isn’t possible in a column like this.

    I think your lack of work experience might be an issue if you will only have two years by the time you start an MBA — that means you will have only about a year of “real world” experience for them to judge you on. The top programs rely heavily on students learning from each other, so you would have to have a really compelling story for that one year.

    I would not use the Additional Info space to talk about lack of extracurricular activities — I wouldn’t want to draw their attention to that. I usually only tell people to address low grades, low GMAT scores, gaps in work experience or some other unusual situation that needs explanation.

    I don’t think a high GMAT can outweigh significantly weaker parts of someone’s application. Your GPA will likely mean more to them because it shows how you were over four years and not just a few hours.

    So without knowing anything else about you, I would say 1) your candidacy would likely benefit from at least one or two more years of very solid work experience where you can show initiative and leadership, and 2) involvement in a cause you have a personal connection to or passion for — and not just randomly donating or volunteering a few hours, but significant responsibility/leadership that you can point to. That will help make up for the lack of extracurriculars in college.

    Hope that helps!

    – e

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Sorry, these are pretty specific-to-you questions, and that’s not really what I field in this column. I also don’t do any advising on things related to job placement post-MBA.

    At this point I’m not sure what else I would recommend for you except to plan to apply in the next year’s application round or else they might start questioning why you’ve waited so long and why you really need an MBA, especially if you want to switch careers. I think everything else seems solid except you will hopefully get a higher score on your GMAT. I’m not sure how your GPA translates to the US 4.0 system offhand.

    Best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    I’m a pretty big believer in following the rules, so it depends on what the school indicates in its application materials. If it says it wants two recommendation letters, ideally from managers/superiors, that’s who I’d go with. If it says it will not accept additional letters, I would respect that rule. You can’t stop someone from doing something on their own, my belief is that if those letters mattered to the school, they would make it clear that they will consider them.

    Other consultants believe that an applicant should try to use every connection he or she has since this is such a competitive process. I see the point there, and I don’t think there’s a clear “right” or “wrong” approach, but what I have seen happen is candidates getting way too confident that they will get an interview invite or acceptance simply because of who they know, even when their materials are lacking. Most of those people get a rude awakening.

    So I try to steer my clients toward spending the most time on their resume, data forms, essays, guiding their recommenders and studying for the GMAT and not so much on “additional” things that, in the end, I don’t think will ultimately help.

    Could there be a chance where the adcom was on the fence about someone and an extra recommendation letter helped tipped the scale in their favor? Sure. But mostly you need to deserve a spot on your own.

    If you were asking me about whether or not you should pick people who are alums for your letters, I would say ONLY IF they really really really know you well and can write strong letters with lots of stories in them about your strengths and accomplishments. If they can’t, you are better off with someone who has lots of material to pull from. That will make a stronger impression than alumni status.

    I have never seen a case where a current STUDENT was one of an applicant’s main/official recommenders — that probably wouldn’t make a lot of sense.

    Hope that helps!
    Erika

  • walterj

    Hi Erika,

    What is your opinion about letters of support from current students/alumni? Do some schools take these letters into account when making a decision on an applicant?

  • Shubham Kumar

    Hi Erica, it would be great if you may provide some inputs on a few queries. But before that, please let me apprise you briefly with my background.

    I am an Indian citizen with Bachelors in Information Technology from a prominent Indian engineering university. My academic scores are : GMAT – 700, CGPA – 6.77/10. (will appear again for GMAT in the coming months) Total workex – 44 months. In college, I was promoted from the role of a Member to Secretary at the Literary club, was selected as a stage host for International Science Conclave and also won several runner up awards in football and marathon. Post bachelors, I worked in the Education sector for 12 months in the capacity of a Mathematics instructor for IIT(top Indian engineering colleges) entrance exams. I was also involved in unofficial business development roles wherein I lead a small team of fellow instructors reach out to local schools and negotiate with their directors/principals in order to establish tie ups with them. After that I worked at a funded startup in the food delivery technology space, joined as an area manager and got promoted to city sales manager in the first 3 months. As a city manager, I lead a team of 8 area managers(usually MBAs and interns) and spearheaded the sales segment in 4 different cities of India right from scratch. My team was the best performing team in terms of achieving monthly sales targets among all operational cities. But owing to financial and investor issues, the company had to shut down several of our 6 offices. I was one of the two people (out of 6, working as city managers) who were retained in the sales team. However I resigned as I felt I needed newer challenges. Then I joined another funded startup working in the home furniture technology space as City Manager – Sales and Operations. I set up the regional sales and operations team and lead a 5 member team it in three cities combined. It was an amazing opportunity to learn a new industry, lead a new team and create things. I have worked in this company for the 14 months. Thereafter I did a 6 months long full time paid internship in strategy and business development capacity in China wherein I collaborated with a culturally different team in a new environment. Meanwhile, I have also been a member of the Toastmasters club and I aim to reach leadership roles within the club (like VP-Education etc). Also, I have degrees in Strategy Management course by Copenhagen Business School (MOOC via Coursera) and Marketing by University of Wharton(another Coursera )MOOC.

    1. My career goal is to get into Consulting after gaining relevant skills through an MBA at top b school. With all the aforementioned experiences and activities in view, how strong are my chances of getting into consulting at a top b school?

    2. What kind of activities do you think I should involve myself in, so as to further strengthen my profile for MBA in consulting?

    3. How much of scope do international students have(in contrast to natives) as far as getting a job after MBA is concerned?

    Much thanks.
    Shubham

  • Harsh

    Hi Erika, I had a few questions and would really love to hear your opinions.

    1) I’m currently working in the manufacturing industry with a family business but as a result of poor job satisfaction, I wish to use an MBA to switch into the tech industry. I would have only 2 years of work experience by the time I matriculate but have decent quality of work experience having managed a product and represented the company at various international events. Would the lack of work experience be a problem?

    2) I spent most of my free time during my bachelors degree learning and playing many different sports (as a hobby, not competitively). As a result, I don’t have any extra curricular activities (like clubs). Should I explain this to the adcoms in the optional essays?

    3) As a direct result of the disinterest I had in engineering, my CGPA is only decent at 7.65 but I have a 760 on the GMAT. Based on what I’ve told you thus far, do you think I stand a chance in a top 25 B-school?

  • W1LL

    Hi Erika, thanks so much for offering your help. I had a question about career paths in relation to top MBA schools. I have M7 aspirations, and just want to know if my current path makes any sense in terms of general trajectory, obviously knowing things may change.

    So, I’m a sophomore at a top non-ivy (Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Georgetown, etc), studying Finance and Computer Science.

    My general plan is to apply for investment banking jobs at bulge brackets, with an end goal of working in either venture capital or developmental investment at the World Bank.

    1. My first question is, would it be a realistic goal to first work for Teach for America? I’ve always been very passionate about the program, despite its critiques, and I love teaching (tutored for years, work with mentoring and teaching coding to poor students, etc…)

    Or will Teach for America dilute my ability to gain valuable work experience? I know it used to be a major feeder program, but it seems the public opinion has shifted to some extent.

    2. My second question, do you think, generally, that an applicant would be viewed more impressively as a World Bank analyst or as an ibanking analyst?

    Thank you so much if you have the chance to get back to me! Really appreciate all the work you do!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Yes, I think a CFA designation and a high GMAT score (specifically a high quant score in the breakdown) would help offset your GPA. I would also highlight your analytical and quantitative responsibilities and achievements in your resume and advise your recommenders to play up your skills on these fronts as well.

    Hope that helps!
    Erika

  • Erika Olson

    Any time someone tells me “I’ve heard stories” or “someone told me” or “I read on a message board”… that’s a red flag. Does your gut tell you that just clicking through the IR section would be a good idea? Probably not.

    So no, I would not advise this strategy. I’m not sure exactly how strongly any given program weights your IR score, but I don’t see the point of not trying to do your best on that section by preparing for it and taking it seriously.

    Hope that helps!
    – e

  • Mels

    Hi Erika

    Thanks for doing this. I know that everything is put on table when it comes to application. I have a degree from a British uni and my grades make something like 2.7 or 3.0 out of 4.0 GPA (when converted and depends on which converter to use). Would CFA designation compensate anyhow my low GPA? What else should I do on this part? Apart from getting 700+ on GMAT and explaining the low GPA reasons in additional essays.
    Thank you!
    Mels

  • Anthony Strong

    Hi Erika, thank you for time and consideration!
    I have what I think should be a quick question:

    I have heard stories about clicking through the IR section of the GMAT and getting accepted at a top 15 program anyway.

    Would you strongly recommend against such a decision/how much harm might that do?

    Thank you,

    Anthony

  • Erika Olson

    We have ex-adcom members from all of the top schools on our staff and they can confirm that they absolutely do review everyone’s transcripts. It can be done in less than a minute, especially when someone has been doing it for years, is extremely familiar with all of the major universities and is looking mostly for outliers (C’s or below). It takes an average of 20 minutes to review any given applicant’s entire file.

  • Erika Olson

    Sorry, I just don’t ever even remotely tell people their odds — even my own clients who I spend months getting to know and working with. It’s fruitless. You never know who is applying directly against you for a spot, which is what truly determines your odds.

    Unfortunately the story you are planning on probably isn’t the way to go. I’ve seen underdog stories over and over again and it’s not telling them anything about what you would be able to contribute to a class discussion, what you would get involved with on campus, why you need an MBA, what your career goals are and more importantly what you have them, etc. They are not gong to give anyone a precious spot in their class out of some sense of pity — it’s going to be because they are impressed with what you’ve achieved and because they think others can learn a lot from your personal and professional experiences, and because you have given them a reason to believe that you will go on to achieve great things.

    Based on what I do know about you, if you were my client and you told me that you REALLY wanted an MBA no matter what, I would advise you to widen your net because the schools on your list are all extraordinarily difficult to get into for ANYONE. I would recommend at least two schools with a greater than 30% selectivity rate.

    http://poetsandquants.com/2015/07/06/most-highly-selective-u-s-mba-programs/

    (This next one is an older list but the stats are still mostly the same and it includes more schools)

    http://poetsandquants.com/2011/04/22/the-50-most-selective-mba-programs-in-the-u-s/

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    I think aggressively networking with adcom members is a bad strategy. They simply can’t play favorites in that way as literally thousands of applicants will never have the opportunity to attend an info session in person. Really all you could do is HURT your chances by coming off as pushy or clueless.

    Your time would be much better spent working on your materials!

    The SBC newsletter I wrote last week was actually on the topic of what to do at info sessions if you have the chance to attend one, so I will direct you that-a-way for more details!

    http://www.stacyblackman.com/2016/12/05/what-to-do-at-an-mba-info-session-2/

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    There are candidates with a wide range of experience at all business schools — there is no magic number. It’s about applying when you feel your candidacy is strong and you can explain why the time is right for an MBA now.

    Sorry, I don’t really specialize in the details of schools at the level you’re asking about and I don’t know anything about recruiting opportunities or have specific knowledge of public policy programs either. I’m solely focused on helping people position themselves best to get in to a top program.

    Best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    I’m not really sure what you’re asking — they adcom is going to look at your full candidacy, so there is much more to take into account then years of experience and exactly where you work — they care about what you achieved at each place you worked, on top of your ability to handle the rigor of their program (based on your GPA and GMAT score), what you’ve done outside of school/work, etc.

    If you’re asking about the fact that you’ve switched functions over three years, again, that alone isn’t really enough for the adcom to judge you on — they would be interested in WHY you made that move but also what you achieved in each role.

    Hope that helps.

  • Sofia

    Hi Erika,

    I have three years of full time experience, 1.5 in a small family based financial services business and 1.5 as a brand analyst in a large retail firm. Is that very haphazard professional picture for T-25 b-schools?

  • ashikaverma13@gmail.com

    Hi Erica,

    I have a couple of questions that are specific to my GMAT applications:

    1) I am planning to take admission in fall of 2018 and by then I will have 3 years of work ex. Is that too less or is it okay? I am a lawyer by profession and presently work with a law firm.

    2) I do plan to pursue to public policy and/or public administration courses for my graduate programme and I wanted to know about feasibility of the course vis-a-vis job opportunities in the US or outside after graduating. Can you also guide me regarding colleges which offer the best public policy courses such as dual cources etc.

    Thanks in advance.

  • Ethan

    Hi Erika, I have a question about networking with admission officers.
    I have been to many info session and admission events. I was wondering whether networking with admission officers and current students will increase the chance of admission. I know some applicants keep showing up at as many events as they can and aggressively network with admission officer and email to follow up. I was wondering whether I should do the same, as it is pretty exhausting.
    Thanks,
    Ethan

  • HBS’17

    Your response is the exact copy of mine, and you say I am wrong. Do you think adcoms have time to review student transcripts in detail???

  • Juan

    Hi Erika,
    I just took the GMAT and received a 640 (Q44V34). I know I could have done at least 30 points better so I was a bit disappointed with the score but such is life. I’m now faced with the question whether to apply to B-School and to which programs. I was planning to apply to Yale SOM, UVA Darden, Darthmouth Tuck, Cornell Johnson, and NYU Stern. Here is a quick snapshot of my background:

    GMAT: 640(Q44V34)
    GPA: 3.33 in Accounting from a large state university (probably best university in its state)
    WE: 2 years of Assurance work at a Big4 and 1 year of Mergers and Acquisitions advisory (will be 4 years in total by August 2017).
    Nationality: Hispanic (male) Non-native, moved to the US at age 12.
    Extracurriculars: I do a fair amount of volunteering as a speaker / mentor for underprivileged high school kids, have dabbled with founding a couple “lemonade-stand” type of businesses (created a couple products, not yet on the market), and I recently got involved being a “mentor” for a startup hub / incubator in my city – basically I help any of the start-ups (mostly in tech) with finance/accounting questions, M&A, business plans, valuations, raising capital, etc.

    My question is, based on your experience and looking at my profile above, do I have any chance at all at landing an interview at one of these schools? I know the easy answer is No but I’m trying to figure out whether I’m faced with a low probability (let’s say 1/100 chance) vs. fantasy land probability (to put a number, let’s just say 1/10,000 chance). I’m not sure if it helps at all that I’m hispanic (underrepresented at top MBAs) and that I come from nothing in the hills of Colombia – I have had to work extremely hard to get to where I am today (not to say other people haven’t, but I’m truly an underdog story that has had to figure everythingggg out on my own). If I apply I plan to use that background as a framework to show AdComs why I would be a good fit (without making it a sob story, just highlighting the hardships and why it’s made me a driven leader). Any input on my chances would be greatly appreciated, thanks!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    You are certainly not alone in your fear of the GMAT. However, I think what is absolutely critical for you right now is to start getting some official scores in the books. You are already on the older side of the applicant pool, and that could start working against you even more than a lower GMAT score would.

    So take the GMAT and see what happens. You can take it as many times as you want — adcoms don’t look down on that, in fact, they view it as a sign that you want to keep improving your candidacy. However, I usually say that if someone has taken it 3 or 4 times and their score hasn’t improved much, the time and effort is probably better spent strengthening the other aspects of your materials.

    Another thing you can do in the meantime is ensure you are involved and taking leadership in some causes/organizations outside of work — ideally something that is close to your heart so that you can write about WHY you got involved. This is a big differentiator when you are in such a competitive bucket.

    How you can compensate for a lower GMAT score is 1) if you have high grades from college, 2) if you can highlight quant/analytical career work in your resume and through your recommendation letters.

    The GMAT is just one thing they will look at. I feel that WAY too many people get so obsessed over it that they lose sight of the fact that what is most important to the adcom is what you will be able to teach others in class — what will they learn from your past experiences, both personal and professional? And how exactly can that particular MBA program help you reach your (clear and sensible) career goals?

    Best of luck!

  • ngo23

    I should have clarified that I was referring just to the optional essay and not the required ones. I believe my quant score only translated to a 72nd percentile, but I do work in a quantitative/analytical field and have at least one quantitative extracurricular achievement on my resume. So I will refrain from discussing my grades in the optional essay.
    Thanks for your advice.

  • Abhishek – this is Prasenjit here. I’m in the same boat and would like to get some insights from you.
    Anyway I can reach out to you directly?

  • Hi Erika,
    I’m at a stage in my career where I feel the need to get an MBA degree in order to move forward in my career. I have 6 years of work experience evenly split across India and the US, and I’m an Indian citizen.
    I have a paralyzing fear of writing the GMAT, I don’t know if I’ll be able to score 740+ on the D-day (as has been made out to be an unwritten requirement for Indian applicants to top US b-schools).
    I’m not sure how true that is – and if there’s any other way I can compensate for my scores (my mock CATs are hovering consistently in the range 680-690).

  • Erika Olson

    Well you definitely shouldn’t address your grades in your MAIN essays — that’s a big no-no. Usually I say if someone has a C or below in anything, they should address it in the additional info response section. It doesn’t sound like you have any C’s, and I do think your GMAT will help allay any fears they may have had about your ability to handle the curriculum. (Top schools want to see more than a 74% in quant — I’m not sure what your score translates to.)

    You didn’t say what line of work you’re in, but you are in anything that is analytical or deals with numbers, that’s all the more reason to NOT address your grades anywhere in the app. You could also have your recommenders highlight analytical/quantitative work for good measure.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Unfortunately I have no insight into this as I myself have never been on an adcom. I think the process must vary by school and even by year. However, one thing that almost all adcoms repeat over and over — and that I DO believe is true — is that the interview truly is just one more data point that they use in assessing your candidacy. I think there are extremes that might cause someone to be dinged or on the “absolutely accept” list, but for the most part I think they just use the interview as a way to gather more info and then go back to making decisions by comparing the candidates who are competing against each other directly in the various buckets.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    HBS’17 is very much incorrect in his/her comment below — the adcom absolutely DOES dig into your class grades and your GMAT score. Top programs usually want to see above a 74% for the GMAT quant score. BUT it doesn’t necessarily mean you should address your lower quant score directly. But first, a question for you…

    What do you mean by “poor grades”? If you got C’s or below in anything, then yes, you should address them in the additional info section — keep it short and sweet and don’t make excuses. If you now have a quantitative/analytical role/career, you can use that as “proof” that you have the necessary skills to However, I wouldn’t bring up your GMAT score since your total is still good. If your total had been much lower, then my advice might have been different.

    How you studied and are financing the application process is definitely NOT something to bring up — it would come off as a little amateur/immature — almost everyone is in the same boat.

    Hope that helps!
    – e

  • ngo23

    Erika,
    I graduated from a small but well-regarded private liberal arts college with a BS in biology and 3.3/4.0 GPA. My grades in biology classes were quite good for the most part, but I got mostly B-‘s in my more quantitative and/or MBA-relevant classes, such physics, calculus, and economics. I don’t have an excuse for this; I just was not interested in those topics at the time and only put in minimal work. Since then I’ve grown far more interested in these topics and have learned the value in

  • Thomas

    Erika – thanks for always being so helpful with these posts. Quick question for you.

    Could you shed some light on the post-interview ‘behind-the-scenes’ process for Adcoms? Specifically for a school like HBS where the interview is so important. Does the interviewer grade each candidate and then send the application “back into the pool” so that it can be reviewed again by the entire Adcom? Or does the interviewer have the final say for the candidates that they interview?

    I’m also wondering how much weight the interview carries at a school like HBS (i.e. does a below-average interview nullify a great application?) and if it matters who the interviewer is (i.e. Dean vs. someone else on the Adcom). Thanks so much in advance!
    Best,
    T.

  • Realist

    do both lol. Should be hilarious to read an essay from an applicant addressing their low quant score on gmat AND then claiming they had a work ethic in studying for the exam.

    my IQ dropped a bit by reading your questions, but hope everything is clear now.

  • HBS’17

    1. No. No one will dig into your scores and math grades.
    2. No, everyone goes through the same process. Imagine 5000 people addressing how they got a 700+ score in their essays.

  • Lynn Anderson

    Hi Erika,

    Thank you for being so willing to answer all of our questions.

    I took the GMAT a few months ago and while I got a 720, my score was oddly distributed (45 verbal, 44 quantitative, 99th and 54th percentile, respectively). With this in mind, I have two questions.

    1. I’m confident in my quantitative abilities, but worried my GMAT quant score plus a two poor math grades at Berkeley will send the wrong message. Is this something worth addressing in an additional essay?

    2. As someone financing the application process myself, I studied for the GMAT on my own and took it once. I think this says a lot about my work ethic, drive and time management skills. Is this something worth highlighting in an essay, or is writing about taking the GMAT a subject worth avoiding?

    Thank you!

    L.

  • Zedd

    Erika,

    Thank you for your prompt reply! I’m definitely not psyching myself out of the application process; rather, I’m trying to learn as much as I can to understand how my background and goals will or could come into play. I will keep researching and building my resume in the meantime. Again, thank you so much for your help!

    Best,

    Zedd

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    You should absolutely always go with the people who know you best for your recommendation letters. The adcom does not care about title, seniority, published research, etc. They are concerned about whether or not YOU are a good fit for their program and what someone senior to you thinks of your potential.

    I am hesitant to provide any guidance on your second recommender. It seems as though the school’s directions would be pretty clear on who would be appropriate? Doesn’t seem like a peer/fellow student would be who they are wanting to hear from. If their instructions are not clear, you should call or email the adcom and ask them directly.

    Best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    What percentile are you in for the quant? That’s what the adcom really goes by (and I don’t know how to correlate scores to percentiles off the top of my head).

    If you’re applying in Round 2 of this year it would be pretty tight to pull together quality materials and still study for/retake the test. But if you are applying next year, then there’s nothing to lose by retaking it.

    Best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Sorry, as is explained above near the end of my profile column, I don’t do profile reviews here, and I am also not familiar with the programs you list above (those are not the programs I usually work on with clients). I would recommend working directly with an MBA admissions consultant for your specific questions.

    Best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    You will almost certainly be compared to other candidates who have law degrees. Similar candidates are competing for slots against each other. A male lawyer is not going to be competing for a spot against a female Asian brand manager, for example. So I don’t think your first question is anything to really worry about. They definitely would view law school as different than undergrad.

    I personally have not worked with lawyers as MBA applicants so I don’t have much I can say here that’s too meaningful, but since the adcom knows that everyone in corporate america is going to have to work with lawyers in the future, there is certainly going to be representation from those with legal backgrounds in every MBA class. They would definitely want someone with that experience adding their voice to classroom discussions. We had a few lawyers in my section at HBS, for example.

    All you can really do is the same that ANY applicant can do — prepare the best materials you can, make it clear what you can bring to the classroom both professionally and personally, and explain what your future goals are and why you need an MBA/that school to achieve them.

    Don’t psych yourself out about everything before you even apply! That sounds like what you’re doing! : )

    Best of luck.

  • Zedd

    Hello Erika,

    I have two questions pertaining to the admissions aspect of transitioning from law to business through an MBA:

    1. Do MBA programs view law school any differently from undergraduate education? I see that many applicants have 5+ years of work experience. However, as a law school graduate I am three years behind the curve on work experience according to my resume. Despite this, I would say that my roles in law school have been more demanding than my prior employment in a managerial position. Thus, would an adcomm essentially treat two candidates with 2-3 years of work experience the same despite one being three years older with a law degree?

    2. I have heard that business schools don’t care much for lawyers as the knowledge gained in a law firm is significantly different from the managerial experience generally sought by adcomms. Does you experience affirm this assertion? For reference, I work in a “biglaw” real estate practice, and would like to switch to the business side of real estate development as I find it significantly more interesting than the legal side.

    Thank you for taking the time to field questions!

    Best,

    Zedd

  • ABHISHEK SINGHAL

    HI!
    Profile:
    Gmat: 600 q51 v20
    Work ex : 16 months till Sept’16
    B.E. (NSIT), India : 70.2%
    12th : 86.8%
    10th : 84.8%

    Preferences
    1. Mba
    2. Ms finance
    3. Ms in business analytics

    Some shortlisted MBA colleges:

    1.University of Pittsburgh: Katz
    2.University of Connecticut School of Business
    3. fox school (temple university)
    4. babson college
    5. univeristy of illinous – urbana champaign

    MS Finance
    1.University of Utah: Eccles
    2. Ohio State University: Fisher

    I want to do MBA but there is lack of work ex n low GMAT score only
    2nd preference is 2. Ms in finance
    3. Ms in Business Analytics

    So u can help me out in choosing better course vs better college scenario. Objective would be to look for a job.

  • Catherine

    Hi Erika,

    Thank you for all your feedback here! I recently took the GMAT and scored a 730: Q44, V47. I’m aiming towards top 20 programs with an undergrad GPA of 3.4. Should I consider retaking the GMAT to balance out my score a little bit?

    Thank you!

    CL

  • Antriksh Aade

    Hello Erica

    I had some queries about LOR, so basically I have
    dilemma on which teacher to choose for writing my recommendation. 1st
    option is my Botany Sir with whom I have spent a great amount of time
    and he has become my good friend along the way but he hasn’t written any
    Research Paper. The other option is my Political Science Teacher who
    has written a bunch of Research Papers and has a PHD and is really
    famous but I don’t know her that well.

    Which one should I choose?
    Also, for the second recommendation letter, I don’t have
    any Supervisor as such as I am still in my final year. Do you think peer
    review would be a good idea especially for programs like 2+2. One of
    my friend was Organiser of Malhar( 2nd biggest fest in ASIA )for two
    years straight and I was working under him, do you think such
    Recommendation letter would hold any value??

    Thank you

  • Sara

    Thanks, Erika. That was really helpful. I have just one more question: I have an inclination towards strategy and that’s what I mostly want to pursue after my MBA. What are some things I can do to expose myself to this? I currently work in analytics, so would consulting be a better path for me? I’m not too sure how different consulting is from analytics.

    Thank you for your time!

  • Erika Olson

    My understanding is that it is pretty difficult and not even allowed in some cases. It varies by school, so you’ll have to do your research and/or contact the schools directly to see if they would consider you. There was someone else on this thread who already had an MBA and applied to another MBA program and was accepted, but I don’t remember the details of his/her situation.

    I also think you need to think more about why you need a second MBA — you are on the older side of the applicant pool and if you have the experience you have it doesn’t seem like it would actually be that hard to break into Marketing Consulting without an MBA, so I’m thinking you might have to tighten your story up to the adcom a little more. My gut is telling me an MBA is not the right move for you.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    What you’re describing sounds like an HBS interview, and that is often the experience for everyone. If it wasn’t an HBS interview, I still don’t think it’s necessarily out of the norm: you are competing against highly qualified people for a very coveted spot, and they want to see how you think on your feet and if you will be able to hold your own in class.

    So no, I don’t think younger applicants get interviews that are tougher than anyone else. And I think the interview carries just as much weight as it does for everyone else.

    I would do some research into what to expect for your upcoming interview — each school handles interviews differently but there are usually lots of anecdotes about what to expect that you can find.

    Hope that helps! Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Many applicants are accepted to business school without international exposure, but having it is certainly a differentiator. You can definitely play up the fact that you work with clients outside of India — that would be considered exposure to other cultures. If you have gone on personal vacations to places outside of your home country, that’s also something you can work into your application materials to show you have experience with cultures outside of your own.

    Hope that helps!

  • Karan

    Hi Erika,

    Am currently working as a Brand Manager for a Two-Wheeler manufacturing company for Global Markets. I have a 6.5 years experience in various profiles including Sales, Corporate Marketing and latest being Brand Management. Though I have done an MBA right after my Graduation (Bachelors of Technology) without any corporate experience, I now feel that having earned a degree from a Tier 2 college has limited my career growth to a certain extent.

    Having earned a valuable experience in different field of marketing and relevant global exposure I now want to move to a field of Marketing Consulting. I am planning to do a full time MBA program again from an top league college only this time ensuring it gives me the right platform to make the correct switch. My question to you is how difficult is it to get into top B-schools for a second MBA program and is it the right move to invest such a huge amount to make this switch ?

    Really appreciate you taking time out to answer the queries. Thanks.

    Karan Dua

  • WorriedWoman

    Hi Erika,

    I have interviewed with one school, and I have another one coming up in a week. I had a question regarding the interview process.

    My first interview did not go as I had anticipated. I was asked tougher questions than the standard ones I was expecting. It was not conversational, and the interviewer was constantly writing notes while I was speaking, and I do not know what to read into it. I did answer, but I think I spoke real fast due to nervousness and used excessive filler words.

    I am significantly younger than the average class age so I was wondering if younger candidates typically get tougher interviews to guage professional maturity? Does it carry more weight than other components of the application for early career candidates?

    Should I expect all my interviews to be tougher, or do you think there’s no correlation in age and the interview experience?

  • Sara

    Hi Erika,

    I work in a services company. I’m based out of India but have worked with clients based largely in the US. How important is international exposure for an MBA applicant, and what are the forms in which I could try and get this exposure? Please also keep in mind that moving abroad may not be an option for me.

    Thanks!

  • Chase

    Thanks for your response, it’s very helpful.

    Because average GMAT score counts over 16% in the US ranking, and given the race to ever higher GMAT score among the top schools, I thought the schools would want higher score even after the deadline. Also, from the limited information on different online forums I could find, it seems that the ones getting scholarships tend to have high GMAT scores. I understand those are small sample pools to draw any solid conclusion, but it just makes intuitive sense that schools would want a higher score.

    But yeah, I’m probably panicking into error… I’ll sit tight and see how things go. Thanks!

  • Erika Olson

    I’m confused by your question. The majority of applicants do not have 4-5 years of experience. Most have 2-3 years. There is no cutoff on either end of the spectrum.

    I feel like you probably have a lot more research ahead of you about the overall process and how competitive it is. Because yes, you do need to talk about why you want/need an MBA in your essays and interviews. For the schools you are considering, the GMAT score you mentioned is on the low end of the range, so you might want to do a little more research into those programs.

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    It would not be a good move to contact the admissions committee of either school at this point, about anything. In fact, I think it could actually give them reason to NOT admit you. They are now comparing you to other candidates who interviewed. Everyone had the same cutoff date — the deadlines are there for a reason. Every other candidate you are up against has done other impressive things since their materials were submitted, too. By contacting the adcom with an updated GMAT score, you communicate to them that 1) you think the rules don’t apply to you and 2) you are either immature or naive in your view of what they’re looking for in candidates. It’s not about the GMAT score anymore — if they were concerned with your score or cared that much about reporting higher scores to US News, you wouldn’t have been interviewed in the first place.

    And I’m not sure where you are getting the idea that scholarships are based on GMAT scores. But regardless, your materials are in now — nothing else is going to be considered by anyone at this point. The only situation where this could come into play is if you are waitlisted and they specifically ask for updates. Even then, I would say doing something else impressive at work or in a volunteer capacity would be more helpful to differentiate your candidacy than a slightly higher GMAT score (which you are not even sure you can get, so the time studying for and taking the test could be a complete waste that you’d be better of using to impact work/a charitable organization).

    Hope that helps! Do not “panic into error” — I know it’s stressful to wait to hear back, but do not contact the adcom.

    Good luck!

  • Chase

    Hi Erika,

    I’ve interviewed with two schools in R1, and I’m waiting to hear back from them. Here’s my question: do you think taking the GMAT again to boost the score, say 30 points, would increase my chance of getting and potentially receiving more scholarships, if any?

    I have a balanced 720 GMAT, but that’s an average of the schools I interviewed. I understand that you did mention GMAT is barely a check the box type of criterion, and that sending stuff after the deadline can bother adcom. However, my line of thinking goes something like this. If they like me enough, then they would obviously like a higher GMAT to report to US news. Also, it feels like merit scholarships are awarded to either URMs or folks with high GMAT score. Since I’m neither of the two, getting a higher GMAT seems to be the only variable I can influence.

    Actually increasing the GMAT by 30 points in a few weeks is another issue, but let me know what you think of this, thank you!

  • Ryan

    Hi Erica,

    I was wondering what are the chances of getting into top MBA programs without 4-5 years of experience? What about those students who would like to apply with less who are considering a career switch and think an MBA is the avenue for that? Is there a cut off amount of experience that makes you more competitive?

    Do you need to provide a reason to schools, or is it common for students with less experience to be seriously considered in the admissions process granted they have good test scores (660+) and good gpas (3.6+). Thanks! Considering: UM, NYU, Northwestern

  • JR

    Hi E. Thank you for your feedback, I’ll keep that in mind

  • JR

    Hi Erika. I appreciate the feedback, thank you for that

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Well remember there is a lot that goes into someone’s application that isn’t covered in your short message above, and I never give anyone “odds” or anything like that anyway. BUt I would say what you have working against you is that you are older than the average applicant (but you have a reason for that which you can address in the Additional Info field, briefly) and a GMAT on the lower and of the range for the toughest programs. WHERE you went to undergrad matters almost as much (if not more) than your GPA, and I don’t know that bit of info. I also don’t know your ethnicity, which will factor in a bit. I don’t know if you’ve moved up (versus just around/laterally) over those 7 years or what kind of leadership/initiative you’ve taken at work or what your recommenders would say about you. And it’s definitely not great that you don’t have strong extracurriculars, which can sometimes serve to outweigh other weaknesses in someone’s candidacy.

    I definitely think McCombs Early Decision was a good move because it shows commitment and ups your chances for that particular school, which is a great school. I would also suggest you look at other schools that have a higher than 25% acceptance yield in this slightly older chart that is still mostly accurate:

    http://poetsandquants.com/2011/04/22/the-50-most-selective-mba-programs-in-the-u-s/

    That chart shows the probability for ANYONE to be accepted overall. What you can do to up your individual odds is tell a compelling career progression story through your resume, have your recommenders use a lot of stories when describing your achievements and personality traits and strengths (versus just a bunch of adjectives that don’t really say or prove anything), and by showing the adcom through your essays WHY you have the future goals you do, what makes you tick, what else you can bring to the classroom aside from your career experience, and that you’ve done your homework about their program.

    Hope that helps!

  • SamP

    Hi Erika,

    How are you?

    I am a 29 year old male with a bachelor degree in math from a middle tier private college in NJ.
    Due to family situation(my dad got laid off), I got the first job i could find in a large insurance company and have been working there for 7 years in various positions in financial reporting. Now that my parents are settled and I do not need to support them (whew!), I have decided to do MBA in entrepreneurship. I have 3.69 Undergrad GPA and 700 GMAT (38v/48m). I do not have any extra curricular activities to bolster my application.
    What should be my expectation here? Which programs have the higher probability of me getting accepted?

    P.S.: I like mccombs and already applied there for early decision.

    Thanks,
    Sam P

  • pablonoriegar@gmail.com

    Thanks!

  • Erika Olson

    I completely agree with E’s response below! There’s no downside to retaking it except the time and money, but if you could use that time bulking up your leadership in volunteer organizations or in your role at work, for example, that would be a better use of your time to improve your candidacy. Otherwise there’s no downside to retaking and seeing what happens.

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    I work most with people applying to the top 10 or so programs. I believe for those programs it would be extraordinarily tough to overcome anything below a 3.0 for sure, perhaps even higher than that.

    I am not as familiar with what is acceptable for other programs outside of the top 10-15 so I wouldn’t want to lead you astray there.

    Clearly countering with a strong GMAT is the best way to allay fears that a candidate can’t handle the rigor of the program. The other is to highlight if grades in quantitative courses were higher than other grades, as those courses are more similar to what will be in the MBA curriculum. The other way is to show that you’re in a quant-heavy, analytically focused role and have excelled in it. And to have your resume and your recommenders highlight your analytical abilities.

    You should also definitely use the Additional Information field to address and explain your poor grades and try to make a case for why you can handle the program. Do not address your low GPA in a main essay.

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    It is definitely better to ask people who know you well to write the letters. As long as they can answer the questions and provide lots of specific details/stories to back up their claims about how great you are, that’s all that matters. They don’t have to be a top executive or an alumni.

    Yes, many applicants apply as couples. And yes, there is usually a place on all applications to indicate this. I think they still will review candidates’ strengths individually at first but then perhaps look at them as a whole if both prove to be in the realm of what the school is looking for. Having married couples or partners as part of the class makeup is just another way to make the school diverse — it’s another perspective. But it’s unlikely a couple would be admitted together if either of the candidates was significantly weaker. I have heard of one person getting in and not the other, so that can happen too and then the couple needs to make a choice.

    Good luck!

  • sam

    Thanks a lot Erika !
    I will keep it in mind 🙂

  • pablonoriegar@gmail.com

    Hi Erika. My 2 questions:
    1- Re: recommendation letters. Is it better to ask them from senior people in your company/alumni who maybe haven’t worked as closely with you; or is it better from direct managers/people who have overseen your work more closely even though they are not as senior nor alumni?
    2- Have you heard of cases or had clients applying as couples? Can you state somewhere in your application that you are applying together with somebody? How do adcoms see that? Do you think it can increase or decrease somebody’s chances, or are schools just going to evaluate each person individually?

    Thanks!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Sorry — I just don’t answer THIS detailed of questions on this board. They’re just too specific to you. The goal of this column is to answer general questions that several other readers would benefit from, as I state in my profile above. Hope you understand. Sounds like you might want to consider working directly with an admissions consultant as these are exactly the types of things we spend weeks discussing and strategizing with our clients about!

    Best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Yes, they absolutely are. I had many non-corporate classmates in my section at HBS. There were kindergarten teachers, priests, pop singers, athletes, missionaries, military members, you name it. So that kind of diversity is absolutely represented in the class.

    However, all of those people proved (through their GPAs and test scores) that they could handle the rigorous curriculum. They also had clear reasons why they needed an MBA for their future goals, and they also had a ton of life experience that would be relevant to class discussions.

    Every single person who is accepted to a top program is going to have to have something to give back to the classroom and a clear reason for needing an MBA. You can rest assured that there are diverse candidates in absolutely all respects that meet those criteria.

    Hope that makes sense!

  • Erika Olson

    Well you should certainly not use them as one of your two official letters. Those really need to be from people who know you well and can include several stories/anecdotes to support what they’re saying about you.

    I personally believe that additional letters neither help nor hurt, because they HAVE to judge you on what you’ll bring to the classroom and not who you know. Is there a chance that an additional alum letter might at least make them pause and consider your application more seriously than they might have otherwise, or tip the scales in your favor for an interview invite you otherwise wouldn’t have gotten? Sure. In the end you’ll still have to be someone they really want in their class, though. So if anyone else sends in a letter on your behalf, they’ll have to just do it on their own and it’ll probably be added to your file and who knows if they’ll actually read it (that probably depends on the school and their policy). But I don’t think it could work against you.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Absolutely — just give me your email address and phone number and I will totally hook you up. Oh wait — I’m still $50k in student loan debt so I guess I better use all of my connections for myself first. : ) D’oh!

    – e

  • Erika Olson

    I definitely don’t feel comfortable giving people career advice — you should do what you want to do in your gut and in your heart. Taking a role because you think it might look good/better for a b-school app in the future is definitely inadvisable. If you don’t love what you’re doing, you won’t do as well in it. I speak from experience on that one!

    In general I think that seeking out leadership opportunities at work, taking initiative, going beyond your role, developing great mentors and getting involved in a cause you’re passionate about OUTSIDE of work are all things that can ultimately differentiate someone. Those things are possible at all sorts of companies and positions.

    To me it seems like the first role you mentioned would give you more opportunities to stand out, but I think you could also make those opportunities for yourself anywhere.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    I think the most important thing is having the time to pull together the absolute best application you can. If you don’t think you’ll have any other significant experience to speak to over the course of another year (and assuming you have more than 2 years of experience under your belt already), then I think you still have enough time to apply to programs and pull together strong materials right now for Round 2.

    If you are in an overrepresented bucket and have ZERO extracurriculars to speak of post-college, you may want to take on a leadership role in a cause/organization you have a passion for over the next year (should you wait to apply). Usually for people who are in competitive buckets, it’s that kind of thing that puts them over the edge.

    But if you already have that going for you or some other truly unique aspect of your candidacy to speak to, then this year Round 2 would be fine.

    People tend to overestimate the importance of the GMAT. It’s more like a hurdle to clear. It doesn’t tell them anything about what you would contribute to the class or what your goals are, etc. So just be sure you’re confident in the rest of your candidacy.

    Hope that helps!

  • QuantGirl

    Hi Erika – I have a question for you about applying R1 vs R2.

    Basically I wasn’t planning to apply until R1 next year but I just took the GMAT and got a 760. On top of that, I also just found out I will be promoted as of Dec 1st (2nd promo in 6 months!)

    Ideally I’d like to start b-school sooner rather than later, but I’m worried that my chances will be lower if I apply R2 this year (typical consulting profile) vs holding off another year and applying R1 next year. Do you think it makes sense to wait until R1 next year? Not much is going to change with my profile except another year in my promoted position and my current recommenders will mention the promo in R2 this year anyway.

    I’m feeling conflicted and would love your opinion!

    Thanks!!
    QG

  • E, Thanks for weighing in with a thoughtful reply!

  • E

    I’m not Erika, but I thought I’d give you my thoughts. At a lot of the top schools, the difference between 730 and 750 probably won’t matter for admissions. For example at HBS, I don’t think it would make a difference, it’s going to come down to the rest of your profile. I do think at a lot of schools the 750-760 could help you get scholarship $.

    I got a 710 my first time, and took it again 3 weeks later and got 750. I’d say if you know specifically what you did wrong that you can improve on, go for it. If you need a ton of study time to improve that score, it’s not worth it IMO.

    Honestly though, there is no downside anymore. If you do worse just cancel your score and it won’t be reported.

  • sam

    Hi Erika !
    I am an undergrad engineering student from India (currently studying).I will start working next year.
    I have two job offers.ONE from a small niche BI Consulting firm based in UK with a really great front end role that comprises meeting the clients,working on complex BI technology and international assignments and the OTHER from one of the top 3 Consulting firms with a knowledge center based role that comprises of making presentations and data mining.

    Which role should I choose ?I am confused.Should I value brand value more or the quality of work.

    Thanks,
    Regards,
    Sam

  • HBS

    Hi Erika, can you please help me get a full ride to HBS through your connections?
    Thanks.

  • A

    Hi Erika,

    Thank you so much for answering these questions! The original post is coming on just about a year now, but I see that you’re still answering queries in the comments 😉

    I recently graduated as a first-generation college student at a top 15 liberal arts college, where I studied biology and linguistics and received a 3.8 GPA. I scored 166V/165Q on the GRE (translates roughly to 730-740 GMAT).

    I am undertaking coursework at a flexible graduate extension program in Biotechnology at Harvard Extension (with a Master’s option) but in December I will be travelling to Kenya for a year to found a project, funded in part by some big names in social entrepreneurship. It is not legally structured as an NGO yet, but is similar in scope and objective.

    My questions are:
    1) Specifically regarding the quantitative score, I am currently at the 90th percentile. Does it make sense to try to get to the 95th, or to consider the GMAT?
    2) After the year in Kenya, I will continue administration of the project. However, I plan on subsequently spending a year in China to further my biotech/bioengineering research/volunteer experience and study China’s relations with East Africa, where the former has been investing heavily. One possible avenue to support this year in China is through fellowship opportunities; if this year culminated in a Master’s in IR, would that be detrimental to B-school applications? What if I received a Master’s in biotechnology from Harvard Extension as well? How heavily does graduate GPA factor?
    3) As I will not have had a direct supervisor during my work as a proprietor of the project, would letters of recommendation from mentors suffice? With this in mind, I am planning on asking a former US Ambassador to Kenya and the Minister of Health or governor for our local region.
    4) My career goals involve bringing biotechnology approaches (addressing social and environmental issues) to developing markets in East Africa, relying heavily on Chinese-African relations and China’s pivotal role as a supplier of these services and technology. Would this be a good basis for an application essay? It combines my background (I am familiar with work in these cultures and speak fluent Swahili and Chinese) and career goals (biotechnology and social business) in a way that I hope makes sense for why an MBA would be beneficial for what I’m trying to do.
    5) Finally, are there particular schools that provide the best fit?

    Sincere thanks and cheers,
    A

  • Jen

    Hi Erika,

    What is your opinion on alumni letters of support? I know a few alums really well from a couple schools I am interviewing at (we have not worked together professionally but rather I know them personally or from a volunteer standpoint). Do letters from them to adcoms help or hurt at all? My concern is if these could “annoy” adcom if it is coming from a not super involved/donor type of alum?

  • Amit Pandey

    Hi Erika,

    I wanted to know if top MBA schools is open to candidates coming from non-corporate background as well. I have written a few emails to few admission consultants for profile evaluation and everyone has been so negative about it.

    I want to know about professional experience as a Teacher/Musician/Photographer/Actor/Dancer are irrelevant ? Also I would like to know what is the meaning of diverse if we select candidates from same corporate world just with different job roles?

    I myself do not belong to any corporate but worked in my own small time organisation doing multiple job roles and learning more at the same point of time.This is more crucial for me when it comes to diversity,experience.

    Thanks,Amit

  • JR

    Hi Erika,
    I appreciate all of the advice that you provide on here.
    I recently took the GMAT and scored a 730 (Q48, V41). I am generally happy with this score, but felt I had a good chance of scoring closer to a 750-760. I am considering retaking the GMAT to see if I could score closer to my target score. I was curious if you thought there would be much of a benefit between a 730, and say a 750, and if you thought there could be any potential downside. I was thinking a higher score could be the tipping point for some schools, or help with scholarship money. My GPA is 3.7 so I am not very concerned about compensating academics with a higher GMAT score.

    I am planning to apply Round 1 next year, so I feel I have time to prepare for the exam again without distracting from the application process. I wanted to see if you had any thoughts as to the benefit of a slightly higher score, versus any downside of scoring the same or even slightly lower. I was targeting applying to top 20, or top 15 programs.

    Thank you.

  • melick.rl@gmail.com

    Erika,

    Is there a GPA that is too low for a top 25 program. Say under 3? under 2.5? And to expand the question a bit; if there isn’t a GPA that rules you out of the top 25 – beyond countering with a strong GMAT score what are your two favorite ways to overcome a lower GPA?

  • Curious

    Thanks so much Erika. You’re right, I shouldn’t go in with such a negative attitude. I’ll try to build up my confidence between now and the interview 🙂

  • Erika Olson

    First and foremost, congrats!

    I’m going to assume your interview is with Harvard or Stanford, since Wharton’s invites haven’t been released yet. : )

    If your interview is with Stanford, it’s likely with an alum. They won’t have access to your materials, so they’re not going to ask you anything about your GMAT score. It will be more like a standard interview in the form of a conversation, so I would just recommend you do normal interview prep and have some “Why Stanford” details ready to discuss. If you got to this point in the process, they are seeing something else in your candidacy that intrigues them that outweighs your GMAT score. Since there’s nothing you can do about your score anyway, there’s not much else that applies to the GSB process going forward except to prepare for a standard interview.

    With HBS, it’s kind of the same thing — they are NOT going to waste a precious interview slot on someone they have every intention of dinging because of his/her GMAT score. So there’s something you’ve got going for you that is outweighing your low score. HOWEVER, HBS is likely to specifically bring it up in an interview. They will probably ask something like, “Why do you think you did so poorly on the GMAT” or “Should we be worried about you being able to handle and thrive with our curriculum since you didn’t do well on the GMAT?” etc. This is your opportunity to be honest — perhaps you’re just not a great standardized test taker? It’s also an opportunity to: 1) highlight quantitative things you’ve done that are stronger (either grades in quant-related undergrad classes or aspects of your job that are analytical) and 2) talk about how that’s EXACTLY WHY the case method is going to be a much better way for you to learn (it’s about as opposite from a standardized test as you can get, right?).

