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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hibernating for the MBA application season

All my faithful readers (Hi Mom, Dad, Halley, and Uncle Danny!), have noticed that my blog posts have slowed from their raging torrent to more of a trickle. That's because MBA applicants have started to work on their applications and it's been a busy start for admissions consultants. Therefore, I've decided to declare some form of hibernation for this blog while I spend the next month or two shredding essays on leadership, teamwork, and other lofty MBA goals, words counts, and the occasional self-esteem of the future MBA class of 2013.

The application environment has shifted as more candidates are using some sort of skilled or professional reviewer. This does not mean that everyone is using admissions consultants or an applicant is at a disadvantage if they do not. I don't use anxiety to sell. What it does mean is the days of sending your essays to your parents to review for a comma adjustment here and there are done. There is enough information on the web and people can access skilled reviewers. As a result, essays are consistently more coherent, tightly written, and better answer the questions.

In order to not leave applicants or readers lost and without any guidance in my blogging hiatus, here are some tips that I can share about the early MBA application season:
  1. Current MBA students typically give bad advice: MBA students are focused on being accepted by employers and have forgotten what they did to be accepted by business schools. Business schools look for different criteria than employers. Employers like to hear business jargon, a detailed explanation of your investment philosophy, or your strategic planning capabilities. MBA programs want to hear about how you will be a contributing member to the class in your essays. Every MBA question is some variation of "Who the f#ck are you and why do we care?" not "Here's a case study. What framework would you use?"
  2. MBA admissions look at work history and academic performance to guess how smart or successful you will be. Therefore, the essays are for describing you as a person. If your hopes, dreams, rises, and falls in your essays all center around leveraging your life mission towards creating organization value that maximizes risk and return, you either have been very focused on an MBA since you were 12 years old or will come across as a complete tool. Or more likely, both.
  3. Achievements move the essay along but are not the primary focus. MBA applicants have generally been very successful compared to their peers. As a result, most of their interviews are more like victory laps where they expect questions like, "Really, tell me what you did next! How did you escalate the project plan to achieve the next milestone?" MBA admissions want to know what that achievement actually meant to your personal development and the emotional connection should be slightly more developed than "Everyone appreciated my contribution." The focus is how the achievement shaped you in to who you are today and not about admiring it like a wedding centerpiece.
  4. No cliches. If your essay ends with something like, "This experience taught me that it was about the journey not the destination," there are a few outcomes all of which are bad. 1) That sentence is true for 99% of the applicant pool and you did nothing to distinguish yourself from the masses. 2) If the reader thinks that's actually a plot twist, then you lost them a long time ago.
  5. You will not get denied due to your recommendations. Actually, that's not completely true. If your recommender answers 50% of the questions with, "So's your face," then you might get denied. Or if you use a generic To Whom it May Concern form or some of those universal recommendation forms that's floating around, you might get denied. Nothing tells a school that based on your careful research, they are clearly your top choice like using a generic form that says, "I'm applying to so many schools, I can't even keep track."
Happy MBA application season everyone.

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