Petia’s MBA Admission Circles: Applicant Advice On The Cheap

Petia Whitmore, founder of My MBA Path and Sprints

The MBA candidates on this Saturday morning Zoom call are all pretty ambitious. One is aiming for Harvard Business School. Another, an engineering manager, for Stanford. An American who lives abroad has set her sights on Columbia Business School. Still another, a medical doctor in Nigeria, for Northwestern Kellogg, Michigan Ross, and Minnesota Carlson.

They are gathered online to confer with Petia Whitmore, an MBA admissions counselor and founder of My MBA Path. A former dean of MBA admissions for Babson College, where she spent nearly eight years until 2016, and the former managing director of The MBA Tour, she has worked with every top business school. In 2019 alone, Whitmore traveled to 40 cities on four continents on behalf of The MBA Tour. In January of 2021, she opened up shop as a full-time MBA admissions consultant and has been gathering a following of loyal and grateful clients.

But at this Zoom session, she isn’t assuming her more typical role as a one-on-one coach and consultant. Instead, she is offering candidates an inexpensive way to tap into both her advice and a network of other applicants who are going through similar journeys to highly selective business schools. For all of $97 a month, candidates can join what she calls Sprints, a community of candidates focused on weekly Zoom calls that last anywhere from half an hour to a full hour. In between sessions, she keeps in touch via Slack and provides applicants with an endless supply of articles and recorded Zoom sessions to help unravel the many riddles in the highly competitive game of MBA admissions.


This do-it-yourself approach, with just a bit of hand-holding, is a rare low-cost coaching model. Another option is AppliceantLab by Maria Wich-Vila, a co-host of Poets&Quants‘ weekly Business Casual podcast. Whitmore acknowledges the need for alternatives. “Admission consulting is expensive and very few people can afford to pay my package or hourly price,” explains Whitmore, who charges $9,950 for start-to-finish counseling for three MBA applications or $350 an hour. “For someone who doesn’t have the means, it’s a tremendous amount of money. Sprints allow them to work with me at a fraction of the price.”

Her typical clients heap much praise on her, calling Whitmore “an amazing consultant who really cares about her client’s success.” Adds a successful applicant who has joined the latest MBA class at Wharton: “She is extremely dedicated, professional, and provides candid and immensely valuable feedback to empower you to put your best application forward.”

Whitmore started the sessions last December and currently has about 22 members in the community. “From the very moment I launched My MBA Path,  I knew that there was a need for a different product,” she adds. “I knew from experience that people want frameworks but I also knew people need community. Applicants want to chat with each other to find kindred spirits to commiserate about their experiences. They just wanted to talk to each other. When I did the MBA Tour, events would end and they would hang out and gather together to talk for hours.”


The proverbial light bulb went off. “I started thinking that is what MBA applicants need. They need a place to show up with an expert who can give them the insights they need. The application of this content is not as simple as it seems. The learning curve is steep.”

Befitting the MBA she earned at Babson, Whitmore began with a focus group, culled from a post on Reddit. Her pitch was direct: If you were willing to give her 30 minutes of your time, she would give you 30 minutes of her consulting time. “I wanted a focus group or a series of conversations with people in the process to help shape the service,” she explains. Among the takers was an MBA applicant with an upcoming interview at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. “What she told me was echoed by everyone else. It gets tricky to apply any of the tons of admissions content out there with your own personal story. Sure, there is plenty of content out there. She told me she wished there was a place where we could crystallize this.”

Her go-to-market strategy was to find a small number of founding members at a discounted price, a mere $27 membership fee. “I wanted a little skin in the game but I also wanted them to not think twice about the amount. A five-day marketing campaign to her email list and LinkedIn attracted her goal of five founding members, from the U.S., the Philippines, Peru, and India The first session was last December, and they have been sprinting with her ever since, with the exception of one applicant who is now at Chicago Booth.


Today’s Zoom call starts on a Saturday at 11 a.m. and is an ask-me-anything session. The group meetings are typically held weekly, though sometimes more often. There will be five sessions this month, with the next two going double the length to 60 minutes each as applicants get closer to the round one application deadlines that come in earnest in September.

It doesn’t take long for the questions to come and whenever there is a moment of silence, Whitmore will call out a member by name and ask what’s on their mind. She is not merely personable, with a perpetual smile and welcoming eyes, she is more importantly genuinely interested in the people who come into her orbit. Her advice comes from a knowledgeable reservoir of experience and is delivered as casually as a dinner conversation with a long-time friend.

Whitmore is both a passionate and enthusiastic host. Her comforting demeanor is as critical to the success of these sessions as the advice she so eagerly dispenses.


Whitmore, who was born in Bulgaria and once managed the McDonald’s advertising business in Eastern Europe for DDB Worldwide out of Sofia, Bulgaria, kicks the session off with a direct question in a slight accent that betrays her Eastern European roots: “Where are you in your path?”

An American woman living in Asia explains that Columbia Business School is her first choice and she intends to apply early decision, in part to offset a lower-than-average GMAT score. The candidate has a strong global work background, having gathered experience in strategy consulting, international development, and now with social enterprises in Asia. She plans to apply to a couple of other schools besides her first choice. “If things don’t go well, I will apply to more schools in round three,” she says.

“Would you recommend applying to Columbia early decision?” she asks. “My GMAT score is 660 after a few times. I have worked really hard to get a higher score, and it just hasn’t happened for me. I’m hoping that an early decision application would cushion the GMAT score. Would you recommend it?”