    My worry for you is that you seem already resigned that you will be dinged, and if you have that attitude going into the interview, they will sense it. You need to be confident and “yourself.” I cannot stress enough that if you’ve gotten an interview invite, that’s a great sign and you need to make the most of the opportunity — not look for reasons that they already have made up their mind. That’s not the case.

    Good luck!

  • Curious

    Hi Erika. I got invited to interview at one of H/S/W with a low GMAT score. Do you have any particular interview advice for people with low stats? I feel like they may be finding reasons to use my score to ding me at this point. Thanks a lot.

  • Inquisitive

    Yes. Of course. If you’ve failed what else can you do? You have a reason to apply.
    The real dilemma comes when you have a running venture.

  • Erika Olson

    Hmm, this is definitely a tough one. However, I would think that no candidate should leave any question in the adcom’s mind as to whether or not his/her startup failed. It should be clear what the status of the company is and what your place is in it through your materials. If a startup failed that is definitely NOT a bad thing in the adcom’s eyes. If you wrote about what you learned through the process and what you’re looking to improve upon/gain through an MBA, they would hopefully feel you would have a lot to teach your fellow classmates through your experiences.

    It may actually be a tougher sell if your business is still doing well. You would have to have a strong, clear answer for “Why an MBA… now?” So that is what you would need to do some soul-searching about if that’s the situation you are in.

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    I only have anecdotal evidence and no hard numbers for you, but I certainly feel like the number of Round 1 “further consideration” HBS candidates has increased over the past few years. My guess is that you’re in a popular demographic or industry/role “bucket” and they want to compare you against other R2 candidates in those same buckets before making a final decision. I don’t have any meaningful stats on conversion from FC to interview, though. Sorry! I know how hard it is. If it makes you feel better, one of my best friends was waitlisted at HBS and did eventually get in — he got the call like TWO WEEKS before classes were going to start?!?! (Maybe that actually wouldn’t make anyone feel better… ? Sorry!) But I guess my point is that it definitely IS possible to get in off of a waitlist if that’s what ends up ultimately happening to you after Round 2, so keep hope alive. Being in FC or waitlisted is always better than a flat-out ding!

  • Inquisitve

    It is one thing to become an entrepreneur after doing MBA, but does it hurt to do MBA as an entrepreneur?

    I have been told that if you have a startup and you tend to apply to B-Schools, it could mean either:

    1. You failed
    2. Your business is not running as well, so you want out. You are looking for an escape route.

    Because if a venture is running well, you do not go for MBA, you hire MBA graduates.

    What is your say?

  • BrianScottLinville@gmail.com

    Hi Erika,

    Do you have any insights regarding how many people are typically given the “further consideration” result in round 1 at HBS? Also do you have any sense of what the yield is from those to actually receive interviews?

    Of course, I’m asking for a friend…
    -Brian

  • Erika Olson

    I feel so badly about this, but I honestly do not have any experience with EMBA programs. That’s not what I work on with my clients at all, so I would not be able to guide you there. I apologize!

    You may want to see if anyone else at SBC can guide you by filling out this free consultation form: http://www.stacyblackman.com/contact/

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    As I state above in my column intro, I don’t provide any feedback on chances/odds for anyone — there are too many factors that go into that sort of thing.

    I also can’t really provide individualized advice about positioning at the level you are looking for — I spend at least a month getting to know clients before I would suggest any sort of strategy.

    While I will say is that I don’t think what you have planned for your essays sounds very differentiating at all — it sounds very generic. And of course your responses have to be tailored to each school’s questions in the first place. Many of them aren’t really looking for more insight into your career to-date because they’ll get that from your rec letters and resume. It’s usually more personal stories that provide insight into the “whys” for your goals and passions and decisions that are what the most successful essay responses include. You need to give them a full picture of your personality and what makes you tick instead of just writing what you think they want to hear.

    So I would think about what truly differentiates you in that regard and ensure you have explained WHY you have the goals you have going forward. You also need to make sure you’ve done your school-specific research and can prove you know the programs well.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    I do think your years of experience will be something you have to address in your application — they will want to understand why you think you need an MBA at this point — why you will still benefit from one despite all of the experience you already have under your belt. They don’t want a spot to be “wasted” on someone that doesn’t really need the degree.

    To me, the demographic bucket you are in (Indian IT male) is an even bigger obstacle to overcome because, as you know, it’s majorly over-represented. So perhaps your startup experience and additional years working could be a differentiator? Meaning that you should be able to communicate how much you’ll be able to teach your fellow classmates through all of your experiences — more than someone of the same general background just 2 or 3 years out of school.

    So while I do think you have a bit of an uphill battle in front of you, if you can make a clear case for why you need an MBA now — and assuming your GPA and rec letters are also very solid — there is still hope.

    Good luck!

  • CV

    Erika,

    Thanks for volunteering your advice.

    I am researching EMBA. I would enjoy your perspective of Pros/Cons and/or schools to consider…to ensure I maximize my experience and future ROI.

    I am a active duty, Lieutenant Colonel with 18.5 years. As I approach 20 years, I approach the preverbal “Y” in the road. Stay or go? I am competitive for promotion and schooling. However, my family and I are asking the critical questions, thus my EMBA research.

    I firmly believe “you get what you pay for”. Considering the above and maximizing future options, I am considering programs like WashU, UNC, etc…I have not taken GMAT/GRE.

    What top quality EMBA programs can you point toward? Any major Pros/Cons associated with either?

    Thanks.

  • Sumedh

    Hi Erika,
    This helps a lot. At times of applications one tends to get flustered because of various things. In all of this confusion these tips really help sort some thoughts. Thanks a ton.

  • Sandy Chen

    Hi Erika,

    Just wanted to seek your input on my chances at my target schools and also any tips that you might have on how I should position myself. Looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks 🙂

    Profile: 27-year old Singapore Chinese

    GPA: 2.8 in a a very intensive BS+BEng program from a top school in Singapore/Asia

    GMAT: 730 (90th percentile in the Quant section)

    Work Experience: 4 years in Accenture, as part of their graduate training program. Promoted twice. Specializing in data analytics and CRM

    Extra-Curriculars: Served as a volunteer leader, mentoring and advising disadvantaged high school students; Actively involved in green/sustainability clubs during university

    Essays: Specialize in digital marketing and analytics by using my unique blend of technical skills and business sense, gained through my academic & professional experiences

    Optional Essay: Address the low GPA and explain that I prioritized internships and extra-curriculars more than the academic performance. But, I have learnt the importance of consistency from my work experience and will not repeat the same mistake in my MBA

    Dream Schools: Duke (Fuqua), NYU (Stern), Cornell (Johnson)

    Target Schools: UT Austin (McCombs), Carnegie Mellon (Tepper), Notre-Dame (Mendoza)

    Regards,
    Sandy

  • Jun

    Hi Erika,

    Again, thank you for all the immeasurable help you are giving to everyone on here.

    My question is a little specific. I am 32 years old currently and I intend to apply this year to some of the top 20 MBA schools. Frequently, I hear that my age will be a major obstacle to overcome with Adcom and that they will be unwilling to admit me in spite of a rather solid work record. After 7 years of work experience, I was planning to do my MBA. However, I came across a opportunity to work on a problem I wanted to solve and hence started my own tech startup and have been working on it for the past 1 and a half years. I have a GMAT score of 720. Just how much of this is actually true? Full disclosure – I come from the over-represented pool of the Indian IT Male.

    Thank you so much for reading!

  • Erika Olson

    I think that you can do three things right now:
    1) Look for ways you can go above and beyond or otherwise take initiative in every role you have between now and when you apply for business school. Not only will this lead to more impressive achievements, but it will earn you a positive reputation at work which will likely lead to stronger recommendation letters down the line. Seek out ways to eventually mentor or manage others — if not directly (which would be pretty tough to do right now at your age anyway) then indirectly a few years from now by heading up project groups or supervising interns or something.

    2) Figure out what causes or charities you are passionate about and get involved with one or two NOW. And I don’t just mean donate money or volunteer for a few hours here or there. I mean get involved in committees, eventually take on some sort of leadership role, etc. Community service work is a big differentiator, and the key is to pick something that you can explain WHY you got involved — something you have a personal connection to.

    3) Develop professional relationships with senior people at work or in your industry who can serve as mentors for you and who you can share your goals with. They will be invaluable in helping you make decisions about your career and connecting you with others who could help you as well.

    Having said all of that, HBS is a dream for pretty much everyone who is thinking of business school. You can do everything right and still not be accepted because the odds are just against everyone. So I would also encourage you to at least learn about other top programs as well.

    Hope that helps! Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Apologies for my delay in responding — I took a “between-rounds vacation” and was offline in order to gear up for Round 2 work.

    To your question — yes, I do think you should address the first two years of your GPA in the Additional Info section. Keep it as succinct as possible — say the major wasn’t a good fit (and/or perhaps any other reason why you got any C’s or below — as your competition will have still earned high marks in classes outside of their major) and that after you switched you clearly hit your stride, as evidenced by your 4.0 semesters. If what your major used to be is relevant to b-school (like, if it was Accounting or something businessy) then you might also have to mention that you feel your GMAT score and certain career achievements speak more to your ability to handle a rigorous MBA curriculum. (Kind of hard for me to be more specific as I don’t know the college details or what industry you’re in now, etc.)

    Hope that helps!

  • Sumedh Lalge

    Hello Erika,

    It is my ultimate dream to be accepted and into HBS and walk out after 2 years with my head high and a degree in my hand. I have embarked upon this mission and aiming to start applying in the coming year. I am an Mechanical engineer and have been working in a Clean Tech Strat-up for 2 years. As far as my Undergrad scores go… well not so great but will be expecting a GMAT score of around 750. Talking to a couple of freinds who are already in HBS, this one negative point could be looked upon if compensted buy other stronger points.

    So a couple of things so as to set me on the right path:

    1. What would you suggest a 23 year old amitious applicant to do in order to get a chance to enter into the presitious college

    2. What additional stuff would you recomend I start doing right away so achieve my goal. In terms of maybe working with an NGO or anything else.

    Thanking you in advance.

  • UDB

    Hi Erika,

    I have a slightly low GPA (3.48) due to initially picking a major that was absolutely not a good fit for me at all, and finishing my first 2 years of college with something like a 2.0 GPA. I switched into a different program at the same school that was a MUCH better fit for me, but after another 2 years of 4.0 semesters, was only able to increase my GPA to 3.48. Should I address this in the ‘Additional Circumstances we should be Aware of’ essay, or just leave it be? I would like to attend a top 30 program and have a 760 GMAT, if that helps. Thanks so much!

  • Erika Olson

    My first bit of advice would be to give yourself a few years of work experience so that you can counteract your lower GPA in your first degree with some solid leadership experience (ideally at both your job and in an extracurricular opportunity).

    I have to be honest that any low GPA is not going to be an easy thing to overcome, but my hope would be that if you can keep your grades up in the BBA program and can address WHY you had such a low GPA in your BA (each application has a space to explain such things), that you’ll have enough other thing going for you in your candidacy that they will think you will be able to handle their curriculum and be an asset to the classroom.

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Well, I don’t think this is the answer you’re going to want to hear, but I personally do not know of any top MBA programs that aren’t oriented around teamwork and collaboration. The reason why is because that’s the way the real world is if you are planning to be a business leader or executive — which is usually the goal people who are going to business school have. So perhaps b-school is not the best fit for you. (I’m just being brutally honest, because if you are more of a loner than you might be totally miserable. EVERYTHING is group-based.) I don’t think you’d be “looked down upon” at any program per se, it’s just that you would probably not be very happy for two full years because you would absolutely have to work with others pretty much the entire time.

    Perhaps doing a weekend, part-time or evening program might be better suited for your personality — while there may still be some team-based work, it’ll be less so than a full time program but you will still learn the skills you need.

    Hope that helps!

  • SmartPoorGirl

    Thank you Erika! 🙂 This helped!

  • Erika Olson

    For questions this specific and detailed I think you would benefit from working with an admissions consultant. You’re not going to be able to find the answers you’re looking for by Googling around or on message boards, I fear.

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    They have moved your question over to Cory’s column on this site, so be sure to check it out:

    http://poetsandquants.com/2015/03/23/have-an-mba-student-loan-question-ask-cory-our-resident-expert/

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    I think this sounds like exactly the kind of thing that should be explained briefly in the Additional Information section. That section is for anything they may question or that you can easily HEAD OFF a question for, like this issue.

    My bet is that they are actually aware of this situation (I can’t believe that over the decades and tens of thousands of applicants you would be the ONLY person in this situation to have applied), so I don’t think you need a detailed explanation, just keep it short and sweet. (Just double-check what you write — you have “slight MAJORITY” above, but I don’t even think you’d need that part in there anyway.)

    Good luck!

  • Jake

    Erika –

    Thanks for all of your helpful posts here – I really enjoy reading the column! Quick question for you:

    I am an American Indian (Cherokee) applicant, and a couple of the schools I am applying to (Stanford & Wharton) specifically ask for a tribal enrollment number. However, my ancestors (and a very large number of other Cherokees) did not embrace enrollment, nor did they join a federal tribe, due to a fear of negative acculturation. In reality, only a slight majority of these folks were actually listed on government Indian rolls (which is where the individual numbers come from). Hence, as is the case with my ancestors, I do not have a tribal number.

    My question is, should I explain this in the ‘additional information’ section of these schools? At least in the case of Stanford, it seems like they are very specific about only wanting “critical” information included in this section. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    -Jake

  • mepallav@yahoo.com

    Thanks for your reply Erika. May you please enlighten me as to where can I get my queries sorted out?
    Thanks

  • Jack

    Hi Erika, I have a question regarding having more than one undergraduate degree.

    I finished a BA in communications at a Canadian University (#1 ranked comprehensive Canadian university by McLeans) in 2015 with a 2.78/4.33 cGPA. I worked for a few months and decided to pursue an education in finance. As my low cGPA did not allow for any reasonable masters level education, I took the plunge and returned to the same university for a BBA in finance. My cGPA is currently 4.11/4.33 in this program. The BBA will only require around 55 credits to complete (the normal amount is 120 credits) as many of the prerequisites were met in my BA. I am also currently a CFA level I candidate (June 2017 exam).

    I am interested in pursuing an MBA program in the future. How would you suggest I present my unique undergraduate situation? Will the poor performance in my first degree ultimately determine my fate with top MBA programs? Or is leveraging the performance in my second undergraduate degree an option?

    Thank you for your time.

  • Shiv

    Hi Erika, Thank you for your help. I am having a great difficulty when it comes to choosing my target business schools because of one particular problem and I would be very grateful to you if you could help me out of this.

    I have a masters degree in engineering with specialization in machine learning and I have done many advanced courses in calculus and probability. I have a GMAT score of 780. I am currently working as a Data Scientist. I badly want to do an MBA because I wish to apply my analytical skills to become a business problem solver and later become an independent consultant. But there is just one problem when it comes to choosing my target schools. I do not want to land in a top B-school just for its rank. I am more like an introvert and I completely enjoy working alone, solving the problems presented to me and then communicating my solutions with a larger team. Based on my research, I understand that most of the top B-schools are placing an extra-ordinary emphasis on leadership and communication skills, and while I am not against working as a team, I just want to find the right school where people like me are valued and not looked down upon as a misfit. It would be really helpful if you could share your valuable advice and help me overcome this problem.

  • Spiffy-12

    Thanks very much. That was immensely helpful. I’ll reach out to individual programs and follow-up with the results in case anyone is in the same position. Thanks again!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Since I have never worked with an applicant in this position before my gut says that you may actually need to call each adcom to see how they want you to represent it (on the data form/application fields where they specifically ask for years/months of experience). My feeling is that those two years should count as full-time experience and that you shouldn’t wait to apply if your intention is to go back to the business you started. If an app just asks for “full-time” experience then it’s no question that you should include it. However if it specifies “post-college full-time experience” then you might need to call and ask — and no matter what you should explain it in the Additional Info/Optional Essay field because they won’t remember what they told you over the phone. So in my mind you have 3.5 years of experience NOW and then something around 4.5 years by the time you would matriculate (if you applied this year).

    Hope this helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Unfortunately I am not versed AT ALL in financial aid — I only work with people on their application materials outside of that part as it’s very complex and different for every school. I am trying to get your question passed over to Cory, who has an MBA financial aid column on this site, so stay tuned. But I do feel your pain — I myself still have $50k in student loan debt so I wish you the best of luck!

  • Spiffy-12

    Hi Erika,

    Thanks very much for all help on these boards – very helpful! I had a quick question regarding experience (what counts, what doesn’t). Between my Sophomore and Junior year, I took 2 years off and helped build a fairly successful small business from the ground up. I then went back to school, received my degree and stayed for a Masters of Accounting. Since, I have been working as a Consultant for one of the Big 4 Professional Services Firms for a bit over a year. I will have 1.5 years at time of applying.

    When I was with the small business full-time, I grew sales year-over-year 120%+ and FY14 top line revenue topped $2.5MM. I was wondering how top MBA ADCOMS consider work experience during (between) school?

    I am planning to apply in the second round to exclusively top 15 schools. Should I hold off and apply in a year or two when I will have 2-3 years of post graduate employment at time of applying?.

    Don’t know if it’s worth mentioning but I am 27 (older side to wait) with a 740 GMAT. My MBA plans are to soak up as much knowledge regarding growth systems and strategic management – then return to the small business and rapidly scale into a local and regional chain (financing is tentatively in place).

    Thanks very much!

  • SmartPoorGirl

    Hi Erika,

    I am an early-career candidate. I am an American currently working in a developing nation, and my income is good where I am, but very low in terms of dollars, when converted. Since I’m a recent graduate I have almost no savings. I think I may have a strong profile despite the age, but financial aid will definitely factor in my decision to attend. As a US citizen I guess I am eligible for several fellowships.

    In your experience, which schools provide the most need-based aid? I know there are merit-scholarships too, but I think I am just at class average in terms of statistics of test scores and GPA for M7 schools.

    I can’t seem to decide where to apply due to this restriction and even the cost of applying is a financial burden for me at this moment!

    Thanks!

  • Erika Olson

    Well you definitely do NOT want to apply in Round 3 to any schools. That only makes sense for people in the military or people with truly extraordinary backgrounds or pressing life circumstances they can explain.

    I think Round 2 would be fine, BUT if you don’t have any compelling leadership stories or achievements at work AND you don’t have any differentiating things you’re involved in outside of work, then I think you would be better off beefing up those parts of your candidacy (start taking initiative at work NOW, and start getting involved in a cause close to your heart NOW with ideally a leadership role) over the next year. You really need to stand out in your demographic and industry/role bucket, and doing those things might be your best shot. Perhaps you would get a promotion within that time as well or some managerial experience — all good things.

    Hope that helps!
    – e

  • Erika Olson

    Good news — I don’t think anything you listed needs explaining.

    If your 3.4 was due to a C or lower in any class then you might want to explain why you got that specific grade, but otherwise if it was just Bs or B-s at the end, that’s fine.

    Good luck!

  • JB

    Erika,

    Thanks as always for your helpful advice on this forum. Quick question regarding topics that should/should not be included on the “additional info” section of applications to ‘Top-5’ schools.

    – Do I need to explain a Q46 (62%)? My overall GMAT score was 740, and I had a 3.8 GPA as a Finance major at a non-feeder school (University of Georgia), plus finance work experience at a F50 company.

    – While my cumulative GPA was 3.8, I got a 3.4 in both my first and last semesters of college. Do I need to explain either of these?

    – I chose UGA over a more “highly rated” school (Georgia Tech) coming out of high school. This was mainly due to the fact that I wanted to study Finance/Law at the time and not Engineering. I was also a 3rd-generation UGA grad. Does this need explaining?

    Thanks very much!

    JB

  • ML

    Hi Erika,

    First, let me say thank you for all the advice here. I have found it very helpful.

    I’m trying to gauge the true difference between applying in round 1 versus the last round (2 or 3 depending on the school), and whether it is worth waiting a full-year just to apply in an earlier round for top schools.

    This timing results from my not taking GMAT until late December. This is not due to poor planning, but rather waiting to study until mid-August. I wanted to ensure I passed Level 3 CFA before moving forward with GMAT/business school.

    I’m a 24 y/o white male working in equity research at a mid-tier bank. Passed all 3 CFA levels (don’t yet have required work experience to get charter). I graduated with a 3.9 GPA finance/Econ undergrad degree from a non-feeder school. Currently have 3 years of work experience, same job. Let’s assume I score at least mid-700s on GMAT, otherwise I won’t bother applying.

    Not looking for any kind of odds/chances, as I know you don’t do that here, but I’m just wondering whether I’m better off waiting to apply in round 1 for top schools given some weaknesses in my application (white/male, lower-end of age/work experience, non-feeder school). Is there truly a substantial benefit to applying in round 1 for top schools?

    Thank you in advance for any color you can offer.

    Sincerely,
    ML

  • pshergill80@gmail.com

    Hello Ms. Erika,

    I am currently a Mechanical Engineering, Business Management, and Japanese language (minor) undergraduate student who is in need of some guidance regarding MBA programs.I hope to pursue a career on the international level where I can be an executive, or representative, of a company who manages:
    -Negotiations
    -Collaborations
    -Project development
    -etc
    …within the high tech engineering field.

    I am doing everything possible to become a more well rounded, diverse, and “one of a kind” candidate.
    I have done is tried to achieve a global perspective and understanding of international markets (mainly Asia). I have:
    -Studied in USA, China, and Japan (#1,2, and 3 economies in the world)
    -Studied in California, Hong Kong, and Tokyo (largest american economy, most stable Chinese economy, and largest metropolitan economy in Asia)
    -I speak 4 Languages
    -Pursuing multiple degree background to understand both aspects of the industry (engineering and management)
    -Competed on international teams
    -Current honors student within my university
    -4 internships
    -and much more

    I am trying to determine which program would be right for me and when I should seriously pursue it.
    One program that has heavily peaked my interest is
    -Booth Business School in Chicago because of the international network, alumni base, and faculty experience that is offered.

    I understand that I will have to gain professional experience, work off some/much of my undergraduate debt, etc; however, I know where I want to be in my career and where I will be able to be myself. I just turned 22; but, by the ages of 27-31, I want to seriously be pursuing my MBA.

    Is there any advice you might be able to offer me?

    Thank you so much for your willingness to help.

    (Sorry for the terrible grammar, wrote this on my phone)

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Your questions are a little too detailed and specific to you for me to be able to answer here — that’s not really the purpose of this forum. Sorry!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Sorry, but as mentioned in my column, this isn’t a place for me to do individual evaluations — most of what an admissions decision comes down to can’t really be captured in a medium like this, so I just don’t know enough about anyone to comment on their overall strengths/weaknesses or which programs they should apply to.

    If you are reapplying anywhere, you’ll need to demonstrate significant improvements in your candidacy. Your years of experience will make it even more important for you to provlde a compelling reason as to why you need an MBA now. You’ll also need to ensure you’ve told a clear story about why you made the various career moves you did. If they sense that you never had any real plan or goals, they will think you are just applying to business school because you’re not sure what to do next.

    Best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    I think the only people that know/care about “rankings” are people applying to business school or maybe those who have recently graduated. And the magazines trying to sell those ranked lists every year. : ) But seriously, I think a program’s overall reputation matters more than its ranking, and so probably what matters most for any individual applicant is what the reputation of the schools you’re interested in is in the industry you’re targeting or among the firms you’re targeting. So if you can ask people at those firms or in those industries, it might give you more insight. Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Unfortunately I don’t really think that’s how it works. They are certainly wanting to put together a diverse class, but the main point of b-school is to learn from your classmates, so if you don’t have a compelling story for yourself there — meaning if you don’t demonstrate that you’ve had some personal and professional experiences to share in class that others will learn from or that will add to the debate and conversations in class — being from a different country that’s usually not represented probably isn’t going to be enough to outweigh that.

    So I would focus on what you have to bring to the table. Good luck!

  • bent.christensen@live.dk

    I am from a small country, Denmark, which does not have tradition for studying MBA’s. Will this help my application a lot?

    It seems that all universities have great emphasis on how many nationalities they have on their MBA, and if my GMAT is competitive, admissions might give me a pass on other weaker parts, due to nationality?

  • James

    Hi Erika,

    Thanks in advance for shedding some light something that has confused me. One article on this website says “GO TO THE BEST SCHOOL YOU CAN GET IN!” and the next says that fit is important. What’s your take on this? If someone wants to study supply chain management (SCM), is Penn State better than Harvard? Is Tennessee better than Georgia Tech? Penn State is ranked number one in Gartner’s list of MBA programs that offer SCM concentrations, and Tennessee is ranked 2nd. I suppose the meat of the question is to what degree does a school’s overall ranking trump everything else?

  • HKHR

    Hi Erika,

    Thank you for taking the time to help us! Would be great if you can give a quick evaluation.

    1. 8.8 years work ex. (at the time of joining class of 2017). 2 years in the oil industry where I set up fuel stations in remote Indian geographies, and 6 years in consulting/data analytics in the pharmaceutical sector. sales and marketing consulting for fortune 500 pharma companies.

    2. GRE 335 (Q170 – 98%) (V165 – 95%) (Essay 4.5 – 80%). ETS equivalent GMAT – 780

    3. National Institute of Technology, Kurukshetra – top rung engineering school in India . Electrical Engineering(7.1/10). Graduated in 2008.

    4. Currently in a 7 week full-time Pro-bono consulting engagement at a large Hospital. Led many student clubs in college. Avid quizzer and flautist. Was a teacher volunteer at an NGO for underprivileged children.

    5. certified SCUBA diver, six sigma green belt

    6. Preferred post MBA industry is healthcare consulting/ Management Consulting.

    I was rejected last year by Kellogg (rejected after interview), Darden ( rejected as work ex was high), McCombs (rejected after interview), Ross (wait-listed before interview but rejected).

    I’m Re applying to – Ross, Kellogg, McCombs.
    New applications to: Stern, ISB, Kenan-Flagler

    My questions for you:
    1. Do you see any apparent weaknesses from the profile I listed above?
    2. I feel my work ex is slightly on the higher side but I still want the full-time and not the executive MBA.
    3. My college math grades were below par (but didn’t flunk!) but I have good GRE scores. Should I use the optional essay to highlight my math grades and also my high work ex?
    4. Is my choice of schools wise? Are there other schools I need to look at?

    Thank you!

  • Esha

    Hello

    I have some career related queries, which have troubled me for a long time. Please allow me to post them here…

    Question 1. I have done B.Sc (CS Hons.) and M.A. Mass Communication and Journalism
    For a long time I have a desire to pursue MBA. Now, can you please suggest how can MBA be considered as an extension to Media Management studies (My specialization in 2nd year)?

    Question 2. Will working as an Assistant Professor of a university of India be considered as a work experience (for MBA in USA)?

    Question 3. Where can I get a detailed data of various streams of MBA-What exactly to study in it-what are the Kinds of Jobs related to them-Career Prospects.
    4)what kind of gmat score will get me into top ten bschools in us?

    I passed class 10th in 2006 with 89.4 pctge, class 12th in 2008 with 76.6 pctge, graduation in 2012 with 7.02 cgpa, post grad in 2015 with 6.98 cgpa.
    I have been working with an Non Government Organization (part time 2012-2015, full time 2015 onward). I am also founder and social media manager of a degree college,(fully functional since 2015).

    I have attended 10 national seminars/workshops and have published 3 research papers in in refreed journals. I am currently working on a book on life and works of Gurudutt.

    Question 4. How helpful would these be in admission/ placement post admission(in case i get admitted in desired bschool).

  • Erika Olson

    I think it’s definitely OK to leave that section blank and not address the score at all. I just wanted to tell you what you COULD write if you felt like you wanted to address it. ; ) But its certainly fine to not mention it, especially if the rest of your app doesn’t have any red flags around quant/analytical stuff.

    I usually only have people address it if they went to a non-feeder undergrad where they got a low GPA (and poor grades in quant classes) and/or are in a career where there is little to no quant/analytical work involved.

    Hope that helps!

  • Lolita

    Thanks for the quick response! My raw score was a 45Q, and the percentile was 60%. Would I be at a disadvantage if I left that section blank? I’ve heard advice saying it can be seen as making excuses, so I’m just torn!

  • Erika Olson

    What was your quant percentile? If the quant percentile was below 74% (that’s just a guideline I use — you don’t need to mention that anywhere in your response) then you could always just put one line in the additional info section and say something like, “I do not believe my GMAT score represents my quantitative abilities; my strong undergraduate performance in analytical classes and my career achievements are better indicators of my ability to handle the rigorous SCHOOL MBA program.” Just short and sweet. Don’t stress about it!

    Good luck!

  • Lolita

    Hi Erika. When do you think it’s appropriate to use the “Additional Information” to explain a low GMAT score for HBS? I took the GMAT three times and my highest score was a 690. I know this isn’t “low”, but it’s definitely below average. I have a strong quant background and even took a prep class and spent so much time studying, so I really don’t have a good explanation why my score doesn’t reflect this. It is what it is. I just don’t want the adcoms to think I didn’t try or put in effort to do well – is it worth explaining? Thank you!

  • Robin1989

    Sounds fair.. Thanks, Erika!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    As mentioned above at the end of my bio, I can’t offer personalized advice at the level you’re looking for here. What I will say is there is A LOT MORE that goes into whether or not someone will be accepted into a school than just their “stats.” Top programs are looking at what others in the class can learn from your experiences. Your GPA and GMAT only prove that you can handle the program in the first place, but they don’t have anything to do with proving that you will be an asset to the class, or explaining why you need an MBA or what your career goals are.

    I am not familiar with an “overcoming a hardship” section in any application.

    I would not mention the stuttering unless it plays directly into some other type of career or community-service involvement or motivation you have. Not sure how else it would be relevant to the adcom.

    Hope this helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    I think that the adcoms at top schools are looking to bring in a mix of people from all different industries and fields, so I don’t think your experience will hamper your chances overall — they will definitely want audit roles represented. Having said that, it’s usually something above and beyond work experience that secures someone a spot in an elite program. So what that means is that you’ll have to differentiate yourself from other applicants you might be directly competing against — be it from audit or your country/ethnicity/etc. It sounds like you’ve got the work side covered, so I would just make sure you are communicating what else sets you apart — what you’ve done outside of work, something about your background/interests, etc. What else will you bring to the class that others can learn from?

    I never think aiming lower/low with career goals is a good idea if you are applying to a top program. Sounds like what you wrote is a short-term/immediate post-MBA goal. Make sure they know what your ULTIMATE (30-40 years from now) goal is as well — usually it is a C-suite position, running your own company, etc. The key for career goals is that they have some level of detail to them and, more importantly, there has to be a strong and clear reason WHY you want to do what you want to do (and why you need an MBA to achieve it — usually geared more toward the long-term/ultimate goal).

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Sorry, I don’t really understand this question. I am not aware of any “open interview period.” If you are talking about a specific school/program that does that, please let me know. I need more context/details to help. With the exception of Kellogg and Tuck (from what I’m remembering off the top of my head), most programs I help applicants with have invitation-only interviews so you can’t pick when you interview.

  • Erika Olson

    I would advise against this because the guidelines make no mention of anything other than a written response. It could come off as that you are either oblivious or not following the rules. I have never had anyone do this so I can’t in good faith say that it’s a good idea.

    Best of luck!

  • Robin1989

    Hey Erika, I have a bit practical question for Harvard’s essay. Since the guidelines don’t explicitly say, can I attach an image or two to the essay?
    Thanks.

  • Erika Olson

    OK thanks. First off, a 770 is awesome and so no, I don’t think you should retake it either. I feel like top programs like to see 74% or higher with the quant percentile, BUT they would care more about that if: 1) your overall GMAT score was lower, 2) you had also done poorly in quant classes in undergrad, which isn’t the case for you… plus you went to a top public school, and 3) IF you are in any sort of analytical career now, it would give them even less reason to be worried.

    So in short, I think you’re totally fine and don’t retake the GMAT. GOOD LUCK!

  • Luis Morraz

    Hi Erika

    Is it much better to have an interview during the open interview period rather than just doing a campus visit? I’m an international applicant and flying to the US during the open interview period would be a lot more expensive than if I wait and do it later (but before submitting my application)

  • ProspectWolf

    65% (this was a recent test, so percentiles are pretty skewed). Had a 4.0 overall at a top 5 public school.

  • James

    Hi Erica,

    Thanks for taking the time to answer questions!

    I am from Europe, but did my undergrad at a top25 liberal arts college in the USA. With a 750 on the GMAT, a 4.0 GPA (valedictorian in a class of 500), I feel like my numbers are good enough for the top MBA programs. However, my work experience consists of three years at one of the big 4 companies in their audit department. I’ve done great, and have promotions and good recommendations to show for it, plus 2 years of coaching juniours and leading engagements. Additionally, I am transferring to the financial advisory department this month which is a very rare feat here. On top of that I am working on a start up I founded.

    I am worried that my work experience will really hamper my chances. Do you think that is the case? Do adcoms take into consideration the fact that big 4 audit is more competitive in Europe especially in smaller countries (not UK or Germany)?

    Thanks again for your time.

  • Feras G. Alghamdi

    Hi Erika,

    I’ve graduated from UNC Charlotte with a B.A. of Criminal Justice. GPA is 3.9 with 3 minors. Speak Arabia, English, and Basic Korean (developing). I’m working within the Industrial Security Operations and Management Organization of the World’s biggest oil and energy company, Saudi Aramco. I’ve been studying for GMAT for about a month and aiming for the magical 700. I want an INSEAD 10-month MBA as a transition to Consulting (McKinsey, Bain, BCG, etc..). In case I got the 700, what do u think of my chances, and how do you evaluate my case, please take consideration in the fact that I’ve been suffering from Stuttering all my life and I’ve overcame 90% of it, by training and personal efforts only, when doctors have told me that it doesn’t have any cure. (Would that be a compelling “overcoming a hardship” section of my application)? Your detailed answer is much appreciated.

  • Erika Olson

    Can you tell me what the percentile was for the quant?

    – e

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    I can’t really give you any job or career advice, but what I can say is that when you apply to b-schools they are looking for people who have very clear short- and long-term career goals. So if you think about where you want to be down the road, what steps should you be taking now in your career that will support that story and build some of the skills you’ll eventually need in the career you want post-MBA? I would never, EVER advise someone to take a job solely because it would “look better” on an MBA application — it’s your life, and you need to be in a job that makes sense for you and that you would be happy in regardless of what happens with b-school.

    I’ve found that if people follow their gut, that’s usually the best choice.

    My other advice would be to get involved in a cause close to your heart and take a leadership position in it outside of work — that could be a differentiator. But again, it must really be something you can explain your connection to/passion for. And over the next two years you could try the GMAT again and see if you can get your score even higher, especially if your GPA is not really high and you didn’t go to a feeder undergraduate program.

    Best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    You are definitely going to have a really, really compelling reason for them to admit you, but it is not unheard of. Classmates can learn a lot from someone with more experience, so it just depends on what you bring to the table that others can learn from. You will also have to make it clear why you need an MBA overall, and why NOW is the time. Hopefully in your essay you can walk them through the career decisions you’ve made to date and those will reveal why it didn’t make sense for you to go back to school before now.

    Beyond that are all the typical things they will judge anyone on — capacity to handle the program, test scores/GPA, future goals/why you have those goals, etc.

    Best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Well everything “on paper” looks OK to me — I’m not sure of your quant percentile on your GMAT and also not sure if your grades were low in quant courses (your 3.2 GPA is on the low side, and it doesn’t help that you didn’t go to a non-feeder school), but I would think your quant-heavy career would help outweigh any concerns about you being able to handle the curriculum. I

    You are on the older side of the applicant pool, however. So you will have to justify “Why now?” and why you really need an MBA in order to do what you want to do in the future. On that note, I also don’t know what your future goals are or the motivation behind them (though I have an idea based on some of the things you said), so I think you just need to pull together a cohesive story about what drives you, what you want to do in the future, and how School X will help you get there.

    Hope that helps!

  • ProspectWolf

    Hi Erika,

    What is your perspective on the GMAT Quant percentile needed for elite programs like HBS and Stanford? I scored a 770 but with a 47 Quant scaled score. Does it help that I had an 8 on IR and aced my limited exposure to math and economics in college? Really don’t think it’s worth it to retake the GMAT.

    Thanks.

  • henrique

    Thank you very much, that is really helpful!

  • kevinhsh@msn.com

    Hi Erika, thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions here. I have a quick question of my own that I would like to seek advice from you.

    Personally I’m in a dilemma right now. I graduated with a BComm degree major in Finance back in 2014, and have been working in the insurance industry for the past two years. Where I stay in the economy currently is in a struggle (Alberta, Canada) and it’s hard to find any decent job anywhere and my company at the moment lacks the opportunities for potential promotion. So I’ve been working on the same position for the past two years (entry-level insurance position). I achieved a GMAT score of 720 and want to get admitted by Ivy-level MBA schools. However at the moment I dont know what direction I should go but if I keep doing what I’m doing it’ll lead me to nowhere.

    So here’re couple options I came up with. I could go for CIP(charted Insurance Professional) designation and hoping to land a better job in the same industry by applying at big name companies. Or should i start taking courses that are Business analysis related (IT solution, data processing, etc) that’ll get me a certificate that are fundamental to consulting industry and see if i can get a job out of that?

    Or do you have a better idea of what I should be focusing on or what can I do at the moment that can make me a promising candidate two years down the line when I apply for my MBA?

    I hope that I explained my situation clearly.

    Much thanks!

    Kevin

  • Joey

    Hi Erika, just one question from me: I am currently 29 years old with 8 years of work experience and recently decided to pursue an MBA. Would I be considered “too old” to apply to the HBS MBA program (if I apply now I would be 30 when the program starts)? I know there is no “official” age limit but am wondering if my age would be a hindrance to acceptance. Thanks for your help!

  • shashank.saurav@sbi.co.in

    Thanks for the reply. The grading system at BITS Pilani is one of the toughest in India and if the adcom compares me with other male engineers from India, they will have more cause for concern given my relatively lower CGPA. Furthermore, given the competitive nature of the pool I am in, wouldn’t it be better to utilize the essay which is specifically meant to give a valid explanation?

  • mbaglobalconsulting@gmail.com

    Shashank,
    First of all, Give a pat to yourself for an excellent GMAT score. Universities do look into your previous studies record. But, none the less you have a good GMAT score to stand.
    Do not give any reasons in any of ur essays to explain why did ur score drop as it will be considered as an excuse. Don’t make this mistake.
    Through your essays make them feel that you have the potential. Ones you have a good convincing essay they will not look into your past.
    If you have any other things that you would like to discuss
    You can write to me at mbaglobalconsulting@gmail.com

  • mbaglobalconsulting@gmail.com

    Yes.. Schools like UVA, Kellogg, NYU stern give good scholarships to deserving candidates. One of my student who is in darden class of 2018 has recieved full scholarship. So, they really give good scholarships to deserving candidates.

  • nextyearmba

    Thanks for the advice.

  • Ace

    Hi Erika,

    Thanks for all the advice you have shared on these posts. I’m a very non-traditional applicant with a mixed background and have no idea how I would be viewed by an ADCOM so I would really appreciate if you could give me your feedback on what I should focus on in my applications or what concerns would jump out at you as an adcom member.

    Basic Stats:
    29 y/o black male from the Caribbean
    First generation college student
    720 GMAT, 3.2 GPA from top Caribbean university, Majored in Mgmt Studies min. Finance
    CFA Charterholder

    Work Experience: I worked throughout college to pay my way through. Started post graduate career
    in a small investment banking shop and left after one year to become an investment analyst at a major Canadian bank’s Asset Management unit (AUM – US$3B). Heavy quant job making buy and sell recommendations on S&P 500 companies.

    After 3 years went into the energy sector (still in finance) at a global major (think Shell, Total) managing joint ventures and negotiating deals. Performed economic evals on over US$2B in investments. Reason for move was the greater impact the work would have on my country and the broader Caribbean given energy needs.

    Extracurriculars: In college was the President of the Management Society (largest campus club outside of the student government). Elected board member of the local CFA society. Avid endurance athletes having completed several triathlons, adventure races and marathons. Manager of my work soccer team

    I currently have my heart set on HBS/Wharton/Booth

  • shashank.saurav@sbi.co.in

    I have a question regarding how CGPA is evaluated by the admission committees at the top 30 US business schools. I have a dual degree (BE + MSc) from BITS Pilani (a top 5 engineering university in India) and my CGPA is 6.8, which is more than the class average but is still low compared to other universities’ grading system. Unfortunately, the problem is with my grades in the penultimate semester. Out of 6 courses, I have a D in 5 of them, which is considered ‘Just Pass’. So does the admission committee take notice of the noticeable failure in a particular semester or will this be overlooked? At the same time, should I use the “Other Information’ essay to justify that semester’s low performance or my overall CGPA?

    I have a GMAT of 750; will it compensate for my lack of performance in my graduation? Also should I calculate and report my CGPA separately for the Undergraduate and Graduate Degrees because the applications do not have any provision for reporting a 5 year dual degree.

  • Erika Olson

    Here’s the good news, I don’t think you need to stress about this! You learned A LOT from your experience, right? And others in your class would benefit from understanding some of those things you learned firsthand from launching a company, attempting to grow it, managing 10 employees, etc., right?

    So I don’t think the failure of the startup is anything you have to worry about, at all. What I think you do have to nail down is WHY you want to switch into consulting. You need to have clear short-term and long-term (like 30 years out) career goals and explain why you have those goals — hopefully there’s some sort of personal passion/motivation for what you want to do in the long run. Then you need to say what your startup experience gave you to be able to achieve your future goals, what gaps you still have, and how your short-term goal and the MBA program will help fill those gaps. Gotta be specific with details for each school and tie them back to your gaps/goals.

    Hope that helps! Best of luck.

  • nextyearapplicant

    Hello Erica

    How does a failed startup affect my application. I’ve spent the past three years after graduation working full-time on my startup ( approx 10 employees ), but had to shut it down as our progress was not as we expected.

    I am thinking of getting an MBA to make a career change into consulting. I am an “Indian Engineer Male” and have graduated from top IIT. I have solid stats ( 9 GPA, 780 GMAT, 115 Toefl), but am facing difficulty about explaining my situation in the application.

    This startup was something very close to me and i do not have any regrets about it.

    Any advise in showing me in a positive manner. My target schools include, Kellogg, Columbia, MIT, Michigan Ross

    Thanks
    Rahul

  • Pooja

    Thanks, Erika! I’m honestly surprised that I’d have to explain a C+ in material science (which I had assumed was unrelated to anything in bschool!) Thanks for the heads-up, I’ll now be able to address that.

    – Pooja

  • Erika Olson

    This looks like a repeat question but I’ll paste in my answer again just in case and add that you should not have your GMAT on your resume — they will already have that score in the app so it’s a waste of space:

    Hi there –

    Remove it. They’re going to see it when they review your transcript anyway, but the reality is that it’s not something you really want to highlight on your resume, so if you DID put it on your resume it might seem like you’re kind of naive about the competition you’re up against.

    You will need to address your GPA in the additional info section — just be honest about why your grades were poor and what you’ve done since school that should give them confidence you can handle their rigorous curriculum.

    Best of luck!

    – e

  • Erika Olson

    This looks like a repeat question but I’ll paste in my answer again just in case and add that you should not have your GMAT on your resume — they will already have that score in the app so it’s a waste of space:

    Hi there –

    Remove it. They’re going to see it when they review your transcript anyway, but the reality is that it’s not something you really want to highlight on your resume, so if you DID put it on your resume it might seem like you’re kind of naive about the competition you’re up against.

    You will need to address your GPA in the additional info section — just be honest about why your grades were poor and what you’ve done since school that should give them confidence you can handle their rigorous curriculum.

    Best of luck!

    – e

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    I don’t think you need to address the B or B-, just the C+, and just be honest about the reason for it. Point out the progression as you noted above. If your current career is analytical, you can mention some of your accomplishments on that front to assure them that you can handle the curriculum. (To me it sounds like your GMAT is at least near the acceptable range for quant, so that’s good.)

    Best of luck!
    – e

  • Erika Olson

    I think that members of the adcom are human and they know everyone makes mistakes, so I wouldn’t sweat it. Do exactly what you’re planning on doing: address it head-on in the optional essay/addition info field — if there is a REASON you slept through the exam, that would be good to explain, but if you were just tired as hell then I would just be honest about that too. Probably wouldn’t hurt to admit something like you wish you could turn back time and redo that day or that you’re embarrassed by that F or whatever, just be honest. But if they are compelled by the rest of your materials, I definitely do not think that F is going to sink you by any means.

    And by the way, if you explain why you got the F, they would have no reason to think it was something worse/different than it actually is. If it were cheating, you would have to mark the box about disciplinary action, so that’s something entirely different.

    Best of luck!
    – e

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Remove it. They’re going to see it when they review your transcript anyway, but the reality is that it’s not something you really want to highlight on your resume, so if you DID put it on your resume it might seem like you’re kind of naive about the competition you’re up against.

    You will need to address your GPA in the additional info section — just be honest about why your grades were poor and what you’ve done since school that should give them confidence you can handle their rigorous curriculum.

    Best of luck!

    – e

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    There is a ton that goes into the adcom’s decision — way more than just the GMAT and your degree, so I really can’t say if you are competitive with not much to go on. You’ll have to prove what your classmates will be able to learn from your experience, and you’ll have to clearly articulate your future career goals, why you need an MBA and why each school is a good fit to help you achieve those goals. You’ll have to be able to give them insight into what drives you and why you have the goals you do and why you’ve made the career decisions you’ve made so far. And you’ll have to have strong leadership examples and a high GPA from a respected school, as well as recommenders that write great letters that share lots of stories that highlight your skills.

    Hope that helps!

    – e

  • Erika Olson

    Hi again –

    Just in case I didn’t totally answer your question — I feel like it’s always better to do R1 *if your materials are the absolute best they can be,* but I think if they’re going to want you, they’re still going to want you in R2. It’s better to put your best foot forward then to rush things, get dinged and then always wonder “What if I had taken more time?”

    – e

  • Erika Olson

    If you have not started on HBS, I wouldn’t recommend R1. Remember, the GMAT is really just a very very small piece of what they’re looking at. It’s basically just a quick way for them to assess if you can handle the curriculum, and my personal opinion is that if you are over some magic number or Q/V percentiles that they have set, it’s just like they’re checking a box, and a higher score doesn’t necessarily mean you have any advantage over someone who met their score criteria on the lower end, if that makes sense.

    So basically what I’m saying is that while it is awesome you got such a high score, I wouldn’t be overconfident about that score outweighing the rest of the materials they’re looking at. It’s really really hard to pull together a quality application in just a few weeks.

    I wanted to address something else you said even though you didn’t ask about it. : ) You implied that if you didn’t have luck with your R1 schools that you might rethink your strategy for R2, and that is something I would highly advise against. If you have really thought out your essays and your positioning, you shouldn’t go back to the drawing board just because THE TOP PROGRAMS IN THE WORLD dinged you. They ding like 90% of all of the overachieving, deserving people who apply there. So it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong, it only means luck wasn’t on your side because there were other people competing directly against you for a spot who had something else on their side that you can’t control. Hope that makes sense! Stay the course and have faith in yourself!

