How To Get Accepted By A Top Business School — The Best Of Jon Fuller

GPAs: How do you convert overseas GPAs into American GPAs?


How do B Schools convert GPA of 10 (IITs) in to GPA of 4 – My sense is that direct correlation is very difficult to arrive at?


You’re right in that it’s challenging for programs to convert non-4.0 GPAs and/or international GPAs into a 4.0 system. Many schools specifically tell applicants to *not* convert their scores in their applications, so be sure to review the various admissions websites and online forms to follow the correct protocols. Regardless, all of the schools you’re considering have domain experts that know how to interpret international transcripts to assess relative strength. One thing you could consider doing is to provide a class rank, show what percentile you graduated in in your class, etc. Maybe in the academic section of your resume. That would help to further contextualize your performance.

Work Experience: How much do I need before I apply? 


How are people with one year of work experience when applying to business school viewed as opposed to someone with 2 or 3 years experience when they apply?


People with one year of experience are generally not very competitive and it’s quite rare to see anyone with that little experience in top programs . . .In my own adcom experience, successful candidates with that little experience are typically dual degree candidates (think JD/MBA or MD/MBA). Four to six years is usually the experience sweet spot for me, although less can work too, depending on the job, industry, etc.

Why the preference for more experience? In a nutshell, adcoms believe that it usually takes a few years for candidates to accumulate quality experiences, and those experiences are necessary for you to get the most out of the program, to have enough to offer your classmates, to be attractive to typical recruiters, etc.

Here is some additional advice from Jon Fuller to avoid the mistakes that your peers are making:

[Check out Is the Quality of Your Work Experience Good Enough?]

Quit talking and take your GMAT

My first tangible recommendation is to get your GMAT done. It’s one thing to project a 720 – 740, it’s a completely different thing to actually have it in-hand. It’s really challenging to give your utmost focus to prepping your applications while concurrently still worrying about the GMAT. If you take the test and get a 740+, great. You can then focus on the rest of the process knowing that you’re not crazy for applying to top business programs. If you get a 700, then you’ll certainly need to take it again and improve your score to have any confidence of success with this caliber of school.

Stay active in professional and community organizations

The most glaring concern that I have at the moment is with what you presented with your extracurriculars – you only really mentioned things from undergrad, and those experiences are really way too dated to help you in the MBA application process. Adcoms want to see applicants who are currently active and engaged in things outside of work . . . these elements help to serve as evidence that you’re likely to be an active and engaged student, and they also help to – yep, you guessed it – differentiate you and make you more interesting and memorable.

Are their ways that you can make your current activities a little richer? What I mean by that is rather than just volunteering as a mentor, is it possible for you to take on a leadership role with the program? Good that you run marathons, but can you organize a training group or a fundraising team as part of that activity? Those details will help your ECs stand out.

Show interest in specific schools  

Other things you can do . . . do your research and express interest. Once you’ve settled on schools more, engage with students and alumni if you haven’t already. If you’re in a major metro area, go to school information sessions over the summer when they’re in town. Plan to visit schools. These sorts of things will help you to more authentically express your enthusiasm for programs and will let you speak more specifically about why you want to attend a program.

Don’t take time off

I’m definitely concerned that the gap year won’t be well received by adcoms, though. I worry that it won’t fit in with the rest of your narrative, might impact the “why MBA now” question, etc. These concerns would probably come into play even if there was just the “start my own business” element – big company/career shifts right before applying can be troublesome. Speaking from my own adcom experience, there’d be a lot of questions about this part of your profile/resume and would require you to spend a lot of effort to speak to your decisions and logic. Doing it to play golf, take a break, dedicate time to GMAT prep, etc., definitely won’t look good.

Be specific 

It’s quite common for people to use the MBA as a means of facilitating a career change, and that doesn’t bother adcoms much as long as you can credibly articulate how your skills and experiences to date are relevant to your goals, and how combining those skills and experiences with an MBA is going to make your goals in finance feasible and sensible. A focus on working in the finance industry is good, but you also need to be more specific than that. What function do you want to perform? What kinds of companies do you hope to target? What specific job/title do you want to pursue? You have to show that you really know what you’re talking about. Obviously, doing all of that can be a lot easier if you actually have the background already, but it’s possible even if you don’t. The finance segment of the applicant pool tends to be very competitive, so keep that in mind as time goes by.

Don’t wait too long to enroll 

The other big concern that I have for you right now is your age and the variety of professional roles that you’ve had. If my math is correct, you could end up being 32-ish by the time you apply/enroll, and that’s quite a bit above the usual competitive range for two-year MBA programs. At that stage of life, most adcoms would think at a high level that you’d likely be a better fit for PT programs. Age could also be a concern when it comes to the feasibility of your goals . . . MBB and other firms know that the lifestyle of a consultant isn’t usually a good fit for a ~34-year old.

The typical applicant to a top business school program is 27-28 years old and has 4-6 years of full-time work experience, taking on more responsibility in their roles over time. Being perceived as an older applicant could be problematic for you, and the adcom may worry that your variety of work experiences indicates a lack of concrete direction. With your age, they may be concerned that you would be less likely to be active outside the classroom, given that the majority of your classmates will be significantly younger than you. These aren’t necessarily deal-breaker issues, but you will need to be careful to address these topics in your applications, emphasizing the continuity of your work experience and your enthusiasm about engaging with the school community, extracurriculars, etc.

Focus on short-term goals

You really must talk about your short-term goals, too (especially since many essay prompts specifically ask for them), since you’ll only get to your long term if you successful achieve your short-term goals first. It’s definitely good that you have a long-term aspiration, but how are you going to get there?

I don’t know that schools will necessarily find the “leader on innovation strategy” as cocky, but they’ll likely find it to be waaaaay too vague. A key part of a successful application is clear and specific goals, especially short-term. Your short-term goals should describe the industry and function you’d like to pursue post-MBA. Even better, they should give insight into the firms that you’d actually target and job titles you’re interested in. Then you need to show how you plan to turn your short-term plans into a long-term career.

Don’t expect a scholarship 

I’ll speak to scholarship generally – it’s definitely waaay more the exception than the rule that MBA admits are awarded a merit scholarship (HBS is one of the remaining few who are more focused on need rather than merit). The vast majority of candidates are paying full tuition through loans, personal resources, etc.

Scholarship dollars are typically an attempt to woo the most competitive and scarce candidates . . . a 780 GMAT is more likely to get an award than a 700, someone from Chile is more than someone from China, a female more than a male, etc. Generally, I tell people to assume that they’re going to get nothing and then be pleasantly surprised if they get something. If free money is a huge priority, then it’s advisable to pick schools where your profile and stats are going to blow their minds.


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