Business Schools

Tips from an Admissions Whiz


Q: I'm currently employed in the technology industry but would like to switch over to sports marketing. How do I convince admissions committees that I'm capable of being successful in a field that I have no experience in?

A: Ideally, there may be responsibilities in your current position that might lend themselves to the post you're seeking after an MBA. You can jump from one industry to another most easily if you're working in the same function. In addition, you would ideally have several extracurricular activities that you can point to which relate to sports marketing.

Q: It's easy to mention my strengths in the application essay. How should I mention a weakness in the essay? How negative do I have to go?

A: The classic faux pas in "weakness" essays is to offer a weakness that's really a masked strength -- such as, "I work too hard!" "I'm a perfectionist!" We encourage our clients to show a strong degree of self-reflection in their "weakness" essays. For example, "I don't ask enough questions" might be more interesting to discuss.

Q: How does one sell a military background to business schools? What's the reputation of army officers at business schools?

A: Military applicants are often very strong when it comes to leadership skills and team experience. One concern with military applicants is their ability to demonstrate the flexibility to move into the civilian work force. It may also make sense for you to touch base with the military clubs at the MBA programs you're targeting so that you can get a sense for the career paths that accepted students are following.

Q: Here's another good audience question: "Two years ago, I quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom. Now, I'm planning to go back to school. Would my time at home be a disadvantage on my application?"

A: No. The admissions committee should recognize that there are challenges to raising children, but it will be important for you to highlight business experience and professional accomplishments, and to convince the committee that you'll take full advantage of the education upon graduation.

It may also be helpful to indicate an interest in contributing to the family clubs on MBA campuses so that the reader can see that you plan to make your family part of the MBA community.

Q: How much value does an MBA have in terms of starting your own business?

A: Speaking from experience, I can say that the value of studying entrepreneurial management at Wharton has been critical to the success of Clear Admit. In addition, the entrepreneurial community on the average MBA program campus is incredibly supportive and ensures an educational experience outside of the classroom.

Q: You've talked a lot about the paper side of an application today. We've had quite a few questions about attire for an admissions interview. How do you advise your clients to dress when they visit a business school?

A: Formal business attire is appropriate for an MBA interview. It's always better to be overdressed. But avoid flaunting excessive jewelry, coating your body in perfume, etc. You don't want to be too flashy.

Q: What's your recommendation between first and second application deadlines? Should I shoot to get all my applications in before the first deadline?

A: Your odds are always best in the first round. But it's important that you submit the best application that you can put together, especially when one considers that the statistics for round two are traditionally not too different than from round one. Rounds three and four are a different story.

Q: You mentioned that you ask admissions committees what they're looking for each year. What do you think they're looking for in the coming year that might be different from years past? How much does the ideal class change from year to year?

A: One element that has been accentuated by the current economy is the importance of well-defined career goals in an MBA applicant's essays and interviews. Schools like Wharton and Harvard Business School are less likely to take a chance on students with fuzzy goals. In a sense, the admissions office is responsible to the career-management office and needs to provide them with an entering class that can benefit from what career services has to offer.

On your second question, the truth is that the "ideal class" may be refined from year to year, depending on trends [such as entrepreneurship and the economic situation]. But in the end, the overall approach to admissions doesn't vary dramatically.

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