    Best of luck!
    – e

  • mbapplicant22

    Hi Erika,

    I have a resume question for you. I know that it is arguably one of the most important aspects of an application as it is typically the first thing an ad comm looks at.

    My GPA is less than stellar – a 2.5 from a top 5 engineering school. Fortunately, this is the weakest part of my application since i have a good gmat (700) and experience.

    My question is this – should i put my GPA and GMAT score on my resume? I don’t want to highlight my weaknesses but I also don’t want to make it seem like I am hiding my GPA by not putting it on my resume. Please let me know what you think the etiquette is here.

    Thanks for all your help and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

  • colinbayer7@gmail.com

    Erika,

    I have a low GPA – about a 2.5 – from a top 5 engineering school. It is my far the weakest part of my application. My question is should i put my GPA on my resume? I know the resume is arguably one of the most important parts of the application as it is the first things adcomms look at.I don’t want to highlight this part of my application but i also don’t want it to seem like I am hiding anything.

    My GMAT score is solid – approximately a 700. Should I include this on my resume too? It seems unnecessary but I just wanted to make sure.

    Thanks for all your help and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

  • Pooja

    Hi Erika,

    Quick question here on what merits an “explanation” in the additional information section.

    My first year gpa was fairly low, with a B and B- in 2 mathematics classes (I’m an engineering major). Also had an unfortunate C+ in another material sciences class. This is probably because I was too involved in campus activities that first year, and slacked off academics ):

    I managed to get my priorities in order after that and each subsequent year’s GPA is higher and I finally graduated with about 3.4 (I’m an international student graded on a different scale, so this is only an approximation). I was also top 5% in my class when looking at just my final semester’s grades.

    So my question is – do I need to explain my first year grades or does the grade progression explain itself?

    The extra worry is that all “math” classes on my transcript are only Bs, which may call into question my quant abilities? (My GMAT didn’t offset this enough. I scored a 48 in quant, which in today’s percentile table, is only 71%)

    How would you suggest to tackle this? Thanks so much!

    -Pooja

  • NULL NULL

    Hi Erika,

    Thanks for doing this. Bit of an odd question for you: what do you think adcoms will make of a single F on a transcript of almost all As and a 3.9+ GPA? I slept through an exam in college and sunk my grade, retaking it the next year and getting an A and having no effect on my GPA (though transcript still shows the original F). I’ll obviously address it in my optional essay, but how big of a deal do you think this will be? I’m worried that they will fixate on it because it’s such an outlier or think it was become of cheating or something.

  • MBA Applicant

    Erika,

    1. I have a low GPA – approximately a 2.5 from a top 5 engineering school. Fortunately, it is by far the weakest part of my application. My question is should i put my actual GPA value on my resume or remove it? The resume is a crucial part of the application since its the first thing they look at and I’m not really sure whether or not to keep it on there. I don’t want to highlight the weak parts of my application, but I always don’t want to act like I’m hiding something in the resume.

    Thanks in advance – we appreciate all your help.

  • Pritish

    Hi Erika,
    I’m planning on applying to Yale Silver Scholars, HBS 2+2, IESE YTP and Stanford Deferred.
    I am just completing my engineering degree and a diploma in wines and spirits. However my scores are not very high (700 GMAT). I was hoping my unusual background, in the wines and spirits industry, would somewhat balance the scales.
    Am I competitive for these courses?

    Thank You
    P

  • thinktankmba

    Hi Erika,

    I took the GMAT last Friday, and while the good news was that I scored much better than I anticipated (770 vs my practice test average of around 730/740) it’s making me reconsider my timing for HBS. I’m from a nontraditional nonprofit background with a low-ish GPA (3.45), so I had been planning to apply to Stanford R1 (alongside Tuck, Sloan & Booth) & save HBS for R2 in case I need to rethink my strategy. Is there enough of a marked difference between R1 & R2 that it might be worth trying to get HBS in earlier? The deadline is just so soon.

    Thanks so much!
    Emily

  • Erika Olson

    I’ll put on my sales hat for a second here: at Stacy Blackman Consulting, we actually have a service called the Flight Test that simulates an admissions committee member reading your materials (and then they write up their knee-jerk reactions/thoughts so that you can tweak things before the REAL adcom takes a look).

    We have people on our team who are ex-adcom members from all of the top programs, and so they’re the ones doing the Flight Tests. They tell us they will spend about 20 minutes in total reading all of your materials: resume, data form, GMAT/GRE score report , undergrad transcript (and any other transcripts), two letters of rec and your essays.

    And here I thought 20 minutes was still pretty quick! At least it’s not 2 minutes like you were worried about! ; )

    Hope this helps.

  • realistically

    Hi Erika,

    Realistically, how much time does an adcom spend on each app? Is it closer to 2 mins or 7 mins? I hope they spend more than 2 minutes but I don’t they’ll ever spend close to 10 minutes. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, thanks!

    David

  • Erika Olson

    A ha, yes! I remember being confused about the whole “second MBA” thing. I am SO happy you checked back in and with such awesome news to report — congrats!!! This is huge!

    I think the good news is that you are in a win-win situation with spots at two highly regarded top programs. Everyone takes their own approach to deciding, and it’s a really personal thing. For some people, the cost is a factor. For others, location is — some people care about where they’ll live during school, others care about location in the sense of what recruiters come to campus and/or if they want to live in the same city after they graduate. For others, timing might be (getting out in one year vs. two). For others, it’s all about the culture and where they think they’ll have the best time. So I think what you have to decide is what you care about most and what you’re wanting to get out of the experience overall and then go with your gut. You truly cannot go wrong, in my opinion!

    Congrats again. Let us know what you decide!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    As is mentioned at the end of my bio page above and several times in comments below, this isn’t the place for me to give individual profile feedback. If it makes you feel any better, I literally never tell anyone what their chances are–ever, to any program. There’s no way of knowing how many people you’ll be directly competing against for a spot, which is what your odds would be based on. Your “on paper” stats are all in line — but the real challenge is always differentiating yourself from the rest of the male/Indian/engineer candidates, which is one of the most overrepresented demographic buckets. So my advice would be to make sure your personality comes through in your materials, that you’ve communicated what you’re passionate about and why you have the future goals that you do, and what others will be able to learn from your personal and professional experiences. Best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    First off, I’m sorry to hear that! Sounds pretty stressful, on top of the whole MBA application process.

    The good news is that I have had MANY successful clients who were either laid off or otherwise in between jobs when they applied to b-school and they still got into top programs. (Hmm, I didn’t mean it was good news that they had been laid off… hopefully you get how I meant that to read!)

    So the main things to keep in mind are: 1) They’re judging you on the full scope of your educational and professional career — not really what your current situation is this very moment, and 2) they will do a background check if you are accepted and enroll, so it’s always best to be 100% transparent.

    In the additional info section of the data form for each school you can simply write a few lines to address your situation. I honestly do not think it would keep them from admitting you if they want you in their program! So just focus on doing what you should be doing in the first place: showing why you’ll be an asset to the class and why you need an MBA from their program to reach your (very clear) future goals. Best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there – I am not as familiar with GRE scores and am not sure what those scores translate into percentile-wise, but will trust you that they are on the lower side. I do think that your engineering background and higher GPA will help offset the scores, and if you can highlight analytical/quantitative work (assuming it was the quant side that was lower on the GRE?) in your resume, that will probably help as well.

    They are looking at many other things besides your test score, though, so the more you can differentiate yourself in other ways (because overall you are in a VERY competitive demographic “bucket”: male/Indian/engineer), the better.

    Best of luck!

  • USorEurope

    Hi Erika,

    Your posts here have been very helpful. I had earlier asked you about how to make my applications look good for top schools considering its my second MBA (first one being from India). Well, I got into a top one-year program in Europe (INSEAD) and NYU Stern. How does one go about choosing between business schools? How does the experience of a European MBA compare with an American MBA?
    Appreciate your thoughts. Thanks!

    Av

  • Erika Olson

    Wow, that’s a lot of info, but I feel bad to have to tell you that this column is not a place where I can really give advice at such an individualized level. There is soooo much that goes into someone’s materials beyond their “stats” and high-level story.

    I think the biggest thing you have working against you is your age and your undergrad GPA, as you already know (though I do think your higher marks in your graduate program will certainly help to prove that you can handle a tougher curriculum). You will have to REALLY have a strong reason why you need an MBA at this late point in your career, and it’s going to have to tie into what your career goals are. Clearly classmates would be able to learn a lot from your life and military experience, but programs are looking for people that they can help to reach the next step in their career, and that is what seems tough to understand in your case. Yale has an extremely small class (meaning there are just not many spots overall), so that’s something to keep in mind as well. Your odds are always better when there are larger class sizes involved.

    While I have worked with several military applicants over the years, my experience is only with the top 10-15 programs (those are just what people normally come to admissions consultants for) so I unfortunately do not have any other insight for you about other programs that may be more military focused/friendly.

    I am happy to hear you have a few guaranteed admit options, though! I honestly have never heard of that, but I think it’s great.

    Best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    HI there –

    Unfortunately this column is not a place where I comment on anyone’s chances at any particular school — sorry! It’s usually very personal experiences or passions that people write about in their essays that serve to differentiate them enough to help them overcome things like being in an overrepresented bucket (like male/Indian/engineer) and lower grades or test scores. Having very solid recommendation letters that really go above and beyond in providing stories about your accomplishments and personality traits will also help.

    I do no work with anyone on scholarships so I do not have any advice for you there, sorry.

    Best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    I will be totally honest with you in the clients I work with are almost exclusively for the Top 15 programs (as those are clearly the toughest to get into), so I have very, VERY little knowledge of or exposure to the programs that you are referring to, outside of UCLA and Tuck.

    So with that disclaimer, I would say that it always still comes down to 1) what do you have to teach others in the class/what do you bring to the table, 2) what are your goals and why do you have those goals (and does the adcom have good reason to believe you can actually reach those goals one day), and 3) do you sound like someone THEY would want to be in class with and/or hang out with.

    It sounds like you have a reason for your career goals. Assuming you can cover points 1 and 3 above in your essays and/or through your recommenders’ letters, I would think that you should have a good shot at getting into at least one of the schools on your list! Also be sure to do serious research for each program so that you can include specific details in your essays (classes, treks, clubs, conferences, professors, etc) that tie back to your goal/interests — schools love it when you’ve done your homework on them.

    Best of luck!

    – e

  • Erika Olson

    Thanks for this context, and I’m glad SBC at least could help to get you on the Booth waitlist. I worked with a guy last year to get off of the waitlist and so I think if you try there again you might have better luck. My advice would be that Booth seems to value creativity, so when you’re given the option to do a PPT or video response (versus a written response), take the road less traveled. (Those were options in the past but I’m not sure if they are again this year.)

    Sounds like you have a lot to say about how your candidacy has improved so I think you can at least be at peace knowing you’ve done everything you can do to improve your odds…

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    No problem — best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Best of luck!

  • ravishankar

    Hi Erika,

    Would appreciate your advice.

    Am an Engineering graduate from India with GPA of 3.5 with work experience of 4 years with Goldman Sachs , securities trading technology support. My GMAT is 710 (q-77, v-83).

    In the year of final school awarded the best out going all rounder and has captained and played games for school and college.

    Right from my school has been involved in a bit of social service. I would like to continue in GS after my MBA with a change to IB or wealth management , provided I get it

    What are my chances in booth, cbs (early entry), Kellogg, wharton , stern and cornell!

    Thank you very much

  • limpidgreen

    Hello Erika,

    I work in Houston at a small financial services firm. Like a lot of people in energy here, business is bad and I have been furloughed, with my hours and pay cut by 25%. How should I approach this in my business school applications? I am still doing valuable work at my firm but it is toxic if I effectively am not working full time? Do I talk about this or should I try to avoid mentioning it?

    Thank you!

  • Shaun

    Hi Erika,

    Interested in applying for MBA in tier-2 B-schools in US. GRE score is 320 / 340. TOEFL 108 / 120. I have a GPA of 3.7 / 4.0 in my undergrad (engineering) graduating in top 3% of my class. I have 5 years work experience as Product engineer in reputed public sector Power equipment engineering & manufacturing industry in India. Will my experience and GPA help cover for low GRE score
    ?

  • matthew.childers@yahoo.com

    Ma’am,

    I am an active duty Army Field Artillery Captain who will be pursuing an MBA beginning the the fall of 2018. I will still be on active duty and will not at any time separate from service. I will be 37 at the time of matriculation. The following are relevant stats for my application:

    * 2.9 undergraduate GPA in Psy/His from a regional public university. Last 60 hours were ~3.4.

    * 3.8+ Master of Science in Operations MGMT from the University of Arkansas (online). The main purpose of pursuing this degree is to build a knowledge basis in business prior to my MBA, open up additional electives, and create an alternative transcript for the admissions to look at.

    * currently studying for the GMAT with a target score of 750. I believe this is quite reasonable for me to achieve.

    * Decent Volunteer Service over time. Currently deployed so volunteerism is minimal at the time. Upon return will continue to work with Boy Scouts and seek opportunities for family of 8 to support local El Paso Community. Family was recognized as a nominee for FT Sill Volunteer Family of the Year.

    * Currently preparing to take command of a Headquarters Battery of 180+ Soldiers and approx. $100 million of equipment.

    1. Will my graduate degree work as a strong alternative transcript? What other avenues of effort should I engage to offset and very marginal, if not poor, undergraduate GPA.

    2. As a military officer, I have been afforded a significant opportunity to pursue a graduate degree while remaining employed. In addition, it is fully funded by the Army. Are my target schools reasonable? Are there some programs you suggest I look into that are disproportionately military focused/friendly:

    * Dream Schoos: Yale SOM, Duke Fuqua, Cornell Johnson

    * Target Schools: Emory Goizueta, CMU Tepper, Rice Jones

    * Safe(r) Schools: Notre Dame Mendoza, Georgetown McDonough, Vanderbilt Owen

    I will also be applying to a guaranteed admit school. I have no need of listing that here. Of these schools, I intend to apply to 6, spread between rounds 1 & 2. If possible, I will submit an early acceptance application to Yale SOM. Yale is where my heart is, but also is my least likely admit. Do you see any other programs to add or any current ones to delete?

    Thank you for your time.

    v/r

    A concerned Captain

  • Devi

    Hi Erika
    Thanks for your constant inputs.
    I’d like to know my chances for kelley, purdue, Michigan broad, Penn state, wisconsin and unc for which I am applying in Early round with the following profile:

    GRE – 316 (Q170 V146 AWA – 3.5)

    Current Designation – Deputy Manger (one promotion in fast track 5% employees achieve it in our company) in Production Engineering Dept (Techno-commercial segment)

    Total Work Ex – 5 yrs in India’s largest car manufacturing company with an elite experience of project management by handling 3 green field projects of Engine and transmission assembly line set-up and logistics planning in the role of project manager)

    B Tech – 7.64/10 CGPA in mechanical engineering from National Institute of Technology (among top 25 colleges in country)

    Achievements: Promotion in Fast track 2016, Rising star award 2015 (best 10 employees with 3< work ex <5, Best project Initiation 2014, Stood first in project presentation as graduate Engineer trainee – Star performer 2013

    Professional Skills : Project management, Logistics and Inventory planning, Technical and commercial negotiations, Experience in handling multiple green field engine and transmission assembly line projects

    Extra curiccular:
    Volunteer for poor children empowerment at an NGO
    Teaching experience in IIT-JEE Maths & Physics
    Directing Short films and choreography

    Kindly recommend any areas in which I can improve for getting scholarship

    Thanks in advance

    Best Regards
    Devi

  • Bill38

    Hi Erika,
    thank you so much for your response! This is really helpful for me.

    After I got rejected from HBS, GSB, and Wharton, I hired Stacy Blackman and their feedback was that my profile was strong but my applicatiom execution was miserable. With Stacy Blackmans help, I managed to get at least on the waitlist at Booth which gives me some hope for the future.

    My reapplication will be two years after my first applications, which will hopefully give me enough time to keep improving my profile. Luckily, with a 3.6 GPA and an 740 GMAT (49Q/41V) I don’t have fixed stats that work against me. I am currently learning a new language, doing online courses in the subjects where I scored relatively low grades, will add new extracurrics and deepen my commitment to an existing, and I got promoted at work to a position with much higher responsibility than before. I hope that this will give me some arguments for the adcoms to give me a chance despite rejecting 😉 (I am not expecting an answer to this post, I just wanted to give you some context on my situation).

    Thanks again for your help! 🙂

  • Mene713

    Hi Erika, I am looking to hear input as which school “range” I should focus in on when applying. I plan to apply to a wide range of schools, safety and reach, but am having a hard time understanding if I should focus more on schools in the 20s ranks or teens, etc. I believe I have a fairly competitive profile, but am interested to hear any input from you or the folks here 🙂

    Current Target Schools: Washington Foster, UCLA, UNC, Emory, Dartmouth (Reach)

    26 y/o white male
    GPA – 3.6 Final Cum Laude, 3.8 Final 2 years
    College – Accounting Degree from top undergrad business school in the state (small public liberal arts college) (top 50 undergrad business school nationwide)
    GMAT – taking at end of the month, shooting for high 600s
    Desigations – CPA
    Career – Audit in Big 4 Accounting (5 years at time of matriculation, 4 years currently), recently made the switch to internal innovation department working in teams to design Apps and new programs
    Part of my “story” will be explaining that this new position has sparked an interested in technology and consulting so explaining why I am interested in a career switch. I feel like this opportunity will help backup this theory in the essays and my professional recommendations. I have received promotions on track with the normal promotion schedule for my firm.
    Extra curricular – Big Brother Big Sisters, heavy recruiting involvement (leading programs, not just visiting campuses), leader of Bike for MS charity for local office

    I know its hard to say without my having the GMAT yet, but just curious to hear some feedback. I know that even if I crack the 700s I am a longshot for top 10 programs, but even learning opinions saying to focus more in the twenties or teens is helpful!

    Thanks!

  • Lee

    Thank you. That’s really reassuring and helpful.

  • Erika Olson

    To be blunt, I think most adcoms will view reapplicants (especially those they did NOT invite to interview previously) as people they previously rejected for some reason, so the burden is going to be on you to explain how your candidacy is so much better now than it was perhaps only a year ago. That’s usually a tough thing to do because a year isn’t much time to change a ton of stuff. And what the red flag was to them before might not be anything you can actually even change (something like an undergrad GPA or a GMAT score you can’t improve, etc.).

    Therefore, you probably have the best chances of admission at Booth since they previously waitlisted you, and applying there again shows you’re really dedicated to the school and would likely attend if admitted (all schools care about their yield rates).

    I have certainly seen and worked with repplicants who weren’t previously intereviewed at a certain school and DID end up getting admitted, but it is less common and they usually took more than one year between apps to strengthen their candidacy and show significant improvements. That’s why I would recommend applying as a first-timer to a few other schools this year to improve your odds.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    One of the most memorable and remarkable guys in my class at HBS was a priest, so I know for a fact that top MBA programs value the kind of perspective you’ll bring and the goals that you have. You have a clear reason why you need an MBA. I also feel like you can justify being a little older than the usual applicant because of your line of work and pursuit of other graduate degrees that are relevant.

    So you could perhaps focus your essay on what motivates you, perhaps even why you became a minister in the first place — and why specifically you want to work with refugees in East Asia (I’m assuming there’s a story there) in the future. Just be sure not to “lecture/talk at” the reader (this is the #1 biggest problem I see in essays) when you write — I think it would be easy to launch into background of the refugees plight or other context for the reader, but you need to keep it about what YOU have personally seen and witnessed and what you want to do (and why).

    Hope that helps!

  • Bill38

    Hi Erika,

    thank you for all the advice you provide on this website! You’ve said a number of times in the comments below that it is much more difficult to get admitted as a re-applicant. Could I ask you to elaborate why this is the case? Does this also hold if the applicant has improved his profile significantly? (I.e. new job with higher responsibilities, additional coursework, new extracurrics with higher impact, learning new language etc.). And last question, does it make any difference whether how far you got in the application process last time? For example, I got waitlisted by Booth and rejected by 4 other top 10 schools. Thank you for your help!

  • Lee

    Hi Erika,

    Thanks for your help with answering all our questions. I was wondering if my career experience and/or career direction would hurt my chances of getting into a top ten MBA program.

    I’m an Asian American ordained Presbyterian minister approaching 30. My undergraduate GPA of 3.62 was in a humanities subject from a top tier public university. I’m also averaging a 3.7 from my two masters degrees in divinity and theology (with two short academic publications). All of my career experience has been working/volunteering for churches and startup non-profits as a department head or director with a lot of leadership and overseas experience. I want to start my own non-profit to work with refugees in East Asia a few years from now and maximize my service by pursuing an MBA. My GMAT score averages between 700-730 in practice exams. I’m confident my academic achievements and test scores are adequate, but my career experience clearly doesn’t fit the usual “consulting” or tech mold.

    Your thoughts? Thank you in advance.

  • Erika Olson

    You are correct — most MBA applicants are in their mid-twenties and therefore do not have any graduate degrees. However, if you are currently in a graduate program, then the adcom is going to want to see your transcripts, and so they will care about your grades because those grades will be indicative of how you’d fare in their (most likely tougher) programs that cover similar topics. You might also have to justify WHY you need an MBA if you are already getting a Masters degree in Accounting.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    I’ll be honest in that I don’t think anyone’s going to be able to give you the kind of advice you need on a message board or through a free consultation. I normally spend about a month getting to know my clients through an extensive interview process before even thinking about their strategy, so you might want to consider working with an admissions consultant. (And I normally do not say this in my responses as you’ll see below, so please believe I’m not just trying to sell you something!)

    I think you’ll need to 1) explain your lower grades/GPA in the Additional Info section and 2) get a GMAT in the mid-700s (but at least above 700) to make the adcom comfortable that you’ll be able to handle the curriculum at these top programs.

    As for your second question, that’s not one I can answer — I would have to know a lot more. I would say that you need to make sure you have a clear “why” for your career goals and really focus on differentiating yourself by communicating what others in the class will be able to learn from your personal and professional experiences to date — things no one else would be able to bring to the class.

    Hope that helps! Best of luck!

  • Manchester

    Hi Erika, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. My question: I have an undergrad degree in accounting and doing a masters degree in accounting at Notre dame. How important is grad school gpa for admissions? it seems like most class profiles (including top MBA programs) only factor undergrad gpa in their statistics.

  • itsgood3

    Hi Erika,

    I have quite a unique situation and have found it difficult to get expert guidance/advice in helping me fill any gaps/weak areas in my profile to help me get into one my dream schools (Wharton, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, NYU) and study Finance.

    1. Age: 26
    2. Ethnicity/Gender: Native American/ Male
    3. GMAT: Yet to take (see question below)
    4. Undergraduate School/Major: Washington State University/ Dbl. Major in Finance & Marketing
    5. GPA: 3.24
    6. College Extra curricular – 4 year starter on Varsity football team, voted team captain by teammates Jr & Sr. years. Also leader in large campus ministry group.
    7. Work Ex: 2 Years as a professional athlete in the National Football League (NFL), Founded 2 small businesses (still operating to this day). Currently a Portfolio Accountant at a large investment firm with $160+ billion AUM (2 years).
    7. Have passed level 1 of CFA (hope to have level 2 by time of enrollment).
    8. Extra curricular — Volunteer 5-10 hrs/month at local inner city boys and girls club.
    9. Career Goal: Investing/Fund Management or Investment banking (heart is very torn).

    Questions – Given my profile:

    1) What do you believe I need to score on the GMAT to realistically have a chance of being accepted?
    2) What areas do you feel I need to improve on to get serious consideration from these schools?

  • arthshukla@gmail.com

    Thanks a lot for your response Erika

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    I hope you understand, but this forum is not for me to do profile reviews, and I literally never ever comment on people’s chances at any school as we don’t know who you’re applying against in any given round or year. I will say you are in one of the most competitive demographic and industry/role buckets, so you will have to do a lot to differentiate yourself, and that usually doesn’t come in the form of “stats” (GPA/GMAT) but rather what you’re doing outside of work in your spare time, and what kind of initiative and leadership you’ve taken on at work (and this will usually come from your recommenders). It sounds like you have an interesting story to tell there, so that’s great!

    I do not think you should mention your deferred admission — I’m not sure how it would be relevant.

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Personally I feel that a little more work experience will only serve to benefit you. They are looking at your complete candidacy, including what you’re doing outside of work (volunteer opportunities that actually mean something to you, etc), so if you have more time to get leadership experience at work AND do something meaningful with your spare time, I think that will help overcome lower grades and the fact that you are in a very competitive demographic bucket.

    Hope that helps!
    – e

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Here are some responses:

    1) It’s REALLY hard for me to say what “too many” words is without actually reading the essay. Would I bet good money that I could find things to cut, though? Yes. : ) (I am the MASTER of editing, if I do say so myself.)

    The types of things people usually have in their earlier drafts that I end up cutting are: adverbs (-ly words, they’re just not needed), anything that sounds cliche or not conversational, anything that sounds like you’re “talking at”/lecturing the reader — almost EVERYONE has sentences like these — plus too much set up of a situation, things they can already understand from your resume and rec letters, etc.

    If everything that’s in your essay is information they could not possibly glean from the rest of your materials, then you might be fine. If it’s a compelling read from start to finish, you might be fine. But if it wanders and isn’t as succinct as it could be, the length will work against you.

    2) Well… HBS doesn’t ask you to tell them “What Matters Most,” they only ask you to tell them things that are relevant to your candidacy that they can’t already figure out for themselves through the rest of your materials. So only you can really know what is important for them to understand. Some people applying to both schools will have no overlapping content in those two essays, whereas others might.

    3) Your resume for your MBA materials should likely be totally rehauled from your work/job resume. I wrote extensively about this here (and yes, it’s me who writes the weekly SBC newsletters! This is by far our most popular topic): http://www.stacyblackman.com/2016/07/11/whats-an-mba-resume/

    Hope this helps!
    – e

  • arthshukla@gmail.com

    Hi Erika,

    I am a 24 year old engineering student male from India. I would appreciate it if you could go through my profile and help answer the questions at the bottom.

    1> Education
    Top 10 Engineering College, Computer Science Major, Percentage(64% ~ 3.5 GPA), First Class, 2010-2014

    2> Work Ex:
    I was selected for a selective rotational program in financial analytics in a top British Bank. I was promoted within a year. I decided to leave the job to work on a technology based logistics startup, from its inception, as a core team member. The startup has grown to a valuation of 1 million USD in a year and is backed by a renowned accelerator.

    3> Extra Curriculums:
    I have worked in a non-profit organisation for more than 6 years, focussing on social welfare issues such as education, women empowerment and sanitation. I have also worked in CSR activities to help increase employability of young adults. I was involved in organising of a model G20 Summit in College.

    4>Test Scores:
    GMAT : 740(Q50 V38 AWA5 IR8) TOEFL: 113

    5>Goals:
    Immediate – Top 3 Management Consulting
    Long Term – Entrepreneurship/VC in a technology sector that can also take initiatives for social change

    6>Other Info:
    Inflicted by many injuries and ailments in undergrad which affected GPA at the time. Improved academic performance post improvement. Underwent surgery to continue playing tennis and run half-marathons.
    Selected in a deferred admission program for a top 3 B-School in India, starting from 2017.

    Q : Due to my deferred admission, I am in a situation where I need to apply for top US Business Schools at a slightly younger age. What are my chances at top B-Schools such as Harvard,Stanford,Wharton,Sloan and Kellogg?

    Q: Should I mention my deferred admission in my applications. Is it more likely to support or hurt my application?

    Thanks a lot in advance!

  • Saranya

    Hi Erika,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond to these posts. I’d really appreciate some advice for my situation.

    I’m a 23 year old female Indian computer science engineer. I’ve worked in the field of data science for a year, solving a variety of business problems for an online networking company. I now lead a team of 6, playing a project management role and help my team deliver analytical solutions for my clients.

    I have scored 740 in my GMAT, but an average GPA (7.9/10). Will 2017 be too soon to apply for an MBA at the top 10-15 schools in the US?

    Thanks in advance!

  • Justin

    Erika, have a few quick questions for you. Thanks very much in advance!

    1) My HBS essay is 1200 words. Is this too many? Candidly, I do have a bit of a ‘unique’ background, but I’m still wondering what the Adcom will think of this. I’ve tried to make the essay as lean as possible.

    2) How similar is the HBS essay to Stanford’s “What Matters Most” essay?

    3) Lastly, what is the main difference between a “job resume” and a “school resume”? Can/should these be somewhat similar?

  • Erika Olson

    I don’t think schools put as much weight on class ranking (I haven’t really heard of that coming into play that much) — they worry more about your GPA and your GMAT score as those are stats that would factor into their published averages for incoming classes. Anyone who’s going to drastically pull down their average will have to be making a very strong case for their candidacy, which is certainly possible, but just something to be aware of.

    Your GPA is low for the schools you’ve mentioned, and engineering is an extremely competitive bucket (especially if you are an Indian male engineer). Your GMAT is acceptable but I’m not sure what the breakdown is — if the quant side is low it’s probably still OK if you’ve been in an analytical career, but you will probably have to address any low grades in the Additional Info section.

    But again, as I say many many many times on this column, they are looking at your whole package, so whenever someone gets caught up in the “stats” I get worried. The main thing your materials (and rec letters) need to convey is what perspective and experience you’ll bring to the classroom (both personally and professionally), how others will learn from you, and why you have the goals you do.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    It won’y be HIGHLY negative, but you are definitely an outlier and will therefore have to word harder to convince the adcom why you would still need an MBA at this point in your career. If you want to switch industries, they will question why you didn’t realize that or take steps to do that before this point, etc. What they are worried about is people who apply because they’ve hit a wall in their careers and/or have no idea what else they should be doing. They want people with clear goals and a path to reach those goals.

    If you can address the above, then you should also highlight (via stories, not by coming right out and saying it) how many things your classmates could learn from your 9 years of experience, since MBA classrooms are all about learning from each other.

    Hope that helps — best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    I think the adcom will be less concerned with which path you took and way more concerned about what you actually achieved/learned where you were. They are looking for people who — regardless of what position or industry they’re in — took initiative, stood out, were leaders, have a clear reason WHY they made the choices/moves they did, etc.

    So I would never advise someone to pick a path that they think would look better to an MBA adcom. I would encourage people to do what they’re passionate about or take the path that they think makes the most sense (at this moment — everyone realizes feelings change later) to get them to their end goal (30-40 years after b-school).

    Whether you are a consultant, in banking or in the Army, you are going to be judged by your peers in those same extremely competitive pools. So you will need to be constantly cognizant of trying to differentiate yourself from those in similar roles around you.

    I am not sure what the Reserve entails in the sense that I don’t know what’s required of you and what you could do that goes above and beyond what’s required, so I can’t really say if that would be viewed as a good extracurricular. I think they care about the reason WHY you do things outside of work and if you can demonstrate leadership in those extracurriculars more than anything else. I think they also care about how long you’ve been involved with something you do outside of work — people suddenly volunteering for a bunch of things the year they’re applying to school is pretty transparent (IMHO).

    I hope that helps even a little bit!

  • Swapnil Sawant

    Thank you so much Erika! That is very helpful. I was going to ask a client for a recommendation but wont do that now at all.
    Regards,
    Swapnil.

  • Cole

    Hi Erika,
    I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately so I’m hoping you can help me out. I’m currently an undergrad at a big ten school and in Army ROTC. I have a couple internships lined up. One at Deloitte and one at a financial firm. I’m thinking about going into the Army Reserve and having a full-time job. My question is what admissions would think about Reserve vs. full-time Army? Also, if I did Reserve, would that be looked at as a good “extracurricular?”

  • navneet1784@gmail.com

    Hi Erika,

    I just joined here. Since most school has avg age of admission 27-28 yrs with 3-4 years of experience while my age is 32 and around 9 years experience. Will it be highly negative for my application?

  • henriquefhypolito@gmail.com

    Hello Erika, I hope this message finds you well.

    I have some questions about my academic record. My final grade at Engineering school was 7.8
    out of 10.0 (converted to 4.0 scale GPA that would be 3.1). As for ranking, my final rank was 17th out of 72 (24 percentile).
    Is being part of the top quartile a good thing for schools such as HBS, MIT and the likes or below expected?

    My GMAT score was 730 (96 percentile), does that strengthen my case?

    All the best,
    Henrique

  • WS

    Thanks for your response! I agree that the demographics of the students are vastly different, I just hope it doesn’t take away from the MBA degree for EMBA programs that require/do not require GMATs. Will find out in a few years as I committed to a school earlier this week 😀

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Those are some really complex questions that I can’t answer fully here, but I’ll give you some high-level reactions:

    1) Neither would be necessarily viewed more favorably — top schools take applicants from both types of positions every year. I personally think working in a developing country would be much much MUCH more of a differentiator, though. But ONLY if it’s what you truly want to do. I would get really sad if I thought anyone was taking one job over another solely because of what they thought would help them get into b-school. If you enjoy what you do, you’re more likely to be successful at it, and THAT’S what will help you most in the end.

    2) Personally I would never ever ever EVER advise someone to apply with only one year of experience. You will have almost nothing to really teach your classmates by that point, and that’s the biggest part of the MBA experience — learning from each other. So the irony would be that you actually wouldn’t reap the benefits sooner because I don’t think you’d have the right perspective with only a year of the “real world” under your belt. (I feel pretty strongly about this particular topic, full disclosure). And you’re correct the reapplicants have more of an uphill battle.

    3) Yes, they will look at where you went to school, and a community college is going to work against you, in my opinion. All the more reason to “make up for it” with really impressive real-world experience. My advice for you would be to take initiative as much as possible at work — really go above and beyond in your role. Volunteer for projects, network with others in your company — you never know what opportunities it might lead to. If you can get any sort of actual management experience (meaning overseeing someone else — even if it’s indirectly or just on a team, or an intern or something), that is a differentiator. (As is working overseas, as I already mentioned). I would also say that you should remain involved in your community service — the deeper the experience, the better. When people just sign up for stuff the year they’re applying, the adcom sees right through that. The fuller the life you have outside of work that you can talk about, the better (and the more you’ll actually enjoy life anyway, right?) ; )

    BEST OF LUCK!

    – e

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Here are some quick answers:

    1) I truly believe that the adcom looks at your materials holistically, so it’s not like any one factor is more important than the other, but rather what overall impression they are getting when they take everything in as a whole. I would like to think that the GPA (which is made up of grades over four years) would count at least a *little* more than a test that only takes a couple of hours, though!

    2) Yes, I think they look at the split; if you are weak across the board in quant (meaning GMAT, grades in quant classes and NO quant/analytical experience in your job) that would be a red flag.

    3) I mean, it’s not a GREAT thing, but they certainly have seen that before and they understand that some jobs either require so much travel or so many hours at the office that doing much outside of work is impossible. But in that case you need to make sure you communicate some other passion you have — let them get to know something about you besides your job, because there’s a big social aspect to b-school as well.

    4) I have never had any client give a personal reference, so I would definitely, DEFINITELY not recommend that. Two professional references unless you are still in college.

    Hope that helps!

    – e

  • Erika Olson

    I do not think that employers know anything about the various program requirements (meaning that the average person hiring MBAs is not going to know that the executive MBAs no longer require the GMAT), so I don’t think that would be a concern. But in general I also do not think executive MBAs are comparable to full/part-time programs on many other levels — it’s just a very, VERY different experience for a completely different type of student who’s in a very different stage of his/her career. (Could I say “different” any more times? ; ) ) I feel like these programs probably removed the GMAT requirement because it might be a kind of silly way to attempt to judge people who are already accomplished in their careers, and because it might not be realistic to expect people who are more likely to be married/have kids/have significant responsibilities at work (more than the average 20-something applying to full-time programs) to spend a ton of time studying for and then taking a test that doesn’t even have anything to do with real-life business skills, you know?

    Hope that even remotely answers what you were asking!

    – e

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Unfortunately I can’t provide applicant-specific advice at the level of detail you’re looking for here. The admissions process is subjective, which may be why you have gotten different advice — but if you are not working with either consultant on a full-time basis (meaning if you just got knee-jerk reactions from two different consultants), that could also be why people are telling you different things. I usually have clients spend at least two weeks writing everything about their life and career that could possibly come into play into a document for me to review so that i ensure I know EVERYTHING on the table that they could address and/or write about in their materials. I would not feel comfortable giving you direction with just the high-level info you’ve provided.

    It’s less about if your profile is suitable for an MBA in your desired field and more about what program might be the best (and most realistic) fit for you, and only you can do that kind of research. Best of luck!

  • Sinchan Pathak

    Hi Erika, thank you for all your advice in this article.

    I am facing a lot of confusion to shortlist schools for applying. I have been to two different consultants and I have got entirely different feedback them.

    My profile in short:

    1. Age: 25
    2. GMAT: 700 (Q48/V37)
    3.TOEFL: 110
    4.Undergraduate: Chemical Engineering
    5. GPA: 3.2
    6. Work Ex: 3 Years in Tendering and Sales (techno-commercial role) division in a top Water Treatment Company in the world in a leadership role. I have one won tenders of value north of USD 30 million. Have successful experience in international Joint venture creation, identification of new markets globally ranging from South East Asia to Africa to the Middle East, optimization of resources present across the globe and brought in big projects for the firm.
    7. Awarded Annual Best Employee
    8. Extra curricular – Accomplished elocutionist with national awards, regional Lawn tennis champion

    Is my profile suitable for a MBA in finance/banking as I want to change my field and move to investment banking and consulting ?

    Also advice me briefly on what aspects of profile should I focus on while preparing essays?

    And lastly, kindly suggest on Reach-Target-Safe schools based on my profile

  • WS

    Hi Erika- we have now seen many of the top Executive MBA programs remove the GMAT as a prerequisite for applying. In your opinion, are there any negative consequences that one should be thinking about? Will the EMBA programs be viewed as inferior to the full time / part time programs that still require?

  • Sawant

    Hi Erika,
    How are you? Hope you are fine and doing great!
    I just had a few questions regarding my application
    1) Is the GMAT score more important than GPA? I have a 4.0 GPA in economics but my GMAT score is 680.
    2) My GMAT score split is 51Q but 28V. Will they take into account the fact that I have a good quant score?
    3) Does having no extra curricular activities hurt the application?
    4) Do I need to give just professional references? Can I give personal references?
    Regards,
    Swapnil.

  • Tina DeBrauw

    Hi Ms. Olson,

    Thank you assisting prospective MBAs like myself with our journeys. I would like your assistance with the following questions please:

    1.) I graduated a few weeks ago, and I had the opportunity to join BCG as an analyst in a developing country, or to work as an assistant to the senior portfolio manager in a boutique asset management firm in NY. Which of these experiences do you believe will be viewed more favorably by an admissions officer? Is MBB experience in developing countries respected? I’ll also be simultaneously working on a startup (not mine).

    2.) My long term career goal is to work in PE/VC or consulting (I’m torn between the two). I really want to get my MBA as quickly as possible, so I can reap the benefits as soon as possible. I am nervous about applying with only one year of experience, even though the admissions reps I spoke to (at Yale, NYU and Fuqua) said they’ve admitted students with one year of experience in the past. I don’t want to apply, get rejected, and then reapply because I heard re-applicants have a smaller chance of getting an offer. Any advice?

    3.) My Profile: 3.75 Undergraduate GPA in Finance, 3.0 Community College GPA (will they look at this?), big 4 internship, very involved in community service and social activism, does well in case competitions, 22 year-old black woman, will begin comedy school soon (because it sounds fun 🙂 ), ballet (not competitively). Could you advice me on how to build my profile over the next few years in order to become more attractive to admissions officials?

    Thanks!

  • Erika Olson

    Oh my — that’s a big question! My role here in this column is to answer very specific questions that other readers might find helpful. Unfortunately I cannot do overall strategy for any individual, especially without knowing any important details about your career or life. I would recommend working with an admissions consultant if you really are not sure where to begin — and especially because you already realize you’re really going to need to differentiate yourself as an Indian male engineer. We have a free consultation with SBC here: http://www.stacyblackman.com/contact/

    Good luck!

  • murali

    Hi Erica

    Thanks for the reply. I have 12 plus years of experience and i am currently 35 and planning for MBA in next 2 years, that’s why i have mentioned 37 years in earlier positing. IT professional with Solid Accounting Background. I do not have so called stars in my profile, except some achievements in career, but not in academics. Currently I am pursuing CPA in USA . I am interested in Columbia 16 months/Kellogs one year program/Cornell one year MBA/SDA Boccani. I do understand every one asks whats the objective of doing.

    My thinking as you mentioned learning is lifelong pursuit and wanted to have campus experience rather than doing some part time programs and i am ready to invest for my life time learning. The reason for choosing above schools is i have seen some profiles older than 35 Plus in above schools. But i wanted know what are the differentiation i need to show in application to get through into to league.

    Also any other alternative recommendations based on your experience is really appreciated

  • abyhere.mit@gmail.com

    Hello Erika,
    I am in the over represented Indian Engineer Male group and wish to apply to the top schools in the US.
    GMAT 710 – 48/38 (Q/V) split.
    I am in the R&D of a MNC and wish to transition into consulting post MBA.
    How should I shape up my application?

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    I believe that learning can be and should be a lifelong pursuit, so I don’t think there’s ever an age that’s too late for an MBA. However, for the top full-time programs, I’ll be honest with you that it would be an uphill battle to be accepted when most applicants are more than 10-15 years younger and therefore that much earlier in their careers.

    An MBA is usually seen as a necessary step to either a career change or an accelerated path in the same industry the applicant is already in, and I think you might have a hard time explaining how the degree could help you in your career at this point. So if you wanted to apply to any of the top programs, that would be one of your biggest challenges. Your classmates would certainly have a lot to learn from your experience, though!

    Without knowing anything else about you other than your age, I would say that if you really wanted an MBA, a part-time, weekend, evening, executive or e-MBA program might be more suitable (as well as more realistic to be accepted into).

    Those types of programs are outside of my area of expertise, but you could start with ones at universities in your home town and see what their admissions criteria is.

    Hope that helps!

  • murali

    Hi i am 37 years, do you suggest MBA at this age ? , If yes what are the schools and program i can target

  • Erika Olson

    Let me take a stab at your questions in order:

    1) I have seen all different types of engineers be admitted to top programs. I believe these programs are specifically looking to have all types of engineers represented because they want as many diverse perspectives in the classroom as possible. You will learn from your classmates more than your professors in most cases, and the adcom is aware of that. But I would say that it’s still important to show that you have interpersonal skills and goals that require an MBA. The top programs are looking for people with leadership potential, so you have to prove that you have that, even if your job has been highly technical. You can prove that through things you’ve done outside of work, through initiative you’ve taken above and beyond your role at work (have recommenders speak to this sort of thing — it’s more convincing coming form someone else!), through things you did at school, etc. Have clear short-term and long-term goals and be able to say exactly why you need an MBA from THAT SCHOOL (do your research and provide specifics!) to reach them. Those things are more important than what kind of engineer you were.

    2) Adcoms understand that not all companies have promotion tracks like consulting or i-banking or whatever, so don’t stress about that. Even if you haven’t had a title change, you should be able to show increasing responsibilities and achievements over the last three years on your resume and through your recommendation letters. Showing that you’ve continued to grow and be challenged and take on more and different kinds of work is how you get past having no formal promotions. If you’ve ever mentored or indirectly managed someone at work (directly managing someone is even better!), definitely communicate that.

    3) I honestly don’t know how important the brand name of ANY company is. I think they are truly looking for what YOU have achieved and what YOUR potential is. Great leaders come from all sorts of different companies, so I wouldn’t worry about that. Also, on your resume, if you are worried about them not knowing what your company is, put in a ONE LINE description (no more than that — your resume is supposed to be about you). Do not waste any space with a ticker symbol, they won’t care about that. Again, they want to know about what YOU have done. Not much context is needed about your company. They are smart people — between your resume, app, essays and rec letters they will get the gist of what your company does. I always cringe when I see recommenders or applicants waste their word count providing unneeded context on their companies or projects, so beware of that.

    Hope that helps!
    – e

  • Erika Olson

    HI there Vishal –

    It sounds like you have a wonderful choice you have to make — congratulations! I hope you understand, but because there are sooooooooo many factors that go into which school is the best fit for any given person, I do not feel comfortable telling you which program to choose. I would encourage you to visit both, if possible, and see what your gut tells you. If you can’t visit both, see if you can find some alumni to talk to from each program or talk to adcoms of both or get on accepted students’ intranets for both schools and try to get a feel for the culture. Where you want to end up after graduation might also come into play, as recruiters probably differ between the two.

    I hope that helps!

    Erika

  • vishal

    Hi Erika

    A straightforward question- which one to choose from University College Dublin or Schulich School of business for FT MBA?
    My profile-
    6 years in IT
    Academics- “A” grade throughout.

    Future roles-consulting, marketing, product management.
    It would be really great if you can give your feedback on the basis of given information and any other inputs that you might have.

    Thanks,
    Vishal

  • Engineer2MBA

    Hi Erika,

    A couple questions about engineers transitioning into MBAs. Thanks for all your insight so far!

    Just for some context, I want to transition from engineering into strategy & product management/ development in tech.

    1) What kind of engineers do you typically see getting admitted at elite schools like HBS? Do people working largely in a technical space, with some but maybe not a lot, of exposure to overall operations/ project management even stand a chance? What aspect of engineering have you seen, in your experience, being most relevant to bschool?

    2) How important are promotions? In my industry, people get promoted fairly slowly so although I’ve been working at the same company for 3 years, I have the same title: Engineer. What other ways do adcoms typically like seeing career progression?

    3) How important is brand name of the company for an engineering applicant? As Sandy often says, Fortune 500 is often nothing because well, there’s 500 of them! A lot of companies are big, but are not at all household names. Largely because they don’t have a retail brand with a direct link to end users, but instead deal with other businesses. How should we positioning such companies in our application? Beyond listing NASDAQ ticker symbols or using generic descriptions like “global leader in manufacturing XYZ”? What do adcoms like to know about the companies we engineers work at?

    I know these questions were long, so thanks so much for taking the time to respond!

    – MK

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there

    Here are my thoughts:

    1) Usually once you’re on the older side of the applicant pool you have to work a little harder to make your case. I don’t want to use the word “weakness” but you will certainly have to justify why you waited so long to apply. I would NOT recommend mentioning that you weren’t sure you needed the degree. But you could definitely use the “Additional Info” or “Optional Essay” spaces (as in, NOT your main essays) to inform them that having a child and taking care of a family member delayed your MBA plans. That’s totally understandable and will help.

