Navigating the B-School Admission Process – Webinar QnA

As your MBA dreams journey onward, and a fresh batch of puzzling queries appear in your mind regarding the admission process, we bring you some of the important questions (and their answers) that featured in our most recent webinar with the Stacy Blackman Consulting team. Christine Hawkins, our speaker for the day, has had some fantastic insights to spare. We genuinely believe her suggestions are worthwhile for anyone seeking to navigate through the B-school admissions process. Have a look and let us know what you think!

Previously, we published a similar article highlighting all the questions raised in Paul Bodine’s Webinar. To read those questions, please visit here.

Let’s begin.

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Question 1: I have 3 years of experience, and a GMAT score of 730. Should I apply for a 2019 or 2020 intake?

Answer: I will say that 3 years of experience is probably on the low side, but there still are a lot of candidates getting in with 3 years of experience. What matters is what firm you have been at and how you have used those 3 years; whether you have been able to demonstrate growth and progression in whatever you have been doing. MBA admission committees know good brand names, so if you’ve been part of one of them, have a good sense of what those 3 years have been like from the perspective of working for a big brand. If instead it was a smaller firm, ensure that you are fully aware of the overall quality of your experiences, and what they did for your own growth and aspirations.

Question 2: I belong to a Business Family, and am interested in knowing which programs in the US are more open to candidates from someone with my kind of background? My short-term goal is to work with leadership programs in Automotive companies (The Family Business is an Automotive Business, and that’s where my interest lies) and my long-term goal is to return to India and head the family enterprise from here. I have 6 years of experience and a 740 on the GMAT.

Answer: Entrepreneurship is common at a lot of different B-Schools. You will find very strong entrepreneurial programs within the top schools such as Stanford and Harvard. But then, schools like such as MIT and Marshall also have very good entrepreneurial resources. When you target your school, focus on two things:

  1. What are the specific entry skills and experiences that you want to get out of the program?
  2. What is the industry focus? Is the Automotive industry a front-runner? Look at the electives and alumni at the School and find a good overlap.

Question 3: Can we defer our admission by a year? If not, will my application next year be equivalent to a re-application? Will that re-application that reflect badly on my profile?

Answer: It all depends on the program. Generally, deferrals are not granted very frequently. And that is because doing your MBA at the right time is an appreciable feat. So, if you are applying now, and thinking of deferring, I don’t think that’s a good strategy, unless you speak to the school and know that they commonly grant deferrals. From what I’ve seen, most of the schools don’t want to grant them. So, if you were offered acceptance and you declined, you would have to re-apply the following year.

Now, when it comes to re-application, how you position your application makes all the difference. So, in your case, it will be rather important to show the school why the year you took off was more beneficial than entering the program right then. Ultimately, what it really comes down to is how well you craft a compelling story to explain the deferral. However, you must know that deferrals are frowned upon and not granted very frequently.

Question 4: If I have had good extra-curricular achievements at school, but not as good in college, will admission committees see it as a negative? Also, will not having a certificate for my extra-curricular or volunteering activities make them redundant, or will they count just as well as any verifiable activities?

Answer: If you don’t necessarily have a certificate to substantiate your extra-curricular activities, that’s fine. A lot of volunteering activities are community-based and hence small in nature, which means you often don’t get a certificate from them. In fact, a lot of the leadership work and the community engagement that you will have done during these activities will have happened on one-on-one basis, and thus not even significantly substantiated. Things like mentoring someone from work and helping them get their next promotion or working with your undergraduate institution to help work something out. Stuff like this might not necessarily route through a formal program that gives a formal certificate; that happens a lot of times. It’s the experience you get out of it and what makes it meaningful to you that’s important.

Unfortunately, doing well in extra curriculars in high school but not in college does not count very much.  Because, the whole point of the extra curriculars is that it reflects your ability to balance multiple competing priorities at the same time. Naturally, if you’re able to engage in voluntary work and extra-curricular activities in college, where the workload is more rigorous, then you shine as a more able candidate. That’s why your more recent experience is more relevant and adds more value. That being said, let’s say you did not participate in extra-curriculars in college because you were on scholarship and working part-time to self-fund your tuition, then that is valued by the schools, as it shows your ability to manage competing priorities with a high level of dedication.

Question 5: As a Filipino banker, would I be judged against other investment bankers, other Filipinos, other Filipino bankers, other Asians, or other Asian Bankers?

