The Importance Of Feedback For Your R2 Applications

Matt Symonds, Fortuna

Matt Symonds, Director at Fortuna Admissions

The MBA admissions offices of the world’s top business schools are bracing themselves for a busy start to 2016. There are 24 Round Two or Round Three deadlines that squeeze into a thirteen-day period from January 4 (Michigan Ross) to January 16 (Dartmouth Tuck), and for many of the schools this will be their biggest applicant volume of the year. Applicants who were rejected in Round 1 join a fresh wave of MBA hopefuls, all eager to secure their place for the fall of 2016, and thereby avoid the fateful final round of the spring, when schools like HBS and Stanford count the % of places remaining in one hand.

If you are currently wondering how best to introduce yourself to future classmates at HBS, trying to come up with 25 random things about yourself for Fuqua, planning material to share for the Kellogg video essay, or thinking about how best to convey your global mindset for INSEAD, it might be time to step back and get some external input on your application. A fresh set of eyes can make all the difference as you look to make the right impression.

My co-directors at Fortuna Admissions were the gatekeepers at Wharton and INSEAD, and have reviewed tens of thousands of applications while running the admissions office. They never failed to notice the sort of mistakes in the application that could make the difference between acceptance and rejection.

“We’re not just talking about getting the name of the school wrong,” says Judith SIlverman Hodara, ‘though you wouldn’t believe how many times that happens. Time and again you would read essays where applicants were clearly trying to fit the mold, and say what they thought we wanted to hear. As a consequence they failed to convey anything authentic about themselves.”

Even more damaging she says was the failure to answer the question. “We did not choose our essay questions lightly, and wanted to gain particular insight about the experience and motivations of applicants. It was all too obvious when the material was a rehash of content they had written for other schools, or they were insisting on talking about something that was off-subject for our application. So we came away from reading the file with questions about their motivation to come to our school, or worse, the concern that they hadn’t bothered or didn’t know how to answer a question.”

For my colleague Caroline Diarte Edwards, who was Director of Admissions at INSEAD for seven years, she recognises the challenge of bringing an application to life. “You can find yourself on the third or fourth draft of your essay and what you have written is pretty turgid. Remember that the admissions staff are reading thousands of applications in each round, and you don’t want to bog them down with lifeless material. You want to keep them engaged, and for that you need to strike the right balance of detail, insight and tone. By the time they finish reading your essays they should really want to meet you.”

Judith Silverman Hodara explains that it is even more important to show the love in Round Two. “The admissions office might be thinking that you have already applied elsewhere in Round One, so they will be looking for evidence of your commitment to their school. We are talking about world-class business schools that are not second best, and certainly not a second round afterthought. They will all be looking for evidence of a strong fit with their culture, well-defined career goals that resonate with the program, and demonstration of your desire to study there.”

Part of the idea of getting a fresh set of ideas to review your work is because many applicants cannot see the woods for the trees. “You cannot imagine how your story will look to someone else who does not know you,” Diarte Edwards says. “But that is the reality of the admissions office. Friends can positively fill in the gaps, though you should avoid working by committee. Everyone feels that they should provide some suggestions, which can ultimately be more confusing than anything else.”

Mentors, or an individual whose opinion you really trust can be a great source of feedback. And then of course there are admissions consultants, of which Fortuna Admissions is one of many. If your coach has worked inside the admissions office they will know what it is like to make an impartial assessment of your work. And with the level of competition for a place at the top schools, they are not going to sugar coat their feedback, but provide constructive advice to help you build a compelling narrative that will resonate with the culture of your target schools.

There may only be a few more weeks before the Round Two deadlines, but a well-chosen review of your work can make all the difference.

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