    2) It’s always worth trying to get a higher GMAT score if you have the time and feel like you could actually do better based on practice tests/scores. Especially if you have not been working in a quantitative/analytical career field. I wrote a little about that here:

    http://www.stacyblackman.com/2016/06/27/prove-youre-mba-material/

    3) No, many people don’t have a ton of extracurriculars. So much so that I wrote about that at the link below. But you will still have to give them insight into what else makes you tick, what you’re passionate about, etc, outside of work — be that through an essay or a few lines in your resume or on the data form:

    http://www.stacyblackman.com/2016/05/31/what-to-do-if-youre-light-on-extracurriculars-2/

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Here are my answers to your questions above:

    1) The adcom can really only consider the experience you have until you submit your materials because that’s all you can talk about on your resume and essays, and it’s all your recommenders can speak to as well. On the data forms they may ask how many years/months of experience you’ll have at the time of matriculation, but that is just for data-collection purposes.

    2) I don’t think they see it that way, no. : )

    3) You can certainly apply Early Decision for both but then you have to understand that you will likely lose thousands of dollars in nonrefundable deposits if you get into both (or somewhere else). Plus ethically it probably brings bad karma, IMHO. BUT there is nothing technically stopping you from doing it. All Early Decision programs require a significant deposit (like $6k or $7k) within a few weeks of being admitted — that’s why you should be pretty sure you want to go there before you take that route. Check each school’s policies, obviously — I don’t have them all memorized.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    I do think your work experience (or lack thereof) could be an obstacle. You definitely have a lot of other unique things going for you, but to the adcom it’s all about what you can teach your classmates based on your professional and personal experiences, and so the fewer of those experiences you have to pull from (no matter how impressive they are), the harder it is to make your case.

    So I would take a step back and think about WHY you feel like you need an MBA right now rather than waiting another year or two when your case will be even stronger. Because it’s much much MUCH harder to get in as a reapplicant than it is as a first-time applicant, and my fear would be if you apply and get dinged everywhere this year then you will be a reapplicant in the future and have that obstacle to get past.

    I’m not saying you have no shot of getting in — certainly top schools look for a range of experience and ages and whatnot, but investment banking is already an overrepresented pool of applicants, so you need to just be prepared that you might not get in.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Here are my thoughts!

    1) Not everyone has experienced a “huge emotional event” in their lives. And not everyone who has experienced such an event would be able to link it to something that makes sense in the context of an MBA essay. So I guess at a high level I’m saying no, I don’t think all essays need to have a strong personal or emotional component to them because that may come off as forced in many situations. Each essay prompt needs to be approached differently, and some lend themselves more naturally to a personal, introspective response. Your idea sounds like a good one IF the question you’re responding to is asking you to explain your path to date or something like that.

    2) Most schools prefer to hear from your direct boss unless you have a good reason not to ask them. I always tell applicants to go with the people who know them best and can provide the most detailed anecdotes and stories in their letters. That’s what the adcom is looking for … not just a bunch of adjective about how great you are. They need PROOF! When someone doesn’t know you or your work as well it is much tougher for them to write a letter that will differentiate you from the competition.

    3) I say the only thing you should do to coach your recommenders is either give them your update resume and/or some bullet points to help them remember what projects you’ve worked on over the years, and then stress to them the importance of providing as many detailed stories/anecdotes as possible (versus just adjectives singing your praises). Other than that, don’t tell them exactly what to write or you will likely prevent them from including something that would’ve been better and more memorable to the adcom. Most recommenders are smart accomplished people — no need to hold their hands. I have never ever had a client write their own recommendation letter. Not only is it against each program’s ethics/honor code, but it is very VERY hard to write in someone else’s “voice” (as a full-time writer/editor I can assure you, it is tough) and the adcom will see right through it.

    Hope that helps! Don’t worry about your “narrative” with your rec letters!

  • SamWise

    Hi Erika, thanks for all the detailed guidance you have provided below. A couple of questions below:
    1. I am what you might call a somewhat ‘non-standard’ MBA applicant – I have a Master’s Degree in Industrial / Organizational Psychology and have with 6 years of experience in a big Consulting Firm (steady upward progression, high ratings throughout). That makes me a bit older than the typical pool with higher than average work experience. Does that make me a stronger or weaker applicant? Is it something I should ‘explain’ in my application? (Btw – the reasons include : I wasn’t sure if I needed it, my husband and I had a baby and I was taking care of a sick family member for a year and a half – all of those)
    2. I took my GMAT once and I got a 720. However, its pretty unbalanced (High Verbal, Lower Quant). I am targeting a top-5 business school. Should I take the GMAT again and try to bump it up or at least balance it out?
    3. Finally, my job, baby and taking take of my family member leave little to no time for volunteering – will I be dinged for not having extra-curriculars?
    Thanks!

  • Kamini

    Hi Erika,
    Thank you for all the advice on this board. It has been very helpful in my admissions research. My questions are:

    1. With regard to the work experience required, do universities consider the work experience we have till date of submission or till our date of enrolment?

    2. Can 2 years of entrepreneurial work experience account for say 3-4 years of professional work experience?

    3. Also with regard to early decision applications, I’ll be quite happy if I get into Tuck or Duke so can I apply for early decision to both ? What if I get into one and not the other?

    Thank you for taking the time to answer our question.

    S

  • Santiago

    Hi Erika,
    Thank you for your support I found all the Q&A section very helpful.
    I have a few questions but first allow me to describe my background.
    I am a mexican economics major from ITAM (top school for economics in Mexico), I graduated cum laude with a 3.6/4 GPA and have a 730 (48 Q 42 V) GMAT.
    I would like to apply to top 10 schools (HBS, Wharton, Booth, etc) to begin my MBA in 2018.
    My concern is I have not had that much work experience, by the time i wish to apply I will have worked full time for a year and a half and another year part time.
    I believe my work experience is different from most people because, being an investment banker at a small firm, I have had the opportunity to lead negotiations, execute projects, lead multidiciplinary teams, and lead pitch meetings (something not everyone my age get to do) with the biggest companies in my country.
    I have also lead projects and developed business plans pro bono for a foundation, speak 4 languages, lived abroad for a year and have traveled extensively.
    Do you think my age and work experience will be a huge obstacle?
    What other areas of my profile should I try to work on?

    Thank you

  • KC

    Hi Erika, Appreciate you answering questions here. I’m deep into essay brainstorming and selecting my recommenders. I have 3 questions:

    Do you think essays need to have some really strong personal and emotional component to them? Several MBA students and alums I’ve talked with wrote their essays about some huge emotional event and how that impacted them as a leader (e.g. death of a parent and coming out to their family). I’m thinking about writing essays on something I have been passionate about for as long as I can remember and has been the underlying current to all my major life decisions.

    I have one recommender lined up (my former boss who is now in a different area of the company). For my second recommender, I’m trying to decide between my boss (knows me well but is a little scatterbrained) and my boss’ boss (who knows me slightly less well but is a better writer and more organized). Who would you pick?

    Also, how much coaching do you think is needed? Any tips? I don’t want to practically write the letters for them but also want to make sure their letters fit with my overall narrative.

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Well, I hope you understand but I don’t feel very comfortable giving you advice on this one way or the other because I think it’s a very, very personal decision. Were you able to visit either school, by chance? If so, I would go with your gut about which one felt like a better fit.

    If not, which is understandable as you are not in the US, I would advise you to try and do as much research as you can about the community and overall vibe/culture at both places, as well as their actual locations. Have you been on the intranet or any admitted-student message boards for either or both schools? That might give you great insight into the culture at both programs. You want to get as much out of the experience as you can, and that’s easier to do if you feel like you fit with both your classmates and the place where you’re living for two years.

    I think all of that is more important than the money or the brand/ranking, especially if you can make the visa situation work either way.

    So while I can’t tell you one over the other, I hope I’ve given you some things to think about as you make your decision. And congrats! This is a huge accomplishment and there are thousands of people out there who wish they had a choice to make!

    – e

  • Akshay

    Hi Erika, I just have one question!

    I am from New Delhi, India. I have 6 years of experience in the legal industry. I wish to pursue MBA from the US. I have admits from 4 schools. I have narrowed down to 2 schools namely Sawyer Business School and Gabelli School of Business. I have my inclination towards Gabelli because it has a better brand name and location. However, Sawyer Business School has awarded me a scholarship of USD 20000 per year which makes it much cheaper to attend as compared to Gabelli. Further, I recently got my F-1 visa approved for Sawyer.

    I can afford Gabelli Business School & can also get my visa re-issued if need be. Just want to know if it would be a practical choice to chose Gabelli over Sawyer keeping in view the MBA program quality, internship opportunities, job opportunities ?
    Thanks in advance for your time and I look forward to your response.

  • Akshay

    Hi Erika, I just have one question!

    I am from New Delhi, India. I have 6 years of experience in the legal industry. I wish to pursue MBA from the US. I have admits from 4 schools. I have narrowed down to 2 schools namely Sawyer Business School and Gabelli School of Business. I have my inclination towards Gabelli because it has a better brand name and location. However, Sawyer Business School has awarded me a scholarship of USD 20000 per year which makes it much cheaper to attend as compared to Gabelli. Further, I recently got my F-1 visa approved for Sawyer.

    I can afford Gabelli Business School & can also get my visa re-issued if need be. Just want to know if it would be a practical choice to chose Gabelli over Sawyer keeping in view the MBA program quality, internship opportunities, job opportunities ?
    Thanks in advance for your time and I look forward to your response.

  • Akshay

    Hi Erika, I just have one question!

    I am from New Delhi, India. I have 6 years of experience in the legal industry. I wish to pursue MBA from the US. I have admits from 4 schools. I have narrowed down to 2 schools namely Sawyer Business School and Gabelli School of Business. I have my inclination towards Gabelli because it has a better brand name and location. However, Sawyer Business School has awarded me a scholarship of USD 20000 per year which makes it much cheaper to attend as compared to Gabelli. Further, I recently got my F-1 visa approved for Sawyer.

    I can afford Gabelli Business School & can also get my visa re-issued. Just want to know if it would be a practical choice to chose Gabelli over Sawyer!?
    Thanks in advance for your time and I look forward to your response.

  • Erika Olson

    Those are all great schools (I’m partial to Ross because I got my BBA there and Ann Arbor is THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD!!!!) and I think they are definitely in the realm of possibility for you. Best of luck!

  • N

    Erika – thanks for the quick response! I went to Williams/Amherst and doubled majored in History and Arabic with a 3.3 GPA. GMAT was a 700. I never really seriously considered a top-5 school. I am interested in UCLA Anderson or Michigan Ross as a reach and Washington Foster as a safety.

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    I definitely don’t think your nontraditional background will hinder you — if anything, it will help you differentiate yourself. However, I’m more worried about the fact you’ve already been out of school for 6 years (that’s how I’m reading what you wrote above), meaning it would be over 7 years by the time you actually went back. That’s definitely on the older end of the spectrum, but since you’re coming from the military you have a stronger reason for waiting to apply then most others would.

    How you brand yourself should be related to your career goals so that they believe you can achieve them. But there’s no getting around the fact that you’ve spent the most recent years in the military and so the experience that’s more relevant to your career goals happened quite a while ago. So you’ll need to make a cohesive story about WHY you have the goals you have (and make sure they’re crystal clear… ed-focused consulting and internat’l development sound like two very very different things to me… ?) and then show what skills/experience you already have to be able to achieve those goals and what the program you’re applying to can supplement. You’ll probably also have to address why you’re applying NOW in a subtle way, even though most programs don’t directly ask that anymore. I’m sure you have some very cool experiences to share with the class, so make sure those are covered in your resume and/or rec letters if they don’t fit into your essay narrative.

    I don’t know the rest of your story or your scores/GPA etc, but if they are not really high and/or if you didn’t go to a “feeder” undergraduate, I would advise considering schools in the Top 25 overall and not just the top 5 or whatever, because those programs are hard for ANYONE to get into, and I think time is not on your side. Meaning if you ONLY applied to the very top programs and didn’t get in, it would be even tougher to apply another year later, even to other programs.

    Hope that makes sense — best of luck!

  • N

    Hi Erika, thanks for all your advice and insights into the admissions process. I’ve enjoyed reading the Q&A!

    I’ve had a rather unique background – after college I spent two years teaching abroad at international schools before commissioning into the US Military about four years ago. I’ve been living abroad for about six years now. Education has always been my passion and although being an military officer has honed my leadership and management skills, it has taken me out of the nonprofit world. I am worried my nontraditional background and career goals (education focused consulting / international development) will hurt my chances at a top school. Should I brand myself as nonprofit or military applicant?

    Thanks for your time!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Here are my thoughts per your 3 questions:

    1) That work experience during college definitely sounds impressive. However, they will be most concerned with what you’ve done more recently. So I wouldn’t recommend more than a bulletpoint or two on your resume about your college work — you might be able to expand a bit more on it on the application (data form) itself. In any career-related essays, if what you did in college plays into what you’ve done SINCE college and is relevant to your career goals in the future (meaning you’re not looking to completely change industries or anything), then you could bring it up to show the depth of your experience and of course play up your international exposure.

    2) To be honest, I feel like it’s more about what you’ve accomplished at your companies vs. where you worked. So I don’t think you should worry too much about your companies not being well known/feeder schools because a) you can’t change that anyway, and b) you can still prove what you’ll bring to the classroom with your experience that will help your fellow students.

    3) You will definitely have to address the sabbatical year in the Additional Info/Optional Essay space on the application. I wouldn’t recommend mentioning that you were studying for the GMAT or weren’t learning much at your job, because those kind of sound like excuses (and your competitors studied for the GMAT while also working and/or took initiative at work if they felt like they were stalling, so those reasons could make you look bad). I do think it’s OK to say that you took a sabbatical because you were helping to plan your wedding, but I’m not sure if that will be enough of a reason for them (because, again, people do this while still working). So this might be a red flag, but you can’t change the past. All you can do is focus on the great experience you do have, on top of explaining why you need an MBA specifically from THEIR school to achieve your future goals.

    Good luck!

  • dumucci@hotmail.com

    Hi Erika, first of all, thanks for helping. I just have 3 questions.

    I am Brazilian, 26 years old, applying for 2017 entry, graduated from a regular college ( not well known), and have regular grades.

    1)I would like to know if I should give a strong attention in my application to my working experience during college and how much could usually care about it? I know they usually care about work working experience after graduation, but mine was really important to me.
    I worked hard during 3 years out of 4 years during my college, had great opportunities during my internship at a small fertilizer& chemical company. Travelled to India, Russia, Turkey, and twice to China to develop international suppliers.

    2) International well known companies, which usually don’t send many workers to top MBAs vs National (Brazil) well known companies for sending workers to top MBAs – I have worked at 2 multinational companies ( ADM and Glencore), not well known for sending workers to top MBA, for 3 yeas after graduation and will probably compete with well known companies applicants, so I would like to know how much should it be a competitive point advantage or disadvantage?!?

    3) I worked 2 years and 6 months at ADM and 6 months at Glencore after graduation, after 6 months at Glencore I left the company for a sabbatical year. I was feeling like I was not learning much, I am getting married this year, so have to organize the wedding and had to study for gmat. How much do you think this sabbatical year could sound bad to
    admission teams?

    Thanks in advance.
    EM

  • Erika Olson

    I also had a BBA and I can assure you that an MBA is not even remotely comparable. There will be a few very basic concepts covered early on that you’ll be familiar with, but other than that it’s not like you’re redoing your undergrad experience in the slightest.

    I have only worked with one person since 2008 who applied for a one-year program because he was going back to a family business. So in general I feel like people have to have a really good reason for the one-year and I personally don’t think having a BBA is enough of a reason from my own experience.

    And I hate to be the bearer of bad news… BUT there are not many scholarships at all for MBA programs. It’s very, very different from undergrad in that perspective. My past clients who were awarded grants/scholarships found out at the same time they were admitted, not later. So if it’s not coming from the school itself I’m not sure what other scholarships you might be thinking are out there — my impression was that it’s really only the school you could get something from, and even that is pretty rare. (Says the person who still has $50k in student loan debt over a decade later…) : |

    And per your last question, I am not familiar with the recruiting side of b-school that much at all — I’m just trying to help people get in in the first place! ; )

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Sorry, I am mostly focused on helping people get into the programs they’re interested in and don’t know as much about the recruitment side once someone’s graduating. I’m also pretty cynical in that I think — for any industry — you’re going to have mostly the same kind of opportunities and recruiters if you’re at any of the top programs. So I would still urge someone to focus on where they want to go overall (location, vibe/culture, etc) than anything else because recruiting really only matters for your very first job out of school or your internship, and an MBA is about much, much more than that. Hope that helps a little!

  • dlarson1234@outlook.com

    Appreciate the response! Thank you.

  • confuscious

    Hi Erika

    What according to you are the Top 5 B schools for healthcare management in terms of recruitment?

    Thanks!

  • C0UGAR

    Thanks for the answer Erika, very helpful.

    I’ve been looking at Tuck’s Early Decision, and it looks like you don’t have to put the deposit in until after you hear back from lots of other schools (at least all the ones I’m considering). I think what is more difficult is that you probably have to put in the deposit before you hear about scholarships anywhere.

    Thanks for the answer on the one year. I hadn’t really thought about it from an internship perspective. Kellogg and Emory and Notre Dame all advertise it as a good option for people with an undergraduate degree in business (which I have). So I thought it would be a good way to avoid some of the classes I’ve already taken. But I didn’t think about the internship. Do recruiters not go for the one-year MBAs? Are they just assumed to be returning to their previous companies and not making a switch?

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    I think you will be fine applying next year at 27 (that’s how old I was when I applied). Past that may become more iffy — you would have to prove why now is the right time and why you really need an MBA. But I think if you have a strong story of improvement in your profile between last year and next year that is mostly what matters. In the end it’s all about what you’ll bring to the classroom and what others can learn from you.

    One of the biggest things we’ve seen that helps — but which you can NOT do last minute — is have leadership experience outside of work. Get involved in a cause you believe in and do something significant with it. Career moves might help as well, but community service that has meaning to you and isn’t just a short-term thing is pretty powerful.

    Yes SBC does have services for exactly what you’re talking about — planning ahead for a future application year. I would recommend filling out the contact form and then someone will be able to talk with you about what you’re needing help with.

    http://www.stacyblackman.com/contact/

    Hope that helps and best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    1) Early Decision: I do not have any hard statistics on this so all I can tell you is my gut feeling, which is that I think certain people may have a slight advantage if they apply Early Decision. People who were 100% going to get in or 100% not going to get in no matter what in the adcom’s eyes are not going to benefit. But those who might be more iffy — who may be in overrepresented demographic/industry/role buckets — might have slightly better odds if they apply Early Decision because then the adcom knows they’re committed. I’m sure you know that for CBS and Tuck and others you have to pay a hefty ($6k or so I think) downpayment that is NONREFUNDABLE shortly after you learn you got in, and it will likely before you hear back from other schools. So that is the risk with ED programs. I would not approach your overall app materials any differently, though. You just need to get them in earlier!

    2) Again I do not have stats on this. I feel like for the one-year at Kellogg and certain other schools it is meant more for people who have a strong reason for not needing a summer internship (they’re going back to their same company, running a family business, etc). While I am sure that your immediate employer (and any companies you interview with while at school) would be aware you were in the one-year program, down the road I’m not sure if it would matter since I don’t think you actually mark that on your resume, right? You just list the degree and graduation year, not “one-year” or “two-year” in my mind.

    I think it’s more a matter of whether or not you have a strong case to make for doing the one-year to the adcom.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    First and foremost I want to apologize for my delayed response. My entire family has been out for the count with some crazy-awful flu for over a week!!!

    Per your questions:
    1) Travel: What kind? If it’s international, then you should definitely find a way to work it into your app materials somehow to show you have exposure to other cultures. If you did anything significant overseas it may even be essay material. If you WORKED internationally then obviously that is a big deal that should be mentioned explicitly on your resume and in your rec letters. Hard for me to say what else you could do with limited info, but if it’s an important part of your life/a passion then it’s possible you could weave it in to an essay.

    2) Soccer camps — Hard for me to say because I don’t know how long ago this was. If it was when you were really young then it may seem like you’re reaching back too far and have nothing more relevant to b-school to say now. If it was recently I’m sure it could be mentioned somehow, but sports stories are very overused and besides the teamwork angle there’s not usually a ton that is directly relevant to things you’ll discuss in the classroom, so you’ll have to think about that.

    3) Student Council at school should either be on your resume or mentioned as an extracurricular activity on your data form/application. There are fields for that stuff.

    Essay material is best when it is something that gives them insight into a very important part of your personality or even a passion you have that may be related to a future career goal. They care about WHY you have done certain things more than WHAT it is you’ve done outside of work, if that makes sense. So that may lead you to decide what would be most relevant to a business school application as it might be something you end up talking about in class.

    Hope that helps!
    Erika

  • Stark

    Hi Erika,
    Loved your posts on gmatclub. Thanks for all your work there.
    I applied last year and unfortunately didn’t get through.
    1. I will apply next year once I improve my profile. I will be 27 next year, so am worried a bit about the age.
    2. I would like to plan ahead for when I apply next year. I am already trying to make some career moves which I think might help me get there. Do you guys offer any services wherein I can get some help as I plan ahead?
    Thanks!

  • C0UGAR

    Hi Erika, thanks for all your advice on this board. I just had a couple of questions:

    1. Does an early decision application really increase your chances of getting in? For example Tuck has an early decision deadline in October, and the regular deadline in November, is it going to make much of a difference? If so, in what ways? Would you approach your application for an early decision differently than the regular application?

    2. Is it any harder or easier to get in to a one-year program? (Like Kellog’s) Would you approach the application for a one-year differently than for a two-year? Do you know if the one-year is not held in as high esteem as the two-year by recruiters and employers?

    Thanks in advance, and thanks for the time you take to answer our questions.

    E.

  • dlarson1234@outlook.com

    Hi Erika, I appreciate you taking the time to do this; I was hoping to get your professional opinion. For the essays, I have already prepared professional examples of leadership, but if I was to use another example from University, which of these would do you think would be most valuable/beneficial for me in the eyes of adcoms:

    1) I have done a ton of travelling (use this as a hobby?)

    2) I was invited to professional soccer tryouts/training camps in Europe and South America where I got to train and play other teams (combine this with point 1?)

    3) Student Council executive at University – sat on 3 executive boards as a student rep for the whole school

    How do B-Schools view these sorts of ECs; athletics vs travelling vs student leader activities, etc. If I were to expand on one of these in an essay, which do you think would be most beneficial for me? (Focus on one or possibly talk about all of them?)

    I appreciate any insights, thank you.

  • Erika Olson

    I am a bit cynical in that I don’t think adcoms are really expecting any applicants to have totally figured out what they want to do in the future — the “why” is more important. And I think the long-term goal is usually more of a focus than the immediate post-MBA goal for many programs. So what would worry me more than your short-term goal is that your long-term goal is totally generic and vague. I’m assuming maybe you just didn’t put all of the details in because this is just a message board question. : ) (Which is fine, by the way… my point is just to BE SURE you don’t have a vague long-term goal like that — you need to expound upon what kind of company you want to start and more importantly — WHY… why you have a passions for or particular connection to whatever it is that company will do.)

    Regarding the advice the other consultant gave you… I mean, I would never want anyone to straight-up like on their application or say something they wouldn’t then feel comfortable talking about in more detail later in an interview. I don’t know enough about the visa/sponsorship situation to be able to answer your second question at all — there are simply no guarantees with that sort of thing.

    Perhaps you could write what your true short-term goal is and, if there’s room in the essay, mentioned what your Plan B would be (going back to your current company). But if there’s not room my gut says that you should just write what you really want to do. The adcom cares more about WHY you have those goals than whether or not some sort of administrative issue about visas/sponsorships MIGHT prevent you from achieving them. I don’t think they’re thinking about it in that way at all. They care about what you bring to the table and how their program specifically will help you meet your goals (and it’s probably your long-term goal they care about more).

    Hope that helps and best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    To be honest, I have never seen this situation and therefore I don’t feel like I should advise you one way or the other. What I will say is that they are going to look at the details of everything, and they’re going to need to make apples-to-apples comparisons between you and other applicants with “normal” 4-year undergraduate degrees and transcripts. So my bet is that you’d want the highest GPA possible for your undergraduate grades as not many people will have graduate degrees for them to compare to. That may or may not be a differentiator (in a good way) for you, depending on what the focus of that graduate program is and how it relates to your future career goals.

    Hope that helps even a little bit!
    – e

  • Carlos

    Hi Erika!

    My profile: spanish, 3 years work experience at Venture Capital firm and business accelerator, 750 GMAT (Q50, V41), top 3% of the class undergrad at a spanish university with very good GPA (8.8/10), very powerful extracurriculars. Short term goal after MBA –> consulting at MBB in the USA (and this is key). Long term goal –> start own company. Planning on applying to: Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Tuck and Kellogg.

    I have two doubts:

    1. Last week I spoke to an admissions consultant and he told me that the story that I had to tell the B-schools was that I wanted to move back to my previous employer (the VC firm) in Spain and become a partner of the firm. This is not what I really want and would be a lie, as there is no clear path for that (eventhough my employer has great opinion of me and I could convice them to help “create” the story). What do you think about this? Would you tell this story or do you think it would be better to tell the truth?

    2. I think that his advice was based on the difficulties that some international students that go to top MBAs unsponsored find in securing a post MBA job in the USA. Do you think, from your perspective, that it is a feasible and realistic goal for me (if I get accepted to a top MBA) to get a job at MBB having done VC in spain as pre-mba work experience?

    Thank you so much in advance for your help an advice!

  • girona

    Hi Erika, hope you are well. I am a student at Australia’s top University and currently facing a choice of graduating with the following two options:

    i. 2 Bachelor Degrees (6 months longer at University)
    ii. 1 Bachelor Degree and 1 Graduate Diploma (6 months less at University)

    I am very interested in going to business school in the future and was therefore wondering if you could help me with the following questions…

    1. General – How is a business school candidate generally evaluated in the case of two bachelor degrees with two GPA’s (are they both considered equally, is the one with the higher GPA considered more, or does it depend on the subject matter of the degrees)? How are advanced degrees such as Diploma’s viewed?

    2. Specific – Would a Bachelors Degree (okay GPA) + a Bachelors Degree (great GPA) be more valuable than a Bachelors Degree (okay GPA) + a Graduate Diploma (great GPA)?

    Thanks in advance, some answers to these questions will be immensely helpful. All the best.

  • Buddy

    Yes, that does help! Thank you very much.

  • Erika Olson

    I mean, assuming you have the time to take it over and don’t care about the money, then no, there’s no downside. But if you’re in an analytical job and have a good GPA from a respected undergrad, then I don’t think a higher score will make a difference. They will already know you can handle their program and will want to move beyond stats.

  • Erika Olson

    No, I don’t think they have time for this, and I also think there are way too many ethical issues with it that they wouldn’t ever take the risk.

    Schools that care about where else you are applying either ask about it right on the app or perhaps in your interview, and usually then it’s still only for marketing/analysis purposes and doesn’t affect ding/accept decisions. They’re wanting to find out who their closest “competitors” are for applicants.

    Hope that helps!
    – e

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Hmm, I’m a little confused by your first question. I mean, you can’t change the past or what your background is, so I really wouldn’t worry about the fact you weren’t in financial consulting. I would focus on what skills, knowledge and expertise you DO have that 1) make you different from all of the other consultants out there and will allow you to bring a unique perspective to the classroom, and 2) will still be relevant to your future goal. I think that should be a pretty easy story to tell, because the overall approach to consulting shouldn’t change a ton between industries — you’ve been trained to solve problems, right? So you can take that skillset and experience and discipline with you but just apply it to a new sector after you’re armed with an MBA. So in short, I wouldn’t worry about what you’re worrying about. ; )

    Legacy stuff depends on the school. Almost all schools ask if you have a close relative who went there, so clearly they want to know this info. However, I have seen way too many applicants bank on their connections at the top schools, only to be stunned when they’re dinged. And I’m talking people whose fathers had names on buildings and were featured in alumni magazines and were major, major donors. There are no guarantees, especially these days (maybe back in the ’80s!). You yourself must still be worthy candidate in the first place. Perhaps if it was a tie between you and someone else, a family legacy could help put you over the edge. But it’s not going to make up for a poor GPA or GMAT or lack of leadership, etc., when you’re talking about the Top 10. Outside of the Top 10 or so I think family legacy carries more weight.

    Hope that helps!
    – e

  • Erika Olson

    Just to be sure we’re on the same page, when you write your career essay it is all about what your (very, VERY specific) short- and long-term goals are. Your goals — which did I mention should be EXTREMELY SPECIFIC? — would clearly mean you’re picking one path or the other, career acceleration or a switch. You don’t have the word count to waste on talking about a few different options, so you’re going to have to pick a clear short- and long-term goal and then build the “Why School X?” argument from there. I think you already know this, but just wanted to make sure.

    I think what you’re asking is whether or not you should pick the goals that are in your same overall trajectory or are in a different field. My best advice would be to be as honest as possible and pick what you would really like to do, because they can smell BS from a mile away. They don’t care as much about WHAT you want to do — they’re more worried about WHY you want to do it and whether or not your goals are actually achievable in the future, given your current track record from undergrad and your career. I’ve had successful clients write about both routes — acceleration and switches, the key is then being able to say 1) what knowledge/skills/experience you already have that is relevant to that goal, and 2) what exactly about Program X (courses, certain prof, trek, conference, etc) is going to help you fill any gaps. If you have absolutely NOTHING in your past relevant to what you want to do in the future, that is going to be a red flag. And if you can’t clearly explain WHY you want to do what you want to do, they won’t believe you really want to do it.

    So I would vote for picking the path that you have the best “why” for, because that passion will come through in your essay and will also make it more memorable. There is nothing wrong with being lucky enough to really love what you are currently doing and still wanting to do it at a higher or more sophisticated level in the future after your degree.

    Hope that helps!
    – e

  • Erika Olson

    I don’t really think they approach the apps that way. I think first and foremost they are going to quickly scan stats, and if it’s clear you can hack the program overall, then it’s on looking for a clear sense of who you are. I’m not saying bad stats can’t be overcome, but it’ll be much harder if you have bad stats and DON’T have something pretty darn special to say for yourself others.

    If you have good stats but they can’t get a sense of your personality from all of your materials (including rec letters), then I think it’s probably going to be a ding, because everyone applying is smart and outgoing, but if you come off as dull or arrogant or just unmemorable you’re not going to be worth a coveted spot. If they get a sense of who you are, then it’s on to understanding what exactly you’re going to bring to the classroom based on your life/career experience. What edge do you have over someone else who may be coming from the same field or general background? What are you communicating that makes them want to meet you in person for an interview?

    So I think once they’ve checked all the boxes for you regarding GPA/GMAT/undergrad transcript, etc., then they’re looking for a very special reason to admit you. Because the vast majority of applicants are going to be cut, so you have to convince them why you deserve a spot.

    Hope that makes sense and helps somewhat!
    – e

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Per your questions:

    1) I think everyone’s situation is different, but I have worked with several clients who do missionary trips like you’ve described and still apply when they’re 27/28, so I think that it’s fine to stick with the original plan you had in your head. They’re looking for leadership and teamwork skills, and you certainly get those (plus most likely a lot of amazing life/travel experience) while on your mission.

    2) I have never had someone use a professor as a reference, if that helps. : ) But seriously, two managers from the same firm is absolutely fine. My advice would be to see if you can guide them to use different examples/stories so as to round out the adcom’s view of you rather than repeat the same stuff, but sometimes that’s not always possible. As long as they are big cheerleaders for you it should be fine!

    Good luck!

  • Mike

    Hi Erika,

    I recently took the GMAT and scored a 740 with Q47 and V45. I scored better on all of my practice tests and feel like if i re-took I could score higher in Quant. I’m interested in H/S/W. Is there a downside to re-taking?

    thanks!

  • Buddy

    Erika,

    Do you know if admission officers from different schools speak with each other about applicants? Do you think an admission officer from one school would ever try and find out what other schools you were applying to in any other way than asking you directly?

    Thanks for your time.

  • ayesha.m.abdullah3@gmail.com

    Hi Erika, I’m glad I found your page here. It has been very helpful.

    I have two particular questions. I was wondering how much having been in the financial consulting matters for top business schools. I have a PhD in Philosophy and have been working for a small higher education consulting firm. I wish to move into the financial sector. While I’ve spent much time in the humanities, I began undergrad, however, as a math and neuroscience major. So, I definitely have the math/quant skills and scored well on the GMAT. Basically, this first question is just, how much of a disadvantage is higher education consulting experience vs financial when getting an MBA in order to move into the corporate finance?

    Also, I was wondering whether family legacy may be weighed in admissions for MBA programs?

    Thanks for your time,
    Ayesha

  • 2017intake

    Hi Erika, I have a question on crafting my story. I mainly look to getting an MBA to accelerate my career, but I’m also open to other adjacent areas. Now, I’d think it’s better to pick a side (either career acceleration or career switch) and elaborate why I need an MBA now to accomplish my stated goal. Partly because I don’t know, and partly because I’m not married to either side, I’m curious to know what adcom “prefers.” If I choose to write about career acceleration, though it aligns well with my past experiences and offers a clearer path to getting a job, I’m worried it might be boring. But if I choose to play the career switcher card, maybe I can provide with more interesting reasons as to why I want to do that, but I’m not sure if adcom would like to have another traditional background (financial services) applicant wanting to go into consulting (plus saying I want to do consulting sounds like I don’t really know what I want to do).

    How I add value to the class (which I’m sure adcom cares about a lot) doesn’t seem to change how I present myself in the essays, so I really think this is a matter of framing… it would be helpful to know what you think on this subject, thanks.

  • Admit or cut

    Hey Erika, so are admissions officials looking for reasons to admit you or reasons to cut you?

  • C0UGAR

    Hi Erika, I had a couple questions (hopefully they aren’t too specific to my situation):

    1. Most of the top programs seem to have an average age of matriculation of 27-28 and average number of years of work experience of 4-5. Because I spent 2 years as a missionary for my church, and spent an extra year in college getting a MAcc in addition to a bachelor’s degree, I find myself being 27 with 2 years of experience. I want to apply to MBA programs so that I will be 28 at matriculation with 3 years of work experience. Do you think it is better to wait until I have 4-5 years of experience (and be 30-31 at matriculation), or apply now with 2 years of experience (and be 28 at matriculation)?

    2. I’m thinking about letters of recommendation. It seems like ideally you would have a current boss and a former boss. I have only been out of school for 2 years, and I have only worked for one company. Is it okay to have recommendations from 2 bosses at the same company? (A Managing Director and a Managing Consultant)? Or do you think I should look to an academic reference? I have 2 or 3 professors in mind I think I could ask. I’m guessing it wouldn’t be a good idea to go back to an on-campus job I held during college that would be about 4 years old at this point, but that would be my last option.

    Thanks in advance, and thanks for all your advice, it is really helpful!

    E.

  • C0UGAR

    Thank you, I appreciate the response and advice 🙂

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    First and foremost, fear not about the lack of extracurriculars. You have a very valid reason for not being involved in much outside of work, and as long as you make it clear that you are married with two young children somewhere in your application, they’re going to understand. I had no extracurriculars and DIDN’T have a family, I just traveled all the time for work. Which LOTS of applicants do (or they just work around the clock). They’ve seen this before and it is not a dealbreaker.

    So if anything you have something very unique to talk about — the fact that you are married and have kids. That is not the typical MBA applicant profile, and so you’re going to bring a different perspective to the classroom, which is a great thing. There is a lot of talk about work/life balances at b-school, and admittedly a lot of it revolves around WOMEN trying to “have it all,” etc. But lately there have been several articles in prominent newspapers about men taking paternity leave and seeking better balance, so it is a “hot topic,” and something that you might be one of the only applicants to be able to talk about from a real-life perspective. I think that’s pretty cool and I don’t think it will go unnoticed.

    So I hope that helps calm your fears. Best of luck! And on a personal note as the mom of a 4-year-old boy and 10-month old girl, I share your philosophy on what is most important in life. : )

    – e

  • C0UGAR

    Hi Erika, thanks for all your time and advice in answering people’s questions. It is very helpful.

    I have (what I hope is) a general question for you. I’m trying to do everything I can to strengthen parts of my application, but one area I am really concerned about is my extracurricular involvement. While in school I did things like helping out with VITA and some tutoring. Since graduation though I haven’t really done a lot of service in a formal setting. (I do things like service through my church – but I’m guessing the admission committees aren’t going to be interested in that.)

    I feel like I’m really busy between work and my family. To the point where I don’t really have a lot of time to devote to some sort of formal service organization. To be honest, the most important thing in my life is my family. I have 2 children both under 2 years old. And they take a lot of my time. My wife is a great mother, but she can’t do everything on her own.

    For me, I’m typically traveling to work, working, and traveling home from around 7 AM to 6:15 PM. When I get home I have dinner with my family and then we have to get the children to bed. By 8 PM or so I’m all done and exhausted and getting for bed myself. The weekends I have free time, but right now my priority is with my family. Raising two kids has been really tough, and I feel like I need to spend as much time as I can helping with the children. So I feel like my extracurricular activity is not going to be very impressive on my application, but I really do feel like I am doing important work with raising my children.

    Do you have any suggestions on how to approach the extracurricular part of the application? Is my volunteering in college (like 3 years ago) too long ago to be relevant for my application? Is my thinking that my family time is so important just off target? Any advice you have would be appreciated. This is the part of the application that I’m struggling with a direction on the most.

    Thanks in advance,

    E.

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    This is indeed a unique situation and I’d be lying if I said I’ve dealt with something exactly like this before. Having said that, I feel like you should certainly still reapply to the same school you got into before or else you will always wonder “what if?” It’s impossible to say if they’d hold a grudge, but, I mean, if you’re applying again then clearly you still want to go there, so I would hope they’d get over it. But I DO think you 100% have to address the situation in the optional essay/additional info space. You explained the professional side of things above but not the personal — I think you’d actually have to put in details for both in order to make the adcom fully understand why you did what you did. This is because there are many many many applicants who are in new jobs but still go back to b-school if they get into a top program, so I feel like there has to be something more than that that you tell them, if that makes sense.

    So in short, I would say you could definitely go for it, but just be prepared to explain your previous decision in both the app and in an interview.

    Hope that helps and best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    I think you would probably have a tough time if you were planning to apply to the top 10-15 schools, because I think it would be hard to communicate why you didn’t apply earlier and why NOW is suddenly the right time after all of the experience you’ve had. Especially since you’re talking about waiting a few MORE years to apply vs. applying this year. While you would certainly have a lot to teach your fellow classmates thanks to your longer-than-average career at matriculation, it may come off as though you just don’t know what else to do and want to take a few years to figure yourself out. They would question why you REALLY need an MBA to do what you want to do in the future and why you’re just thinking of it now.

    So my advice would be to be either open to schools outside of the Top 15 that tend to be more flexible with the ages and backgrounds of people applying, OR consider a part-time/weekend/executive program, because the student profiles are likely to skew older for those for many schools. You may even be able to get into a top program if you went part-time vs. trying to compete with the full-time applicants.

    Hope that helps. In general I would need to know a lot more about your situation and your future career goals to give you a better answer, but I think it is true that most applicants are not over 30 and therefore you would have a tougher time explaining why you’ve waited so long to apply for this degree.

    Best of luck!

  • Jess

    Hi Erika,

    Thanks for your help. I was accepted into a top 15 program this year but due to some personal/professional reasons I am unable to accept my offer to enroll. I started a new job only 6 months ago, am doing very well at work, and want to see a few projects through before leaving for school. I certainly would love to go to the program next year and since I wasn’t granted a deferral, I wanted to know your thoughts around reapplying to a program you were already accepted to. Is this just not really an option since the school will hold a grudge? Or is there a way to still be a strong reapplicant. Thanks!

  • DC_James_DC

    Hi Erika,

    Is there an age range where MBA applicants are not really considered? I am interested in making the transition to business school. I have a Master’s degree in the field of international affairs and 5 years of very diverse experience but I am interesting in an MBA in order to acquire “harder” skills. I am currently 30 and would most likely be interested in entering a full-time program in 2 years. Would love your thoughts on this.

    Thanks!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there – There are several other factors that go into an adcom’s decision, so I can’t really say if your GMAT/CFA will outweigh your low GPA. I do think your GPA will be a big concern and that you are absolutely going to have to address/explain it using the “additional info/optional essay” space (do not talk about it in your MAIN essays, just the extra space allowed). Keep it short and sweet: if there was a reason your grades were low then explain it and then state how your GMAT, CFA designation and analytical career achievements prove that you can handle the curriculum. Hope that helps — good luck!

  • Anel

    Hi Erika

    Please advise: I’m 26, from a well known school with GPA 2.67, GMAT 710 and will go for CFA level 3 this year. Will my GMAT score and CFA designation help with low GPA? I’m also considering to raise my GMAT score to 740+. Thank you.

  • cityjazz

    thank you so much! will update this post once I’m done with the whole process.

  • Erika Olson

    Geez, this is really, REALLY strange. Perhaps they don’t know about the new GMAT option which (I believe) is that you can totally cancel your score AFTER you find out what it is and no school will ever know… so it’s not like you just have ONE shot at retaking it like they make it seem. They’re only going to know if you send a new, higher one to them.

    So honestly that’s really the only option I think you have if you want to go to that program, I would guess. You would certainly show you’re committed! And I think timing-wise it just comes down to when you get a high enough score and if you still want to go in that entrance year. Good luck — please circle back and let us know what happens because this is a crazy situation!

  • cityjazz

    Dear Erika,

    exactly, that’s why I’m confused too. And the following answer was this:

    “When following the advice given in your decision email, we encourage you to try and concentrate on improving your scores, rather than rushing for a particular MBA Class or Round. The Committee is offering you this one chance to take the time you feel is necessary to increase your current scores to a higher level. This, when you re-activate your file, will then give you a better chance of succeeding to the next level of evaluation, which of course is the interview selection. If you rush into re-taking the GMAT at the next available slot, you may be disappointed in the outcome, and the Committee is unlikely to give you another chance.

    That said if you personally feel ready to retake the GMAT and you are confident of sufficiently improving your scores, you are welcome to try your chances at reapplying for Round 3. When you have re-taken this test, and if you are happy with your new scores, you need to scan and e-mail a copy of your “Unofficial GMAT Score Report” that you will be given on the day you re-take the test.”

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there — So… again I’m a little confused. The text you put in makes it very clear to me that you canNOT apply again with an updated score in Round 3 of this application year. It is clear they are closing out your file and that if you applied again it would have to be in the upcoming Round 1 (with due dates usually in the fall of this year). It is not a waiting list.

    But then at the start of your email you said that you COULD still submit your GMAT score THIS application year in Round 3 (what is the deadline?)… is that correct? If so it would really help to have THAT text.

    But in general I’m thinking that it sounds like if you get a higher GMAT score you could keep the rest of your application exactly the same (no matter WHEN you resubmit) and that you would very likely get in. But nothing is EVER guaranteed in this process, so keep that in mind.

    Hope that helps somewhat — this is definitely a unique situation.

  • cityjazz

    Hi, Erica,

    in fact, I was asked to only submit my gmat score and I can still do that by the 3rd round of applications – this was clarified to me later. And the official text goes like this:

    “The Admissions Committee has decided that your current GMAT scores do not correlate well with the overall quality of your application, and we would therefore request that you retake the GMAT test. Although this test is only one of many elements taken into consideration in the selection process, your current quantitative results indicate that you might have difficulty following the Programme.

    We are therefore not in a position to offer you a place on the MBA programme based on your current application. However, we strongly encourage you to reapply as and when you have a higher GMAT score. We will keep your application on record and request that you contact the MBA Admissions Office via e-mail when you have retaken the GMAT. Although this is a final decision on your current application, it is above all a letter of encouragement and should not be seen as a rejection.”

    It’s a big encouragement, I know, but still the writing is very unclear to me. I understood that I would not need to reapply from zero. Is this a sort of a waiting list? Of course, the motivation for gmat is now 200% so I’m pretty sure I’ll get the required score, but what I don’t get is whether this is more like something they just want to be done with and then have a reason to offer me a place or some sort of insurance answer where I don’t really have better chances than any other applicant.

    thanks so much!

  • Erika Olson

    Hey there –

    Well, I have to admit that I have not come across this scenario before, but it sounds like a rare one indeed. Before I say anything else, can you please clarify one thing I’m confused about? You’re saying they “basically told you to retake the GMAT to reach 70-75% in quant.” I’m confused as to HOW they told you this? And then what (if anything) they said would happen if you were able to do that? I mean, are they talking about reapplying next year with an improved score, or did they say that if you simply got a better score you would ONLY have to submit that new score and then they would admit you? It doesn’t sound like the latter or else you probably wouldn’t be writing me… but I think I need more info (or maybe the text of what they sent you?) to be able to really help….

  • cityjazz

    Dear Erika,
    thanks so much for all your help – I’ve been reading this page for ages and got one burning question myself now.

    I’ve applied into one of the top 3 European schools for the 1st round and received a response that I cannot quite crack myself. I have a 660 GMAT (43Q38V) and the adcom’s decision was neither in nor ding – they basically told me to retake the gmat to reach 70-75% in quant. I am under the impression that this is not a very common answer at all and they emphasised the fact that the quant score does not correlate with the overall strength of my application.

    I understood that this was the only condition keeping me from going further into the admission process (i wasn’t invited to the interviews because of gmat), but how certain can I be that this gmat improvement is enough? Do you have any experience with such B-school responses?

    thank you so much!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Well, I mean, the whole concept of ED applications revolves around the fact that you’re really not supposed to apply ED unless the school is truly your #1 choice. Then if you’re accepted, there would’ve been no risk in applying early because you would’ve gone to that school if you got in no matter what, and you just found out a lot earlier that you would’ve in a normal round.

    But the reality is that some people do still want to see what happens with their other applications. In such a case there’s not really anything legally stopping you from backing out of your ED commitment, but you will definitely be financially penalized. If you are accepted into an ED program you usually have to pay a nonrefundable deposit within a few weeks–and this is almost always before you’ll know your fate at other programs. So if you decide to go to another school later, you could be out $7k or $8k–don’t quote me on the exact amounts, but they make it significant because clearly you have already communicated to them that you want to go there no matter what and THEY are taking a risk in believing you and giving you a spot in their class.

    And then of course there some pretty icky moral/ethical implications associated with going back on your word.

    Hope that helps!

  • rubab.singh@gmail.com

    Hi Erika,

    Had a question about ED admissions (e.g., Columbia, Fuqua). How binding are they? Suppose you get admitted into one program ED, and then in a later round you get admitted into another program that you like more, can you choose to go to the latter program? What are the repercussions?

  • Poeant

    Thanks for the insightful advice… thanks a ton!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    I do agree with you that in this context (the fact that there’s not a ton you can change between now and when apps are due… I definitely agree new volunteer work would be viewed cynically, but you probably could take additional initiative in some way at work in the next few months) that there’s no downside to trying for an even higher score.

    I sometimes feel that GMAT scores are more important for people who are NOT in numbers-based roles/careers because it shows they can still handle an MBA curriculum and are analytical. But in your case an even higher score could also the the thing that gives you an edge over another similar candidate (because you’re coming from an overrepresented bucket).

    I would also say that picking the right recommenders is going to be key and is something you have control of, so think carefully about who you choose and what stories you encourage them to share so that the adcom gets a full picture of not only your skills and strengths but also your personality in general.

    Hope that helps — best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Best of luck!

