Monday, December 23, 2013 at 12am

Dear MBA Applicants...

Dear MBA Applicants... main image

Learn what advice a recent MBA applicant has to offer future applicants of top business schools.

Dear MBA Applicants,

Well over 12 months ago, I started my preparation for applying to top business schools. No-one I knew had a full-time MBA; some actively put me off them while extolling the virtues of a part-time one, and I had little background knowledge of the US education system. Despite this, last week I was accepted to Harvard Business School.

Here is my advice for MBA applicants – things I wish I’d known then, rather than now;

  1. The GMAT exam is not all-important

If you’re an MBA applicant taking the GMAT exam, it seems like the ONLY thing that matters in your MBA application. Once you’ve taken it, you turn to the other elements. Eventually you’ll realize the GMAT exam is really quite small part of your overall profile as long as you’re in the 20-80% range for your target schools. If you have a strong academic profile, before you retake to get that extra 20 points you’re desperate for, ask what are you missing out on while you do all that studying that could enhance your candidacy in other ways? Take the GMAT test early (6+ months in advance) and think carefully before a resit.

  1. What do top business schools offer?

When choosing among top business schools, most full-time MBA programs look pretty similar. Finance? Check. Marketing? Check. Ops? Probably check. After all, this is about business fundamentals. But the biggest difference in the classroom is not ‘what?’, but ‘how’?

Compare and contrast teaching styles of top business schools, the traditional lecture style, the case method pioneered by HBS, or compare with the ‘action-learning’ at MIT. Increasingly, it’s a combination of all three on offer, but differences are still significant. Video sharing sites are a good place for MBA applicants to see how teaching works at each school.

  1. Help from fellow applicants with your MBA application is often better than friends

Controversial but important. How many friends and colleagues in your network really know about MBAs, what is required and can advise you well, especially if you’re from a ‘non-traditional’ background? Perhaps a few do at best unless you’re from the well-heeled consultancy and finance circles.

Thanks to the modern wonder of the internet, there are hundreds of MBA applicants on the message boards and on blogs mostly like you. As full-time MBA programs favor collaboration, the successful MBA applicants also tend to want to help.

  1. But: Asking strangers without knowing anything about them is rude and annoying.

When asking for help though, don’t just fire off a hundred random messages to anyone, who has got in anywhere, asking generic questions. Find someone with your background who you can associate with and ask for genuine advice about your MBA application. The scattergun approach is ineffective, and plain annoying.

  1. MBA Admissions consultants – not everyone has them

MBA admissions consultants don’t know you, but they do have a lot of knowledge as they do this research full-time, and it can feel like you MUST have them to get in anywhere. But there are a lot of resources that are either free or nearly free if you know where to look.  If you are confident you know how to write a half-decent essay, you know yourself best, you might just be better off going it alone (and save the price of a holiday).

  1. Applying to a full-time MBA program is a big commitment

I still have no idea how some fellow applicants have managed to apply to five or six top business schools in a single round. It requires a huge commitment in your own time, financially, and emotionally. Prepare to weep. Prepare to stare in the mirror for minutes at a time, asking (out loud), “why am I doing this?” Prepare to doubt your abilities and qualities numerous times. Prepare to annoy almost everyone you know at least once. Prepare to be consumed day and night with how best to work vivid anecdotes from your life, or even that day, into your essays.

It’s also important to note it’s also a lot of work for your recommenders. They need to really like you or you need to share the work around if you’re applying to multiple full-time MBA programs.

  1. Waiting is worse than applying

Just when you think it’s all over and fire off your MBA application, and then $150+ leaves your account, the worst part begins. The waiting… oh the waiting! Waiting for your references to be written, waiting for an interview invite, or waiting for the final answer on your admission. When you click ‘submit’ the worst is yet to come.

So if you’re setting out on your GMAT exam prep or organizing your MBA application I wish you luck. I don’t envy you one bit though…

By TimBob

Timbob regularly writes about his experiences of the MBA admissions process and personal journey on his own blog ‘The adventures of a (provisional) MBA student’. He studied engineering, works in manufacturing and lives in London, UK.

Tags used in this blog post