“The biggest thing about applying early decision is that you have to know that if they admit you you have to commit,” says Whitmore. “Some schools might not ask you to withdraw all your applications then, and there is usually a much higher deposit. Early decision is a really good choice for those who want to be reviewed in a smaller group. It is an advantage. All the seats are wide open. It is a much smaller group and it is easier to stand out. It sounds to me that you are excited about Columbia so you may as well be ready to make that commitment. But there is no shortcut to becoming more competitive, necessarily. The only advantage is you are reviewed with a smaller group of candidates early in the cycle.”


Whitmore moves on, asking “What is on your mind? There are no stupid questions and we mean it!”

A medical doctor in Nigeria explains that she hasn’t yet taken the GRE exam but does not want to miss out on applying in round one. “Can I go for the test waiver for those schools and later write the GRE for other schools in round 2? What is your advice?”

Whitmore explains that many believe a candidate’s odds are better in round one. “The signaling power of round one has given applicants perceivably stronger odds,” she says. “But that may still not be the case. If you can do a better application later, apply in round two. You are not missing out terribly if you miss round 1. But I do like your thinking about applying in round 1 to schools that are giving waivers. You probably have enough evidence that you can handle the academic side of things just based on what you have done.”

Whitmore suggests applying to the MBA programs at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.  “This year at Ross you put in your application and tell them why you are a good candidate for a waiver and then they give you a decision. You might be a good candidate for them. UVA Darden tells you if your test is waived first and then you proceed with your application. Some schools will allow you to add a test score later in the process. But you have to investigate this school by school.”


Another group member from Baltimore, an engineer for an aerospace and defense company, notes that he is applying to Harvard Business School and is currently working on his essay. He wonders if he should explain why he wants an MBA in the first place in the essay or simply answer the question in the actual application when it asks for your post-MBA goals. “My approach,” he says, “is to simply tell my story. I don’t delve too deep into why HBS but do that in my post-MBA goals. Some were suggesting I should weave the why HBS part in my essay.”

Whitmore says she has seen both approaches work. “I have seen more than plenty HBS admits who don’t talk about why HBS at all,” she says. “There is absolutely no expectation. There is nothing tricky about the question for the essay. HBS and Stanford know that candidates love them, and they aren’t going to make you prove that love. I wouldn’t try to force it unless it has some supernatural connection to the rest of the essay.

“Don’t listen to what people tell you,” she counsels. “Even more important than the what is the so what. What do you want them to learn about you in that essay? This is where I see candidates get a little bit lost. There is an abundance of advice out there. But you have to know what the takeaways in your story should be.”


The engineering manager for a manufacturing company has so far remained quiet. But he wants to get an MBA from Stanford and pivot into technology. “I know it’s a big reach,” he confides on the call.

Whitmore turns to him on the screen. “You’ve been quiet,” she says. “How can I help you?”

The applicant notes that he has seven years of work experience and wonders if that might make him a little too old for Stanford’s MBA program where the average is 4.8 years.

“Seven years is still very much in the ballpark,” advises Whitmore. “You are still 100% within the sweet spot. The average is four to six. If anything, you want to demonstrate appropriate growth in your career, and the scope and impact of what you have been working on. I wouldn’t worry about the number. I would think more about the substance and how has that substance become more powerful over the years. Make sense?”

“Yep,” he replies.


More back-and-forth follows. The applicant working on his HBS essay has another follow-up question on his post-MBA goals.

“I say there is this problem that exists and my experience has equipped me to address this problem and this is what I would get from your school to position me to embark on the journey of solving the problem,” he says.

“Are you changing functions?” asks Whitmore.

“I would be jumping into entrepreneurship,” he responds. “But during my time at the company, I have jumped into a number of entrepreneurial opportunities.”

“Well, I am going to quote the head of admissions at Harvard,” says Whitmore, who notes that HBS admissions chief Chad Losee recently spoke to a session of MBA admission consultants at their annual trade conference. “Regarding post-MBA goals, Chad said we want to see a hypothesis as to why you think you can get that kind of position. So what you want to do is connect the dots. I like the notion of outlining a problem you are passionate about solving. They want to see that it is feasible. Schools don’t want to see pipe dreams or just a whim. Full-time mba programs are being held accountable for how likely or how often their graduates fulfill their career goals. They want to see that it is well thought out and feasible for someone like you. You want to show that it is not a dream but that you are uniquely positioned to have a reasonable likelihood of success.”


The young female professional who intends to apply early decision to Columbia tosses off another question about answering a common essay prompt that asks candidates why they want to attend their school.  “I have been doing research on the schools  but how do you answer that question without it seeming like you are just listing a lot of things?,” she asks  “How do you strike the balance between being authentic and creating a list.”

“They are looking for how a club or course is relevant to you,” says Whitmore. “I will use a super lame example. If you are trying to make a move into consulting, you would talk about the school’s consulting resources. Make it specific and realistic. You can do this my your own research but also by speaking to current students and alumni. I tell my clients to speak with two students per week of the programs you want to apply to.” 

“I just don’t want to be seen as kissing up by listing the names of courses or the names of students I’ve spoken to.”

Whitmore says she also recently attended a conference session with Stanford’s head of admissions Kirsten Moss. “She said, ‘Everyone talks about the course that is referred to as Touchy-Feely. Candidates get excited about that course but they are afraid that everyone else talks about it.’ And she says it is not a problem. It’s okay to list the courses you’re interested in or the names of some of the students you’ve talked with.”

The session ends with a self-satisfied smile on Whitmore’s face and a promise to be back in a week’s time with more advice.




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