The MBA Summit: How To Get Into A Top Business School

Byrne: Morgan, your take on the most common mistakes?

Bernstein: Soojin touched on some of the most common ones. I tend to think of this in terms of what pieces of advice would I give, and I think one of the things that sometimes happens when candidates work on their application is they work on them in silos. You tackle, “I’m going to do the essays now. I’m going to do the resume now. Now I’m thinking about my letters of recommendation,” without really taking a step back and thinking about them all fitting together as one puzzle. What’s the bigger picture story, and how do I build on something in my resume in my essays? Or if there are gaps, how do I then explain them through my essays, etc.? So my advice would be to take that step back and look at the application as a whole, as opposed to trying to tackle every individual component without thinking about the bigger picture that it’s presenting.

Byrne: So every school has multiple rounds to apply. The second round tends to be the largest at every school. But round one is often thought to be the magic round, with the greatest chances of getting in, because after all, you haven’t even filled a single seat in the class. Is there a best time to apply?

DelMonico: I would say there’s no best time to apply. I think the best time to apply is when you’re ready to apply. I think the advice we would have given is you apply when you have your strongest application ready, whether it’s round one, round two, or even round three, which I think we’re all in the middle of right now. I think it’s a little bit of a fallacy that you stand a better chance to be admitted in round one. We’ve done this for a good number of years. We know what the volume’s going to look like. We know what the quality’s going to look like. We model it so that the same applicant has the same chance of being admitted, whether they apply in round one, round two, or round three. So I don’t think there’s necessarily any advantage. The one advantage to applicants is that you just hear sooner.

Byrne: Soojin, you agree?

Kwon: I agree. 100%. Although we do see more applicants applying in round one than we have in the last few years or previously, so there seems to be a perception that there is a greater chance, or maybe applicants just wanna get it over with sooner.

Byrne: What about that old cliché: the early bird gets the worm?

Bernstein: I guess that’s what they’re thinking.

Kwon: But they’re also doing their research much earlier, too. All of us are doing events much earlier. We used to be able to start them in the fall, then in the summer. Now, we’re starting events in May for next fall, so everything’s being pushed up.

DelMonico: It’s also true that the second rat gets the cheese, so …

Bernstein: I would also add, from the candidate’s perspective, that I think most of our programs are gonna have one, two, and three rounds, so some think about staggering your applications potentially. Maybe there’s some schools that you’re applying to in round one, and then you wait until you get those decisions back in December in most cases, and then most schools will have their round two deadline in January. So you have the ability as a candidate to think about the different possible outcomes and prepare for them in terms of where you would apply rounds one, two, or possibly three.

Byrne: And I imagine in round one you put the most people on a waitlist because you haven’t seen the whole pool.

DelMonico: I don’t think in an absolute sense because round two, for us, is twice the size of round one, so iwe will waitlist more people in round two. In terms of a percentage of the round, maybe in round one, but we try not to carry people on the waitlist too long. I don’t think that’s fair, but we will definitely want to see what round two looks like, so we will definitely have a decent sized waitlist go from round one to round two.

Bernstein: Sometimes people feel a little deflated if they get the decision and it’s a waitlist decision. While that may not be the outcome that they had originally hoped for, I think it’s also important to acknowledge that if we’re putting you on the waitlist, it means we think there’s a chance you might get admitted. We’re not going to waste your time or our time in putting you there if we didn’t actually think we might want to give you an offer at some point, so I think there’s definitely some consolation that candidates should take that, “Wow. They’ve seen something they liked in me. What else can I do to improve?”

DelMonico: And we will admit people off the waitlist. It’s not a kind of dead end, to Morgan’s point. And again, this gets school specific, I don’t know if every school does this, but we will give feedback to you while you are on the waitlist to help you understand how you might be able to improve your candidacy.

Byrne: What can, in fact, people do to get off a waitlist successfully?

Kwon: There are limited degrees of freedom once you’ve submitted an application, so it could be a test score, it could be an award, a promotion. Hopefully you’ve already done your research on the school so you don’t need to come visit and make your case in person, which sometimes people do. But there really aren’t that many levers.

Bernstein: We have, in many cases, had students fly from across the country or internationally, not just to plead a case, but to come to visit the school. Maybe they were scheduling their on-campus interview at the same time. There is something to be said for that face-to-face contact. At the end, can I say that actually interacting with an admissions officer in person is going to increase your chances of getting off the waitlist? Probably not.

Kwon: It can work either way.

Bernstein: Right. Exactly. I think it’s largely, for me, about self-reflection, recognizing, “Why might I have been put on this waitlist? How does my profile compare to their average profile for their class?” We don’t give feedback, but I think that, on the margins, I would say that people get put on the waitlist either because their profile, their standardized test scores, or their GPA fall far outside of the bands, in which case somebody could take the initiative to either retake the exam or take some courses to demonstrate their quantitative readiness for the program. Or because the career goals that they have conveyed to us give us some trepidation in terms of their ability to actually get that job post-MBA in the sense that they haven’t connected those dots for us that we were talking about earlier. I think writing back in and providing us with an additional personal statement, but clarify some of that, or that helps to show that passion or the due diligence that you’ve done, that could be helpful.

Byrne: One of the key takeaways from our first panel of students and graduates was to definitely visit a campus before applying. Does a campus visit help your application? How do you view that?

Kwon: I think it helps the applicant in terms of getting to know the school better so that they can write an effective essay, interview better, ask good questions of students and alums that they meet. I would view the entire application process as a dating process, so it’s two-way. It’s not just one way. It’s not just you want us to like you. You want to like us as well, so you should check out the schools that you’re applying to because this is a lifetime relationship that you’re about to engage in. You want to be in a place where you’re really going to thrive and you can see yourself being excited about going to school there with the students who are there, and that’s all about fit and chemistry and feeling that vibe. I’ve had so many applicants and students tell us, after visiting a school or multiple schools, “They changed where they were on my list. It was different from what I thought it would be.” Those visits can make a big impact in where a school is on someone’s list.

Byrne: So, Bruce, let’s pretend I’m an applicant, and I want to go to the spaceship in New Haven and visit the campus at Yale, should I knock on your office door and say, “Hey, is Bruce in? Can I meet him?”

DelMonico: You definitely should do that. I think that’s a good idea. Actually, I had someone email me this morning on the waitlist who’s going be in New Haven tomorrow and wants to meet with me. I think we all have a very structured campus visit program. You can schedule a visit online. It’s a full day of tours, sitting in on classes, having lunch with students, a Q&A session with an admissions officer, so that structured program is probably the best way to get a sense of the program. Sometimes I do the Q&A session. A lot of times other members of the admissions staff do that, so you do get that face to face time with an admissions officer.

But to echo Soojin, it is valuable for the candidates to visit campus, but from an evaluation standpoint, we do not put any stock in whether you visit a campus or not. We know a significant percentage of our applicant pool comes from outside the U.S., and we know it’s very difficult to get to the States to visit, and it would be unfair, I think, to disadvantage them because of that, just because it’s time consuming, expensive to get to New Haven or Ann Arbor or Berkeley. We don’t factor it in at all.


Candid perspectives from MBA students, admission officials, and employers