  • Poeant

    Hi Erika,

    I’m a “traditional” candidate coming from investment research, and I want a MBA degree to accelerate my career in investment management and potentially move to China/Hong Kong in the long-term to pursue opportunities there. I can make it sound more interesting, but in a nutshell that’s why I want to pursue an MBA.

    My question is, I have a balanced 720 GMAT, and I’m not sure if I should retake it.

    Given about 5 months of time between now and the R1 deadline, I don’t think it’s meaningful to start a new volunteer activity (have been involved with two activities in the past 2 years) or really any other activity.

    I will have the CFA designation with 4 years of work experience by matriculation (2017 intake), so other than crafting a solid story, I really can’t think of other things to do to make my application more competitive.

    You have mentioned GMAT alone can’t get me anywhere, but given my circumstances, would you say trying to get a 760 GMAT (vs. my current 720) would be a worthwhile investment at this point? It seems to me 740 isn’t a big improvement, but I think 760 can potentially give me an edge… any thoughts or feedback would be greatly appreciated, thank you.

  • Dan

    Thanks Erika! Your response is greatly appreciated. I just needed to know that there was still a chance. I will carry on with my studying.

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    What you were told is correct: work experience is very, very important to your candidacy, as almost all MBA programs rely on students learning from each other’s career experience (versus just being taught by professors). You have to prove that you’ve done and learned something in your career that will be of interest and of help to others when you share it in class. You’re going to have to give the adcom a hint of what you’ll be able to talk about in case discussions and what point of view you’ll be coming from. You’re going to have to be able to show career progression, initiative and leadership at work, as well as strong teamwork skills… in addition to having a high GMAT and GPA, strong rec letters, etc.

    While I do think that your basketball experience is interesting, it happened quite a while ago and there are many, MANY people that write about sports experiences, so I’m not sure it will make you stand out enough to overcome any weaknesses in your materials.

    As mentioned at the bottom of my profile, I never tell people their odds/chances because that’s pretty impossible for me to do without getting to know you one-on-one for several months (or knowing exactly who you’re up against in the application pool). But from what you’ve told me I would think that the lower end of the top 20 list may be possible if you spend a significant amount of time thinking about how to position yourself. The lack of career progression is going to be tough to overcome, so you need to think about how to spin the fact that you don’t have any promotions by still showing SOME sort of other progression on your resume and from your recommenders — be it in new skills you’ve learned over the years, additional responsibilities you’ve been given or ways you’ve gone above and beyond in your role.

    The GMAT is just one piece of the puzzle and a high GMAT score alone will not overcome a lower GPA from a non-feeder school combined with no career progression. So my advice would be — aside from doing well on the GMAT — to focus on communicating to the adcom what you have to bring to the classroom. What will your classmates be able to learn from you? What makes you unique, what makes you tick? What do you want to do in the future and — way more importantly — why?

    Hope that helps and best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    I’m not totally sure I understand your question. I think you may be asking if the adcom will wonder why you didn’t switch to consulting yet since that was your short-term goal in your previous app?

    If that’s what you’re asking, I don’t think they would question this. First off, most schools usually don’t re-read previous year’s applications unless they explicitly state that they do. Secondly, you should’ve positioned your short-term goal as something you wanted to do AFTER you got your MBA… something that you would’ve been able to do because of your previous career experience, your current skill set AND what you’ll have learned at b-school (combined with a summer internship). So it’s not like they’re expecting you to really start on those goals if it’s a switch than an MBA program is going to help you make in the first place.

    OR maybe you’re asking if it’s OK to switch your short-term goals in the new app? I would think that would be fine as well — there are many paths to get to the same ultimate career goal, so the chance should not really be viewed as “inconsistent.”

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    I don’t really have much of a strict definition of a feeder school beyond the Ivys except for “a school I’ve heard of that generally has a good reputation.” For example, I went to the University of Michigan b-school for undergrad. Out of a class of 900 at HBS there were just 2 of us (including me) from (what was at that time) the #1 undergrad b-school in the country, and I think something like 3 more people from U of M’s liberal arts college. There will be representation from other Big 10 schools, schools like Duke, Stanford, UVa, etc., and certainly from many other schools all around the country and the world, but probably only a few people from each at the most. From my observation the class what heavily weighted from the Ivys.

    A high GPA will definitely help overcome what may be a lower-tier ranking of undergrad school. A high GMAT will help even more (or may even be crucial to getting the adcom to pay attention). Beyond that it’s all of the usual stuff: career progression and initiative, something you’ve done that makes you stand out, your rec letters, etc. They’re trying to put together a diverse class… and diversity comes in MANY forms — from undergrad institution to ethnicity to personality and beyond — so definitely don’t be discouraged. Just know that you’ll probably have to work ever harder to stand out.

    Hope that helps and best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Most people apply around your age/point in your career, so when you say “at this point” that’s a little confusing to me. I *think* what you’re saying is that you’re generally happy with your career and that you intend to stay in finance so you’re wondering if it even makes sense or would help anything if you stepped away from a few years to get an MBA.

    Assuming that’s what you’re asking, I would say that I think people can be successful without MBAs — absolutely. But I think you need to look out ten or twenty years. Getting an MBA now is more about the connections and being able to fall back on that degree (and use those connections) in the future. It is very, very hard to predict what will happen with your current company, the financial services industry, or even the world in general in the future, and I’m a strong believer that education is never a bad thing. Ten years from now if you are up for a position or a promotion against someone else that has an MBA, that person may have the edge simply because of the degree (whether that’s fair or not is another matter, I’m just saying what I think is realistic).

    Another thing to think about is that your goals may chance or something unforeseen might happen. I know someone who got an MBA and was perfectly fine working for a large financial institution for the past 12 years… until he suddenly was laid off unexpectedly. Now he’s using his MBA connections to start his own PE firm.

    So again, I think it’s a very personal decision and one that obviously involves some risk. I personally still have $50k of undergrad and b-school debt (I went to b-school for undergrad as well), and that’s no small burden, so I definitely understand your concern. But I would do it all over again because my degree has always set me apart and has allowed me to take risks I wouldn’t have taken otherwise (like starting a freelancing career… knowing that if I failed my MBA would help me find another job).

    Listen to your gut and the voice in the back of your head — usually they are right in knowing what would be best for you! I hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    I definitely don’t think you need to do anything in your application to prove that you have a business background — they’ll see it on your resume and any space you have in your essays would be better used to explain WHY you made the career-path switch and/or tell them something else more personal about yourself that isn’t anywhere else.

    So per your last sentence, definitely don’t leave the adcom hanging about why you went from investing to development — tell them! The adcom almost always cares more about the ‘whys’ than the ‘whats,’ if that helps. They want to see what drives you, how you think, and why you’ve made the decisions that you did. From the info you’ve provided I think your move probably helped to set you apart from the big bucket of finance applicants, and that’s a good thing.

    Hope that helps and good luck!

  • Dan

    Erika,

    How important is work experience to MBA admission councelors?

    I have been studying vigorously for the GMAT’s while putting in many hours per day. My ambitions are to go into a finance or economics field and use an MBA from a top 20 school as a building block to break into those fields. Originally, i thought that having any kind of work experience was a plus, and that it didn’t matter much whether you worked for a prestigious company or a small firm. On the contrary, i was recently told that previous work experience has a large bearing on mba admissions. Im 28 with a bachelors in business Management from a middle of the pack university (3.3 gpa) and my current work experience is not stellar. I’ve been working in a data analyst role for a healthcare company during the past 4 years and have made no career progression. The one trait i do possess that helps me stand out (not sure if relevant to an mba app) is that i’ve played professional basketball overseas in Europe for 2 years (when i was 18-20). Assuming that i do well on the GMAT, are my dreams of getting into a top 20 school unrealistic and far fetched? I really hope i’m not putting in all this effort, and sacrificing so much for no reason.

  • Tim

    Erika,

    Here’s Tim again. So this year I applied to couple of M7 schools with a pretty bold long-term goal and a fairly straight forward short-term goal of doing consulting. I got one interview, but was dinged after.
    I’m currently in investment management, and I actually decided to stay in the investment management but still want to do MBA for several reasons.

    My question is, how is changing the story viewed by the adcom? Do they not like the inconsistency given I applied in R2 early this year and will be reapplying in R1 later this year? Or do they just shrug it off and take the new story seriously? Curious to know your thoughts on the subject, thank you.

    Tim

  • LMS

    Hi Erika,

    In many of your responses, you emphasize the importance of attending a prestigious or feeder school in your likelihood of being viewed favorably by adcoms. How do you define this (outside of Ivy League Schools)? How are high GPAs (mine is a 3.9) at schools ranked in the 60-80 range on the US News ranking perceived?

  • Seth

    Erika,

    Ive been considering whether an MBA at a tier 1 school in the US would be a good investment of time and money (assuming able to score high enough on GMAT to apply – my GPA is fine), or whether the opportunity cost is too high at this point. I’m 25 years old with four years of professional experience, designated CPA and hopefully will also have the CFA charter by end of year, so my career trajectory in the Finance industry looks okay right now. How do you evaluate MBA experience versus taking a leave from your career for a couple of years?

  • rita

    Hi Erika,

    Appreciate this post. I am planning on applying R1 this year and was a bit concerned about how to position my previous career path. I spent my first 3 years out of school at a major conglomerate in finance and recently (after an organizational restructure) transitioned to a well-known think tank in a corporate relations role. I feel like I basically went from a very straightforward candidate to a more non-traditional one, although I have 3 years in finance still. Do you think in my application I need to justify that I do have a business background or my first role will speak for itself? My concern is that I will come off too public policy oriented or the adcom will be curious why I went from investing to development and therefore discredit me.

  • Dan

    Thank you very much! A counter-question – IYO, would CFA designation compensate for low GPA? (or ACCA, although the pass score is 50%, whereas for CFA papers it is 70%).

  • almen

    Hi Erika.

    I wanted to share final results. I was rejected without interview by Harvard, Stanford, and Berkeley and after-interview by Dartmouth. I was waitlisted by Duke and Michigan. Happily, I was admitted to Yale and Wharton!

    I have no idea what worked for these programs and what did not work for the others. The whole process seems so irrational. Anyways, I also applied and got accepted to a Master in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and a Master in Public Affairs at Princeton. (I was not sure MBAs would work out, so I thought policy was more of a natural fit given my goals and background.) I am considering doing policy or MBA or both degrees jointly at Wharton and HKS. It’s hard to pick now!

    Even through a couple of posts on this platform, I appreciate your words of encouragement. They definitely put things in perspective for me.

    Sincerely.

    Al

  • ackerknechtl@gmail.com

    Thanks for the feedback! I really appreciate it.

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    As explained at the end of my profile, I cannot give profile-specific guidance, nor is this really the place for me to comment on specific ideas for your responses to certain essay questions. But here are a few general comments I can make:

    1) On your resume you should absolutely quantify results you’ve achieved with your family business.

    2) It’s really hard for me to advise you on recommenders — that’s something I spend A LOT of time talking about with clients. It’s really about getting the absolute best people for the job… those who have the most stories to share about you and who are going to go above and beyond to provide details in their letters. If you have someone like that who was a manager at Deloitte I would say that it would probably make sense to have some representation from that time in your career.

    3) It’s OK to mention names of alumni/students in your essay, but I wouldn’t go overboard. The point should be more something you’ve learned from them about the school than about them “helping” you in some way.

    4) I can’t advise you on how many schools to apply to — that’s another thing I would need to ask A LOT more questions about. But it usually comes down to whether it’s more important for you to get an MBA *or* whether you care more about only getting an MBA from certain programs. If you want an MBA overall, you’ll need to apply to more schools to increase your odds.

    5) For the CBS essay question you mentioned, just keep in mind that it needs to circle back to answering what they’re asking. Why would your Clustermates care about the thing you’re sharing? What’s “in it for them,” so to speak? That’s always how I’ve interpreted the “pleasantly surprised” part of that question. So if, for example, you really love to cool… why would they care? Well perhaps you plan to host dinners during exam weeks or will be bringing snacks to class, etc. It doesn’t have to be anything really deep, but it should still tie back to your Clustermates in some way in just a sentence or two.

    6) For the GSB What Matters Most question, it’s most important to answer it honestly and then provide 3 or so examples that prove why the thing you mentioned truly matters most. Tying it back to something you intend to do at school or in the future is great if it works.

    Hope that helps — good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    I can’t really comment on individual profiles because I need sooooooooo much more information than anyone could ever give me online. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this column, I have my clients spend 2 weeks to over a month on a background document so I learn everything possible about them. That document is usually at least 12 pages when it’s done, so a few paragraphs just isn’t enough for me to be able to comment on if your story is compelling (because I would likely be MORE interested in other aspects of it you’d never think to tell me!).

    What I can say is that what matters most to the adcom is WHY you made the moves you did (and you’d need more of a reason/explanation that what you provided above) — they really want to understand what makes you tick. You’ve made some drastic jumps and they are going to want a clear story that explains your decision-making process for each move. Same with your future career goals — they need a deep understanding of the “why” you want to do what you want to do.

    However, if your main goal is to gain deeper tech skills, I couldn’t in good faith say an MBA would be the right path for you — even some place like MIT. That’s just simply not what the focus is for these programs. They’re more about leadership, decision-making skills, ethics, and general business issues.

    Hope this helps and best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    As mentioned at the end of my profile above, I do not ever tell anyone their chances (I just don’t believe that’s possible to do–ever) and this column isn’t mention to answer give specific profile reviews.

    But I can address a few general things you’ve brought up:

    1) Although your GPA is high, you are not coming from a well-known “feeder school,” so that will work against you a bit.
    2) Your GMAT is definitely a problem. I would say you’d have to get in the 700s with a high quant score in order to allay the adcom’s fears that you would not be able to handle their program. If you had low grades in quant/analytical classes (despite your overall high GPA) that would be another concern and a reason why you’d really have to ace the GMAT.
    3) I think if you are planning to apply this year, the adcom would totally see through any attempt to start volunteering at this point, so honestly I don’t think that would help you. Outside-of-work activities are only impressive if a) you have a strong “why” for why you’re involved, and b) you’ve been involved for quite a while BEFORE the application year and have demonstrated leadership.
    4) If you decide to hold off for another year then I would focus on taking on leadership roles at work — going above and beyond the expectations of your role, taking initiative, etc. Also ensure you pick the right recommenders — people who will really, REALLY sing your praises and be able to give several examples as “proof” of what a leader you are and how much potential you have.

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    As explained at the end of my profile above, I can’t really answer specific profile questions like yours — this space is meant for more general questions that would apply to many applicants. I have about 20 questions I would have to ask you to even get close to being able to guide you in the right direction.

    In general, however, I would say that you are right to be concerned about your low GPA. The fact that you went to a top UK school will help somewhat, but you will definitely have to get a stellar score on the GMAT or GRE to convince the adcom that you will be able to handle their program. You should also explain your poor grades in the Additional Info/Optional Essay space as well. To be honest, I just can’t answer your question about getting a Master’s… like I said, I have several other questions I would need answered before I felt comfortable answering that, and that’s not what this column is meant for.

    I’m not really sure what you’re asking about “Big 4 advisory experience”… not sure what that means. In general, it’s less about where you work/ed and more about WHY you are in that line of work and what you’ve done there and how you’ve differentiated yourself from others in your same role. How you’ve gone above and beyond.

    Hope that helps and best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Not knowing many details about your exact situation, I would say that it would be pretty hard for me to think of a circumstance where I would say it was OK for you to get a rec letter from your mom, which I think you also realize. Getting at least one letter from someone who used to be your manager at Deloitte is a no-brainer. As for the second letter… I’d say it MIGHT be OK to get it from a different past manager at Deloitte… but first I would ask if you have any client that you work closely with at your current job that could perhaps write it. They’d need to be able to answer both questions (comparing you to others in a similar role // explaining a time they gave you constructive feedback), and sometimes the second one about constructive feedback can be a little tricky when it’s coming from a client. BUT I have seen it done successfully.

    If you end up using 2 people from Deloitte, I would recommend addressing WHY you did this in the Additional Info/Optional Essay space. Just keep it short and sweet and direct — that you have two recommendation letters from your time at Deloitte because you have worked directly for your mother for the past few years.

    Good luck!

  • J

    Hi Erika – Thanks for doing this. I have a very specific question about recommendations. I have worked directly for my mother for the past few years. We work on a small team, and there is no other person other than my mother above me in the hierarchy who could write a recommendation. Prior to this job, I had a more traditional role at a fortune 100 company where my managers all had MBAs, and I could get a good recommendation from them. However, that role way 3 years ago. I am wondering how to best approach recommendations given my situation.
    Thanks

  • Dan

    Hello Erika, first of all – thank you loads for your help here.

    Main concern: low GPA, Lower Second Class (2.2) by British system, mine will be closer to 3.0 (according to conversion table on Fulbright Commission website). Planning to go for MBA in 2018/2019.

    Brief profile:
    Education: BSc in Computing with minor in Management from a top UK school, constantly ranking in world’s top 30-70 by various rankings, studied via Governmental scholarship. Graduated in 2012.
    Experience: From 2014 – Due diligence practice at a big4 firm in Kazakhstan, one of the best due diligence teams in Central Asia (overall around 50 people in all big4 for the whole CA and Caucasus, small market size). Before that 1 year in audit in KZ at a top10 global accounting firm.

    I went straight to 1st year with no language practice, ruined it, improved 2nd year, but ruined 3rd again due to lack of interest in the subject. I realised that Computer Science was not my thing so eventually never considered it for a career path after graduation.

    There is a grad program at a new (but very strong positioned) university – MA in Economics, 2 year program running for the second year of admission (I think may be considered as the best program in CA). I was considering going for this program to improve my GPA.

    1. Should I go for the master’s program and try to improve my academic credentials or concentration on GMAT (with eventual high score) will suffice? I’ve always been good with Maths and Physics at school (didn’t have these at uni though) and scored high in GSCEs, so GMAT should not be much of a problem.
    2. How generally a big4 advisory experience is considered?

    Thanks.

  • Tim

    Thank you for your insightful comment! That’s very helpful, thank you.

  • MIA CPA

    Hi Erika,

    Here’s my profile. I would like to apply this year, but maybe I was thinking I should wait it out one more year to really nail everything. I guess I would just like to know what your initial reaction is to my ability of landing a spot at a top three MBA program and what I should be doing to help my chances.

    28 year-old Hispanic, first-generation college student from Miami
    Bachelor degrees in accounting and finance from Florida International University with 3.88 GPA
    GMAT: 570 (didn’t study for math part so bombed it, but got me to Texas. I will retake for MBA)
    Masters in accounting from the University of Texas at Austin (#1 accounting school) with 3.78 GPA. Study abroad in Hong Kong
    Worked as auditor for Deloitte for two years and got my CPA license
    Left Deloitte to work in M&A/corporate development at a publicly-traded healthcare company. Been there four months so far. (So this means almost 2.5 years of work experience)
    No current community service/volunteer activities currently, but I volunteered with IRS when I was in undergrad.

    I’d like to go for an MBA to transition to IB at a bulge bracket or to do consulting at MBB. I know I need to raise my GMAT (to what score?) and volunteer (what activites would be good?). Do you think my chances of getting into a top three program are realistic? What other things should I be doing to improve my chances?

  • ackerknechtl@gmail.com

    Hi Erika,

    Thanks for the taking the time to answer our questions.

    How should applicants with unusual backgrounds pitch themselves to MBA admission committees? What kind of stories do MBA admission committees really love?

    I’d say my one-liner is “data-driven do-gooder strategist”, and my goal is to use data-driven analysis to improve products or design business strategies that have some kind of social impact. I don’t know many people who can bridge government, consulting, and tech. I want to be the guy who can lead a team to hack together a data product that solves some resource or abuse problem (fraud, law enforcement, clean water, smart grid etc).

    My story: I graduated from Cornell with a bachelors in environmental economics (honors) and a master’s in public administration (focused on finance and economics). After interning at many environmental non-profits/EPA, I decided a traditional career in environmental law wasn’t for me. I took a few coding classes in graduate school and fell in love with technology as a tool to solve big problems (late start). I worked at Accenture as a business analyst for a year doing F150 energy trading technology strategy before joining Google as an ad fraud strategist where I’m somewhere between a data analyst and data scientist finding bad actors with big data abusing Google’s products.

    I love Google but eventually want to move into a managerial role with deeper technical skills, either back at Google or at another tech company (probably in the government/abuse space like Palantir, Climate Corporation, or at a startup). I’m considering an MBA and/or a MS in applied statistics/computational engineering after a couple years working at Google (matriculation age 28 or 29). MIT would let me access business school & computer science resources, Yale has a strong social impact bent and aligns with my environmental background, and Harvard/Stanford are, well, Harvard/Stanford. I’ll probably do a part-time online grad certificate in data science at Harvard or Stanford in the meantime.

    Is this an interesting story? Is a MBA necessary, seeing as my main goal is to gain deeper technical skills, although I would love to take a year’s worth of technology strategy classes at b-school.

    Thanks!

  • raghav19agarwal@yahoo.co.in

    Erika,

    Its really nice of you to have taken out time to help us with our questions. A brief outline : Graduated from University of Delhi with a Bachelor of commerce Honours from a top 5 college. (The courses are typically 3 year long). I then worked for an year and a half at Deloitte as an audit assistant in US India offices. Later I joined my family business of manufacturing handicrafts for clients like Walmart. I started my export business within my fam business wherein I led teams to put up int. fairs and am now supplying to customers across Europe and Africa. I intend to start my own brand around the products I manufacture and would therefore need the mkt. skills. I had some questions around that :

    1. I have expanded my family business by launching an export division. The venture uses the manufacturing facility of my family business. How can I show growth in this capacity ( change in title ; ex. Founder to manager or is it ok if use numbers like increase in turnover and number of clients ? ) ?

    2. I worked for 18 months at Deloitte and 18 months at own business ( 30 at the time of joining ). Should I get a recommendation from Deloitte or get both of the recommendations from buyers in my business ? Should I downplay my work ex at Deloitte ?

    3. `Is it ok to quote names of alumni and current students who have helped you out in the essays ? How many schools should 1 ideally apply to ?

    Also, I am unsure of how to answer the following questions. Please give me an example :

    Q. CBS Matters, a key element of the School’s culture, allows the people in your Cluster to learn more about you on a personal level. What will your Clustermates be pleasantly surprised to learn about you?

    A : I had something like I am really passionate about squash. (Im not a national level player or alike though). Playing every day at 7 am and always wanted to make it big in squash. Is that ok or something else ?

    Q. What matter to you most and why ?
    A : I had something like ambition or waking up to a sense of purpose. Is that too generic ?

    Thank you so much for taking out time to help me out !

  • Erika Olson

    So as you will see at the end of my bio above, I don’t address individual’s profiles or EVER give “odds/chances” for anyone, ever. I don’t even do that for my clients because it’s impossible to know who’s up against any given candidate in any given round.

    But I will say that my knee-jerk reaction to your profile is that you probably need to learn a little more about the MBA application process before you think of applying, and I don’t think this year would make sense for you from what you’ve shared. I’ve had countless people say that they expect they’ll do well on the GMAT/GRE… but then they don’t, and they still don’t after three tries. I’m not trying to be discouraging but just rather realistic. Until you actually take the test, it’s kind of pointless to be thinking about what programs you’d want to apply to, because you really will have to get in the 700s in order to overcome your low GPA from a non-feeder school. I do not expect that a Columbia or Booth would give your application serious consideration if you can’t prove through your test score that you are strong analytically and can handle the intensive quantitative nature of an MBA program. The low GPA is a major hurdle you will have to overcome.

    Beyond that, you need to have more work experience. What you have going for you is a very unique job right now… but yet you’re talking about leaving it to join the masses in finance. That would make it even tougher for you to compete, in my opinion. Now, I would never ever tell anyone to make career decisions based on what they think would help their MBA applications, but at the same time, this is where it comes back to you needing to learn more about what you’ll be up against if you want to apply to top MBA programs. The competition is absolutely fierce, with thousands of Type A overachievers from Ivy Leagues with good GPAs and test scores getting denied. You’re going to have to figure out what makes your candidacy so compelling that the adcoms would want to give you a spot over anyone else, especially in light of your low GPA from a non-feeder school.

    So the two things I would focus on in the near term are: 1) studying for and acing the GMAT or GRE, and 2) really thinking about your career moves and what story you’re going to be able to tell in your application about what you’ll bring to the table in the MBA classroom.

    No matter what I would think you should wait probably two more years to build up solid career experience. I would say that for evening and part-time programs, too, though ultimately those are usually easier to get into and could be a Plan B for you if the full-time programs don’t work out. All MBA programs are about the students learning from each other, and it’s tough to have any lessons to bring to the discussion if you haven’t been working for that long.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    I think there are many, many things that could worry an admissions officer, beyond the obvious of people misrepresenting themselves in their materials or having something in their past that is very troublesome.

    I think the biggest goal they have is to put together a diverse class of people who will not only learn from each other, but also like each other. So they’re of course worried about accidentally picking someone for a precious spot who doesn’t fulfill both of those objectives. It could be the person doesn’t like to/is afraid to speak up in class (and therefore no one can really learn from them and they don’t contribute anything) or they’re kind of an a-hole. That’s a HUGE reason why almost all schools interview everyone who ends up being accepted (it didn’t use to be that way — many people were accepted without being interviewed).

    I think they’re also worried about people possibly either having to drop out or being asked to leave because they just can’t handle the program. That’s where GPAs, GMAT/GRE scores and specific undergrad grades — on top of what you’ve done analytically during your career — comes into play. So they are going to MAKE SURE anyone they pick can handle the tougher quant classes. Someone dropping our or being asked to leave not only is a wasted spot for two years, but it’s a lost alumni financial donation stream for decades (let’s be real — they care about that!).

    I think most people OVERestimate how much the adcom is looking for someone who’s going to “change the world.” That perception really intimidates applicants and I think unfortunately it even dissuades great people from applying because they think they haven’t found the cure for cancer or saved orphans or whatever so they aren’t special enough. But I see totally “normal/ordinary” people get into the top programs every year. The key is that those people have always been overachievers who really go after what they want — they go above and beyond in their roles, take leadership positions at school/work/outside-of-work, and just come across as people who are leaders and who others want to be around. Most haven’t done anything totally noteworthy or spectacular, but they’re great communicators and they are especially good and conveying their personality through written materials.

    I think it would also worry the adcom if someone’s recommender was less than enthusiastic. It’s key to pick the right people for your letters.

    I’m not sure how much the yield thing really comes into play — perhaps for waitlisted candidates (it might give someone an edge if the adcom was convinced they would attend if selected) or a very small percentage of people who the Harvards and Stanfords of the world wanted to fight over. But for the most part I think if they are interested in someone in the first place, that person has ALREADY done a good job of showing their commitment to the program, you know?

    Hope that helps!

  • Raul

    Erika,

    Here is my situation: I graduated from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities with a degree in Aerospace Engineering & Mechanics. However, my GPA 2.63. This is my biggest concern. I haven’t taken the GRE/GMAT yet but with adequate preparation, I expect to do well and get a really high score. Other than this, I have also interned for a year with United Technologies Corporation (Aerospace Systems) and I graduated in December 2014.

    I currently work with the Boeing Company and NASA on the International Space Station. Its a dream job and it certainly validated my education. I’ve been here for about 10 months now.

    However, I have learnt that I would like to move into business/finance world as quickly as possible. I previously thought I would work for about 4 years in engineering, gain solid experience with Boeing and then apply to business school. However, doing this job for 10 months, I just can’t see the value in doing it any longer than I have to.

    my goal is a top ten school in a major city, such as Columbia in NYC or UChicago in Chicago.

    My biggest concern is of course my GPA and lack of work experience but having applied to business/finance positions, I’ve been told the only way to make a transition and enter reputable firms is through an MBA.

    What would you assess my chances of getting into top ten program if I were to apply this year? I’m open to applying to the evening programs as well versus full time.

    My long terms goals involve being in investment banking/consulting.

  • Tim

    Erika,

    Thank you for doing this for us! I have a high-level question that I believe it’s not brought up here yet, so I’ll give it a go.

    What worries an admissions officer? I know you have not been one, but I’m sure you have some insights into what they think and how they operate. I understand what they’re looking for from a candidate, but from their personal stand point, what are some of the situations that they don’t want to find themselves in? Would it be admitting students who don’t perform well in the classroom or can’t find jobs? Admitting students who would choose other schools (thereby decreasing yield)? Or not admitting students who turn out be rock stars? Any thoughts would be helpful, thank you!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    I’ll have to start with a disclaimer that I really can’t say WHAT the school would do because I’m sure each program handles things differently and I haven’t directly worked with a situation like this. However, I have had clients get laid off in the time between when they were accepted and when they started the program. In those cases they didn’t report this to the school because it just doesn’t matter — as you brought up yourself, everything in your application was truthful, and the situation changed long after you were admitted. They were judging you on a certain point in time and range of years in your career, and that range ended on the due date for the round you submitted in.

    Where it becomes trickier is with the company sponsorship. I’ll start by saying that I don’t think the school would take back your offer of admission AT ALL. That’s because they really can’t hold ANYONE to that whole “financial” section of the app. That’s all just a guess by anyone, and at that point you DID think your company was paying for it. So the biggest issue will be if your company takes back its sponsorship, YOU have to find a way to pay for it yourself. As long as you can do that, the school shouldn’t care because they’re still getting their money.

    So I would say if you simply get laid off, you don’t need to tell them. If you get laid off and/or your company takes back their sponsorship, you SHOULD tell them because 1) they’re not going to take back their admission offer, and 2) they could be able to help you apply for other grants/scholarships that could ease your personal student loan debt burden.

    Hope that helps! And I hope it all works out for the best and this doesn’t even become an issue!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Booth is consistently ranked in the Top 10 — usually in the Top 5, and has often been ranked the #1 program. And it has always been tough to get into, so I’m not sure why you have the impression it wasn’t in the past. But in general my answer to your question is no, I personally don’t think the rankings matter than much for many reasons. There’s a joke that the rankings change every few years just so companies can sell more magazines. But seriously, it’s something really only applicants pay attention to/care about (again, in my opinion), as the reputations of these schools and the reputations of their alumni take decades to build. Plus, most people have many other considerations when they apply somewhere besides the ranking: cost, location, where they want to live after school, special aspects of the program, etc.

    So I would say if you want to apply to Booth, apply to Booth, and don’t worry about the ranking or if it will be harder/easier to get in — and I would give that same advice for ANY school. What matters most is putting together the best set of materials that you can in order to differentiate yourself from the competition, will be tough at any of the top programs.

    Hope this helps!

  • Jus

    Hi Erika,

    Thanks for all of your help on here! I’m fortunate to have recently been offered admission to a great school and have paid a deposit to start in the fall. In the last few months, my company has undertaken major layoffs, and I’m getting a bit concerned. This is totally preemptive (and hopefully unfounded!) but if I got laid off in the next few months or if my company decided to take back their offer to sponsor the MBA, would I need to let the school know / could this affect my admission? Even though my application was fully truthful, if I were no longer being sponsored I suppose this would change the information that was in my application. I’m mainly concerned because the way our performance review system works, I could technically start in the fall and find out early winter that I’m no longer being sponsored. Could this essentially lead to me being “kicked out”? Thanks in advance for you insight!

  • Sarah K.

    Interesting, I had the same thought…what does everyone else think?

  • NULL NULL

    Erika,

    As expected, it was a ding from Booth – although Im not surprised, still disappointed.

    Still trying to decide whether to reapply next year and hope for the best or enroll in Ross.

    In your experience, whats your take on reapplying? If I apply again in december, I would have another promotion in my belt, which will be an advantage. What else do you think is typically required to strengthen the profile, for better chances of admit? In addition, Booth has jumped up in the ranks – this will potentially make them more selective next year, since there could be even more applications.
    Would appreciate your insights on the above, as i try to make a decision!

    Thanks so much in advance!

  • Patrick

    I really want to go to Booth.. but I just saw the US rankings today, and see it is now ranked number 2. Does that mean its going to be really difficult to get into now?

  • Johnny Appleseed

    Erika — I absolutely understand! This is very helpful. I of course do not plan to make a decision on the MBA factor alone!

    I appreciate your help!

  • Ross

    if that was unclear, I will provide an example. Call center rep at Google vs manager (leadership) at small company

  • Ross

    Perfect! It actually does. I have one more question if you dont mind. In your exoerience with MBA consulting, do you think it is better to have a “smaller role” at a “elite type company” or have a bigger role in a smaller company?

  • Erika Olson

    I think there are three things you can do:
    1) Take initiative at work… don’t just do the role you’re assigned–find ways to go above and beyond, make suggestions for better ways things could be done, start up a task force or a group to tackle an issue that otherwise wouldn’t get attention, etc. People with accelerated career advancement and/or people who can prove they did more than just what was expected every day stand out.

    2) Get involved with some sort of charity/nonprofit/cause you believe it NOW and STAY INVOLVED and take some sort of leadership role (or increase your participation/role as time goes on). It’s important to be able to articulate WHY you chose that particular cause/charity/etc, though. Don’t just pick something for the hell of it — it needs to have some sort of personal connection because they care about the whys more than the whats.

    3) Start developing some strong relationships with your mentors and bosses at work. People VASTLY underestimate the importance of their recommendation letters. You might switch bosses over time but should try to keep up those relationships because your old boss might still be the best person to write a letter for you.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Oh my gosh — wow… I hope you understand, but I definitely don’t feel comfortable giving you advice on this one because for your situation it would be more like life/career advice versus application guidance. However, I will say to you what I have said to many of my clients in the past: you should do whatever you really want to do — in NO WAY should you make such a big decision based on what you think would be better for your business school apps… that’s like the tail wagging the dog. I think one thing they do look at is what your future career goals are and if you have either taken steps to position yourself for those goals already (and if you really need an MBA to help you achieve them or not), so perhaps that’s something you can keep in mind. Another thing to keep in mind is that you just want to be able to tell a clear story with your career and be able to easily justify/explain each move that you make.

    Hope that helps and best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Oh wow, well then that kind of changes everything! First let’s just wait and see what happens in a few weeks — people tend to me their own worst critic, so you may not even have any of this to worry about!

    If you do end up getting dinged, perhaps you can look into whether or not Booth offers personalized advice? If so then perhaps you could let someone know that your intention is to reapply next year and you want to know what you could do to strengthen your candidacy.

    GOOD LUCK! Please do circle back and let us know what happens!

  • NULL NULL

    Thanks Erica! What you’re saying totally makes sense.

    I actually DID interview with Booth – I’ll know my results in 2 days or so, but while it wasnt awful, I wouldnt call it a memorable interview. I dont think much of my chances for an admit.

    I’m 95% sure it will be a ding. I’m trying to figure out whether giving it a shot next year is worth giving up Ross. Given the financial burden, I want to go to a school that I’m 100% passionate about. I definitely love the Ross vibe, and the people are really friendly; its just that Booth has been really close to my heart from the beginning.

  • Johnny Appleseed

    Hey Erika,

    Thanks a ton for taking the time to answer questions. I really appreciate it.

    I scored 168V/164Q on the GRE without any prep last cycle and applied round 3 to top tier schools just to see what would happen. No acceptances anywhere (no surprise). Graduated Phi Beta Kappa from a top 30 LAC a few years ago. Plan to either retake the GRE after some prep or the GMAT.

    I previously worked a couple of years at a bank in developing Asia managing a USD 20M debt facility and a large microfinance project. Since then I’ve been in the middle of a “year of service” w/ a domestic Peace Corps type program laying the groundwork for the foundation of a rural microfinance entity in the US.

    I am looking at reapplying to b schools in a few years once I have a bit of experience under my belt (and a strong answer to “what’s different since your last application?”), but I was recently offered a job at a bank in Burma which would be a first step to a longer and more substantial position there. I would have considerable flexibility in my role in terms of finding areas to focus on once there, but would be starting from scratch.

    I guess what I am wondering is if there is an intuitive answer to the following question: does it make sense to stay where I am in the US and see through the founding and then directing of a small socially motivated financial institution or should I take the leap of faith and head back abroad? I feel like I have already “started from square one” twice (at the other bank in Asia and now here in the US), so I am worried about treading water. Burma has significantly more opportunity over all, but I would essentially be an analyst at first (a few years out of college now). If I stay local, I would ultimately be heading a (small) FI and be benefiting from an existing network of valuable connections that would take much longer to make elsewhere. To me at least it seems intuitive that there is value in seeing through something vs jumping to the next hot developing country, but being able to jump into somewhere like Myanmar seems valuable as well.

    So . . . head of the fly or tail of the lion — maybe cat?

    Thanks for any guidance you can provide.

    J. Appleseed

  • Ross

    Hi Erika, I am hoping you could answer a quick question for me. I graduated from undergrad about 8 months ago and have been working at a F100 company. I am becoming more and more interested in pursuing an MBA a few years down the road. Can you share some insight on what a recent graduate should start doing to improve their chances at getting in a top 15 business school. (I have a high GPA and believe I can earn a high GMAT score) I am talking about more extra curricular type involvement. Thank you!

  • Erika Olson

    I’ll be honest: unless you have a really, REALLY incredible life story or career to speak to in your essays, you’re facing an uphill battle to get into the most selective business school in the world because of that low GPA. You will have to work very hard to find reasons to convince the adcom that you are more worthy of one of the GSB’s precious few spots than someone else who has close to a 4.0 GPA from a top undergrad education, a stellar GMAT, an impressive career path and lots of other things to offer in the classroom.

    So first and foremost, you have to get a very, very high GMAT or GRE score. If you can’t pull that off, then between your test score and your GPA it will signal to the adcom that you will not be able to handle their program.

    If you can get a very high test score, then you need to make sure you use the additional info/optional essay space to explain why your GPA was so low. Don’t make excuses, just keep it matter of fact so that you convey you are not naive enough to think your GPA is acceptable without an explanation or more context.

    Then you have to be really honest in your essays and let them get to know the real you, and you have to have a cohesive story about how “what matters most” hopefully is related to what you want to do in your career. Know the school inside and out. Spend A LOT of time figuring out what you have to offer your classmates in terms of what they could learn from your life and career experiences.

    But in general, if you want an MBA — and I would say this to absolutely anyone because of Stanford’s low acceptance rate — you should cast a much wider net and not only apply to just the GSB.

    Best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Unfortunately on this site I do not provide individual profile reviews (per the final sentence of my bio above) — the reason why is because it is honestly almost NEVER any of the things that applicants lay out for me that will ultimately differentiate them or increase their odds. I usually spend about a month having clients fill out an Oprah-interview-like questionnaire about their lives, and that’s usually where the best stories and differentiators are discovered.

    I also never tell anyone their odds because there’s no way of knowing who might be applying against you in a given year/round that would be directly competing against you for a spot.

    So from what I read my high-level advice would be to think about what message you want to convey and how you want to position yourself. You have a lot of things going on that you could speak to, but there’s a danger in coming off as unfocused or without clear goals — especially since you actually said your post-MBA goal is undecided.

    A critical thing for you to do would be to figure out what your post-MBA career goals are (short and long-term) and make a cohesive story around those — convincing them WHY you are passionate about those goals, what you’ve already done to start down that path, what skills/knowledge/experience you already have… as well as why you need an MBA to fill in specific gaps. Then focus on just one or two stories that prove you’re “not the typical engineer.”

    Best of luck!

  • lolo cd

    Hi Ericka, I am really set to apply to Stanford for class of ’19 but I have a 2.8 GPA. Is there anything or what do you recommend I do in order to somehow polish my profile? Thank you

  • Maninder

    Dear Erika,

    My profile is as follows.

    1.) I have been employed with an engineering consulting firm since my graduation from University of British Columbia in Vancouver Canada in 2012. My role has had me work mostly in heavy electrical engineering sector as a design engineer. I have been involved in various project dealing with Substation design and Transmission line design. Moreover I have held various positions as a part of my co-op program in the IT sector, Mining Engineering Sector, Direct Door to door sales.

    2.) GMAT – 740 – 97 Percentile

    3.) University of British Columbia – Vancouver, BC, Canada. GPA – 75%

    Degree: Bachelors of Applied Science, Electrical Engineering, Power

    Engineering Option. Graduate 2012.

    4.) I have been involved as a volunteer with a couple of organisations during school and after school. However my involvement in volunteering efforts was not extensive. I have played in the Domestic Cricket league here in BC since I was 17 years old and was lucky enough to represent the U19 State team for one tournament. Other than that, I have been fully involved in playing full season every summer and undertaking various club related leadership duties which include conducting and organising team practice sessions, helping in team selections and so on.

    I also launched a photobooth company two years ago in Vancouver which has seen steady growth since inception. Moreover, I have always been passionate about Djing and have worked as a professional DJ on the side in the Indian Wedding industry in Vancouver. Lastly, I am also signed up with a Vancouver based modelling agency this year. My experience in the modelling industry is not that much as of now, however I do expect to make some inroads into it within the next few months.

    5.) I am eligible to attain my P.Eng certification in two more months.

    6.) My post MBA goal is still undecided as I am equally interested in the management consulting field and in the Finance field at this point.

    Schools targeted: Booth, Kellogg, Harvard, Wharton, Stanford and Ross.
    Please let me know on what you think about my chances of getting into these schools and how I should highlight my strengths in my application.

    Thanks a lot in advance for your tips on my profile. 🙂

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    First and foremost, congrats on the Ross admit! I went to Ross for undergrad and so I am 100% biased when I say that I think it’s one of the best schools in the world and that Ann Arbor is definitely ones of the best college cities on the planet. You have a great two years ahead of you, and I’m jealous!

    I wouldn’t dream of telling you what you should do regarding the decision you have to make, but I will say that you need to think about how comfortable you are with risk, especially if you didn’t get an interview invite at Booth. (Because to me that signals that merely waiting a year isn’t going to be enough, even if you strengthen some aspects of your materials.)

    If you forego your Ross admit, you have to realize that if you reapply there next year, you may not get in as they will likely be onto your plan and be a bit insulted. And then if you didn’t get into Booth, how upset would you be? Would it bother you MORE to wonder “What if?” about reapplying to Booth or would it be worse to completely lose your spot at Ross while also not getting into Booth next year?

    I would also advise waiting as long as possible to make your decision. Sometimes when people first learn they have been dinged they are not thinking as clearly about their decisions as they will after some time has passed. Many people would do anything to be you right now — you’ve gotten into a top b-school!

    You could also contact Booth and see if they are willing to offer you any feedback — usually schools don’t do this (especially if you were not interviewed), but sometimes they will.

    Best of luck and congrats again on Ross!
    – e

  • NULL NULL

    Hi Erika,

    I’m an indian student who got into Ross, class of ’18. Ross was my safety net, and I’m really keen on Booth.

    Would it be advisable to wait a year, strengthen my application and reapply? Or take up Ross?

  • Obaid Ullah

    Thank you. What you said does make a lot of sense (even it’s just anecdotal) in regards to how someone would approach a problem like this. And I really really appreciate how you give thoughtful responses to everyone out here instead of just putting out cookie cutter message.

    Best of luck in your endeavors 🙂

  • Erika Olson

    I think at first they just take a look at your materials overall WITHOUT really considering where you’re from. They’re looking for that knee-jerk reaction to an applicant that intrigues them.

    From there, my belief (and again, I did not work in adcom, so this is more anecdotal) is that in the next wave of application reviews after they’ve narrowed the selection a bit, you would be put into a larger male/SEA/tech bucket which is already highly represented. In the beginning of the process when they are reviewing 10,000 applications… or even 5,000 applications, they really can’t look at it by country. If they like what they see in the rest of your materials THEN it may ultimately come down to wanting diversity in the sense of getting people from different countries.

    So first it would be “OK he seems interesting… how does he stack up to others in male/SEA/tech”… then when they are finalizing invites they could then care more about all of the specifics within each larger “bucket.”

    Since it sounds like you have a cohesive story and plan, my hope would be that you would appeal to them on the very first pass and then remain competitive as they narrow the field. (This goes for all schools, not just GSB and Haas.)

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    I recommend they approach it very, VERY honestly. The GSB team has a very strong BS detector! I ask people to think about this question for WEEKS and do a lot of introspection (as well as as family and close friends how they think you would answer) before starting your first draft.

    The key is to not only be honest, but then back up what you’re saying with “proof.” For example, if your family means the most to you, you need to then go on to provide 2- 4 solid examples/stories of times where you put them above other things or made decisions based on your family. It’s great when the thing that matters most to you connects somehow to what you ultimately want to do in life (even if it’s a volunteer/outside-of-your-career-goals thing), but it doesn’t HAVE to.

    If you try to say something you think “sounds good” or is what they want to hear, they will see through it. They are honestly just trying to get a sense of what you care about and — more importantly — why. I’ve had successful applicants write about all sorts of things, so there truly is no right answer.

    Hope that helps!

  • emily

    How do you reocmmend people approach the “what matters most” question for GSB

  • Catherine

    Thank you so much! This makes a lot of sense and is really useful. I may re-take for the reason you cite (why not?), if I can find a local test before the March deadlines. Either way, this is super helpful in crafting my whole application packet. Thank you again!

  • Obaid Ullah

    Thanks for the detailed feedback Erika 🙂 I really appreciate it.

    I just had one other question stemming from your response. I don’t quite get how I am from an overrepresented demographic. In my experience, not a lot of people from Pakistan apply to US b-schools. Unless of course you have seen many clients like that and I am unaware of that trend. Or are you basing it on the fact that b-schools tend to put all the South Asians/Asians in one bucket? Which would be kinda unfair as we have quite a different education and business environment even from the neighboring India [which is the most culturally similar country]

    And yes I do have other schools in my net [I have a shortlist of 9 actually] that I plan to apply for.

    Thanks again!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    As you know, I’m meant to be answering more general questions that almost any MBA applicant could learn from, so I can’t go into a ton of detail about your specific case because I just don’t know enough.

    But after reading through what you wrote and what you asked, I would definitely advise widening the net of programs you are targeting beyond GSB and Haas, as they are two of the top 5 hardest-to-get-into schools (yes, Haas is in that mix, which surprises many people).

    Per your specific questions:
    1) Your GPA is definitely going to be a red flag. However, there is nothing you can do about it now. You SHOULD mention your circumstance but not in the main essay — use the Optional Essay/Additional Info space to briefly summarize it there. You want to use your main essay/s to tell them more about yourself and why you’d be an asset to the class.

    2) No, I would not take the GMAT again. It’s already high enough so getting a higher score won’t be what helps you. You need to focus on the other parts of your candidacy now.

    3) Is there a close client that you could ask for a letter? I would think maybe one partner and one client might be a better mix. However, be prepared that both of the rec letter questions definitely assume the recommender is someone senior to you and someone who has given you constructive feedback in the past. That might help you decide who it makes sense to ask.

    Your biggest hurdle is going to be that you are in very, VERY overrepresented and competitive demographic and industry buckets and so you are really going to have to differentiate yourself in other ways. Let them get to know your personality, what you’re passionate about (and more importantly, why), and what you would be able to bring to the classroom.

