Sage Advice from Successful MBA Applicants

As one group of business school applicants transitions into becoming accepted students, another group is poised to apply later this year. Why not learn from the successes, failures and decisions of those who have already walked your path?

Here, we share the insights we believe will be most helpful for future applicants.

Biggest mistake you made or almost made in this process?

For the GMAT, I didn’t give myself enough time to prepare properly.

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For the application, don’t try to have too many people help you review the essays – your story will be diluted and lose its meaning. Find the important experiences and get help ensuring that your points come across with impact.

Some keys to your success?

Talk with current/recent students from the schools you are targeting. In addition to having recently completed the application process successfully, they can provide great insight to positioning at your school. In my case, my interviewer recognized my resume format as matching the schools and asked me how I was so familiar with the culture.

What did you find most challenging?

I found the broad, open-ended format for some of the essays daunting. I remember one student telling me that he didn’t apply to Stanford because of the question, “What matters most to you and why?”

What was an exercise you went through that was helpful?
I created a list of qualities that I wanted to convey and experienced that demonstrated those qualities. When working with my consultant, I organized the results into a grid to map essay questions to stories.

Not only did this reduce work on the applications, it provided clarity on more challenging open-ended questions. For example, when approaching the Stanford question at the end of my applications, I noticed a recurring theme that kept coming across in my other essays – aha, the solution to what matters most!

How did you put together the following important aspects of your story?

– why MBA?

I wanted to keep an open mind when starting out, so I wrote as many reasons as I could in the beginning. After I was a bit more honest with myself, I removed several of the reasons and reworked ones that might come across as negative.

I think that pursuing an MBA is a time to be optimistic and dream about possibilities – harness this energy and focus on your ability to enact change. After all, if you didn’t think an MBA would provide great opportunities, you would take on hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and opportunity costs.

– why this school?
I looked for the common ground with each school and spoke with students or alums from that program. I believe that understanding the culture of the school with lead you to find the right fit, which will come across in the application.

– what are your career goals?
What was most helpful in your interview prep?
I read through several lists of interview questions and prepared talking points. My goal was to have thought through expected questions but not come across as “canned.” I prepped three or four mock sessions to get rid of the interview jitters, and made sure that two sessions were with second-year students familiar with the school’s culture.

How did you select your recommenders?

Some schools now require a direct supervisor. I’m fortunate to have a great boss and an unofficial mentor in senior management at my current company. Having worked together for about five years, they understood that going back to school would help me reach my goals.

How did you prep your recommenders?

I provided recommenders with my list of stories, essay outlines, a sample recommendation, and important qualities and themes early in the process. After they had a chance to review my information and I developed more structure in my essays, I arranged quick meetings to clarify my positioning and answer any questions.

What was helpful when you hit writer’s block?

Early on, I found talking with certain people about my ideas left me energized and excited. When I couldn’t progress, I would arrange a meeting to gather feedback and get the juices flowing.

How did you stay motivated?

Once I truly decided that I wanted to go down this path, it was never a question. Having my friends and family encourage and remind me of my goals did help, however.

Image credit: Flickr user Kyle MacDonald (CC BY-NC 2.0)
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