Smart Advice for This Year’s Applicants

If you are planning on applying to business school this year, you are just a few months away from the first set of deadlines. Here are four practical steps that applicants can take immediately to increase their admission outcome.

1. Start early

Applicants often underestimate how much work is involved with the application. One of the main reasons applicants are denied admission is that they have written weak essays and/or have cut corners in preparing their application. The more time you invest in preparing your application the more likely you are to submit applications that show you in your best light. Invest in the self reflection to recall all the relevant experiences you wish to convey to the admissions board and then step back and carefully select the best examples that address the questions you are being asked.

Remember that each business school is different so avoid the temptation to cut and paste your responses and tailor your application to each school. Anticipate that you will end up spending anywhere from three months to six months on your application. A rushed application can be a quick route to a rejection. A simple way to ensure that you present a strong application is to invest enough time in preparing your application.

John was an applicant who exemplifies the importance of starting early. He had all the criteria (high GMAT/GPA, blue chip firm, international experience, etc.) business schools looked for, or so he thought. He wrote his essays and hit submit. When the results came back he was denied admission by the two schools he had applied to. In assessing John’s prior application it was clear that while on the surface all the information was there, he made two fundamental mistakes with his application. First, the essays did not represent his personal brand—in other words, after reading the application I could not differentiate him from the thousand other people from a similar profile. Second, his essays raised flags about his professional maturity and interpersonal skills. The second time around he started early and invested in the self reflection necessary for a strong application. He didn’t change his GMAT score, jobs, or even recommenders. He simply focused on his story and told it as authentically and positively as possible. This resulted in admission to all his schools, including HBS and Haas. Starting early gives you the luxury to do this and can help you get the admission offer from your dream school.

2. Shore up your academics

While your undergraduate and graduate transcripts will get significant scrutiny in the evaluation process, the GMAT (or GRE) and additional coursework could help offset any lackluster previous academic experience. A study by Kaplan reports that 48% of admission board members cite low GMAT as the top reason they reject candidates. Guess what the second reason was? Low GPA. We are still four and half months away from the first round of admission deadlines. If you haven’t taken your GMAT, the next few months are critical. GMAT classes last about 7-8 weeks so you should register right away if you think you will need the extra help to prepare. Don’t plan to wing in or to take it several times. Ideally, if you can take the exam once and ace it, you will send a strong message to the admission board. If you have taken the GMAT before and you are unhappy with your score, then plan to retake it once more. The less number of times you take the test the better.

Individuals with limited quantitative experience can strengthen their profile by taking one or two quantitative classes during the summer. Applicants looking to make a career change into the investing space may also want to enroll in a CFA class.

Tim, an IT professional who worked in financial services, faced academic challenges when applying to top business schools. He had an interest in becoming an investment professional but recognized that it would be tough to make that transition from his back office IT role at an investment bank. An MBA presented him with the opportunity to make this career change. His initial attempts at the GMAT resulted in scores in the 500 range. He retook it a third time and raised his score to a low 600. His undergraduate GPA was low (3.2) but was reinforced by a masters degree GPA of a 3.8. Tim recognized that he was up against significant competition and that the odds of gaining admission to a top tier MBA program were slim. What helped his candidacy was that he had passed the first two levels of the CFA and was scheduled to take the last level. He also presented a strong brand that showcased him outside of work as someone who was passionate and committed to others. He gained admission to Wharton and other highly-ranked schools.

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