The MBA Gatekeeper At NYU Stern

NYU Stern School of Business

NYU Stern School of Business

An applicant has written their essays, read them over, and corrected typos – what else should they do to get them ready to send?

First and foremost, it usually comes back to telling us what you really want to say. Some people write it thinking, like, ‘What do they want to hear?’ They’re trying to game it or overthink it. The bottom line is people go to business school to do something, to achieve something. What we really want to hear is, ‘Why do you want to do this?’ If you want to go off and start your own business that’s putting together the worlds of jazz and nonprofit, tell me that. I’ve read over 50,000 essays in my career, maybe more. You can tell which essays are coming from a place of passion, excitement, and authenticity. What it needs to be is an honest statement about what you’re passionate about. That said, you want it to be well structured and cohesive. It should be true to their tone and their personality. It shouldn’t be in a voice that’s not their own. It should answer the questions asked. You want to use each element of the application strategically to present your entire case. You’re going to send in your resume. You’re going to be sending in your transcript. What is it that is relevant from those items to the question you’re going to answer? It’s one piece of the application and it doesn’t have to carry everything in it.

In an interview, should an applicant address weaknesses in their qualifications, and if so, how?

For us, the interview is a very important part of the process. Our interviews are invitation only. We’ve read the entire application. It’s a very specific approach that we use here that helps us identify the highest level of IQ plus EQ. It’s going to be a deeper interview I think than if done by an alumni who’s just seen the resume. Weaknesses are OK. Not everyone’s going to be good at everything. It’s better to be self aware and know what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at. If I am a very creative, communicative type of person who might have a passion for marketing, and I might be proficient at analysis, but analysis isn’t really my forte, maybe I shouldn’t be an analyst in a bank. If there are areas where you’re weak and you want to increase your proficiency, then fine – this is a question between what you’re weak at and haven’t learned yet. We have strengths and we have weaknesses, and the question is, ‘How do we find places that leverage your strengths, the kinds of functions and industries and careers where you get to let your strengths work for you?’

Just understanding what you’re good at and how to capitalize on those things tends to make you more successful. Play to your strengths. Self-awareness is essential in the journey as a professional because as you get to be a manager . . . if you know an area which isn’t your strength but it’s important to have on the team, it’s really good to be able to say, ‘I’m a great analyst, I’m not necessarily as good with some of the softer personal manager things. I need to get someone on my team who is.’ The biggest sign of strength is being OK saying what you’re weakness is. The more that you understand that the more you can put yourself in a position to be successful, or by getting people around you, teammates who can help you address areas that you’re not as good in.

What are the three best things an applicant can do before applying?

The first thing is, ask yourself the question,  ‘Do I need an MBA?’ I think some people just sort of think it would be good to get, or it might be valuable. It’s a really big investment. Is it really necessary to get where you want to go? Is it really going to add value? It may or may not be the right degree. You may or may not need a degree. Just make sure this particular educational program is going to get you what you want.

The second thing is . . . a lot of times people are doing it because they’re looking to change industries or positions or both. Sometimes people say, ‘I don’t like what I’m doing and I’m hoping I can go get an MBA and figure out what I should do next.’ An MBA’s a great place to make it happen – it’s not the optimal place to figure it out. Go in with a plan, go in with an idea, and a well-researched one, not just that ‘I spoke to a couple people and I thought it might be interesting.’ Really research it. Talk to friends and family that are in fields you’re interested in. Talk to alumni. If you’re interested in Stern, come talk to our students who are pursuing those fields. Go to company meetings. Make sure it’s the right degree. Do your homework about your new career trajectory if that’s what you’re going to do.

Once you are ready, research the schools. That’s a lot more than maybe looking at the rankings. It really comes down to, if at all possible, once you’ve sort of developed a short list of schools, is going and visiting them . . . talking to students, going to classes. It is time, it is money, it is a big investment, but in-person experiencing a school is different than a website or what another person says about it. I joke there are 30 schools in the top 20 – you’re not going to go wrong with any of them. The question is, ‘How right can you go?’ Just like companies have different corporate cultures, every business school has a different feel, and that’s the elusive ‘fit’ feature that people talk about. ‘Do I like the people? Am I more excited after visiting the place or less excited?’ If you visit the place and you like it, it doesn’t matter what anyone else says, you should apply.

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