This has been a big week for MBA applicants. Harvard, Booth, Kellogg, Yale, Darden, Cornell and other top schools have been sending out decisions to round 2 applicants, bringing joy to some and frustration or disappointment to others. For many candidates this can be the most nerve wracking time of the admissions cycle, as round 2 may be their last chance of securing a place this year. Even good news brings its challenges, as many of our clients have received offers from several schools and now need to decide which offer to accept.
So what’s your situation? Maybe you’ve just received a great scholarship – but not from your top choice program. Maybe you face a decision about sticking it out on the waitlist or take an offer from your safety school…or no offer at all as the notification deadlines slip quietly past.
With so many possible outcomes, this is a good time to look at each of them and share some insider advice from Fortuna’s team of former admissions officers. We’ve spent the week celebrating an amazing spread of offers from Boston to Berkeley, and talking with applicants who face an array of life-changing decisions. I asked five of my colleagues for their best advice on five of the most common scenarios we encounter in the wake of Round 2 decisions:
Scenario #1: You landed competing offers from two of your dream schools. How to choose?
“This, of course, is the best kind of problem to have,” says Fortuna’s Malvina Miller Complainville, former Assistant Director of Career Services at Harvard Business School. “While it’s a rare and enviable position, the decision can feel agonizing.”
If you’re facing offers from two (or more) dream schools, Malvina’s advice is to set aside the rankings and let it get personal. Create your decision-making filter with five key factors:
- Compare your cultural fit with each school: Visit the campus, sit in on a class to feel a vibe for the student body and get a sense of the faculty teaching style. Most importantly, speak to students, professors and alumni about their experience. It’s the best way to really experience the personality and cultural nuances of each school.
- Consider the financial implications: Is one school offering greater scholarship opportunities or other aid that will lessen the financial burden?
- Understand each school’s career offerings: Speak to career clubs about opportunities and events and learn which companies are recruiting on campus. Study career statistics and explore the opportunities that may be on offer for you post-MBA.
- Think about brand recognition: How might a school’s reputation and strengths, as well as the experiences and networks it provides, position you to achieve your career goals? For international careers, look into the strength of the school’s brand abroad.
- Evaluate the alumni network: How developed is the alumni community? This is especially important if pursuing a network job search abroad.
Scenario #2: Waitlisted. What do you do next?
“To maximize your chances of getting a confirmed offer, there are a few immediate actions you can take to boost your standing,” says Fortuna’s Caroline Diarte Edwards, former head of Admissions at INSEAD:
- Confirm to the school that you accept a spot on the waitlist, and reiterate your commitment to the program. Keep your tone positive, without a hint of disappointment (or worse, resentment).
- Stay in touch with the school regularly – without getting a reputation as a pest in the admissions office. Getting in touch every 3-4 weeks is good. Reiterate your strong motivation, at the minimum, and if you have a useful update on your profile to share, present that also. Personal touches help to keep you on their radar screen and build a positive impression, so balance emails with the occasional phone call.
- Get an additional letter of support, if possible, from someone who is a member of the school community who can speak to your fit with the program. A one-page email is sufficient – it doesn’t have to be as formal as the official recommendations that the school has received already. But don’t inundate the admissions office with additional letters – this can backfire and harm your reputation.
- Send an update on your situation to your alumni interviewers (if indeed you interviewed with alumni), and ask for any feedback and suggestions. While they may not be able to tell you “why” (and they may not know), they can offer some insights about your discussion and their sense of your fit with the school.
“Also, think about next steps – if you haven’t got a plan B, now is the time to start figuring it out,” adds Caroline. “If you don’t get a confirmed offer – and be aware that most waitlisted candidates don’t – should you reapply to the same school? Other schools? As you think about next steps, begin identifying ways to strengthen your profile over the coming year to increase your chances of success next time around.”