Those of us in the United States are busy planning for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and will be sharing time with our family and closest friends later this week. For those who are outside of the US, in spirit, you may be doing the same! Naturally, your MBA applications are likely to become a topic of conversation. Far too often, I have seen clients derailed by well-meaning but ill-informed parents or colleagues.
Whether or not you are celebrating this week, determining when and how to involve your friends and family in your MBA application is always a challenge. To help you wrestle with this, Personal MBA Coach has put together some do’s and don’ts for involving others in your MBA pursuits.
Family Involvement Do’s:
Your friends, family, and colleagues can have very beneficial roles if they limit their involvement.
- Seek out your family and friends for moral support: There is no doubt that applying to business school is draining and time-consuming, particularly on top of working full time. Do not be afraid to ask for support. Moral support can help you manage the inevitable ups and downs of the process. In addition, you will likely have less time for other obligations during this busy time. Take up the offer for dinner, do not be afraid to do a bit less cooking this holiday season and understand you may have to say no sometimes. Your family will forgive you!
- Ask your family and friends to access their networks: Naturally, networking is key throughout the MBA application process. Your friends and family can be great sources to find alums from your target schools (or in your future target industries). In some cases, such alums can even write effective character reference letters. In other cases, alums and current students are good avenues for conducting research on schools and including such insider information in your applications. Use these networks wherever possible!
- Use those closest to you for an authenticity test: While I advise treading carefully when sharing your essays with your family (more on this later), family members can provide a great authenticity check. As I have written many times, being authentic is crucial during the application process. Ask your mom or brother to read your essays and see if your voice is clear. You want to ensure that your essays sound like you! This is particularly helpful in early drafts when there is time to incorporate their feedback.
- Let your family tell you if your essays are too technical or difficult to follow: Your family can also be a great reality check source to ensure your essays are easy to understand. Ask your family members if they can follow what you are talking about. Far too often, essays become too technical or convoluted. In most cases, your family and friends do not work in the same industry and can offer a truly independent comprehensive test.
- Ask your family to help you brainstorm potential topics: The people who know you best can also be excellent resources when you are stumped for topics or stories. Brainstorming together is a great way to solicit feedback in a low-risk environment. When you are collecting a long list of ideas, you do not have to worry as much about insulting someone by not following their feedback.
Family Involvement Don’ts
While there are countless ways your family can be helpful in the application process, they can also easily derail you. Generally, your family members are not experts in the MBA application process. Even if you are speaking to another business school graduate, things may have changed considerably since she applied to the school. In addition, best practices vary broadly by school and circumstance. So, as you ask for help, be careful!
- Do not have your friends or family re-write essays that are nearly finished: Far too often, I have seen family or friends Monday morning quarterback strong MBA application essays. Most often, they do not have the whole picture of your application, do not know what the school is truly looking for or simply feel the need to critique. Last-minute changes are rarely for the better and there will always be countless opinions. Do not scrap an essay you have been working on for months just weeks before submission because Uncle Joe who went to HBS 30 years ago does not agree with your essays. Unless your essays are difficult to follow or sound inauthentic, take others’ opinions with a grain of salt.
- Do not let your family or friends question your school list: This same advice goes for school lists. I have had prospective clients tell me that they should be a shoo-in at Columbia even with a 660 GMAT because their brother/sister/father got accepted with that score. Everyone’s circumstances are unique and Personal MBA Coach specializes in helping clients find the right school list for them. Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence is not going to be helpful here. Personal bias can always weigh in heavily. Just because a school was right for your mother or your cousin does not mean it is the right choice for you. Besides, application numbers and acceptance rates can vary drastically from year to year. Take the time to determine the right school list for you and do not let your family question this.
Scott Edinburgh is a Wharton MBA and MIT Sloan BS graduate and founded Personal MBA Coach over 11 years ago with the goal of providing customized one-on-one support. Scott also serves on the Board of Directors for AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants and is invited to speak at MBA Admissions events globally. Our clients have been accepted to all top schools globally with a 96% success rate. They received $4.5M in total scholarships last year.