The business school application process can be daunting and stressful. (Trust us, we know. All of us at Gatehouse Admissions went through it ourselves!) From studying for the GMAT or GRE and attending virtual admission events to managing recommenders and juggling impending application deadlines, candidates definitely have their hands full.
Complicating things further in 2020 is the proliferation of misinformation out there—and no, we are not talking about politics. We’re referring to the numerous misconceptions, rumors, one-size-must-fit-all claims, and downright falsehoods we hear when we speak with applicants.
Think you can tell truth from fiction? Follow along here as we break down some of the top concerns we’ve been hearing from applicants, and find out which ones truly warrant your attention and which aren’t worth worrying about.
1. “I’ve heard that applying to business school is going to be ridiculously competitive this year, so I should consider more safety schools.”
TRUE. Fortunately, many business schools are trying to make the application process easier this season. Unfortunately, however, this simplification could make being accepted even harder, thanks to the increased competition. Although this is a trend that has been progressing for years—some schools, such as Michigan Ross and MIT Sloan, have been reducing the number of required recommendations, while others have whittled down the number of essays applicants must submit (and the number of words with which to write them!)—it has really come to a head in the time of COVID-19. In fact, some programs, including UVA Darden, NYU Stern, and MIT Sloan are accepting applications without a GMAT or GRE score in some if not all circumstances (research each school’s specific guidance before for applying). Lower barriers to applying means more applicants submitting, all vying for the same number of seats in the class. Given the higher application volumes, if you want to increase your chances of being accepted, one strategy is to broaden your target list and apply to more schools, especially “safer” ones.
But don’t worry—nothing new or more is being asked of you; the basics of being admitted to business school remain the same. Strong candidates with compelling applications will always be in demand, even at the most discerning programs. Your best strategy is to clearly articulate your professional and extracurricular accomplishments, spotlight your personal values, and communicate why business school is the right next step for you to reach your goals.
2. “My partner is applying to the same program as I am and has lower scores than I do. I don’t want to tell the school we’re together. I know they’ll end up reviewing us a ‘package,’ and that could hurt my chances.”
FALSE. Rest assured, the admissions committees review and evaluate each application based on its own merits. At Gatehouse Admissions, we have seen every possible outcome of this situation: both partners accepted, both rejected, and one accepted but the other denied.
You may wonder, then, why the schools even ask for this information. Think of it as just another way for the admissions committee to get to know you. You are not required to reveal the information (that is up to you!), but at the same time, if the admissions committee is bullish on your partner and undecided on you, the team may be swayed to review your application one more time to make sure they feel good about the decision they are making on your candidacy.
3. “I do not want to apply now if there is a chance I won’t get in because I know that being admitted as a reapplicant is even harder.”
FALSE. Reapplicants are not at a disadvantage in the admissions process. Schools welcome reapplicants and appreciate their perseverance, tenacity, and willingness to continue strengthening their profile both academically and professionally. The best time to apply is when you are ready, so if you feel ready, do not hold back because you fear being a reapplicant down the road.
And if you are already a reapplicant, remember this: the bar to acceptance is no higher for you now than it was the last time you applied. This means, however, that for you to successfully cross the bar this year, your candidacy needs to have changed. At Gatehouse Admissions, we have coached dozens of successful reapplicants, and our primary advice is to start by reflecting on how your candidacy has evolved since you last applied. Also, be sure to go back through your previous application with a critical eye; much of the quality of your candidacy is captured in how your application is executed. If you can identify areas of your earlier submission that were poorly executed, these could be easy fixes that will strengthen your re-application. Of course, if spotting your own essay’s weaknesses were easy, you probably would have noticed any before you submitted the first time around! It therefore might be worth consulting with an outside admissions expert before you work on your re-application. (Friends may inadvertently point you in the wrong direction when it comes to business school essays, but that’s a topic for another day.) In short, while there are likely ways you have strengthened your candidacy (e.g., a promotion or a higher test score), keep in mind that how you communicate is almost as important as what you communicate.
4. “I missed Round 1. Everyone says I am crazy to be considering Round 2, given how competitive it is, but I still think I have a shot.”
TRUE. Although Round 2 is typically more competitive than Round 1 (as evidenced by the lower percentage of applicants admitted), many top schools still accept a larger number of applicants due to the higher volume of Round 2 applicants (if you follow that GMAT-like math). Here’s a little-known fact: most of the consultants at Gatehouse Admissions applied to business school in Round 2, and we all ended up just fine! I applied in Round 2 myself and was ecstatic to be accepted to my dream program—Harvard Business School. And my experience there is one of the many reasons I now mentor and coach others through the business school application process.
Don’t get me wrong; applying in Round 1 has its advantages. In Round 1, your candidacy can be viewed against a blank slate of sorts because the class composition has yet to take form. Moreover, a business school is more likely to interpret a candidate’s Round 1 submission as a sign of exceptional interest in its program. These advantages are real, yet they do not preclude a strong candidate from being successful in Round 2. At Gatehouse Admissions, we have seen no difference in the outcomes between Rounds 1 and 2 for comparably strong applicants (and yes, that applies even to overrepresented applicants such as private equity investors and consultants). Focus on putting your best foot forward in your applications, whether you submit in Round 1 or Round 2!
5. “I’ve only been out of school for three years and haven’t had the opportunity to manage a person or a team. I’m worried this might hurt my business school chances.”
FALSE. Leadership can take many forms, and although business schools value formal leadership, they are more than open to informal or extracurricular leadership as well. Many of our past clients worked at very hierarchical organizations where the responsibility of managing a person—let alone a team!—was years away, yet they were still accepted to their target MBA program. Some could point to times outside of their “day job” when they took initiative, such as heading up recruiting for their alma mater or championing diversity efforts. Others invested time in non-work areas about which they were passionate, such as establishing a recycling program in their neighborhood or forming and leading a dance troupe. Others were good, old-fashioned thought leaders and had the articles (and followers) to prove it. Business schools have room for a wide range of leaders and appreciate diversity, so don’t be afraid to showcase the many ways in your life that you have demonstrated leadership.
However, if you do not have direct management experience or other examples of leadership to include in your application, now is the time to build such experiences into your life! Begin by finding an activity you enjoy, are passionate about, and can dedicate ongoing time to. The hardest part is getting started, but once you do, you’ll likely discover ways to meaningfully contribute your skills and energy to yield impact.
As with any information you encounter these days, checking multiple sources before you fully believe it is wise—both for your sanity and for the sake of the truth. With respect to your MBA applications, there is no quick fix or easy win, and rarely do the questions that arise along the way have a definite yes or no answer. If you would like additional—or more personalized—support in navigating the business school application process, inquire about a free consultation with us; we can certainly help you with any questions or concerns you might have. In the meantime, we wish you the best of luck on your MBA application journey!
A Harvard Business School MBA and former management consultant with Boston Consulting Group, April Stewart takes a methodical, hands-on, and client-centric approach to admissions coaching. She particularly enjoys learning what makes each of her clients unique and helping them craft a compelling narrative that highlights the best of who they are.
To learn more about April, Gatehouse Admissions, or your MBA candidacy, request a free consultation.