    Hope this helps… Best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    I think when an applicant’s job isn’t very quant focused AND their undergraduate degree wasn’t either, it’s that much more important to prove that you can handle the analytical parts of an MBA curriculum. In your resume and your rec letters, you should try to bring out any analytical/quantitative work you do whatsoever (like what you mentioned above) to help your case. You could also use the Optional Essay/Additional Information space that’s usually provided in each application to further make the case for why they should trust that you can handle the curriculum because of your past experience. And yes, though I know it’s a huge pain, I feel like it certainly can’t hurt to try and raise your Quant percentage more before you apply. Is there a reason you didn’t try the GMAT? You never know, you might do better on that test…

    If you take the GRE again and can’t raise the score, I definitely still think you have a shot at the schools you are targeting, it’s just that you have to be sure you show them why you would be an asset to the program and why you need an MBA. Think about what you have to talk about in class that other classmates can learn from. I’m sure there are many interesting stories about the changes the publishing industry is going through that would be relevant to MBA discussions.

    Good luck!

  • Obaid Ullah

    Hello Erika,

    First of all, a big thank you for taking out the time to do this . You responses really come across as genuine and aren’t designed to make people feel like they should be purchasing your services [which is unlike so many others!]

    I am thinking of applying to b-school in 2017. A few questions popped into my mind when I started my dive into the admissions process. I’d first present my context and follow that up with my questions.

    I have a 3.1 GPA in my undergrad [from the top business school in Pakistan] and a 750 [Q49,V42,IR8] on my GMAT. When I was entering college, my family ran into financial difficulties and I worked [freelanced as a web developer] throughout my undergrad years to support them as well as to pay for my college.

    Right out of college, I started my own business [with a couple of partners]. We work with technology startups [out of US and Europe] and help them build mobile & web applications. It’s a ~15 person team right now that we have built from scratch. I am responsible for recruitment and business development in this operation. My WE would be 3 years at the time of sending in the applications.

    I have always been interested in technology [ever since I was 9] and everything I have done in my life has revolved around that. I think I have a strong narrative for my essay that I can communicate effectively. I don’t have any significant volunteer work to write about.

    Post-MBA I am looking to go back to my business. Primary aim of attending b-school would be to build my network. I can elaborate on this if needed. My top 2 choices are Stanford and Haas given their proximity to the valley.

    Here are my questions,

    – How much would the low GPA hurt me? Should I mention my extenuating circumstance [described above] in my essay?

    – Should I retake the GMAT with an aim of scoring a 770-780? I actually consistently scored 770 on my mock exams but caved a little under pressure on test day.

    – Since I don’t have any direct supervisors, which people should I target for my LoRs? The people who have been working with me the longest are my partners. Is it ok to get one of my recommendations written by them?

    Thanks for reading through 🙂 Looking forward to your feedback!

  • Green

    Sorry but I’m still not very clear. So you actually got admitted to a business school and have started your MBA but when they found out about this, they kicked you out from the program?

  • Green

    Hi Catherine, I applied to BU as well and I’m waiting for a decision which should come by this Friday. Good luck and hope you will apply there too.

  • Worried one

    Thanks much!!

  • Catherine

    Ah, ok! Certainly: Verbal is the 95th percentile; Quant is 64th. Thank you!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there – Can you resend me the GRE info with the percentiles? That’s what really matters, and I don’t know how the hard scores relate to the percentiles offhand.

    Thanks!

  • Catherine

    Hi Erika,
    Thank you so much for all of your helpful info here! I’m interested in applying to a handful of MBA programs, all within the 30th – 75th rankings according to US News (Boston University is my top choice). I have a number of years of experience as a book editor (including some analytical and budgeting skills), and a 3.7 undergrad GPA in Education. I just took the GRE and scored a 156 in Quant and a 164 in Verbal. I’m disappointed by my Quant score, as I was hoping to prove that side of my qualifications more strongly. I know this is only a snapshot of me as an applicant, but do you generally think I need to re-take the GRE before applying?
    Thanks again!

  • Erika Olson

    No. No one — no matter what their circumstances are — should update the adcom about ANYTHING after their apps are in and before they hear about interview invites and/or the final decision. This is why there are deadlines in the first place. EVERYONE has some sort of changes in their candidacy in the months after the application deadlines/before they hear the final decision. Can you imagine the chaos if all ten thousand people applying to HBS kept contacting the adcom with updates? It would be nuts.

    So you don’t need to tell them anything that happens after you hit “submit.” If you are interviewed and they specifically ASK, then you have to be honest. Otherwise, you have been honest in your materials up to the point they were due, and that’s totally legit.

    Hope this helps ease your worries!
    – e

  • Also worried

    What if you get fired from your job? then you should you tell them?

  • Erika Olson

    Right — you should definitely NOT inform them of your status. They don’t want updates of ANY kind from anyone (promotions, layoffs, big new deals, sales/clients landed… nothing) as they are very busy trying to make their final decisions. Good luck!

  • Worried one

    Hi Ericka,

    Yes I met the January 2nd round deadlines and was just separated from my job today. I’m waiting for admits decisions in two weeks so you’re saying I don’t need to inform the schools that I applied to that I’m no longer employed? If that’s the case what a relief. Thanks.

  • Erika Olson

    Unfortunately I don’t really know how this works so I would not be comfortable guessing as to whether or not they might still send you a telephone interview request. I really wish I could be of more help! But if you DO hear back from them, please come back and let us know — that insight will surely give you good karma for helping future applicants who might be in the same situation!

  • Erika Olson

    I’m not sure what you mean… ? As far as the MBA applications go, you don’t need to do anything. You don’t need to inform the programs you’re waiting to hear back from — they are judging you on your candidacy up until the application deadlines and not past them. So you’re in the clear there.

    If you are asking whether or not you should apply for another job and if you should tell your employer you could possibly be leaving in the fall, that’s a little bit out of my area of expertise, especially since I don’t know anything about you! : ) But I HAVE had clients in this exact same situation — some have gone on to get other jobs and just worked until the fall… some took time off to travel up until they went back to school, etc. That’s a very individual choice based on a lot of personal and financial details.

    Either way, I wish you luck on the upcoming decisions from the places you applied!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Unfortunately I don’t really feel comfortable giving specific program recommendations for Round 3 (which is infamously tough to be accepted in). This forum is more for general strategic questions rather than personal guidance or specific advice — hope you understand. I would usually work with someone for about 2 weeks and know a lot more about them before assisting them in deciding on programs. What I will say is that I think it’s odd that you are saying Ross is your SAFETY school, as that is one of the top programs in the US and this is Round 3. Without knowing anything else I would advise you to just wait until Round 1 of next year — you usually need a pretty strong reason or something extraordinarily unique about your candidacy to pull off an admittance in Round 3 and you are already in a very oversubscribed demographic bucket (Indian engineer). Waiting would buy you more time to differentiate yourself further.

    Hope that helps!

  • Worried one

    Ericka what do you recommend a person do that was just laid off but is now waiting for admissions decisions in mid March? Thanks.

  • Msharma

    Hi Erika,

    I received an email from Kellogg two weeks ago regarding the interview waiver. I read that it is common for international students to receive an interview waiver but if Kellogg is interested in the applicant, they may set up a telephonic interview. Could you please let me know whether I could receive the telephonic interview request in the next few weeks or whether it is too late now and hence I’m probably not going to be offered a spot.
    I’m not quite sure how it works and it’s better I know my chances at the earliest.

  • Sheela

    Hi Erika,
    I have an engineering degree and MBA from India and now that I’m living in the US, I’m finding that I need a US MBA. I have 3+ years of experience in a finance role at HP in India. I decided to do an MBA too late in the year and I gave the GRE (couldn’t find GMAT dates) and scored V-167 Q-170. I am thinking of applying for 3-4 programs in Round 3 and use Ross as my safety school. Need help with the other 3 schools. I’m interested in finance and would appreciate recommendations based on my interest and chances for R3.

  • Erika Olson

    Nope, you will not get in trouble. You will just lose whatever part of your deposit was nonrefundable. This happens… and it’s why schools keep waitlists going into the late summer to ensure their spots all get used. You should go where you want! In the whole scheme of what an MBA costs, the money you lose is likely just a drop in the bucket! Best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Yikes — I am not so sure your friends made the right decisions there. CBS and Sloan are ALMOST just as hard to get into as HBS and GSB and now it might be tough for them to be admitted AGAIN to the schools they just turned down as that will probably reflect poorly on a future application.

    If they were rejected WITHOUT interview invites at HBS or GSB it’s even worse because it is just really REALLY REALLY tough to get in as a repplicant to those schools if you didn’t get an interview the first time around. I’m sure it’s happened, but I personally have not seen it happen. I have seen reapplicants get in to HBS and GSB who were interviewed in past years, though.

    I don’t think there’s any limit to how many times you can reapply (though a GMAT score has an “expiration date,” so they would eventually have to take that again) — I mean, the schools will keep taking your application fee, for sure! But I would say after a second try it is probably not worth it to keep going.

    It sounds like you actually might be a little more mature or realistic than your friends. I feel that the top 10 or 15 programs in the US are all respected and I have extremely successful friends who have graduated from all of them and had a blast the two years they were there. Don’t be intimidated or influenced by what your friends did. I have a bad feeling they will come to regret turning down those admits.

    Best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    If a school states that they pay attention to things like taking extra courses — listen to them, not me! : ) But seriously, in all honesty, most of the clients I work with come to SBC for help with H/S/W and then several other top programs (including Tuck… I have a past client there right now, as it were), BUT the vast majority of people I work with are not getting my help with Tuck. So I was going more from what I’ve seen happen/hold weight at other schools. I have not seen taking extra courses help other candidates and if there’s been a quant issue with any candidates, they are asked to do the Boot Camp program at the school directly before the rest of the class gets to campus. Sorry for any confusion — and thanks for helping me learn something today!

  • Erika Olson

    It seems like you certainly have a lot of things going for you that would impress the adcom already! I would focus on drawing out both the leadership and teamwork experiences you’ve had at the various jobs/extracurriculars you’ve been involved with (though be careful about highlighting football too much… I feel like essays about sports involvement are overdone — if you have on your resume and on the data form you were captain, that’s probably enough).

    I feel like you might benefit from another year at your ib job, though… not sure less than a year by the time you apply (if you were considering applying in the fall) would be enough time as the average years of work experience is around 5 for most of the top schools. So another thing you could do would be to focus on taking initiative and finding ways to set yourself apart at your job, because that’s a big bucket of applicants that apply to b-school. Thankfully you already have a lot of other things that would prove you’re not the “typical investment banker.”

    Hope this helps!

  • Erika Olson

    You should do everything in your power to convince him or her otherwise — because yes, schools are very, very sensitive to this and it is usually easy for me to tell when someone is attempting to write in someone else’s voice, so I would assume it’s easy for them to do as well. Explain to your recommender that you are competing against the best of the best for a highly coveted spot and that you cannot risk the chance of being denied because they suspected you were anything less than ethical. If they still refuse… perhaps you are asking the wrong person?
    If it gives you hope, many of my clients’ recommenders thought they were doing a favor by telling the candidate they could write their own letter but when the candidate explained that would not be ideal, they gladly helped out.
    Best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –
    Sorry — I was not aware that Stanford switched to a rolling admissions process in Round 3. I have never worked with anyone who applied to Stanford in Round 3 so I wouldn’t want to give insight into a process I have not had direct experience with. Seems like they would’ve given SOME explanation on their site… ?

  • slonistava

    Can schools tell if you write your own recommendation? My current supervisor wants me to write it. What am I to do?

  • matthias h.

    How does Stanford’s rolling admission process work for R3? Near impossible, I know. But how does it work?

  • Alex

    Hi Erika,

    Thank you for your help and advice. I graduated in 2013 with a BS in Neuroscience. In college, I volunteered at a free healthcare clinic and was a mentor in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. I also was a captain of the varsity football team in college. After graduation, I went directly into the Teach For America program, completing it two years later. After TFA I went straight into an analyst role in an investment bank. I have been working in investment banking (M&A) at a large bank for about 6 months. I am seriously considering business school in an effort to get the business training that I did not in school. Do you have any advice for positioning myself at the top schools? Thank you for your help, I really appreciate your time!
    Thank You,
    Alex

  • mbambamba2018

    Hi Erica,

    You mentioned that schools really don’t give too much weight to applicants that take courses. However, Tuck specifically states that one way an applicant can boost their profile is by taking an Accounting or Stats. course. Why do you hold such a view?

  • Qasim

    I’ve had a two friends turn down columbia and sloan after getting rejections from Harvard and stanford. They plan to reapply to the top schools next year. How many times can you reapply to a school? Is it one of those things where after a certain number of tries, you will get into harvard and stanford? I would love to go to Harvard and stanford and was not aware how much of a difference there is between those schools and everyone else.

  • Matt

    What hapens if you save your spot, put in a deposit, and then get into a school you prefer even more? Will you get in trouble if you say “nevermind” to the first school and go to your second school?

  • archana

    Thanks. As you know, the process is very expensive. I’m only going to be applying to 3 schools. So if HBS and Stanford are that tough to get into because everyone is applying for the sake of applying, my money is probably best spent elsewhere I think. It’s almost 300 dollars a school!

  • Pablo Garcia Cano

    Thanks a lot! I’ll save my spot then!

  • Erika Olson

    Every year I work with successful reapplicants across many programs, so it can definitely be a path that works for some people. I think in general if you got interviewed somewhere and then ultimately were dinged you have a higher likelihood of getting in next time around because you get to mark “reapplicant” and the know they liked you before.

    Schools differ on how they review reapplicant files, so you should ask the school directly if they will reference the old app or not. Some schools do, some don’t. I would caution against using the exact same essays and/or rec letters no matter what, though. I think that would come off as just being kinda lazy and not really wanting it that badly, you know? I would give that advice whether or not they review your old app — it’s likely still the same set of AdCom members and they have good memories!

    If you didn’t get an interview before, then you should try to strengthen every single thing about your candidacy possible and try to get someone objective to give you feedback, because there’s a reason you didn’t get an interview and you might be missing something big.

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Well, it just comes down to numbers — more people apply to Harvard and Stanford than any other schools, and Stanford has one of the smallest MBA classes (as does Yale and a few others), so lots of people competing for just a couple hundred spots makes the acceptance rates go down. It doesn’t really have anything to do with prestige in my mind, it’s just numbers. I think when people decide to apply for business school programs, the majority that I’ve worked with throw either HBS or Stanford (or both) into the mix just so they never wonder “What if?” Of all schools, those have the best reputations among applicants, or are the most desired, from what I’ve seen. If you have fewer people applying to Booth and more spots overall, the acceptance rate is higher, but as you know, Booth has been consistently ranked higher than HBS and Stanford for many years over the past decade or so. Applicants don’t apply to certain schools for many different reasons — for example, for me, I applied to Booth and Kellogg because I already lived in Chicago. I also applied to HBS for the “What if?” factor. I didn’t apply to Stanford because I’m just not a west-coast person. Many of my clients have similar location-based reasons for where they apply that have nothing to do with the strength/prestige of the programs themselves. Hope that helps shed some light on it, but if you’re applying to b-school, something like this should be the least of your worries! ; )

  • Erika Olson

    I don’t think it will come down to just a great GMAT score — since you’ve been an equities broker they aren’t going to be AS concerned about your GMAT score since you’ve already proven your quant abilities through your career. I think it will be more a matter of convincing them of why you feel like you need an MBA now, since you’re on the older end of the candidate spectrum. And also explaining what exactly you’ll be able to teach your fellow classmates with all of that experience you have. But if you’re able to do that and also get a decent GMAT score then I think both of those schools are possibilities, although if you really want to get an MBA I would still widen your net (and I would say that to absolutely anyone — these are still tough schools to get in to)!

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    I wouldn’t rely on advice from me or anyone else on this one — I would follow the directions you’ve given from the school. My guess is that if you don’t pay you will lose your spot. So personally I would not risk it. There are Round 1 and Round 2 cutoffs/deadlines for a reason — if people don’t claim their spot then they send admit letters to a higher number of people in the next round in order to ensure all spots are taken. I wouldn’t take my chances if I were you, especially since you’re saying it’s one of your favorite schools. Congrats on getting in!

  • Pablo Garcia Cano

    Hello Erika:
    I just received an acceptance letter from one of my favorite schools that I applied to. The deposit due date is eleven days before all decisions from all schools are posted. Do I need to pay that deposit or could I wait 11 days?

  • knicks123

    Hello. Thanks for providing some of your time!

    I graduated from Baruch in 2011, with a 3.5 GPA. Have worked as an equities broker for eight years with proven success. Have done extensive volunteer work. If I were to devote my life to the GMAT and earn a great score do you think I have a realistic shot at NYU or Columbia? Thanks again.

  • Archana

    Why is there such a huge disparity in the acceptance rates of schools? Stanford has a single digit-acceptance rate! While places like Booth are in the 20% range! That is crazy, why is there such a huge difference in selectivity? Is it because Stanford is more prestigious?

  • Tuckguy

    Hi Erica,

    Why are the thoughts on reapplicants? I know schools like Tuck and Mccombs like reapplicants but what are schools really looking for when evaluating the reapplicant. I’m a reapplicant to Tuck and have objectively improved on the leadership and quant side. My ECs and Essays have always been good. Is it enough just to have shown improvement or is the reapplicant evaluated as a whole new applicant? Thanks

  • Erika Olson

    This is where I get a little cynical about the differences in what the top programs look for… because to be honest, I don’t think there are many. All of the top programs are looking for the best of the best — people that are “book smart” (as proven by their undergrad institution, their GPA, and their GMAT/GRE scores), outgoing (people who have gone above and beyond in either/both their career and outside activities, ideally both at undergrad and post-grad), and people who have some sort of unique experience that others can learn from. And then, of course, the interview assures that that person is not only impressive on paper, but also in real life. They want to make sure the candidate is personable, not an *-hole — basically someone that THEY would want to hang out with in and outside of class were they a student.

    It is very, very hard to come up with any perceptible differences in the candidates I’ve seen accepted to Stanford vs. other top programs. Every year I am both not surprised by my clients who get in and also totally surprised. They definitely seem to care about where you went to undergrad (I haven’t seen anyone accepted that didn’t go to a well respected school), but again I’m only going from my small data set.

    I do think they care about whether or not you’ve attempted to get to know the school and its culture — that doesn’t mean you have to physically go there, but really digging into the website, trying to find alums to talk to about their experiences, perhaps going to a local admin info session if there’s one by you, etc. But the second I wrote the above I would say that’s also true of all of the other top programs except for HBS (which has never really cared that applicants “prove” they know the school or answer “Why HBS?”).

    I know this probably didn’t help, but I have to be honest in that I just don’t see a ton of differences in what will make a candidate attractive to Stanford in particular other than what I mentioned above. Hope it’s still useful, though!

    – e

  • Eric

    Can you share some of the general and unique qualities that Stanford GSB looks for in its applicants?

  • Erika Olson

    I think it makes sense for undergrad for sure. But with MBA graduates I feel like it’s a different story because the candidates also bring with them work experience, which would likely weigh more heavily in a recruiter’s assessment than simply where the applicant got his/her degree. You will learn the business skills you need to learn at any of the top programs… and by the time you’re out of b-school, you are truly an adult (not really the case in my mind when coming out of undergrad since you have no “real world” experience and have never truly been out on your own, except in rarer cases). So I think a person’s personality and work experience come into play more than simply where they went to b-school when it comes to landing a job afterward. For some of the bigger corporations I think the programs acts somewhat of a screener (“Well if Wharton let her in then she must be smart,” etc) and could get people a foot in the door they may not have had otherwise.

  • Erika Olson

    Thanks for that additional info. I still think it will be difficult to earn a spot when applying in Round 3 (and I say that to pretty much everyone), but I think your reasoning with your new role does make sense and gives some justification.

    So I would focus on what you can bring to the class thanks to all of your years of experience. Also, if you really want an MBA, I would still widen your net a bit more to programs outside of those you mentioned, which are all still extremely competitive, even for people without special circumstances such as yours.

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    I never worked as an adcom member so I can’t say for sure, but it doesn’t seem likely that they would put someone who does, say, marketing for a bank in with or up against traders or project managers. In fact, I’m pretty sure they’re savvy enough to look for diversity across functions and not just overall industries.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there – Ugh, I feel for you. I have many friends who aren’t good test-takers either, despite being brilliant overall.

    But I have to keep it real… I think if you have a low GMAT AND a low GPA (especially if your lowest grades were in quant/analytical courses), you’re really going to have an uphill battle when it comes to getting into the top MBA programs. However, if you’ve been in a quant-based/analytical role for all or most of your career, that will definitely help offset some of their worries about your ability to handle the curriculum. I would advise using the Additional Info space/Optional Essay to write a short/sweet statement to that effect: that you realize your GPA and GMAT score are lacking but your success in your quant role at work — supported by an A in whatever classes you’ve taken recently — proves your ability to handle the program.

    (Personally I feel like they don’t really put too much weight on those kinds of extra classes… but I could be wrong. My thought is if they want someone because they think they’ll really add something to the program but are concerned about that person’s quant abilities, they simply make their acceptance contingent on participation in THEIR OWN program’s quant boot camp, which usually takes place on campus a few weeks before other students arrive in the fall. I think these schools trust their own programs more than any random one-off classes taken at community colleges or online or whatever. Again, just my two cents.)

    So I think your best bet is to play up your career-based quant work in all aspects of your app: your resume, your rec letters, the data form, and the additional info. It probably won’t make sense to bring up in the essays as those are skewing more personal lately, and it might seem like bringing the point up TOO much.

    Hope that helps! The good news is I think you are DONE with the GMAT — spend your time focusing on the other parts of your app and figuring out what you bring to the class and how else you can differentiate yourself.

    Good luck!

  • Jennifer

    To Radi: I think the more useful question might be: “How would do future employers view these schools?” Let’s say we have a hypothetical scenario, where we have 7 candidates representing each school, and they are all the same except where they went to school. If the company had to rank and choose candidates, my guess would be that yes, HSW first, and then the rest. I know post-undergrad when I worked at a MBB that is how we would rank candidates (HYPS is most impressive, then other schools) But that doesn’t mean that if you don’t work hard and shine at a non-HBS school, you won’t do just as well as the kids at HBS. My two cents, @poetsandquants-0c87eacf401de9a8305fee54a28debcb:disqus what do you think of that assessment?

  • Hopefulone

    Hi Erika,

    I’m literally sick to my stomach after having just taken the GMAT for a 4th time with still a very low 55% in the quant. I knew I needed to do well to compensate for my low GPA from undergrad. Is the the GMAT just a screen to see of the applicant can handle the work? If a person has a quant job and has taken alternative classes with an A in each would that be seen as at least favorable to show that the applicant can handle the work? Thanks.

  • Abhishek

    Hi Erika,

    Thanks for much an insightful response!

    Yes I did check with some schools and all of them said they do accept students who have a prior MBA.I also spoke with some current students at these schools and found out that know classmates /past students who already has an MBA from India.

    These schools are – Wharton, Stanford, MIT Sloan, Kellogg, Columbia, Stern, Cornell, Ross, Booth, LBS and INSEAD. HBS and Stanford mentioned that they need a strong case for another MBA. Only Fuqua actively discourages second MBA.

    Now to the very valid question you raised with regards to my need for a second MBA – a) the first MBA was pre work-ex and hence, I could not maximize the learning and leadership potential, b) what I mean by international project exposure is not a full-time job internationally but that of working on cross-border deals and sometimes traveling to those locations for my corporate M&A role. This has precluded
    me from transitioning into an international career (think an NYC based IB or PE) and c) breaking into private equity / top-tier financial advisory even in India has been extremely difficult with my corporate background, and not possessing an MBA from the ultra-elite business schools in India or outside.

    Hence, the decision to pursue another MBA is more with an objective of a career- sector and location shift.

    Reason for applying in Round 3 – I moved to a new role 8 months back which helped me add another dimension to my overall work profile. Not only do I now know my developmental areas but can also talk about the additional learning from this new role.
    Is this a valid reason in your opinion?

  • Mrmba

    Hi Erika,

    Do adcoms lump all applicants that work at a bank into the “bank” applicant bucket. I ask because I know that bankers and consultants are over represented pools and that pool is competitive. However, there are so many different areas of banking that one could work other than the typical IB or S/T areas. There’s marketing, retail banking, HR, operations, communications, legal and other areas of banking.

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Have you looked into whether or not the programs you’re applying to even accept candidates who already have MBAs? I know several programs expressly forbid that.

    Secondly, I have to say that if I were the adcom my biggest question would be, “Why exactly does he need another MBA?” I don’t feel like you have a very strong case and I think it might come off like you just don’t know what your next step should be. If you already have international project experience, a high GMAT, 6 years of experience AND an MBA, I think they would be like, “Um… why can’t he just get a job in finance consulting already?” I don’t think a degree from a US school would add any international strength to your career since you already have international work experience, which counts more in an employer’s view.

    So I definitely don’t think Round 3 makes sense because I think you have to have a very, very strong story or reason you’re applying in Round 3. I think first you should contact each school you’re interested in directly to see if they accept candidates who already have MBAs (if this isn’t explicitly stated on their sites) before you waste your time and money on an application. If they do accept people who already have MBAs, then I would suggest going for Round 1 but REALLY widening your scope outside of the top ten because it’s going to be a tough sell. Your biggest challenge will be convincing them why you need another MBA. Your biggest asset will be all of your work experience, so make sure you convey what “lessons learned” you’ll be able to share with the class to help them learn from your experience.

    Good luck! Please circle back and let us know what you’ve found out about the second MBA — if that’s allowed or not, and where. I’m very curious!

  • Abhishek

    Hi Erika,

    Thanks for sharing your insights and helping out prospective MBA applicants.
    I am faced with a difficult decision with regards to applying for an MBA at a top US school and would really appreciate thoughts on the same.

    I already possess an MBA from India. I have a solid 6 years of corporate M&A work-experience and good overall academic profile, decent GMAT score (740) along with international project experience. I will be turning 30 this year (~2 years over the average age at most schools). I really want to pursue another MBA to give an international edge to my career and transition into consulting in finance field.

    I arrived at my decision to pursue second MBA quite late and could not apply in the previous rounds. Does a Round 3 application make sense for my kind of applicant who is on the higher side of the age/experience spectrum? Or would you recommend Round 3 as a no go and try for Round for next year’s intake?

    Thanks!

  • Erika Olson

    I’m really sorry to hear that! But unfortunately we would need hundreds of data points to really make a case one way or the other. I had several clients this year get dings from HBS but get interviews at Wharton… it’s just too hard to draw conclusions from one-off anecdotal evidence, you know?

  • Erika Olson

    Yes, or else they wouldn’t even have a Round 3!

    But usually we say that unless you are in a special situation (military, 2+2, older applicant, etc) or have a REALLY good reason for not applying in Round 1 or 2 (that you can actually speak to in the additional info space), you are better off waiting until Round 1 of next year. Otherwise it could look like you are kind of clueless about the MBA process and/or are just applying now because you didn’t get in anywhere else, which is kind of insulting to the program in question.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    It’s hard for me to give such specific advice because I just don’t know enough about your situation. But I always tell anyone who’s been invited to an interview and/or waitlisted and is for some reason still worried about their GMAT score… if the score was that big of a problem, you wouldn’t have been invited to interview in the first place.

    I do not think taking quant classes is ever the way to go, espeiclaly now that you’ve already done the MBA Math thing. If a school wants you, they will likely have you take THEIR pre-MBA boot camp as a prerequisite to attending. Most programs have this — students with this requirement come to campus a few weeks before everyone else to complete the sessions. If you end up having to reapply, all you should do is point out your strength in quant (outside of the GMAT score) in the additional info/essay space, just like you did above.

    I would focus on what else you can do that will help your classmates — meaning, what kind of projects or leadership roles can you take on or get involved with that you might learn something from that will add to the class discussion? Because that’s what all MBA programs are about. Getting a better GMAT score isn’t going to help your classmates in any way, so I just honestly don’t think that’s going to be what puts you over the edge. You are just likely in a competitive bucket and are up against other candidates who HAVE shown more leadership/initiative or have the edge in some other way (well-traveled, have worked internationally, have done something really unique in their personal or professional life, etc.)

    Hope that direction helps and I hope Duke comes through for you!

  • Erika Olson

    Just as they say “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” the same goes for something like the reputation of b-schools. It totally varies by the person doing the judging! If someone has had a bad (or great) experience with an alum from one of those schools, that’s going to forever influence their opinion. If someone (or a close family member or friend) went to one of those schools, then that will also affect their opinion. So it’s kind of pointless to attempt to rank that sort of thing since it’s so subjective, in my opinion. They’re all excellent schools. Anyone who says otherwise comes off as a bit foolish. (Sorry James (below)… and as an HBS alum myself, I’m pretty positive you’re not at HBS now. You’d have no extra time to be trolling message boards!)

  • al

    H/S are most prestigious with Wharton half step behind. All other 5 M7 are essentially in the same category. But ALL M7 schools are ultra prestigious with near identical career outcomes.

    Booth is a fantastic school and I doubt James goes to HBS and if he does, he should stop bashing other schools and pick up his case.

  • James

    Booth is a bad school. It has a high acceptance rate. No one wants to go to Booth. I’m at HBS now, so I would know.

  • Radi

    In terms of prestige, how do the M7 schools rank?

    Specifically, how do the M7 schools rank in terms of reputation?

    Booth vs MIT?
    Wharton vs MIT?

    Or when they say HSW, is it because HSW are generally more prestigious than the rest of the schools?

  • Mitchell

    Did not get an interview invite at Wharton either. So just another data point. No HBS predicted no wharton, for me.

  • fireye89

    Hi Erika,

    I am an aspiring applicant to b-school. I have been waitlisted at Duke (and rejected/WL from some other schools) and I’m pretty sure it’s due to my low GMAT score, specifically quant being a 43 (56th percentile). I have 4 solid years of work experience, my interview at Duke went extremely well and my recommendations are solid, so I am confident that the score is where I am lagging. I have taken a course in MBA Math and did extremely well on that by scoring above 95-97% in every category. I was an economics major in college and my transcript demonstrates A- and higher grades in all finance classes. I am very comfortable with quant, but just not a good standardized test taker. I’ve retaken the GMAT a few times and took the GRE once, but have been unable to make progress. I feel like my chances for this year are quite slim, but as I look to applying again for a 2017 start, would you recommend that I spend time prepping for the GRE/GMAT again, or focus on taking a quant class and demonstrating my ability that way?

    Thanks!

  • eric

    does anyone ever get in round 3?

  • almen

    Hi Erika,
    I don’t know if you are reading old posts but wanted to share that even though I was rejected by HBS and Booth, I did get an interview invite from Michigan, Yale, and Wharton. Still waiting for Stanford…
    Thanks for the reassurance you provided a while back.

  • Erika Olson

    Since you and the user below are asking similar things, I will restate part of my answer to him/her (and then will directly answer the parts unique to you as well).
    So first off… you’ve given me high-level stats… but that’s usually not what gets someone in. GPA/GMAT/and years/quality of experience are more like boxes that need to be checked off before you even have a shot of getting in. It’s your rec letters, what you write about in your essays, how you demonstrate your fit with the school and your leadership experience (in and out of work) that will differentiate you. And I don’t know how you stack up on those fronts. However, I will say that most of the time when I’ve worked with reapplicants and I review their old materials, I IMMEDIATELY notice red flags and things I wouldn’t have advised them to do — everything from typos in their resumes or the app itself to using stories in their essays that didn’t differentiate them to choosing the wrong recommenders.

    The fact that you got an interview at Booth shows that not all top programs are going to hold your past transgression against you. But you’re right, it’s unfortunately an easy reason for some programs to choose someone else instead of you. It totally sucks, but I am not sure what else you can do about it except admit it head-on in your optional essay/additional info space and show how you’ve changed/grown.

    So I can’t really say if it’s worth reapplying without knowing if you absolutely put your best foot forward this time around and what else you might have the chance to strengthen next time around. But I will say that just this year two of my clients were reapplicants to HBS and GSB and got in when last year they were either outright denied or dinged after an interview. So it IS possible.

    As for your “where do I go from here?” question, as I’ve said many other times on this board, most of the business leaders who have changed our world do NOT have MBAs, so don’t let this setback distract you from your ultimate goals!
    I would challenge anyone to tell me what kind of world-changing role/position actually REQUIRES an MBA. I would urge you to spend some time figuring out what path you can take to achieve your ultimate career goals without an MBA, because I guarantee you there IS one.

    So chin up… I know it doesn’t feel like it right now, but it’s not the end of the world. You will be just fine, I promise! If you are really dead-set on an MBA and feel like you wouldn’t want to reapply next year, I would encourage you to consider part-time, night/weekends or executive MBA programs. My husband went to Booth part-time and had all of the same profs as my friends who went full-time. He had just as great of an experience, made just as close of friends, has leveraged the Booth network in his job, and is very active in the school as an alum. It’s another means to the exact same end: an MBA from a top program.

    (But in the meantime, best of luck with your Booth interview — don’t lose hope!)

  • Erika Olson

    First off, I’m sorry to hear this. I know how tough this sort of news is to take, especially after you undoubtedly spent months working on your materials.

    As I’m sure you understand, it’s impossible for me to give you advice when I don’t know anything about you or your candidacy. However, I will say that most of the time when I’ve worked with reapplicants and I review their old materials, I IMMEDIATELY notice red flags and things I wouldn’t have advised them to do — everything from typos in their resumes or the app itself to using stories in their essays that didn’t differentiate them to choosing the wrong recommenders.

    So I can’t really say if it’s worth reapplying without knowing if you absolutely put your best foot forward this time around and what else you might have the chance to strengthen (GMAT? Leadership? Extracurriculars? Initiative?) next time around. But I will say that just this year two of my clients were reapplicants to HBS and GSB and got in when last year they were either outright denied or dinged after an interview. So it IS possible.

    While I certainly don’t think everyone needs to use an admissions consultant when they apply, this might be the case where you the money would be well-spent on some objective guidance if you truly don’t know how you could improve. But first I would recommend taking a few weeks off and then revisiting everything with fresh eyes and going from there.

    And remember, as I’ve said many other times on this board, most of the business leaders who have changed our world do NOT have MBAs, so don’t let this distract you from your ultimate goals!

  • Caleb

    Hello – I did not get an interview at Wharton either. As the reader below asks, is there actually a chance to get in if you reapply for round 1 in fall? I also don’t see what would change. My GMAT was 780, solid work experience (4 years so far) at a MBB, 3.8 GPA from Northwestern. The only issue was that I had a record (for hazing on a sports team when I was 19 – was suspended). One of the M7 schools I was rejected from actually told me that was the reason, which I respect. Is that something I regret? Absolutely. I respect Wharton’s decision, it is hard not to take someone who has the clean record. Was basically rejected at all others schools, including some outside of the top 10. I do have an interview invite at Booth, but things are looking slim. If I don’t get in anywhere, where do I go from there?

  • Eff this

    Did not get an interview at Wharton. Didn’t get in anywhere. Is there even any point re-applying in the fall? What would change in a few months?

  • Erika Olson

    To make this process even MORE frustrating and anxiety-inducing, I get to tell you that not getting an interview invite at HBS (or really any of the other top schools) has absolutely no bearing on what will happen with the other places you’ve applied to. I always like to tell people the story of a client I had a few years back who got straight-up dinged without an interview everywhere — including some Tier 2 schools — and then got in to Stanford after she had totally lost all hope. (She also got her interview invite from Stanford on the ultimate last day of their monthlong range… needless to say both she and I had aged like 5 years during that time!)

    I’ve seen every possible combination of accept/interview invite/ding you can possibly imagine, so there is always reason to hold out hope until you’ve heard from your final school. I wouldn’t believe anyone who says there IS a correlation because no one has the actual data to prove such a claim. I have seen the most impressive candidates I’ve ever worked with get dings to HBS and Stanford and then get into Wharton, I’ve seen the reverse… and for those applying to HBS and Stanford I rarely rarely RARELY see someone get interview invites to both.

    But again, I think this is positive news because MOST people are going to get dings to the top schools, it’s just how the numbers work out. So the more places you apply, the better odds you have at some level. At the end of the day it’s a human being — or small group of human beings — making subjective decisions about candidates, so there’s really no way to predict or decode their decision-making process. All you can do is put together the best set of materials possible for you and hope for the best after you hit submit.

    Hope this helps and best of luck!

  • Mitchell

    If you don’t get an interview invite at hbs, how good of a predictor is that of a stanFord invite? A wharton invite? Booth? MIT? I imagine there’d be some correlation.

  • Erika Olson

    I don’t work with many clients each round and this is a really, really unique situation, so no, I’ve never had any experience with this personally nor do I know of another consultant who has. I think your chances of going to b-school again would come down to what each school’s policy is. If you don’t actually have an MBA degree yet and you know now to be 100% honest on your app, I’m not sure what would be preventing you from applying to other schools again? Is there something you know of for other programs’ rules that’s holding you back?

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Someone asked me almost the exact same question (but for MIT instead of Booth) yesterday, so I will share with you the same advice I gave them:

    I would absolutely not advise you to turn down Booth for another shot at HBS, especially since you didn’t get an interview at HBS. It seems very unlikely that you would be able to improve/change anything of significance about your candidacy in the months (less than a year) that you have before Round 1 deadlines in the fall — with or without a consultant. And there is no guarantee you would get into Booth again next year. In fact, they could probably see through your strategy and it could work against you.

    Booth is one of the best business schools in the world — consistently rated ABOVE HBS and others (as my husband who went to Booth likes to kindly remind me every so often), and literally thousands of people around the world would do anything to be in your position, so I would take a step back and shake off the disappointment and realize how incredibly lucky you are. I know that rejection can sting — and oftentimes an MBA ding is the FIRST time a candidate has ever experienced rejection in their lives — but in this case you need to focus on the amazing accomplishment of getting into Booth and try to recapture your excitement. I’ll be honest in that it sounds like a little bit of an ego thing that you’re suddenly not excited anymore just because you read a selectivity percentage. There is so much that goes into those numbers (especially the whole self-selection part about who applies where) that I think you’re being a bit short-sighted about it.

    I’ve never met anyone who didn’t think their b-school experience was the best… meaning no matter where you go, you’re going to love it and have a great time. As I mentioned, my husband and some of my best friends went to Booth and their experience was amazing. My bet is that you are just upset about not getting into HBS and that is putting a damper on your excitement about Booth. Hopefully you’ll be able to move past that soon and focus on the wonderful two years you have ahead of you — congrats!

  • Amy W

    Got into booth r1 and was so excited… but didn’t get an interview with hbs. Then I saw the acceptance rate, and booth is like a 25% of getting in. I really want to go to Harvard. Should I reapply next year? Would hiring a consultant help?

  • Anonymous

    Without revealing my identity, in my b-school app, I said I worked from Dec. until Dec. when really i worked until Dec. until the end of October. However, I was paid severance until Dec, and I read posts on the internet that it would be okay to put that on your resume. That is not true, and I strongly advise everyone to not do what I did. There were conversations between myself and the Dean of admissions when the background check finally went through. It was definitely a lay-off, but not a ‘large-scale’ lay-off. They deliberated, and made a decision, no appeal is allowed. I was literally escorted off of campus after my class. The dean briefly mentioned that this happens every year, and if they grant leniency to one, it would not be fair. Anyhow, I was wondering if you had ever had such experience with this. Is this the end of the road for me in terms of an MBA?

  • Erika Olson

    I would absolutely not advise you to turn down MIT for another shot at HBS, especially since you didn’t get an interview at HBS. It seems very unlikely that you would be able to improve/change anything of significance about your candidacy in the months (less than a year) that you have before Round 1 deadlines in the fall. And there is no guarantee you would get into MIT again next year. In fact, they could probably see through your strategy and it could work against you.

    Sloan is one of the hardest schools in the world to get in to, and literally thousands of people around the world would do anything to be in your position, so I would take a step back and shake off the disappointment and realize how incredibly lucky you are. I know that rejection can sting — and oftentimes an MBA ding is the FIRST time a candidate has ever experienced rejection in their lives — but in this case you need to focus on the amazing accomplishment of getting into MIT. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t think their b-school experience was the best… meaning no matter where you go, you’re going to love it and have a great time. My bet is that you are just upset about not getting into HBS and that is putting a damper on your excitement about Sloan. Hopefully you’ll be able to move past that soon and focus on the wonderful two years you have ahead of you — congrats!

  • Erika Olson

    You can read my response above… and then I would add that again, if you were my client I would advise you to stick with your GRE score and move on to strengthening other parts of your candidacy. I personally feel candidates put WAY too much weight on the GMAT/GRE scores. Plenty of people get in with GRE scores… you may not be aware of this because the schools do not publish GRE score averages (per my comment above), but it absolutely does happen.

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Sorry, I felt I had answered your question before. Here are more explicit answers:

    1) I would say that as long as you are within the stated date range the school has on its site, you’re fine. If you’re within that range, they just care about the score.

    2) I think your GRE score is fine and if you were my client I would say to submit that (as long as it’s valid date-wise) and move on to strengthening other parts of your candidacy. In my opinion the only difference is that GMAT scores are ultimately compiled for the school’s class average, whereas they’re still not doing that yet with the GRE (which could be a reason why schools can sometimes seem to be a little more lenient with GRE scores… knowing that if the person is admitted with a lower score it won’t affect the average GMAT score that is publicly posted. That’s just a theory, though.)

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    I’m not really clear on what you are saying happened. Are you saying that in your b-school application you said you worked somewhere one month longer than you actually did, and then once you were admitted and a student on campus they ran a background check and then escorted you off of the campus?

    I find it hard to believe that there wouldn’t have been a meeting between you and the adcom to get an explanation about what happened… surely they wouldn’t have just escorted you off of the campus without even a conversation? Sorry, I’m just not sure how to respond because I don’t understand what happened.

  • abhikish2009@gmail.com

    I have a similar question too. With a 95th percentile quant and 92nd percentile verbal (168 and 163 respectively), should I consider giving the GMAT, or apply with GRE? Does GRE create an impression that candidate is not serious about MBA? I haven’t really seen many examples of candidates getting in with GRE.

  • Doug

    Erika,

    I posted a few weeks ago but my comment got buried so I was hoping you could help with two questions:
    1–Do adcoms generally have an opinion on whether or not a submitted test score has been taken in the recent past as opposed to a few years prior to applying?
    2–With a GRE score of 90th percentile verbal and 95th percentile quantitative, would you recommend sitting for the GMAT anyways or just submitting the GRE score alone? Are there any factors that should be taken in consideration in the GRE/GMAT issue beyond just percentile scored?

    Thanks

  • maria

    Hi Erika,

    I didn’t get into HBS. Didn’t get an interview. Very disappointed. I did get into MIT, but I don’t think I want to go there. Do you ever advise clients to turn down an acceptance and reapply round 1 next year if their sights are set on HSW, but mostly just Harvard?

    Thanks,
    Maria

  • Lee

    Yea your response definitely makes sense. Thanks for the color. I was just wondering if the extra GMAT score would help especially in the latter scenario. Since there would be more than enough of Asian male candidates in the financial services candidate pool, holding all else equal, I thought a higher GMAT would be more favorable. But I guess “holding all else equal” scenario is not a very realistic assumption to begin with… And anther reason why I asked was that it seems schools offer scholarships to candidates with higher GMAT scores, so I thought the GMAT score is more than just a “checking a box” type of variable in the process.

  • Erika Olson

    I guess I’m confused… if that person already got an interview, the adcoms are not going to accept any other GMAT score after the candidate’s app is in. You cannot just randomly update the adcom with new info — they hate that and it would likely work AGAINST the candidate.

    The only time I’ve seen a new GMAT score accepted is if someone was waitlisted and the program in question was OK with/asked for additional supporting materials in the meantime before a final decision was made and the candidate submitted an updated GMAT score. Otherwise the candidate has already proven that their score was enough to get to the interview stage.

    If you’re asking whether or not it’s worth taking the GMAT again just in general after you get a 720, I would say no. I think once someone gets over a 700 — ESPECIALLY if they’re in financial services — it’s just like they’ve “checked the box” for that candidate and move on to assessing what that candidate will bring to the classroom in terms of experience/stories to share. Nothing about your score on the GMAT is going to help your fellow classmates learn, so it’s truly just a hurdle to get over to prove you can handle the curriculum and won’t have to be kicked out.

    So in either scenario I strongly believe retaking the GMAT would not help.

    Hope that makes sense!

  • Lee

    Hi Erika,

    Not to beat a dead horse, but I do have a quick question on the GMAT score. Let’s say an Asian male candidate from financial services with a 720 GMAT gets an interview from M7 schools – would you say re-taking the GMAT to get 750 help the odds of getting in meaningfully? I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt, but I’m curious to know your take on this idea. Thank you.

    Lee

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Sorry, but I don’t feel comfortable providing you with this level of specific advice about something so important when I only have a few sentences to go from and am not familiar with the various options you have. I would recommend contacting SBC for a free consultation and they should be able to match you with someone who can better assess your situation and provide you with some guidance.

    http://www.stacyblackman.com/contact/

    Hope that helps!

  • Pranshu Gupta

    hi Erika
    i am an aspiring MBA candidate for an ivy league from India.i did my chartered accountancy(kind of a US CPA) right after my high school and due to that my undergrad(I have an undergrad in finance and commerce) was not regular as the code of indian chartered accounts does not allow a regular under-graduation with chartered accountancy.Now i came to know that the ivy league colleges do not accept correspondence (distant learning) undergrad.i would like to seek your advice on how to proceed so that i do not face a straight rejection at the top B-Schools should i go for a regular masters(Masters in financial management with one year specialisation in corporate finance is available here in Amity university) or should i go in for some work experience at some Big 4 firm??

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Well I’m not sure what you mean by “now” when you say “apply now.” I would NOT recommend you apply in Round 3 of this application season, which is the only option left in the immediate future. Basically because I just wouldn’t recommend that ANYONE apply in Round 3 unless you fit a very unique set of criteria.

    It is really impossible for me to say if you should apply in Round 1 (this coming fall) or wait another year because I just don’t know that much about you. What the usual process is is that someone fills out the free SBC consultation form and then a member of our sales team would talk through those scenarios with you (applying in Fall 2016 or waiting, etc). Then if they advise you that Round 1 of this year would be the way to go, you could certainly request me as your consultant. However, I usually don’t take on Round 1 clients until the summer and the matching process is a little more complicated than I can expound upon here, but no matter what you would be in good hands with SBC!

    Here’s the link for the initial free consultation:

    http://www.stacyblackman.com/contact/

    I think the good news is that you have several months before you have to make your decision, and during that time you can really be doing everything you can to lead projects at both your new job and at any volunteer/nonprofit organizations or causes you’re involved with. And studying for your GMAT if you haven’t already taken it.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Personally I don’t think the political landscape would matter to the adcom. I always always always think it’s best to be true to yourself and your passions in your application materials, so it sounds like you did the right thing.

    What’s tough is that when someone doesn’t get an interview invite or otherwise gets dinged from a top program, they tend to zero in on something they were worried about and think “D’ah! That’s the reason! I shouldn’t have done/said that!” Whereas the reality is that literally thousands of AWESOME candidates get dinged and the only “reason” is that there just isn’t enough space for everyone.

    So don’t doubt yourself. You will end up in the right program for you, and if you don’t get in anywhere, then it was not meant to be this year and it will in no way stop you from achieving what you want to achieve in life. I always remind people to look at the leaders who have truly changed the way we work and live. I don’t think any of them have MBAs! : ) So it’s clearly not a make-it-or-break-it thing that will determine your ultimate success in life.

