It’s been a roller coaster week for MBA applicants, and not just because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Harvard, Kellogg, Booth, Yale, Cornell, Darden and other top schools have released decisions to round 2 applicants, bringing joy to some and disappointment or frustration to others.
This year presents a bevy of unprecedented uncertainties – travel bans, visa concerns and whether virtual classes will be behind us or resume again in the fall. Some candidates are fretting about whether to defer acceptance for a year, and if schools will even permit it.
What’s your situation? Maybe you’ve just received a great scholarship – but not from your top choice program. Maybe you face a decision about sticking it out on the waitlist or take an offer from your safety school… or wonder about repositioning a dinged application for R3 (especially given extended deadlines).
I asked several of my Fortuna Admission colleagues for their best advice on six of the most common scenarios we encounter in the wake of Round 2 decisions, in this most atypical of years. Their advice was so substantive (and essential) that I’ve segmented into a two-part series. In part one, I’m focusing in on advice for navigating the waitlist, considering round 3 after a ding, and the concern of deferral.
HOW TO CHOOSE BETWEEN MBA OFFERS
Scenario 1: Landing on the waitlist. What do you do next?
HBS is one top school that explicitly stated its intentions to maintain a larger waitlist given this year’s extraordinary circumstances. “To maximize your chances of getting a confirmed offer, there are a few immediate actions you can take to boost your standing,” says Fortuna’s Caroline Diarte Edwards, former head of Admissions at INSEAD:
- Confirm to the school that you accept a spot on the waitlist and reiterate your commitment to the program. Keep your tone positive, without a hint of disappointment (or worse, resentment).
- Get an additional letter of support, if possible, from someone who is a member of the school community who can speak to your fit with the program. A one-page email is sufficient – it need not be as formal as the official recommendations that your school already received. But don’t inundate the admissions office with additional letters – this can backfire and harm your reputation.
- Stay in touch with the school regularly – without getting a reputation as a pest in the admissions office. Getting in touch every 3-4 weeks is good. At the minimum, reiterate your strong motivation, and if you have a relevant update on your profile to share, present that, too. Personal touches help to build a positive impression and keep you on their radar, so balance emails with the occasional phone call.
- Send an update to your alumni interviewers on your situation (if indeed you interviewed with alumni), and invite any feedback and suggestions. They may not be able to tell you “why” (and they may not know), but they may offer some insights about your conversation and their sense of your fit with the program.
“Also, think about next steps – if you don’t have a plan B, now is the time to start figuring it out,” says Caroline. “If you don’t get a confirmed offer – and be aware that in a typical year most waitlisted candidates don’t – should you reapply to the same school? To other schools? As you think about next steps, start identifying ways to strengthen your profile over the coming year to increase your chances of success next time around.”
Scenario 2: Accepted to your top choice school but wondering about deferring amid the Covid-19 crisis.
This is a really tricky scenario. For many of our international candidates, they’re worried about securing a visa in time amid consulate closures worldwide. Stateside clients are speculating whether classes will still be online come fall, anxious that an online experience won’t meet their relationship-building expectations given the hefty tuition fees. (In a P&Q survey of current admits, 43% believe tuition fees should be lowered if classes don’t resume on campus.) Here’s what I recommend:
- Voice your concerns early to get on their radar. If you have a specific situation that is going to affect your ability to attend in the fall, let the school know as soon as possible and let them help you work through the issues: they will likely have others in this position and will be able to provide help and advice. Now that you are “in,” they will do their best to make sure you can come!
- Be aware that deferral might not be an option. Schools are still very much assuming they will be starting up again in the fall, and will likely only allow deferrals in very specific circumstances.
- Be flexible and patient. This is a rapidly evolving situation and there will likely be many twists and turns before you show up on campus. Schools will be doing their best to make sure every admit has an opportunity to attend.
Scenario 3: Still no offers in R2. Reposition for R3?
Amid the disruption and crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic is an unprecedented opportunity for candidates still hoping to enter a top business school this fall. For the first time ever, many top business schools (from Berkeley to Booth) are extending their round three deadlines in response to the Covid-19 crisis, even actively encouraging candidates to apply who may be on the fence (like Darden). Arguably, your R3 odds have never been better.
“In typical years, by round three, schools are looking to fill certain profiles to ensure a diverse classroom,” said Fortuna’s Bill Kooser, former Chicago Booth Associate Dean, in a recent Fortuna webinar, Round 3 or 4 MBA Applications: Opportunity in the Time of Covid-19. “Given that the yield is dropping, there’s less pressure to be selective for those specific profiles, so MBA admissions committees will be looking to fill a wider number of seats. So this round may look more like a round one or round two in years past, rather than schools cherry-picking for particular kinds of people.”
Fortuna’s Jessica Chung, former UCLA Anderson Associate Director, says her biggest caution for R3 candidates is to avoid a hasty application. “It was quite obvious when applicants made the mistake of rushing the application, as they failed to articulate more than superficial knowledge of our program and their motivations for pursuing an MBA at Anderson.” Here are Jessica’s top tips for R3 success:
- Start engaging the schools’ admissions offices or student ambassadors ASAP. While campus visits may not be possible, seek out virtual opportunities to connect.
- Contact current students with whom you share similar backgrounds and/or goals for informational interviews.
- When putting together your application materials, take a fresh look at your overall narrative and see what distinctive experiences you can emphasize in your essays. While you may be working under an extended deadline, you still want to take the time to really send a compelling message.
- Convey a genuine and authentic enthusiasm for the school, while making a persuasive case on how you envision enhancing the community.
- Don’t get too hung up on rankings; now is the time to do your research and compile a list of schools that have other desirable qualities you’re looking for – like location, employment stats, alumni network, etc. – but weren’t necessarily on your short list before.
For more advice on positioning, view our recent video strategy session: Round 3 or 4 MBA Applications: Opportunity in the Time of Covid-19.
Stay tuned for next week’s installment in our series on how to choose between MBA offers, which features navigating competing offers, scholarship offer vs. dream school with no money, and accepting a safety.
Heidi Hillis is an expert coach at MBA consulting firm Fortuna Admissions, as well as a Stanford GSB alum & former MBA admissions interviewer. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.