Answer: This is a tricky one. Everyone wants to know which pool they are going to be classified into. As an investment banker, you’re judged within the investment banking pool, yes. But you will most certainly, be put into various distinct applicant pools. So, yes, aside from being put into the investment banking pool, assuming your experiences are local to Philippines, you are also going to be classified into the Filipino pool. When they look at investment banking, they might break it further down into international v/s US-based or European vs Non-European investment bankers. So, yeah, they are going to look at it in many distinct ways. Thousands of combinations are possible.

Question 6: In my essay or story, does the experience of having conducted past University researches (which included interacting with society and different research facilities to acquire information and material) qualify as an actual valuable experience?

Answer: Possibly. That’s what I meant when I was talking about any little experience that does not reflect very significantly. It all depends on how you position your experience. It also depends on what the essay you’re answering, is asking for. If this was an initiative that you took on, and something that you dedicated a lot of time and energy to then by all means, this could be a valid experience to share as part of your story. But for me, it’s hard to say much without knowing the specific context of everything else in the application. Based solely on the example you’ve just given me, yes, the experience could be quite valuable. However, bear in mind that ultimately your success is all about how you present the experience and the depth you’re able to give to it.

Question 7: What is your take on scholarships or financial aid? I am working on a startup right now. How can I connect that with my future studies?

Answer: First let me answer the scholarship question. A lot of what we spoke about in this webinar, like crafting your story, and writing your essay, will come into play when it comes to scholarships. It’s important to really understand what the scholarship application deadlines and timelines look like. Sometimes, you’ll have to support/submit things at the same time as your application, sometimes there are earlier deadlines and sometimes you are asked to make submissions after you’ve been accepted. So really educate yourself on that process for the specific programs and scholarships. Look for the scholarships; there really are a lot of them out there, and the work that you do on your application will be relevant and come into play for how you present your scholarship material as well. There is funding available out there and you need to go look for it.

And now for the startup question. I don’t know if this is your main professional activity, or something you have taken up on the side but either way, it is a significant experience to highlight. If it is your main profession, it’s going to form the basis of your experience and what you’re doing with your professional life, so you’ll need to be very aware of what is driving you to work on it, what skills you are developing as you go along, and what impact you are ultimately making. As you make use of these important points, know that this is where a lot of your leadership potential will show pertinently. If your startup work is something you do on the side of a more traditional, structured job, it’s still rather important to highlight as well because it shows your interest, drive, and more importantly of course your ability to juggle a lot of different, competing priorities.

Question 8: What are your thoughts on more specialized MBAs like MBA in Sustainability?

Answer: If your current work and/or future career goals are within sustainable businesses, this could make a lot of sense.  With more specialized MBA programs on the rise (e.g. healthcare, tech, luxury goods, etc), the ability to gain a solid and broad MBA core whilst having the opportunity to explore in-depth courses in your specific focus area, has strong appeal to many candidates. Having said that, know you can also find electives in broader, ‘general’ MBA programs that focus on sustainability. So, it’s really a matter of doing your research to identify which programs offer these courses and the degree of flexibility that the program itself will offer.

Question 9: Would it be a concern for the Admissions Committees if one already has a Master’s degree?

Answer: We frequently work with candidates who have already earned a Master’s Degree – sometimes in general business or business related fields (e.g. finance or accounting) and sometimes in something non-business related (e.g. engineering). If you do have a general business degree or an “MBA like” Master’s, you should do a careful assessment of what you gained from that degree vs. what you would gain from the programs you’ve applied to.  You will then have the extra onus of demonstrating what those differences are and ‘proving’ why you need an MBA now (e.g. what you will gain now that you didn’t/couldn’t’ have gained from that other degree).

Question 10: Would being a part of an indigenous group, as a minority, help me get in?

Answer: Yes, it can certainly help differentiate you from other candidates. However, bear in mind, that the other components of the application are still important. Business schools are looking to build diverse classes, which includes representation from various minority groups. In building your story and positioning yourself, think about what it has meant to you to be part of this indigenous group, what unique challenges you may have had to face, and how it has impacted who you are and what your current and future professional involvement is.

And… that’s a wrap, folks!

Your bubbling questions can be answered too! We shall host another webinar with the SBC team very soon. Make sure you keep subscribed to our mails to not miss the update when it arrives!

To know more about Stacy Blackman, visit her profile on QS-LEAP!

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