    Best of luck!

  • Whitney

    Is it possible to request you specifically if I am to go with Stacy Blackman?

  • Erika Olson

    I’m here more to help people with their application questions, so I’m not totally comfortable with theorizing on things like this, but my knee-jerk reaction would that that a large number of people apply to HBS specifically because it is Harvard and they don’t want to wonder “What if?” when they are old and gray. Meaning that people who apply to ANY MBA program also thrown HBS into the mix because they’re already putting forth a lot of effort on their application materials and figure “Why the heck not?” I would bet a good chunk of change on this theory. So it has nothing to do with the quality or reputation of the other programs, it has to do with everyone wanting their shot at HBS.

    Also, not sure if you realized this, but you actually already stated Booth’s acceptance rate (so the part about “So the odds of getting in to Booth…” was already answered). Support of those figures is here, as is support of the fact that more people apply to HBS than to ANY other b-school, so again, it’s clearly not that the other schools aren’t as good.

    http://poetsandquants.com/2011/04/22/the-50-most-selective-mba-programs-in-the-u-s/

    Hope that all makes sense!

  • Whitney

    My issues is that I was at a consulting job for 2 years, then left to another consulting job that I thought was a good fit. I was at firm 2 for a year, and found a better job where I am now. I have been at my job for a few months. Would you recommend I stay at this current job for awhile before applying, or apply now? I just feel like consulting has taught me all i have to know. I would love to work with you personally, I think that your knowledge of the HBS process is invaluable.

  • Erika Olson

    I know this answer sounds trite, but there honestly is not an ideal number of years of work experience. Truly, there’s not. HBS and Stanford actually recruit some applicants straight out of undergrad, whereas others in the class might be in their 30s. It’s all about what you bring to the classroom — for some people, they have a lot to talk about when they’re just a few years out of school. Others choose to focus on their careers or other pursuits and don’t apply until they have more years under their belts. If you feel like you have something you can teach your fellow classmates, then now could be the right time. If you feel like you wouldn’t have a heck of a lot to say or show for yourself just yet, then you might be better off waiting and using another year or two to take initiative at work and get other types of leadership and life experience. Hope that helps!

  • Whitney

    ideally, what is the number of years of work experience BY matriculation? I’m going through a lot of profiles of Wharton and HBS students, and I think it seems to be like 5-6 years!! I only have 3 years at the moment. Is that too few?

  • maria

    So Booth has a class size that is almost half the size of Harvard’s (~500 vs. ~900), and yet Booth’s acceptance rate is pretty much double that of Harvard’s (~25% vs 12%), which means that not a lot of people apply to Booth. So the odds of getting into Booth must be high. Why is that the case? If Booth really were such a good school, shouldn’t there be the same number of people applying?

  • Natalie

    Hi Erika,

    Thank you for taking the time to answer so many questions. I was wondering, how having grown up in another country and having a dual citizenship may affect one’s application, if it is a country with which USA does not have the best relationship currently.

    Does political landscape matter in MBA applications, you think?

    I was a bit conflicted before I decided it was best to be honest and talk about my love for my home country, family who still lives there and the good and the bad I have learned and seen growing up.

    But as many other R2 applicants, I am currently having second thoughts…

  • Erika Olson

    Congrats on getting into HBS! However, I would caution and remind anyone who reads this who’s still an applicant that the essay is read in the context of a resume, online app, transcript, GMAT score and two recommendation letters. So it’s tough to just what works and what doesn’t solely by an essay. I have several clients who were successful with 1,200 word essays… but I would argue that the adcom’s mind is probably already mostly made up before they get to your essay, and your essay is what could help sway them one way or the other, or move someone who was in the “no” pile into the “interview invite” pile in rare cases.

    So do your best to fill in the blanks for them and show your personality in the process!

  • Erika Olson

    It’s true they send out most invitations in the first wave (today), but since no one except the HBS adcom knows how that wave was comprised, there’s still reason to keep hope alive for next week’s wave, even though the invites will be fewer in number. Beyond that I have no insights except that I feel like HBS has the clearest and most transparent process and I wish other schools did the same thing instead of providing monthlong ranges for when invites will trickle out!

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Well, the good news is that if you’re on the waitlist at your top three school, (to me) that means that you ARE a strong enough candidate on paper and the GMAT wasn’t THAT big of a concern for them or else you wouldn’t even be on the waitlist.

    If you had been my client I would’ve had you write a short response or essay in the “Additional Info/Optional Essay” space acknowledging your poor quant score and pointing out other reasons why the adcom should rest assured that you can handle their program (strong grades in quant classes in undergrad + quant/analytical work you’ve done in your career).

    Some consultants might disagree with me, but I personally don’t think it’s worth taking a math course at this point. My reason is that if schools are worried about you being able to handle their program but still want you in their class, almost all programs have their OWN “boot camp” they would make your admittance contingent upon. It’s usually something you attend on campus a few weeks before everyone else gets there.

    So my advice for the waitlist would be more along the lines of following each schools rules for what they do/do not want to hear or receive from you before they make their final decision. If a school says they won’t accept any other updates, they mean it, so don’t annoy them by not following their rules. Otherwise, if you’re allowed to provide updates, think more in terms of what will make you an asset to the class that you haven’t already told them or that has changed since you sent in your app — or other things you’ve done to learn about their program, etc. I would say bringing up the potential weakness/red flag in your candidacy is NOT the way to go — why give them a reason to choose someone else over you if a spot opens up?

    Hope that helps and best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    I addressed these comments in my response above; just wanted to make sure you don’t miss it.

  • Erika Olson

    Someone else wrote me this same question below so I will repeat part of my answer here:

    First of all, I’m really sorry to hear you didn’t get an interview invite today. Applying to business school can be an extremely humbling process, especially when most applicants are used to being the best in their respective fields and always top of the class throughout school, etc. It may be the first time some applicants have *ever* dealt with any kind of rejection, and there’s no other way to say it: it sucks. (By the way, you do know that another wave of invites is going out next week, right? Some people seem to think those are only 2+2 invites. Those people weren’t reading Dee’s blog very carefully!)

    If you don’t end up getting in, my advice would be to take a really objective look at your candidacy and see what you could strengthen over the next year. Take initiative at work, get involved in a cause you believe in (and take a leadership position in a related org, too), improve your GMAT score (if you think that might’ve been the issue), etc. If you are the same person who replied as “HF” below, I would add that the tough part is that you are likely in some overrepresented buckets, both demographically and industry/role-wise. It is not that you’re aren’t qualified, it’s that there are thousands of others who are also qualified and you’re all competing for a handful of spots. But the good news is that I have seen people successfully reapply to HBS, Stanford and Wharton. It’s tougher, but it’s possible. The difference year by year (and even round by round) is that you don’t know who else is competing directly against you for a spot. Next year might end up working out in your favor for that very reason.

    The next thing would be to decide whether you want an MBA overall… or if you only want an MBA from certain programs. If you want an MBA overall, then widen your net next year and apply to less selective schools in order to up your chances. The reality is that only applying to Harvard, Stanford and Wharton really limits ANYONE’s odds — they’re just incredibly tough schools to get into. So if you want an MBA, you must widen your net. This selectivity chart is a good place to start — make sure you apply to at least a few programs with greater than 25% selectivity:

    http://poetsandquants.com/2011/04/22/the-50-most-selective-mba-programs-in-the-u-s/

    Hope that helps and best of luck next week!

  • Erika Olson

    Hey there –

    Sorry, I don’t really have any insight into that — only here to help people with their applications! : )

    My guess would be (for ALL schools) that it helps cover the cost of the adcom team’s salaries and various office supplies and computer equipment, the online application server and updates to the online app, printing expenses, mailing/postage expenses, etc.

    Erika

  • Daniel

    Why do MBA programs have such an expensive application fee? I think its exorbitant:

    Around 8000 applicants apply to HBS a year. Application is $250. That comes out to $2,000,000 for HBS admissions. Is that not insane? Almost greedy.

  • HF

    Thanks, John. I applied to Wharton and Stanford in Round 1. Did not get any interviews for either school. I have a 740 GMAT, and 3.7 GPA from Chicago. Worked at Credit Suisse in NY for 2 years in IB, and now at a tech PE firm in Boston for last 2 years, fast promotion. I also hired an admissions consultant, and essays really came from the heart. Volunteer in the community teaching tech/science to underprivileged kids. Not sure what happened. Maybe one of my recommenders hated me. If I don’t get in this year, I don’t see what would change next year.

  • JohnAByrne

    You still have a shot in wave two. I’m sure Erika is going to advise you to develop a slate of schools you would like to attend and not put all your chips in one basket next year. You could still apply in round three to a couple of alternatives or, if you have your heart set on HBS, reapply next year, while also sending in apps to other great places.

  • Max

    DIdn’t get an interview from HBS. It was the only school I applied to 🙁 What should I do now?

  • Ryan

    Hi Erika,

    I have a question regarding the waitlist and how to approach it. I’ve been waitlisted at my top 3 schools (Duke, Cornell & UNC). After taking an objective look at my application I think it’s pretty obvious my greatest weakness is the quant section of the GMAT (660 Q:42 V:39). A 42 Quant is the 50th percentile. I’ve always struggled with standardized tests my entire life and it took me over a year of studying for this exam while juggling a full time job just to hit 660 so I’m at the point where I don’t think it’s beneficial to retake the exam (I’ve already taken it 3x).

    I’m confident in my quantitative proficiency I just struggle to demonstrate that on standardized exams. Is there anything you think I can do to boost my odds of converting from the wait list to an acceptance? I figure at this point it’s too late to enroll in math courses to supplement my application because it will take too long to complete. Are online classes such as coursera or MBA math helpful if I’m able to get high scores? Any advice is much appreciated. Thanks

  • Eric

    Does the HBS “wave” of interviews, really not matter? I mean, they’re going to send out most invitations the first wave right? Any insights?

  • Doug

    Thanks for your response Erika. According to ETS, the GRE score is valid for five years after the testing year in which you tested (with the testing year measured from July 1-June 30). Having taken the test in September 2011, I believe that would make my test score valid until June 30, 2017, however a significant time would have passed between the test and submitting my score. To follow up, my percentiles were 90th for verbal and 95th for quantitative (another reason I’d like to use this score if at all possible).Thanks for your help.

  • Erika Olson

    (Reposting this from above in case people are only reading this thread.)

    We didn’t introduce ourselves when I was at HBS, and they just started asking this question in apps last year. I think that although they say you’ll be reading your intros out loud to your class and therefore you should definitely keep that in mind both for content and tone, you must first and foremost get through the adcom! So don’t get TOO wrapped up in thinking about the reality of reading it to your classmates… first think about what the adcom doesn’t already know from the rest of your materials and help fill in those blanks.

    SBC recommends the essay not be over 1,200 words. Most of my successful clients have been between 1,000-1,2000 words, with a few up to 1,400… this is just anecdotal advice, of course. It still comes down to the content and having the essay be enjoyable to read but also not throwing everything and the kitchen sink in there just because you technically can.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    There are two things that would worry me about if you applied this year: 1) it sounds like you haven’t taken the GMAT yet. I would want to know your actual score… not a target, and 2) Round 1 and 2’s deadlines are passed, so you’d have to both take the GMAT *and* pull together a stellar application by the Round 3 deadline, which I think would be very tough to do.

    Everything else you’ve written about yourself sounds very promising for the 2+2 programs, it’s just that I’m not sure the timing would work out for you since Round 3 is notoriously harder (despite what they’re saying on their site). But if you want to give it a shot then I certainly don’t think they would hold it against you in the future if you got dinged now and then reapplied in like 3 or 4 years.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Hmm, my first bit of advice would be to double-check testing requirements… I’m almost positive that you would have to take the test again since it’s been 5 years (I think that’s the cutoff, so you would be past it now).

    Also, if you find out your score is still valid, please write back with the percentiles associated with your scores — that’s what I go by (can’t keep the values of scores for the various different tests straight).

    Hope this helps!

  • Nolfi

    Current HBS student story:

    “”I grew up an a dairy farm, and when I was a kid, I wondered if the microorganisms in my cow’s first stomach could be cultured in a mason jar filled with water and sugar. I formed a hypothesis.

    I conducted an experiment.
    I determined that I was wrong.
    I fell in love with the scientific method as a means to test my assumptions and satiate my curiosity.

    As a professional, I practiced the scientific method while creating rice varieties that produce life-saving protein pharmaceuticals. As I gained experience as a project manager and collaborated with my teammates in the lab, I realized how businesses can create massive, self-sustaining good, particularly when designed with an awareness that aligns organizational purpose with organizational structure. This realization led me to pursue my MBA.

    A few years ago, I found myself sitting on a hospital bed, deeply humbled by the incredible empathy shown to me by the hospital staff. I was struck by how powerfully this empathy influenced my perception of the medical care I received from them, and also my perception of myself as a patient. Ever since, I have been dedicated to learning how human-centered design can be applied to create products and services that carry meaning for people.

    My mission is to apply the scientific method, business principles, and a practice of empathy to create products that people treasure.”

    Not even 250 words. But very effective.

  • Erika Olson

    We didn’t introduce ourselves when I was at HBS, and they just started asking this question in apps last year. I think that although they say you’ll be reading your intros out loud to your class and therefore you should definitely keep that in mind both for content and tone, you must first and foremost get through the adcom! So don’t get TOO wrapped up in thinking about the reality of reading it to your classmates… first think about what the adcom doesn’t already know from the rest of your materials and help fill in those blanks.

    SBC recommends the essay not be over 1,200 words. Most of my successful clients have been between 1,000-1,2000 words, with a few up to 1,400… this is just anecdotal advice, of course. It still comes down to the content and having the essay be enjoyable to read but also not throwing everything and the kitchen sink in there just because you technically can.

    Hope that helps!

  • hbshopeful

    Just my $0.02 – don’t forget your potential future peers won’t be reading your essay when you submit the application. It’s anyone’s guess, but I would say you have better odds of getting in if you write 1000 words essay vs. 200 words essay.

  • Alex

    How long would you suggest the HBS essay to be? When you were an HBS student, how long did people actually introduce themselves for? I’m thinking that if I were actually in class, I would not talk for more than a minute. It would go something like, “Hi – I’m Alex, I went to undergrad XYZ, and I worked at XYZ before coming here. I’m really interested in XYZ, and I look forward to getting to know all of you!” I mean would anyone REALLY want to hear some dramatic sob story, or some high brow story of how they got into microbial farming (you will probably sound like a “that” kid that no one likes”, or a de facto TED talk (again – annoying!). I can’t imagine everyone in class reading a 1000 word essay/5 minute long essay. Imagine that, 100 students x 5 minutes ~ 10 hours.

  • HBSdreamer

    I NEVER said that you specifically had sub-par credentials. I was directly responding to your sentence where you say ” does the desire for a diverse HCM class not outweigh the credentials an applicant may or may not have.”, which I read to mean “would being a diversity candidate outweigh a lack of credentials, ie sub-par credentials.

  • HealthcareHopeful

    Thanks Erika! I really appreciate your perspective and definitely helped answer my question. In my original post I never meant to give the impression that I hope to squeeze in just because I am a URM, I was moreso just wondering if focus area diversity was something adcoms valued as well as for the general MBA program overall. As I commented above, I happen to work for a healthcare company that has sent multiple applicants to the Wharton HCM program every year and while I am not relying on my URM status to get me into any or every MBA program I’m applying, I’m sure everyone can agree that any little advantage you can find within your profile can help your confidence level when applying to such selective programs

  • HealthcareHopeful

    First of all, I never said that just because I am an African American female with “sub-par” credentials, that would automatically get me accepted into the HCM program so I would appreciate that you didn’t call my thought process fruitless. I am referencing what Erika later addressed below that plenty of highly qualified applicants are denied all the time and I was simply wondering if being a URM would be an advantage in that instance. I.e. if diversity was valued enough in focus areas (not just into the general mba program) to where if I had similar stats as a white male and only one spot was available in the HCM, who would be accepted. I also happen to work for a healthcare company that has sent multiple applicants to the Wharton HCM program every year so I wouldn’t say my profile is sub-par.

  • Alex

    How long would you suggest then? When you were an HBS student, how long did people actually introduce themselves for? I’m thinking that if I were actually in class, I would not talk for more than a minute. It would go something like, “Hi – I’m Alex, I went to undergrad XYZ, and I worked at XYZ before coming here. I’m really interested in XYZ, and I look forward to getting to know all of you!” I mean would anyone REALLY want to hear some dramatic sob story, or some high brow story of how they got into microbial farming (you will probably sound like a “that” kid that no one likes”, or a de facto TED talk (again – annoying!). I can’t imagine everyone in class reading a 1000 word essay/5 minute long essay. Imagine that, 100 students x 5 minutes ~ 10 hours.

  • HBSdreamer

    That is absolutely fair, and I 100% agree. I definitely think though that B-School is fair in that they would not just accept someone because of the color of their skin if they didn’t have the credentials. However, if everything else is equal, they might go for the under-represented minority candidate. Thanks for the detailed response!

  • Erika Olson

    We usually advise people to NOT ever talk about “Why HBS” because: 1) the essay assumes you are already AT HBS and are introducing yourself to your section, and 2) HBS has never ever ever asked applicants to explain why they want to go there. They know why. ; )

    So i would recommend that you start with writing out how you honest-to-god would introduce yourself to your classmates. A little about where you grew up, where you went to school, and what you’ve done in your career. Perhaps something about anything you are passionate about/spend your free time doing. Definitely talk about your career goals, but more importantly WHY they are your goals (because you already list your career goals in the app). And if there are some things you plan to do at HBS that are related to your interests, perhaps a mention of those.

    There is definitely no one “right way” to approach this essay, but I definitely think it should be in your voice, conversational, and written as if you are actually addressing your fellow classmates (rather than the adcom). Let your personality come through — think of what YOU would want to know about someone else in your section and then explain that same stuff about yourself!

    And I do think that the essay is your big chance to show them your personality, which is hard to get from the rest of the materials. I think most things are weighted pretty equally and they’re judging you on your entire candidacy, but the essay is what could push them to really want to meet you for an interview.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    To be honest, since I myself haven’t ever worked in HC, it would be hard for me to say whether or not there could be a lack of African American females applying to b-schools overall (or specifically the Wharton HCM program) and if so, whether or not that low number of applicants is stemming from perhaps a low number of African American women in HC overall in the first place. (Hope that makes sense!)
    So I don’t think I can really comment on the question you are asking me.

    However, I will say that from everything I’ve seen and experienced, I believe that: 1) b-schools definitely do value diversity within focus areas, but that 2) they first and foremost want to be sure that every single student who’s admitted can handle the tough curriculum. If someone has to drop out (or be kicked out) of an MBA program, it’s a huge loss all around — for the program (tuition/future alum donations) and the student in question (lost tuition/time/moving expenses/etc). At HBS in my section alone two people were asked to leave, and I know of at least one other person in my overall graduating class who was asked to leave (for the record: all were male, 2 were white, 1 was Latino… but ALL were very shy and just couldn’t contribute in class at the level they needed to for case-based discussions and grading). The schools really, REALLY want to be sure they are selecting people who can and will contribute.

    So if you have spent your career in HC and can demonstrate (by your undergrad institution, GPA, GMAT/GRE, analytical work you’ve done in your career, etc) that you can not only handle but add to the program, I would think — based on your assessment of there being no other female African American students in the program — that you would be a compelling candidate for the Wharton HCM program. If you are just as strong as the other candidates and bring a diverse perspective they don’t already have, it seems like they would be interested in learning more about you (does the HCM program have interviews? I’m assuming they do).

    All I will say to the commenter below is that it is absolutely not true that if “you are good enough for the program, you will get into the program.” In fact, I spend the majority of my time trying to tell panicked applicants on message boards that it is NOT because they weren’t good enough that they might’ve gotten a ding. The top programs could admit literally thousands of qualified students each year… if they had the space. But there is limited space, which means thousands of people who ARE good enough are going to be disappointed. In the end, the adcoms have to make really tough calls, and I don’t envy their position.

    Best of luck!

  • HBSdreamer

    It is quite simple: if you are good enough for the program, you will get into the program REGARDLESS of skin color, etc.It would be unfair if they accepted an African American female who had a sub-par profile just so they can say they accepted an African American female. I.e. the color of your skin should NEVER outweigh the credentials an applicant lacks. That type of thinking is fruitless.

  • HealthcareHopeful

    Hi Erika!

    I know
    that top MBA programs value a diverse class both gender and ethnicity wise, but
    what about diversity in different focus areas. For example, I’m extremely
    interested in applying to Wharton’s HCM program and I understand it is super
    competitive. I am an African American female and have noticed that the last few
    HCM class resume books do not contain a single African American female, and
    very few African Americans, if at all. Could this be due to the lack of black
    females applying to the HCM program or does the desire for a diverse HCM class not
    outweigh the credentials an applicant may or may not have. Would love to know
    your thoughts!

  • Alex

    Okay, let’s talk about it – the HBS essay. “Introduce yourself.” Don’t even know where to begin! Am I supposed to use this space to talk about why I want to go to HBS and what my post-MBA goals are? Help! How important do you think this one essay is in the overall HBS application scheme of things?

  • Doug

    Hey Erika,

    Quick question on GRE/GMAT for my situation. I happened to take the GRE back in 2011 since I was looking at different graduate school options beyond just business school. In the years since using a GRE score has obviously become more common. I scored a 162V/168Q and was wondering two things: first, what is your opinion on needing to take the GMAT in a situation like mine? I’ve read that schools prefer the GMAT, but would prefer to start planning out studying for the GMAT now (probably applying fall 2017 admit) if it is an issue which needs to be taken into consideration. Second, does the recency of a test score affect anything? I’m just wondering if a test score from 5 years ago might be considered stale at all.

    Thanks.

  • Erika Olson

    That is definitely not my understanding of how admissions decisions between/across the two programs were made in the recent past (and my info is directly from someone who used to be on the Wharton adcom). However, there is of course a chance things could’ve changed since my contact was there. My advice to you would be to simply call and ask — you’re not asking anything shady… it’s a really good question, and something that should be clearer on their site if it’s causing confusing for applicants. Don’t forget to report back what they say — it’ll bring you good application karma, I promise.

  • College student

    Hey Erika, I would like your advice as to whether or not I have a shot for Stanford or HBS 2+2/if I should wait to apply post PE. I am currently a senior at an undergrad business school (think Olin/Mendoza). Below are my credentials.

    1) During college, I have interned at a Fortune 500 company as a strategy analyst, private equity megafund as an investment analyst, BB in a top Financial Sponsors Group (think CS/BAML), and at my school’s art gallery researching art. I will be returning full time to the BB.
    2) Targeting 750+ on the GMAT
    3) 3.8 GPA with a major in Finance and minor in Art History.
    4) A ton of leadership experience within business clubs. Founded the impact investing club on campus with several friends where I was the CIO, oversaw the allocation of $300,000 in club funding (helped balance different clubs budgets, led in cutting down extraneous costs, and, with my peers, decided the proper allocation of money for each club), and other leadership positions. Also, I was a member of the ski club team on campus.
    5) Future: I want to gain experience in evaluating businesses (at the BB), learn about managing a business’s needs (PE orcorporate finance), and then go to business school where I will learn the entrepreneurship side of business and develop connections. Then, I want to start an art sales company that functions as an art gallery that takes unknown art from all over th
    e world, centralizing it in NY. After traveling Eastern Europe and Africa while studying abroad last year, I found that there was a severe market need to bridge the gap between the two worlds, and I hope to create the bridge.

    Thanks!

  • eric

    Do you know if this is true? Or can anyone confirm if this is true?

    “They said that HCM admit decision is made after the Wharton admit decision (i.e., you can get accepted to Wharton, but not HCM so there is no downside to applying).”

    This was a quote I found on another poets and quants thread

  • betancurj

    Thank you very much Erika, great help!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    As it’s stated in my bio above, I don’t really comment on specific programs because 1) I just personally don’t know enough about ALL of the MBA programs out there to be an expert, and 2) it’s too hard to judge a candidate from a message board post… I usually take weeks and weeks to learn about my clients before I can really guide them on specific program options.

    Having said all of that, I’m not sure if the filmmaking stint is going to work to your advantage or not. If nothing came of it, I’m not sure how it would be relevant to your candidacy. But if you achieved something during that time or learned something that’s applicable to business school that your fellow students could learn from, then it definitely could be a differentiator. So hopefully that helps you think about whether or not you want to expound upon that time in your life or not in your essays and other materials.

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Sorry, I didn’t mean that part of my response to freak anyone out. Rest assured I’ve worked with several candidates who’ve been accepted to HBS, Stanford, and all of the other top programs without any international work experience. However, international experience is definitely becoming much more common than it was when I first started doing admissions consulting eight years ago — be it professional experience OR just personal travel. All of the top programs are definitely looking for applicants who’ve experienced and have an appreciation for other cultures. So if you have other red flags or are in competitive demographic/industry buckets and also don’t have any international experience whatsoever (meaning you have never left your home country or even worked with anyone outside of your country, even if you didn’t travel for your job), you will certainly need to work that much harder to differentiate yourself and prove what you’ll bring to the classroom. But no international experience on its own is not something that would make for an automatic ding, and I’m truly sorry if my answer above made it seem that way!

  • Erika Olson

    I hope you understand, but there’s no way I’d give anyone that specific of advice when I don’t know anything about your candidacy… I work with clients for weeks and weeks before making decisions like that. In general, however, you shouldn’t be thinking about which program might be easier to get into. They’re both incredibly tough, and your odds are higher at the program that makes the most sense for you because they will also see that it makes the most sense. If you have a HC background and want to stay in that field and apply to the regular program, they might think, “Why isn’t he applying to the HCM program? Hasn’t he done his research?” But maybe there’s some other reason why the regular program is a better fit, and your application materials should demonstrate that as well. So that’s how you should approach your ultimate decision. Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    These programs you’ve listed are all very, VERY tough to get into, even if you have a stellar GPA and GMAT. So I would definitely advise widening your net to include programs outside of the top 20 that have a higher yield (I’d say higher than 25% on this chart:).

    http://poetsandquants.com/2011/04/22/the-50-most-selective-mba-programs-in-the-u-s/

    Also, you will not be able to tell the adcom that you’ll be taking the GMAT again — they can only judge you on the score you submit, so it is in your best interest to raise that score. As Round 2 is already over for the schools you mentioned and Round 3 is pretty hard to be admitted in, I would recommend working on your candidacy and GMAT and TOEFL scores between now and Round 1 deadlines in the fall of this year. If you’ve only been out of school 2-3 years, you might even want to wait another full year.

    Hope that helps!

  • betancurj

    Or perhaps I should target other US programs?

  • betancurj

    Thanks for your answer Erika. I will touch base with Stacy Blackman
    consulting.

    Also, I
    would like to know your opinion on the following:

    I am from
    Colombia, background in finance and reinsurance (Relevant experience), proven
    leadership, assistant professor in university for the past 3 years (+ some
    other academic achievements), entrepreneur and I have a 3.1 GPA.

    I have
    presented the GMAT a couple of times (score is 620 (Q48 V27)) and I am thinking
    to retake in this month. One of my weaknesses is that I have a 98 TOEFL.

    What do you
    think are my chances in a top MBA (HBS, Wharton, LBS, Columbia, Stern, Fuqua) with
    my current score? Do you think is worth it to apply now and let them know that
    I will be taking the exam again later or should I wait for a better score to
    apply? Any advice is greatly appreciated

  • joanna

    “no international experience” = Red flag???? I have no international experience!!!!!

  • eric

    In that case, would you recommend that an average-stats HC candidate simply apply to the regular pool?

  • mailprateekparekh@gmail.com

    Hi Erika, I am in the process of applying to colleges with a GMAT score of 680. My work experience is unique because I spent 2.5 years after engineering education to pursue film making and then switched back to software. Do you think this can help me positively in the Indian/IT/Male bucket? I have 3.0 GPA in undergrad.

    I want to pursue MBA from colleges like Goizueta,Emory University or NUS,Singapore. Should I go for it or aim lower?

    How about SUNY Buffalo MBA program?

  • Erika Olson

    Yes, it’s always scary to get a ding, no matter where it’s from. But what happens at one school has no bearing on what another school will decide or how it will view your candidacy against the other applicants you’re up against. I certainly don’t think the fact your job is mostly qualitative is a bad thing — if anything it shows you should be able to handle the MBA curriculum (which is something many applicants have to work hard to prove throughout their materials). Hopefully your essays/rec letters made it clear that you have great “softer skills” and work well with others/in teams, as well.

    But at the end of the day, consultants and i-bankers are two of the biggest “buckets” applying, so it’s just going to come down who else the adcom views you as directly applying against, and whether or not you have some edge over those direct competitors. My strong belief is that once all of the “on paper” qualifications are met, the difference between an interview invite and a ding comes down to something else (usually not work related) — something that came through about your personality, what motivates you… something more personal. Something that makes them want to meet you in person or that gives them the hunch that others would have a lot to learn from you and like being in class with you. You mention “your story” but didn’t say exactly what that was, but I’m assuming perhaps it was along these lines of being more personal in nature. (EVERYONE works hard on their apps, so unfortunately that’s not really a differentiator or indicator of success!)

    So if you let your personality come through in your apps, that’s pretty much all you can do on top of all of the other things you listed that should already be in your favor.

    Best of luck and I hope your other apps go your way!

  • Erika Olson

    First of all, I’m really sorry to hear that. Applying to business school can be an extremely humbling process, especially when most applicants are used to being the best in their respective fields and always top of the class throughout school, etc. It may be the first time some applicants have ever dealt with rejection, and there’s no other way to say it: it sucks.

    My advice — without knowing where you applied or anything about you — would be to take a really objective look at your candidacy (or better yet, ask someone else to who’s familiar with the MBA process and/or what schools look for) and see what you could strengthen over the next year. Take initiative at work, get involved in a cause you believe in (and take a leadership position in a related org, too), improve your GMAT score (if you think that might’ve been the issue), etc.

    The next thing would be to decide whether you want an MBA overall… or if you only want an MBA from certain programs. If you want an MBA overall, then widen your net next year and apply to less selective schools in order to up your chances. This selectivity chart is a good place to start — make sure you apply to at least a few programs with greater than 25% selectivity:

    http://poetsandquants.com/2011/04/22/the-50-most-selective-mba-programs-in-the-u-s/

    Hope that helps and best of luck next time!

  • Erika Olson

    Well, you’re definitely right about one thing: on average, the adcom at most schools will spend about 20 minutes total on each application (at least on the first interview vs. ding pass). We have several ex-adcom members who work at SBC and they confirm this… that’s why we have this thing we do with clients called the “Flight Test” where we’ll have one of those ex-adcom people review one set of application materials for a client and give them their knee-jerk opinion just like they would’ve done back in the day when they were judging “for real.” It’s very, VERY insightful.

    That being said, I feel like the process is still relatively fair despite how little time each individual applicant might get on that first pass. I’ve certainly seen people with low GPAs, low GMATs, failed grades, gap years, no international experience, etc., all get in to top schools… IF the rest of their materials outweigh whatever that one “red flag” might be. And I’ve seen absolutely amazing candidates with NO red flags get dinged without interviews, too.

    The one thing no one ever knows is what (and how many) other candidates are directly competing against you in any give round and any given program (and given application year). One year you might be up against someone who has an edge and you’ll get dinged… the next year you could’ve gotten in. And yes, I think unfortunately there sometimes are factors like if the person reading your file is tired, in a bad mood, just read an application really similar to yours, etc., which there’s not really much you can do about. But overall I feel like the process is as fair as it possibly can be when there are humans involved on both sides!

  • Erika Olson

    Well, to be clear, if you apply for the HCM program you’re not actually applying to the wider “normal” MBA program. Our belief is that the HCM MBA is more competitive than the regular MBA program, but if the candidate has strong HC experience and is committed to a career in the field, then it makes sense for them to choose that route. Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Hey there –

    Unfortunately my focus over the past eight years has been advising clients on full-time programs only, as well as those that are (mostly) based in the U.S. While I’ve worked with clients on INSEAD and LBS, I don’t personally have experience with IESE. However, there are other members of the SBC team that are more familiar with those programs — my advice would be to do a free consultation and see if there might be someone you can be matched with who could help you more than I can. Apologies! http://www.stacyblackman.com/contact/

  • betancurj

    Hi Erika, I would like to know your opinion about IESE’s MBA program and Stern’s Part-time program? What do you consider are the main differences between each other considering that I would like to pursue a career in capital markets? I am a bit doubtful about what do recruiters in capital markets think about IESE, what do you think?

    Thanks!

  • eric

    Also here’s an actual question for you,

    Is it harder to get into Wharton if you select the Health Care Management Program?

  • eric

    Honestly, schools get SOO many applications in each round. So like Wharton gets i don’t know like 7,000 applications. let’s say 3,000 apply in round 1 and 4,000 apply in round 2, and just a few hundred in round 3. So let’s take round 2. They give interview decisions in 4 weeks. Okay. so that is like 1,000 applications a week. Assuming they don’t work on weekends (they can’t possibly) then that is 200 applications a day. Say they work 10 hours a day, that is 20 applications in an hour. Even if there is a team of 15, they review in pairs, so that means they will give your application 20 minutes. And this is all conservative. People obviously don’t work straight, and they take breaks. So these people are exhuasted. They aren’t going to read everything line by line. Theyr’e going to make quick judgments. We spend all this time on our applications, and AT MOST we will get 20 minutes and they will decide if they want to interview us. How can we expect a thorough consideration? Now I can see it. “Oh GPA too low, let’s just cut him.” “Oh he failed a class, let’s just cut him.” “Oh SHE WORKED IN AFRICA.” Yeah definitely interview her. So disheartening.

  • Maria

    I didn’t get into any business schools. What do I do now?

  • S

    Hi Erika,

    I have a strong story, very competitive undergrad degree, a humanities MA before I shifted into consulting (not top 3), strong GMAT score that hits the average or above at the top 10 schools to which I applied. On paper, I look like people who get into top business schools.

    However, I was just dinged by Columbia with no interview, and it frightened me a bit given the enormous amounts of hard work I’ve put into this process. I’ve been told that it may hurt me that I work for a boutique (and therefore unknown) consultancy that is mostly qualitative in its work. I wondered what your perspective on this is–will I be compared unfavorably to consultants in the consulting bucket? Or will my story, hard work on applications and credentials hopefully stand me in good stead?

    Any advice would be much appreciated!

  • Erika Olson

    I don’t feel comfortable giving specific examples because the common thread in essays like that is that they are all incredibly personal. And I wouldn’t want to inadvertently give away someone’s identity even without using names or saying where the person ultimately got in. But usually they involve something that happened to the person or a family member/friend — or something that they witnessed/learned — that resulted in that person either making a drastic change in their career or in their life. Or it could be an explanation an applicant writes of why they’re passionate about a particular cause/field… or why a particular person has had such an impact/influence on their life/career. The common thread, again, is that they’re incredibly personal.

    Now, an emotional story alone isn’t enough… and again, most of my clients who’ve gotten in to a top program don’t have a story that made me cry, so I am a little worried that people might be giving my comment more weight than I intended. The key is — one way or the other — to show the adcom what makes you you. And, more importantly, what you have to bring to the classroom by way of life and work experience that will help your fellow students. You can have the most incredible story in the world, but if doesn’t relate to something you’ll bring to the program (or need to get out of the program in order to reach your goals), it’s just an incredible story and you won’t be invited to an interview.

    I can assure you that my own essays would not have made anyone cry, nor did I do anything extraordinary. But I did write in a way that showed my personality and gave the adcom a very clear idea of who they’d be getting if they admitted me.

    Hope that helps!

  • Lee Hsiu Wei

    So what’s an example of a story that would make you cry?

  • Green

    Thanks Erika. Your thorough answer is very useful

  • Erika Olson

    Well let me reassure you that essays can still be very very powerful without making someone cry! The best essays aren’t necessarily ones that bring about an emotional reaction but rather are the ones where you can almost hear the applicant’s voice because their personality is coming through that much. That doesn’t mean it needs to be some crazy story or heartbreaking thing or mega-impressive accomplishment. It just needs to be real. One of my most successful clients ever wrote about setting a new track record at her high school. That, in and of itself, does not seem like an MBA-app-worthy topic. But she explained why this was such a big deal to her in a way that just really made you feel like you already knew her and would want to be in class with her. Those are the best essays, and they can be about anything. I always say there are 100 different ways to tell the exact same story, and I wish applicants let themselves BE themselves a little bit more in their essays because that’s what’s ultimately going to differentiate somebody.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Per Al’s comment below… HBS does offer a separate, limited space (something like 250 characters) to address issues like this on the application itself. You wouldn’t want it in your main essay where you’re supposed to be introducing yourself to your section. So find a way to address it within that short space — it’ll force you to just boil it down to the most important things you want to communicate. Other schools have optional essays for this sort of thing that are 250 WORDS or more, which gives you a little more room. But definitely DEFINITELY do not use any programs’ main essays to talk about it — you should be directly answering their questions in those essays. Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    I think your reasoning is very solid in your recommender choice and it’s fine to ask that person from your previous team. As long as the person knows you well/has worked with you a lot, is senior to you and can answer the two major questions, it’s all good. However, the only thing you need to address is why you’re not asking your *current* boss. To explain why you’re also not asking your ex-boss would be a little odd.

    Not asking your current boss is a VERY VERY VERY VERY common situation, so you really don’t want or need to expound upon your reasoning and use up a whole essay for it. I’d say 60-70% of my clients don’t ask their current boss for the same reasons you’re not. Which means the adcom sees this all the time and it’s definitely not a big deal.

    I’m not sure what you meant by “optional essay” — each program handles how they want to hear about your recommender choice (if you’re not using your direct boss) a little differently. Some programs have a dropdown where you can pick the reason, others have an extremely limited “additional info” field where you can explain, and yet others have a longer “optional essay” space. So just make sure you thoroughly review each application because you wouldn’t want to use up space on an optional essay if there’s another place where you can address the recommender choice. It just needs to be a sentence… something like, “I am not asking my current manager because he/she is not aware of my plans to return to business school.” Boom.

    If they ask you to explain why you picked the people you picked, you still do not need to say anything about why you didn’t pick your ex-boss… keep it to what the app is directly asking and just say pretty much exactly what you said above (except don’t bring in comparing him/her to your ex/current boss as part of the explanation). So basically, your ex-boss shouldn’t come into play or be mentioned at all, it’s irrelevant. They’ll just figure your ex-boss also doesn’t know you’re applying and might still be in a position to negatively influence your bonus/job security so that’s why you didn’t ask him/her.

    Good luck!

  • Christopher Tollefsen

    Erika-

    I’m deciding between taking the GMAT and the GRE and have read mixed opinions on the advantages and disadvantages of both. I am considering taking both exams and would plan on submitting the higher score during the admissions process.

    If an applicant takes both exams, do schools require both scores to be submitted or is the candidate given the choice to submit whichever they prefer? My worry is that I score poorly on one, highly on another, but have to submit both which wouldn’t look good. My hunch is that I would score better on the GRE but I do want to give the GMAT a shot since its the universally accepted test. Thank you for your time.

    -Chris

  • Al

    Harvard offers a little bit of space to talk about things. not much maybe 200 characters. I used it to talk about failing a class. Ultimately was accepted so its a sign they let in less than perfect candidates. So don’t get too discouraged.

  • Matthew

    Thank you Erika for the honest and straightforward answer. I do feel discouraged, but I only have myself to blame as it was my mistake. Some schools don’t offer much space to explain, and some schools only have on essay, like harvard. In that case, would you recommend that I use that essay to talk about the issue?

  • Rashmi

    Erika,

    I was reading through the comments, and you said somewhere that some essays moved you to tears. That is powerful, and now I feel like the essay i submitted is no good. How does an essay do that? How do you write something that can move you to tears?

    Rashmi

  • Green

    Hi Erika,

    I have a question regarding a referee selection. I’m planning to ask someone on my previous team to be my referee instead of my ex-boss (FYI, my current boss is def. out of question as I’m not telling her yet that I might be quitting if accepted). The reason is that I was very close with my ex-boss but then I left the company suddenly when I got a
    better offer. She was/is still nice to me but yes she’s disappointed. I was/am also close to my colleague, whom I want to ask to be my referee. He knows me and my performance well enough as I was in a fairly small team where we are close to each other. He is actually more senior than my boss and kind of acted as my mentor and my sponsor in a professional scientific organization. Do you think
    it’s a good idea to ask him and if so, should I mention why him instead of my ex-boss in the optional essay? Somebody advised me not to mention it in the essay but I’d like to get your opinion. Thanks!!

  • brad.d.headley@gmail.com

    Who used the word hate?

  • Erika Olson

    My only other thoughts would be:

    1) you might be underestimating how many other gay people apply to business school… I’m just one consultant but I’ve been doing this for 8 years and every round I myself work with at least 2 gay applicants. Extrapolate that out… and that’s not a small number. So I don’t think schools have a lack of gay applicants, which is why I was saying it certainly will not be just your sexuality that will tip the scales in your favor if the rest of your materials are weak. I don’t think that’s what you were saying either, though… and I do agree with you that it absolutely cannot hurt and there’s no reason for you to not put it in your app, as long as it’s not in a way that’s forced. I have read many, MANY essays about coming out, for example — some that had me in tears by the end and made me want to meet (read: interview) the person, and some that seemed like the candidate just thought it would be a way to differentiate themselves… and it backfired.

    2) I’m not sure what’s giving you the impression that you would automatically be accepted with your current profile if you were of a different ethnicity, but I can once again assure you from 8 years of experience that that is also not the case. I’ve worked with clients of all ethnicities — many in underrepresented demographics (and female, on top of that) — who were not admitted to various programs despite high GMATs and GPAs.

    So in short, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time doing this, it’s that pretty much everyone applying underestimates how hard it is to get into the top programs, no matter who you are. For every anecdote someone’s heard about a person who surely got in because they were of X/Y/Z background, I can tell you 50 more of similar applicant profiles that didn’t get in.

    There is no magic formula, so all anyone can really do is get the best test scores they can, show their career growth and achievements and let their personality shine through in their materials. If you come off as someone who would be cool to learn from and hang out with after class, that’s a lot of the battle.

    Good luck! Please circle back and let us know how it all goes!

  • Erika Olson

    I personally haven’t, but I know several consultants at SBC who have — I certainly feel like almost everyone has a shot at H/S/W no matter what, but it really depends on the context of the issue and the strength of your candidacy otherwise. Without knowing anything else, my advice would be to definitely address the issue head-on in the Additional Info response for each program you apply to. Don’t try to make excuses, just explain what happened and how you regret it and have matured since. If the rest of your materials and your rec letters show that you’re a mature applicant with a lot to offer your class and a GMAT/GPA that shows you can handle the curriculum, my hope would be they wouldn’t hold it against you.

    However, if you are in a very, very competitive “bucket” already (overrepresented fields like i-banking and consulting), you might have a harder road because there are so many stellar candidates applying that when you are compared head to head with someone else for a spot, it might come back to haunt you and be the thing that gives someone else an edge. As you’ll see in all of my responses below, I don’t usually push working with a consultant, but this might be one of those times where you might want to consider it in order to give yourself the best possible shot. Good luck!

  • bill

    Don’t hate! That’s not nice. We in the LGBT community have been under-represented and oppressed for years. We should be proud and use this too our advantage!

  • mike

    If minorities can use it, then why shouldn’t I as a gay man? If I were African American or from Latin America, on my stats I would get in no problem. Gay people are in the minority. So why not use it? it is empowering. It makes me different. And everyone wants to fill that gay spot. Some of these are the words of a gay AdCom representative in a M7 school.

  • Matt

    Hi Erika,

    Have you ever worked with someone who had a misconduct issue? I faced suspension in college for a whole year. If so, how have these candidates fare. Any shot at HSW?

    Thanks,
    Matthew

  • brad.d.headley@gmail.com

    Your desire to “use this card” is troubling. Everyone else is trying to get in on intelligence, competence, work ethic, leadership..

  • al

    This fall, Yale invited me to a one on one with an admissions rep in NYC(prior to applying). I asked her how they decided on invites and they said it was based on some GMAT cutoff(I had a 740 not sure what Yale’s cutoff was). I also received a personalized letter from Notre Dame saying I was really competive for a full-ride prior to applying.

    So, I think that schools get GMAT scores from GMAC and then selectively recruit from their. As Erika said, I don’t think it really affects admission. But rather, they want certain people to apply based on GMAT or other factors included in your GMAC profile

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    To be honest, I’ve never heard of any MBA programs really recruiting students BEFORE they’ve even applied. I’ve definitely heard of programs that offer things like Women’s Weekends or whatnot to a subset of applicants after their applications are in, and those weekends can sometimes serve as something of a “sell weekend” even though no one’s actually been admitted yet (and not everyone who attends will be admitted).

    I would suspect that you’re in some sort of demographic group that various programs are trying to target — I can’t tell if you’re female, but if it’s not that, it might be a certain ethnicity or field you’re in or whatever. So while I don’t think they probably can afford to just send materials to every single person who sends them their GMAT score, it’s likely they do send materials to everyone who meets a certain profile that they’re targeting. So that might mean that overall your chances at that school might be slightly better because you already know that there’s SOMETHING about you that they like “on paper”… but in the end I don’t think it means an automatic or guaranteed admission or anything (which I don’t think you were implying it did, either). I think it simply means they’re hoping you at least apply there so that they can learn more about you.

    Hope that helps even a little bit and sorry I don’t have more insight into that aspect of the process. It’s certainly not a bad thing, though, right?

  • Tala

    Hi Erika,

    I have a question about how MBA programs recruit students. I’ve been getting a lot of emails and brochures from various programs (I’m guessing they got my info from GMAC) inviting me to apply to their programs. Some have offered application fee waivers. I’ve also started getting regular correspondence from a couple of schools that I sent my official GMAT scores too. I’m just wondering if schools use these emails and offers as a sort of blanket marketing tactic so they can solicit as many applications as possible, or if they’re genuinely interested in recruiting me as a student. Any insights into this?

  • Erika Olson

    Ha, yes… that’s pretty normal. But as you already know, it won’t help anything and will just drive you nuts! You should try to keep yourself as busy as possible and stay off of message boards where people (who have ZERO inside scoop) freak each other out with rumors and whatnot. Have confidence in yourself and your materials… and that you will end up where you are meant to end up! Good luck!

  • Lauren

    Submitted my materials. Now i’m obsessing. What should I do?

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there Almen –

    To be honest, I don’t think I can provide you the kind of guidance that would be too helpful just online like this! That’s A LOT of info you provided! : ) But my quick knee-jerk reaction is that you shouldn’t be totally freaked out about that first year of informal employment. I’ve worked with lots of people who’d been laid off or had gaps while they were searching for a job. And not everyone can work at the most prestigious companies and plenty of those people (including myself) still get into business school So just use the Additional Info space to acknowledge it and to let them know how you productively used your time during that period. Sounds like they rest of your experiences and your materials are all strong — and you can’t change the past — so just focus on showing them why you’ll be an asset to the class.

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    My advice would be that you are really going to have to convince them: 1) Why you need an MBA, and 2) why it makes sense for you to go back now. I feel like you will run the risk of coming off like you might need some time to just figure things out after the closing of your business rather than that you ACTUALLY NEED an MBA. Because with all of your skills and experience, they need to understand what gaps are left for an MBA to fulfill and why you couldn’t just transition back to consulting without that degree. I’m not sure that the “leadership experience” argument is enough because as you said, at 39 years old you might not be viewed as moldable. The good news is that you would have a ton to TEACH your fellow classmates, so that should be a focus of your materials as well — the biggest lessons you’ve learned that you can impart on others who are earlier in their careers.

    I also think you should consider some of the executive, part-time or weekend programs, as I think it could be much tougher for you to be accepted into a full-time 2-year program. This way you could still get your MBA from a top program as the odds are higher you would be accepted into one of the other types of programs offered. I am not really familiar with any programs that are looking for/excited about older candidates (not that they don’t exist, but that’s just not an area of focus for me so I don’t want to lead you astray here). My guess would be that the programs that aren’t in the top 15 would be more open to older candidates.

    Hope that helps a little and best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    They both matter as the adcom reviews everything. I would not recommend just copying and pasting — that’s wasting an opportunity to tell the adcom something new about yourself. Your resume should be more achievement and result focused (not just a list of high-level responsibilities). Use the data form fields to expand on what you do at work and provide details that aren’t in your resume. Always try to be telling the adcom something else they wouldn’t know otherwise. Hope that helps!

  • Tara

    So what matters more. The resume, or the work experience text boxes you have to fill out? I’m basically just copying and pasting stuff from my resume into the text boxes.

  • almen

    Hi Erika. Thank you for
    doing this.

    I think I am a very competitive applicant in terms of academics (GPA, undergrad institution, quantitative ability, GRE). I also have stories to tell about my immigrant background, which have influenced my goals and involvement in volunteer activities. I am, however, concerned about the quality of my work experience.

    I graduated in 2011 but I spent my first post-college year underemployed. I spent a few
    months back in my home country trying to get a government job. When I could not get one, I returned to the United States and tried to land a job in government/nonprofits. In retrospect, I should have applied more broadly across sectors, if only to gain experience and transferable skills. I did, though, help my family start a business and worked as an independent tutor until I found a permanent tutoring job (full-time during the academic year and part-time during the summers) at a small firm. I stretched that role as much as
    I could and have lots of examples of initiatives I spearheaded—analytical and team-based, focused on program and process improvement—that were way outside of my job description. At the same time, I volunteered at a college-access nonprofit, also small. I did that for three years until I landed a program/data analyst position at a large urban school district through a highly prestigious fellowship program. This started in August this year.

    My long-term goals are in education consulting and management. I know why an MBA makes sense to me at this point in my career. But I am concerned that the first year of informal employment and subsequent three years in non-prestigious employment will hurt my chances. I am also 28 years old.

    Thank you.

  • Aamer Hayat

    Hi Erika, what advice would you have for a 39 year old applicant with 12 years of work experience (advanced degree), five of which are entrepreneurial. I’m applying to b-school because we are closing down our business and after much thought I strongly believe that b-school can help me improve my leadership skills (which may have impacted our business) and will give me an opportunity to get back into consulting and put my experience to good use again. I’m interested in a 2 year program because the 1 year programs don’t seem to offer as good of a career transition opportunity. What are schools looking for or are excited about in the few older candidates they do accept? Or is it just a function of less older candidates are applying thus less get accepted and schools are looking for pretty much the same thing regardless of age? One thing I heard is that employers might hesitate because older candidates are less “mold-able.” Does it make sense then to show how you are willing and able to grow? Thanks in advance!

  • Erika Olson

    This is one where you might want to contact the adcom and ask, just to be on the safe side. My gut says that if it’s not marked as failing then you don’t need to respond to it (meaning you don’t need to say you failed any course).

    No, the GMAT is not enough to outweigh several bad grades in college (I’m not sure if you’re saying you have bad grades.. it wasn’t clear in your message). The GMAT is a test that takes a few hours … your grades are made over the course of four years and count for a lot. So if you did get several failing grades then you should write an Additional Info response on the application (most schools provide a space for this) explaining why your grades were poor but saying that you believe your strong GMAT and analytical/quant aspects of your career to-date prove that you can handle an MBA curriculum.

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Most schools ask if you’re applying to the program with a significant other (meaning the same program), so they definitely care if that’s the case. But I’m not sure what you are really asking… it sounds like you got IN to Wharton… so what would contacting them (Wharton) about your girlfriend’s situation (in Nursing) achieve? The two programs are not going to communicate about that sort of thing.

    In general I think it would not help her situation if it looked like either or you are trying to use your admission to Wharton to help her ultimately get into the Nursing program. So my advice would be to not do anything and hope for the best — if she had mentioned this during her interview it would’ve been OK, but I wouldn’t contact either program after the fact at this point.

    Good luck to her!

  • Erika Olson

    Some schools actually explain why they do this — it’s because your resume is PDF’d and they can’t pull text from it to use for their data slicing and dicing. When you directly input information into their online system they can do just that and everything can go into their own backend database. They like to keep track of how many people apply from various industries/companies, what typical roles are, etc., etc.

  • Tara

    why do schools ask about work experience (i have to put descriptions for them) when theyr’e just gonna see my resume anyways. that is a bit strange no?

  • Marc

    Hey Erika,

    To be clear: I left my consulting job in corporate America to work in a voluntary basis for a startup social enterprise. My concern is that the admission office might be concerned about an applicant with no discernible income from current activities. I retain the option of returning to the consulting job that I left, but I want to continue with my current voluntary role as it aligns with my long-term interest to work in the social impact space post-MBA.

  • novakin

    Hi Erika,
    School asks if I had any failing grades in college or university classes. I had to retake some of the exams in my undergrad but it is not shown on the transcript. What should I respond in this box?
    What this question means? Are they interested in the grades on the trans
    What would be appropriate explanation for the failing grade? Many students at my school had to retake some exams, and I was involved with extracurricular activity.
    I have 750 GMAT, wouldn’t that be enough for adcom to see that I will be able to handle the curriculum?

    Thank you!

  • Matt

    Hi Erika – Thank you for all of your guidance. Last week I received some good news from Wharton. I am trying to coordinate this decision with my girlfriend who recently interviewed at UPenn Nursing. I wanted to get your perspective on whether it would make sense to notify either the MBA or Nursing admissions office of the situation and whether it would be viewed negatively, positively or as a complete non-factor?

    Thanks!

  • Erika Olson

    I think it would be tough to overcome being in the 10th percentile on the quant section of the GMAT no matter what your background is, but since you are on the older side of the applicant pool and have to explain why you dropped out of undergrad, it could prove to be too much for the adcom to feel comfortable that you could handle their intense curriculum at any of the top programs. I think if you are able to significantly pull up your GMAT score, then you can just focus on explaining why dropping out of college was the right thing for you at the time and why an MBA is right NOW for you, despite how long you’ve been in the workforce. Otherwise I think you will have to spend too much time “defending” yourself when what you really should be spending the given space on is showing what a great fit you’d be and what you’d bring to the class.

    I am by no means saying it’s impossible because I’ve seen every crazy scenario in the world transpire over the past 8 years of doing this, but I do want to be real with you. Without me knowing ANYTHING else about you or what you’ve done, this is my knee-jerk reaction. Hope this helps!

  • Tala

    Hi Erika,

    I have a general question about applying for a top MBA program. I have 8 years of varied work experience. I dropped out of college at 20 years old, started working, and just went back and completed my bachelors. I’ve graduated summa cum laude, and I have excellent recommendations. I have excelled in all of my business classes, but I am still very poor in math. This hasn’t hindered me in my job or in any of my classes, but I scored very poorly in the Quant. section of the GMAT (10th percentile). I scored in the 80th percentile on the verbal, a 5.5 on the AWA, and a 1 on the Integrated reasoning. I’m working to improve my math and take the GMAT again, but do you think it would be wise for me to try getting into the top programs? I know the GMAT is only a piece of the pie, but I don’t know how significant this is. I’m worried I’ll be written off as soon as comm.’s see the score, and they won’t bother to consider the rest of my application. Thoughts?

  • Erika Olson

    Hey there –

    So… I don’t really EVER tell people their chances, sorry! It’s kinda impossible to do because we don’t know who is directly competing against you at any given school… and THAT’S what most affects your chances.

    Plus, my strong belief is that it’s not all of the “stats on paper” stuff that ultimately decides who gets in… all of that is kind of a screener and the good news is I think you are fine for all of those “checkboxes” (GPA, GMAT, work experience, etc). So now it becomes how you’re going to differentiate yourself and how you are going to give them insight into your personality and what you’ll be able to teach your classmates (not only professionally, either). They want to know what makes you tick and get a sense of how you’ll be in class.

    If you’re able to do that, then I think those three programs should definitely be within the realm of possibility for you. And I agree that the GMAT quant shouldn’t be a concern given your GPA and career. I only worry about that if someone has had NO other quant exposure at either school or in their career.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Sorry — I am the furthest thing from an investment banker, so I don’t feel like I should or could give you any advice about what banking-related courses to take. I don’t know the course choices at any school… that’s a little out of my realm of knowledge — I focus on helping people get IN to b-school. Seems like your school would have a career counselor that could help you, though!

  • Nikunj Patel

    hi Erika,
    i am going to start my MBA program in Spring-2016 in University of massachusetts ,Boston. my ultimate goal is to be an investment banker
    i did my undergrad in computer engineering from INDIA

    i need your advice about making a choice of courses in MBA to aspire my ultimate goal regardless of my engineering background.
    what will be the essential subject to go through in order to receive my goal.

    thank you

  • William

    Hi Erika!

    My background…
    Work experience: 2.5 years in B4 audit, early promoted, then transferred into Transaction Advisory Services group where I’ve been for past 2 years
    Education: 3.85 Undergrad and 3.75 MAcc GPA from large Big 10 state school
    GMAT: 710 (Q45/V42) —I rationalize that my low Q is not too big of a hindrance for me given my degree and work experience (>3.8 GPA in Accounting /Finance with A’s in Statistic and Calc classes, passed all parts of CPA on first attempt, and deal with numbers all day)
    Extracrurrics: above-average in undergrad, President of student organization. Average involvement since starting work (volunteer United Way, Junior Achievement, etc.)

    Would love to hear feedback on admission chances at Fuqua/Darden/Tuck…

    Thanks!

  • Dean

    That’s helpful, thanks for your input!

  • Erika Olson

    I have not worked on an adcom myself, so I honestly have no idea. And I would think the process is different at every school, too.

    My educated guess, however, is that I would think they first just read through your complete file and make a knee-jerk decision… Nay or Maybe. All of the maybes then probably go onto another adcom member for a similar take and decision. And then they will ultimately want to find a mix of gender, ethnicities, home countries, past industries and future goals. I think GMAT and GPAs/undergrad institutions is part of the initial screen but won’t come into play as much until they’re really trying to decide between people.

    But this is all just a guess, and really shouldn’t play into how you approach your materials! Good luck!

  • Dean

    Erika,

    I have a high-level question. How do business schools compare candidates? Do they group them into where they have worked? Similar test/GPA scores? Similar tier undergrad institutions? Similar career goals? I guess they’ll compare all of the above, but where do they usually start first?

  • Kassandra

    thanks so much!

  • S.

    Thanks very much for the feedback, Erika. It’s interesting, all the consultants I’ve gotten an opinion from have said this effectively puts H/S/W (which were already reaches for me) out of play, particularly given the tight timeline on which I’m assembling my apps.

    I’m not quite sure how to characterize the situation in which my employment ended. The company was very vague about the reasons (as I understand is often the case to avoid liability), and said something like “we had overcapacity across the group and we determined you weren’t a long-term fit.” I wasn’t on a probationary rating / PIP or anything, but nor was I near the top of my cohort, and it’s not like they cut my whole group. Is this something I should address in the optional essay? How would you approach it?

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    I don’t ever tell anyone their chances because … well, no one knows your chances! We don’t know who else is applying directly against you for spots at any given school.

    But I will say that I think your GRE is fine. I’d spend your time crafting your essays and other materials — it’s a good thing that you’re already taking steps to achieve your long-term goal!

    And lots of people don’t have many post-college volunteer activities, so there’s not much you can do about that at this point — I wouldn’t call that out, though … no point in calling out a weakness to the adcom!

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    I think your GRE is fine — spend your time on the rest of your materials… your test scores are just one piece of the puzzle.

    I would also advise sticking with ONE short-term/long-term career goal rather than changing it per school… all schools care about the “why” more than the “what,” so it’s more about why you want to do what you want to do and why they should believe you can achieve it. Don’t try to educate the adcom on your chosen field/industry, just stick to things about why you will be able to achieve your goals after getting an MBA + your past experience.

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Huh? That’s REALLY odd feedback… I’ve worked with several people who got laid off–that’s kind of just a part of life these days. I mean, if you were FIRED that’s a different reason, but layoffs are not uncommon and are understood.

    So if that’s the only negative then I wouldn’t count out your dream schools or else you’ll always wonder “what if?”

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    If there is a box to check then of course you should check it because that’s your honest answer and no, it won’t hurt. However, if you don’t have a really compelling story that has something to do with your sexuality that you include in your essay, they’ll see right through it as a ploy to gain some sort of “advantage,” and that will be a negative.

    I know this might come as a surprise, but I’ve worked with SEVERAL LGBT candidates, so it’s not really as big of a differentiator as people might assume it is. Some wrote about their sexuality when it was relevant to the theme of their overall essay, some didn’t — some got into their dream schools, some didn’t. It really is your whole package they look at … any given data point is not going to make or break you, and the same goes for your sexuality.

    So my advice would be to stay honest because the adcoms have highly tuned BS detectors. Write what you would really want to write for their essays and let your true personality/voice come through, no matter what theme you go with.

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Absolutely. Over half of my clients can’t ask their direct manager for a rec for the exact same reason (or other reasons), so that’s not a big deal at all. Some schools have a space to explain this very thing… for others I just have people write a brief statement in the Additional Info/Optional Essay space. One sentence, max two, saying they don’t want their plans to go to business school to affect their bonus/promotion potential so they have not asked their supervisor… OR that they are new to their company/role and therefore are not asking their current supervisor as that person would not have as much to comment on, etc. That’s it! Very common so don’t worry about it at all!

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    I don’t think you need to go on and on about regretting it, but I do think actually admitting that it was a poor decision that you now regret is probably better than just being totally nonchalant about it, as that could come off defiant or like you didn’t “learn your lesson,” so to speak.

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there Anton –

    I think there are several compelling candidates who didn’t graduate in 4 years (and I think this is a growing trend), so I don’t think that’s a showstopper by any means. In fact, one of my clients who got into both GSB and HBS had taken time off during undergrad for similar reasons.

    What he did — and what you should do — is simply use the Additional Info/Optional Essay space to explain what happened in a very succinct way.

    As for extracurricular activities, I think it’s great that you have a ton to speak for after college — most people don’t! I’m not sure why you are thinking this would be a misinterpretation of the requirements? If there are not explicit directions to ONLY include things from college, then I think you’re fine to include post-college activities. Most schools welcome both.

    Good luck!

  • Not Erika

    I’m not Erika but you should have a story to tell about a specific obstacle that you had to overcome based on your sexual orientation, which says something positive about you. You even said yourself that you’re trying to check the box and I actually think an attitude like that could come through in your essay and hurt you pretty bad. I’d be careful with this one.

  • Al

    I just got into HBS and had a failing grade in a class. I failed a 1 credit pass/fail class first semester of college. As you said, I addressed it in optional sections. Very briefly and did not make excuses etc. Because it was only a 1 credit call it did not affect my GPA much and I still graduated with a 3.75. So i spun it that failure was wake up call to grow up and focus. .

  • HBS – 2018!

    ATTENTION PEOPLE: kindly please stop posting your profiles and asking for a review. If you’re going to do that, just hire a consultant. She’s not here to give you a free consult.

  • Alex

    I’m not Erika. But whatever admissions consultant person you hired is dumb. People get laid off all the time. It’s not your fault (If it is your fault, that might be different, but you could still explain it). It shouldn’t make your odds “vanishingly low”

  • Marc

    Erika,

    A little about me: 24 years old, Ivy league grad, 3.6 GPA in Government (downward trend on account of the need to work to help my family). URM. Male

    Work: 2 years leading public consulting. Currently dedicating my pre-MBA year managing the operations team of a startup working in criminal justice reform (It is unpaid but it aligns with my long-term interests in the social impact space, and it relates to a topic that I care deeply about)

    Great recs from bosses at consulting firm. 160Q GRE (78%), 165V (95%).

    I am just a little concerned about my GRE quant and current unpaid activities. i think I have explained it well in my essays, and my recs also touch upon it. I retain the option of returning to the consulting firm. How do my chances look for top 15 programs?

  • Kassandra

    Hi Erika,

    I’ve taken the GRE twice, and I’m trying to figure out if my score is good enough for the schools I want (HSW, Yale, Haas, Columbia), or if I should retake again. I got 165V 160Q the first round, and 170V 156Q the second round. I’m a bit worried that my quant score is too low, because the only math class that I took in college was Calc 1, which I B- for. I work in public policy at the moment, so there isn’t a lot of math involved in my work.

    Thanks!

  • S.

    Hi Erika,

    Appreciate your doing this. Quick question: I got laid off in Oct after 6 years in a Big 4 (PwC/Deloitte) strategy consulting practice. An admissions consultant I asked cautioned that in such a scenario, the odds of my getting into a top-5 school (or any with <15% admittance rate) are vanishingly low, to the extent that I shouldn't bother applying to such schools. Would you agree?

    (My profile is such that absent that info, most admissions consultants were putting the top 5 schools as a reach for me, Fuqua and Ross as competitive, and McCombs as a safety).

    Thanks!

  • Mike

    Hi Erika!

    I am a 27 year old caucasian gay male. I want to tick the “LGBT” box for Penn. Is this going to help me? It can’t hurt right? How much of my sexuality should I include in the application? Go all out, or be subtle, or just not at all? HBS doesn’t have a “LGBT” box but I want to use this card to my advantage if I can.

    Thanks!
    Mike

  • lauren

    Thank you Erika!

    So I should be nonchalant about it? Be like “X Y Z happened.” As opposed to “I made a poor decision and X Y Z happened that I really regret.”?

  • Tara

    Hello Erika,

    I can’t use my direct supervisor since I have been at my job for not long enough (5 months). I am using supervisors from my two previous jobs. Is that okay?

    – Tara

  • Erika Olson

    I have not personally worked with students who had failing grades but I do think that the adcom realizes that people make mistakes and test scores and more recent career experience should count more than things you did back in the day. It also depends on what the class was in (you didn’t say). If it was a quant-related class, then yes, something like the CFA test and your GMAT score and analytical work you do now would definitely help to overcome that. Just be sure to address it directly in the additional info/optional essay space so they know you are aware it’s a red flag and are mature enough to explain it and then say what you’ve done since that proves you can handle their curriculum. Hope that helps and good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    I don’t think gap years are a big deal at all. The bigger issue will be showing them why you need an MBA NOW after you already have so much work experience, because you’re definitely on the older end of the candidate spectrum. So if you have a clear story and can prove why this move is the right one for you at this time, that will help. You can use the Additional Info/Optional Essay space to explain the gap year, but that shouldn’t be a big deal at all as it’s becoming increasingly common. Just be matter of fact about why you took that year off — don’t make excuses, just explain it. Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Not at all! Just use the “Additional Information” space that almost all programs have on their data form (sometimes this is an optional essay as well) to explain the situation. You will have to be very, VERY succinct because those responses aren’t given a lot of space/word/character-count, so my advice would be to not make excuses but just be matter-of-fact about what happened and then if there’s room, reiterate why you can handle/be an asset to the program by emphasizing what you’ve achieved SINCE that point in your life. Everyone makes mistakes and they definitely get that!

  • Lauren

    Dear Erika,

    I was suspended in college for non-academic disciplinary reasons. The first question a lot of these applications are asking are: were you ever suspended/expelled/etc. Am I going to be screened out automatically without even given a chance to tell my story?

    Warmest regards,
    Lauren

  • iitd.rajeev@gmail.com

    Hi Erika

    What is the take of B-schools on gap years in academics, especially for 8 years+ experienced candidate?

  • Hadi Rashid

    Hi Erika,
    Question on failed grades. How do top schools look at failed grades in undergrad? What can one do to mitigate them? Does passing the CFA level 1 help? I`m not sure but have students with a failed grade ever been admitted to top schools like H/S/W in your experience?

  • Anton

    Hi Erika,

    I have two questions if that’s okay…

    1) How bad does it look if you spent 5 years on your undergrad when applying to top schools? I essentially dropped out during my first year at a UK university only to return the next year, picking up the modules I needed to pass into the second year of my degree. This was due to being demoralised by several factors at home.

    My first year marks did not contribute toward my degree classification, and I achieved very highly, finishing with a 1st Class Honours degree. However, because all 5 years are on my transcript, I am worried it will reflect negatively on me.

    2) On some of the application forms, they ask about ‘extracurricular activities’. What if most of your ‘extracurriculars’ took place after college, and they were what you considered your true differentiator?

    Would admissions staff view an applicant putting in post-college extras as a misinterpretation of the requirements, or would they consider this a reasonable approach?

    Any advice would be very much appreciated!

    Anton

  • Erika Olson

    To be honest, I don’t think the adcoms look at ANY type of job in a certain way–good or bad. It’s never that clear cut that one job could always be impressive (or not so much)… they care more about WHY you’re in the job, what you’ve accomplished in that role and what you might be able to teach your MBA classmates from the experience.

    I always tell my clients to never ever ever EVER take/not take a role based on how they think it will look for an MBA application. You have to have a reason you want to take that role and you need to be able to explain it. So if the new role is in line with your passions and what you want to do for yourself/your career, then you should take it and not even think twice about it.

    Hope that helps!

  • baseballwhiz@gmail.com

    Hi Erika,

    I have a career question for you. I am considering leaving my job at a Big 4 in a very specialized finance practice for a transfer pricing position at a big law firm. Do MBAs look highly upon non-legal jobs at law firms, or not?

    Thanks much.

  • Hadi Rashid

    Hello Erika,

    Hope your well. Here is a quick summary.

    Pakistani Male, 29, Electrical Engineer
    Undergraduate at University of Waterloo, Canada (One of Canada`s best)
    GPA: 68/100, GMAT: 690 (Q48,V36)
    Work Experience: Technology/Telecommunication Industry (5 years)
    Companies: BlackBerry, Ericsson, Canadian Telecom Carriers (Bell and Rogers)

    Applied at R1 to Yale, Duke, Cornell, Ross. Got Dinged at Yale and Duke since at that point my GMAT was 630, overtime improved it to 690 and that was communicated across to Cornell and Ross.

    I applied to Booth, Darden, McMombs and Tepper for round 2. I`m really confused if I should apply to more schools for R2. I have spent almost all my time after work on MBA applications. I was thinking MIT, Tuck and Columbia? or you think it might be a stretch?

    Also how do schools view a Pakistani/Canadian candidate? Over/Under represented? or for that matter dual citizens who usually change countries after high school to study elsewhere.

    Thankyou,
    Hadi

  • kaiding9028@gmail.com

    Hi Erika, Thanks so much. That helps a lot!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Personally I think all they really care about is WHY you made the moves, rather than the moves themselves. If it makes you feel any better, I rarely work with people who have stayed put at one employer in the years between college and b-school.

    So I think as long as you are able to find a way to explain your moves that makes sense (and is ideally in the context of preparing yourself for your long-term career goals… but it might just be that you were still figuring out what you really wanted to do OR had a just-can’t-pass-it-up opportunity come your way), you’re all good and those moves are definitely NOT a negative.

    Good luck!

  • kaiding9028@gmail.com

    Hi Erika,

    There is a question that troubles me a lot, and I can’t seem to find an expert opinion on this. How does admission committee view career changes before application? Basically I switched from finance to consulting then to start-up in 3.5 years. Is this an absolute killer at schools such as Stanford and HBS? Or is it more of a negative that I have to work with?

  • Thinking smart

    I don’t get why you wouldn’t compile R2 schools even if you do receive interviews. Assuming you get into 1 of 3 after receiving interviews isn’t smart since nothing is a sure thing. Plus, interviews were conducted for most schools at least 2 weeks ago. He’s smart to think contingency plans while playing the waiting game. It’d be very naive to assume you get in, then if he doesn’t, he’d have to scramble with only 3 weeks to compile apps during the holidays and trying to overcome the disappointment.

  • Jay

    I agree with all the points you brought up, and I think I was more surprised by the personal nature of the response than anything else. I appreciate the color you provided, thank you!

  • Erika Olson

    Ha, you got me. This is definitely a sensitive subject for me and I kind of went off. : ) In no way did I think you were coming across as one of those people who uses his connections — I write my responses so that if ANYONE comes across your question/my answer that I can perhaps head off follow-ups like, “Well, I know somebody who this worked for…” etc.

    I’m sensitive about it because I almost didn’t apply to HBS because I figured it would be pointless because none of my family even went to college, much less had any connections. But then one of my lifelong friends was accepted the year before I applied, and his background was similar to mine… and he had no family ties or “ins.” If it weren’t for him opening my eyes to the fact that the stereotype that’s out there about a lot of the top programs (that you MUST be connected to get in and that it’s just a bunch of rich kids from connected families) is no longer true (I think it was true back in the day when these programs first started, but not any more), then my life/career path would’ve been very different.

    Before my time with SBC I also unfortunately had the displeasure of working with applicants who honestly said to me, “People like me don’t need to do community service or get a good GMAT” because they were so confident of their daddy’s connections. In fact, one of these applicant’s fathers was actually featured in my HBS alumni magazine that very week I was talking to this applicant. Needless to say he did not get in.

    But you are right in that it’s not a TOTALLY level playing field… at all of the top programs you’ll still see several people from “famous” families. However, they actually deserve to be there in their own right, at least that’s been my experience.

    Anyway, sorry if I came across the wrong way. That response you got from the adcom is usually what they’ll say to a question like this if they don’t outright try to discourage it.

    Best of luck to you and have a great weekend!

  • Jay

    Erika,

    Thanks for the quick feedback. I was a bit surprised by the length and the contents of your response. I asked one of the M7 admissions director in person about the same question and he said they would put the e-mail into my file.

    I guess I came across as someone who does name dropping and things of that nature, but hearing from an admission consultant that the admission process is a level playing field gives me mixed feelings. I don’t think it ever has been and will be, and I thought the fact that I ask the question on this forum should make it evident that I clearly don’t have enough of connections at HBS.

    Somewhat unexpected response, but your feedback is very helpful. I truly appreciate the perspective.

    Thanks,
    Jay

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there Jay –

    I am strongly AGAINST this tactic. HBS (and other top programs) makes their rules very clear: they will not consider additional letters besides the two official ones that are part of your package. There is a very simple reason for this: it needs to be a level playing field for all applicants. That’s why there are rules, deadlines, etc.

    You would be upset if someone less deserving took a spot in the class simply because they “knew somebody,” right? Well, that’s the way they feel as well. They don’t ever want to be accused of being influenced or playing favorites because someone had connections. Besides, they are smart enough to know that your connection has nothing to do with whether or not YOU are going to be an asset in the classroom and whether or not your classmates will like you and be able to learn from you. Only your official materials can help them assess that.

    Every year I have people telling me, “But my friend’s father’s friend is an alum and went out to lunch with a professor there and he got in” or “But my co-worker had three high-powered alums write side letters and he got in”… etc., etc., etc. And for every one of those stories, I can honestly tell you 20 more of people who did the exact same thing and did NOT get in.

    So all I can say is to have confidence in yourself and your official materials. That’s what they are going to judge you on. They simply cannot look at anything else because 1) it wouldn’t be fair, and 2) let’s face it… there are a ton of applicants who “know somebody” important that’s connected with HBS. If they let themselves be influenced by applicants with connections, people like me would’ve never gotten in. : )

    So I hope I’ve convinced you not to try this tactic. You don’t want to come off like the rules don’t apply to you — that’s a personality type all top schools are trying to avoid.

    So unless a school say somewhere in their materials that they welcome additional letters of support, stick to the rules and ensure that your two official recommender are people who really, really know you well and can give lots of examples of why you rock. Alumni status and title DO NOT MATTER. They honestly do not.

    I hope this helps and good luck!

  • Jay

    Erika,

    Thanks for your insights! My question is on informal letters of support.
    How does HBS view letters of support? I know few other schools that do take those letters of support, and I’m wondering if HBS has a similar approach. Would you say someone who went to med school at Harvard whom I worked with in an extracurricular activity a good person to send one of those letters? Thank you!

    Jay

  • Erika Olson

    Yes, it’s definitely OK to leave it out. Most people don’t have internships that are worthy of inclusion on their reasons for every single summer in college — the adcom won’t think twice about it. However, I would just make sure you’re not being too hard on yourself for the very reason I just mentioned: most people didn’t have internships every summer during college. So the fact that you did — even if it wasn’t meaningful work — might still be worth mentioning if the company is well known. No one expects interns to be solving the world’s problems — it’s OK if you didn’t do anything that spectacular. It’s more about the fact that a company wanted to hire you as an intern than about the work you did for a few months while there. Good luck!

  • Ethan

    Hi Erika,

    Thanks for taking the time for this. I have some
    questions about how to make safe/reach school lists. Some background info about me:

    – 4.5 years as a Surface Warfare Officer in the US Navy
    – Currently a Project Management consultant in the
    Aerospace/Tech industry
    – 3.7 GPA from UW- Madison in a Humanities-heavy major
    – 680 GMAT (98%tile in verbal) and studying more quant to
    take it again

    I’d really love to go to Haas or Sloan or schools of that
    caliber, but I don’t know if my background is what they’re looking for. I fit
    into the nominal profile of the recent incoming classes to these schools, but
    how to I know what’s behind those numbers? How do I decide what will be a
    “reach” vs a “safe” school?

    Thank you again,

    Ethan

  • david

    That’s very helpful, thank you!!

  • Shirley

    Hi Erika,
    Thanks for answering all of our questions. Here is one for you. I am 3 years out of college. But have enough room on my resume to detail two summer internships in college. My internship after first year, and my internship after third year were both great brand name internships. My internship after second year was a bit of a dud. I basically got tricked into doing a very meaningless job. Is it okay to just talk about the first and third year internships on my resume and have this “gap”?
    Best,
    Shirley

  • Matt Thompson

    Wow, thanks for taking the time to respond to me, and for clearing that up. I have to look into the whole GMAT thing.

  • Erika Olson

    I never have clients include any information from before college — to me it would come off as a little naive. And both of those scores are from the high school period of your life, right?

    Even if they’re not, saying fluent is definitely enough! I’ve had many clients who were fluent in multiple languages and they just wrote that on their resume … no other “proof” was provided. You’re signing an agreement for all apps saying that the information you provide is true and correct, so you don’t really need to go beyond saying “fluent in… “.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Nope — not a dumb question at all — and the good news is that anyone can apply! There are no courses you must take beforehand. But you’ll want to prove that you can handle their curriculum, which will be fairly quant-focused for a few classes. So be sure to highlight anything you’ve done at work that involves analysis, spreadsheets, or numbers, etc. And if you do well on your GMAT (particularly the quant score), that will help as well. Ask your recommenders to play up your quantitative abilities, too (this is assuming you haven’t been in a role like accounting/i-banking/etc that is clearly already numbers-focused… if you are, then you definitely don’t need to worry about what classes you took in undergrad as long as your GPA is solid).

    My belief is that if the adcom believes you will be an asset to their program and have something your classmates can learn from, they will admit you… and if they’re worried about your quant abilities they will simply make your admission contingent upon you arriving early to campus to go through a “math boot camp” of sorts. Many programs do something like this to help the people who may be on the fence with their quant skills be up to speed by the time classes start.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    First and foremost, don’t worry about how much you make. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve worked with several clients who make less and are as far or further out of college than you are. For clients outside of the US, their salaries can translate into even less. They are NOT JUDGING YOU by this, so you don’t need to be concerned.

    My educated guess on what they use this data for is to be able to say how much more graduates make (as a collective whole, on average) after earning their degree than before. So it helps to prove the value of their degree.

    In the applications, the schools know they have a captive audience. So they use that opportunity to collect data on applicants that isn’t actually used in their deny-admit decision but rather is used collectively for marketing-ish things like what I mentioned above.

    Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    You should absolutely be specific — your first option (where you say manager in prod dev) is exactly how you should word it. “Leader” is too vague. Use actual titles when they apply (for some people this will mean CMO, CEO, CIO, etc) — in your case “global head of the department” is perfect. Giving them examples of the types of companies you’re targeting is key, too.

    I advise against telling them what the role does unless it’s something really, REALLY unlikely that they’ve ever heard of. That’s not the case for your goals — that’s a common post-MBA path so they don’t need to be educated on what that role entails.

    Some people get nervous when they don’t use up all of the space for these short fields, but remember — all of the top programs value brevity in communication, so if you’re able to be succinct that’s totally fine. Don’t put in another sentence just to fill up the character count.

    Hope that helps!
    – e

  • david

    Hi Erika,

    Thanks for your help on this website!
    I have a quick question on disclosing test scores on resume. I’m tempted to put my SAT II and AP language scores for a foreign language on my resume, but will that come across as silly/unnecessary/imprudent? I think disclosing scores provides a better sense of my proficiency rather than just saying fluent, but not sure if scores from 6 years ago mean anything.

    Thanks,
    David

  • Eddy

    Hi Erika – hope you are well.

    Would like your opinion on a my possibilities to get into a top 20 program given that I am struggling with the GMAT and dont know if I should take it again.

    -27 year Argentinian male
    -Worked 1 year as a teacher in my alma mater while I finished my undergraduate thesis. Taught finance.
    -I’ve been working for the past 3 years at a top pay-tv company. Currently in charge of new product development for Argentina. Previously worked in Operations and in Customer Analytics sector.
    – have been awarded with top perfomance reviews in my division every year.
    – Completed a general management post-graduate course payed for by my company
    – 640 GMAT score (85 percentile verbal, 42 percentile quant). 3rd time I took it.
    – 78/100% in undergrad from one of Argentina’s best business university
    – Founded and led the Alumni department in my University for Business Undergrads during my 4 years there. I currently coach and help 2-3 students a year from my Alma Mater.
    Planning on applying to Berkeley, Kellogg, Duke and Darden – Do you think I’m on the right track or should be targeting other types of MBA programs?

  • Matt Thompson

    Dear Erika,
    I have a BA in English from W&M, are there pre-requisite courses I need to take before I can apply to get an MBA at a graduate level? Maybe this is a dumb question!

  • Damien

    Dear Erika,

    I don’t make a lot at my current job – around 70k and I’m 4 years out of college. How impactful is salary when the adcom is judging your experience? Why do they ask it and how do they use the information?

    warmest regards,
    Damien

  • Joshua

    Dear Erika,

    Quick question about post-MBA goals. How specific are you supposed to be, and how ambitious are you supposed to be? Can you: “I want to be a Manager in Product Development at a company like X, Y, Z, and eventually I want to aspire to be the global head of the department.”, or should you be more like “I want to be a leader in product development at a company like, X, Y, Z, etc.”

    Also – if you only have 500 characters to describe, should you tell them a bit about the function of your role in case they don’t know? ie. would the above example be sufficient? or would you need to be like, “I would help bring products to market using methods A, B C.”

    Thank you!
    Joshua

  • C. Taylor

    I recall a story about a Stanford applicant from India who had a great profile.

    Stanford would have admitted him if he had only included his previous MBA and reason for seeking a second. Unfortunately, he failed to include his previous MBA in his application and failed the background check.

  • David

    Thanks all!

    As you anticipated, I am considering R2 as a precaution given the very short window between hearing back from R1 and applying for R2 (especially when I have to ask recommenders to work over the holiday season). I am in the process of applying to CBS currently, but likely won’t hear back until after the R2 deadline.

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there –

    Unfortunately if you already have an MBA degree most schools will not let you apply for a second (to my knowledge). I would suggest doing some research on that first, just to be sure you’re not planning for a path that’s not possible!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there David –

    I agree with Mba2018 below — I’m a little confused as to why you’re compiling a R2 list, but I have a feeling it’s to be on the safe side just in case nothing works out from R1 (which unfortunately can happen).

    I think your list for R2 is fine but you could also probably throw a few more competitive programs in there since clearly you did something right for R1. Especially since you got an interview at MIT, which is very, VERY hard to do! What about CBS or Stern?

    And to the question below… there should be time to find out about R2 decisions before you have to put any serious money down. It’s usually only once people are on waitlists at one school but are admitted at another school where there are problems (because the school the person got into needs a financial commitment but the waitlist hasn’t moved yet).

    Best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    The only place any compensation information is required is on the app/data form itself. You want to be honest there because certain schools will run background checks to verify that data if you are accepted. But on your resume you don’t really need to worry about the fact that you are unpaid… your resume should focus solely on what you’ve achieved there, your responsibilities and results to date. Same goes for interviews — I highly doubt they’ll ask about your pay, but if they do, just be honest! You have a valid explanation that makes sense. All they care about is if you’re going to be an asset to the class in the sense of being able to teach your fellow classmates something from your personal and professional experience. So the key should be to communicate that across your materials.

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    I think that once someone is close to 700 a retake is not worth it. If you were someone who had absolutely NO quant background and were in a career like branding, then maybe I would want you to try and get your quant score up a bit. But frankly your career experience and your undergrad performance should hold more weight for these programs than a test that just took a few hours of your life, you know? I feel like your time would be better spent working on your essays and resume and maybe guiding your recommenders a bit rather than studying for the GMAT again. It truly is just one data point and I think applicants tend to give it too much weight.

    Your bigger issue is that you are in a highly overrepresented demographic and industry and will therefore really have to differentiate yourself in some other way outside of your career accomplishments. Stanford’s essays are very personal so really give them your all and be honest!

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there Mav –

    Sorry for the late reply — we were having technical difficulties with the site over the past week.

    So I’ll be honest in that I am really only familiar with the mainstream top MBA programs and don’t have any experience with the MSX or EMBAs. I have, however, worked with clients who got into/attended the various international programs like INSEAD, LBS, etc.

    I am wondering why you haven’t mentioned any part-time/night/weekend/exec programs? I feel like not only would those be a better fit, but they are likely more respected and valuable overall. Because you’ll still be getting the same degree as the full-time students in the end, right? But the odds of getting in are substantially higher. It’s just my opinion, but I feel like the EMBA programs are still a bit too new so it’s hard to say how firms are really valuing them.

    But I think you have a great story to tell and could really have success at a top brand in a part-time/night/weekend program. Give that some thought and best of luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there Sunny –

    I think you need to do a lot of research before starting your application — Stanford is THE hardest business school to get into, with only a 7% acceptance rate. You’ll have to have a really strong story and reason as to why you think you can switch to an investment banking career at this point with absolutely no experience in the field to date. To me that might come off as a little naive if you don’t have any reason for them to believe you can pull it off. I don’t think an MBA from Stanford is enough to guarantee you’ll get a job in that highly competitive industry if you otherwise have no connection to it.

    Also, you should do more research on the application process. Ten letters is going to annoy the admissions committee as they specifically say they only want and will only consider two. You don’t want to come off as a rule-breaker or like the rules don’t apply to you. They aren’t really impressed with WHO writes your letter… they are looking for people who know you extremely well and can speak to your qualities and strengths, no matter their title.

    Hope this helps and best of luck!
    Erika

  • Erika Olson

    KPOL –

    I usually advise people to address justifications/explanations for low grades or GMAT scores in the “additional information” space that is part of almost every program’s application. Some programs only give you a very limited number of characters (not words — characters!) whereas some programs allow an entire “optional essay” devoted to these potential red flags.

    The good news is that except for very rare situations, most people can keep their explanations very short and sweet. “I wasn’t as focused on my grades as I should have been during college; as a result, my GPA is not as high as it could have been. However, my GMAT score and career responsibilities prove that I can handle the SCHOOL NAME curriculum.”… something like that.

    Save the main essays for telling them more about yourself/what makes you tick (all while answering the question they ask, of course!).

    I personally feel like non-traditional candidates are fine to apply in both Round 1 and Round 2 and don’t believe there is a clear advantage or disadvantage (well, besides finding out earlier with Round 1!) for either.

    Hope that helps!
    Erika

  • Mba2018

    David,

    If you received round 1 interviews, why are you already compiling a list for R2 schools? Is it as a precaution or are you going to apply regardless of outcome for your R1 schools?

    That leads me to another question, which hopefully either Erika or John can answer. If you receive R1 admits, do you have time to apply and get admitted in R2 prior to confirming attendance and making a deposit to one of your R1 admits?

  • Those are excellent choices. Good luck with them!

  • JSL

    Dear Erika ,

    I am from India .Have complete my Mechanical Engineering 2005 and MBA(HR) 2009 and have a total of 8 yrs work experience with Tata Group with 6 yrs n HR with a international exposure of 2 yrs in GCC.I want to go in for another MBA HR program in US . Kindly suggest your college of choice for the HR course .

  • David

    Hi Erika/John, Thank you for helping us! I wanted to reach out to get your guidance on R2 school selection. In R1, I received interviewed with Wharton, Sloan, and Kellogg. Given a 750+ GMAT, 3.7 GPA at a Williams/Amherst/Wesleyan, and 3+ years with Deloitte Consulting, I am considering two of Tuck, Darden, Yale SOM, and Fuqua in R2. Does this seem like an appropriate approach/list or are these schools too selective/safe?

  • sunny sohal

    why,you wanna blow up those universities?

  • Justin

    Hi Erika, thank you for taking time to help us out. My question: I recently moved back from overseas to help out the family business & pursue my MBA for Fall 2016. They are very small and I’m not a paid employee. How would you advise to try to explain this on a resume or during current employment conversations? While I don’t get a formal wage, all my living expenses are covered while I’m helping out.

    Thank you

  • Ali

    Hi Erika – hope you are well.

    Would like your opinion on a possible GMAT retake –

    -26 year Pakistani male
    -completed 4 years of audit big 4 experience in Abu Dhabi, UAE – was part of the leadership program -worked on major engagements – have been promoted every year
    – Completed cfa in 3 straight years – with 2 years of post qualification experience
    – 690 GMAT score (96 percentile verbal, 48 percentile quant)
    – 82.7/100% in undergrad from Pakistan’s best business university
    – Head of Finance at a non profit from 2008-2010 which focused on building schools, water wells and santitary sites in far flung areas of Pakistan
    Planning on applying to Stanford or IMD – increased GMAT score worth it?

  • JohnAByrne

    Hi there Roger –

    Here is Erika’s reply. She’s having some technical difficulties so I’m posting on her behalf.

    So I’ll be upfront that I never ever ever tell anyone their chances or odds of getting in to ANY school. If I did that, I would be going against the main thing I believe about MBA admissions, which is that it is all of the things that you can’t quickly summarize in a “stat rundown” that are actually what will be most important when the adcom looks at your materials. I strongly, strongly believe that having a good GPA (from a fairly well-known school), a decent GMAT (around 700) and demonstrated career progression are simply the baselines for competitive programs like the ones you’ve mentioned. They are absolutely not what is going to get you in.

    Having recommendation letters that give several examples of both your accomplishments, the way you work with others and your personality traits is critical. Using the page you have for your resume to show career progression and increasing responsibility by detailing exactly what you’ve done (versus high-level responsibilities) and including quantitative results of your work wherever possible is also key.

    And then using the essays and data forms to talk about other things you will bring to the classroom (which might be more on the personal side) is another big piece of the puzzle. I make clients spend about two weeks “navel gazing” and thinking back on their life to truly identify what makes them tick and defining moments that have both shaped them into the person they are and put them on the career path they’ve chosen. I want to ensure that whatever they’re passionate about (and more importantly, WHY they’re passionate about it) comes through in their essays.

    So that would be my advice to you — ensure you are showing them what you’ll be able to teach your classmates about… what they’ll be able to learn from you. That’s what all of the programs you’ve mentioned care most about after they’re confident you can handle their curriculum (which they would be in your case). Since you are only two years out, you really have to prove that you will add value to the class by being able to share with them various “lessons learned” from both your career and extracurricular pursuits thus far. Hope this helps!

    Erika

  • Roger

    Thanks for doing this Erika! I would appreciate it if you could evaluate my profile for chances at my target schools:

    -24 year old white male
    -2 years experience in technology consulting with a Big 4 firm (will have 4 years at matriculation – planning to apply next year)
    -760 GMAT (99th percentile)
    -3.53 GPA at Wake Forest, Finance & Marketing major
    -Co-founded a youth education nonprofit, president of fraternity while in college, other extra-curriculars in school
    -Target schools – Tuck, Yale SOM, MIT Sloan, Harvard, Wharton

    Are there any other schools you think I should apply to?

    Thank you!!

  • Mav

    Hi Erika,

    Thanks so much for your willingness to help.

    I’m curious for your thoughts on the best programs for which I should I apply. In particular I’m interested to learn of your perspective on the value of the Stanford MSx (Master of Science in Management) versus Wharton San Francisco EMBA. Also what do you think about the value of international programs like INSEAD and joint EMBAs in comparison?

    I’m 33, 2006 industrial engineering grad from mid-tier major state university in midwest with 3.83 GPA. Haven’t taken GMAT but confident I’ll get a 700+ based on practice tests. Currently residential project developer in LA. at leading global solar energy provider, 5th year in solar. Previous experience includes:

    – Industrial engineering at major aerospace and defense contractor

    – Co-founding in 2006 and since then leading profitable microbusiness providing software to tourism industry

    – Handful of volunteer experiences around the world

    Looking for a business program to help open the doors to bigger things (upper management, entrepreneurship, etc) that will be highly valued both in USA and globally. Interested in advancing in my current industry but open to others as well and interested in both short- and long-term benefits of the degree. Harvard or Stanford MBA would be amazing to have, but I realize I’m too old for their MBA program, so looking for best options for my situation.

    Thanks again Erika for any help you can provide — I’d highly value your input.

    Best,
    Mav

  • sunny sohal

    hi erika
    i want to become an investment banker but have no experience of working in the industry or any finance related industry at the moment

    I was thinking of joining Stanford MBA program ,full time and graduating with finance as my elective.

    So,my questions to you are:

    1.Will i land an investment banking job post graduation from stanford with finance elective

    2.Will a lack of finance related work experience hamper my chances of selection

    3.Will graduating as a Arjay Miller scholar(top 10 % of the class) help my chances of getting an investment banking job

    secondly,are my chances of getting into stanford satisfactory?

    1.gmat :790

    2.toefl :120

    3.graduation with sociology as majors:67%

    4.masters in public administration:70%

    5.3 years working as gazetted class 1 officer in government of india

    6.10 + recommendation letters from county heads and ministers in governments

    7.junior national level cricketer

    8.Chief financial analsyst all 3 levels cleared

    9,House captain in school

    10.20+ medals in athletics

    thanks erika

  • JohnAByrne

    Here’s a question for Erika left by KPOL

    Hey Erika,

    To what extent should you justify a less than stellar academic record in your essays? Would you mention this in your ‘main’ essay or would this be best tackled in the optional essay?

    Also, for non-traditional candidates, is there any significant disadvantage in applying in round 2?

    Cheers!