Category Archives: MBA Admissions Book

Happy Thanksgiving, and some Nourishment for the Upcoming MBA Application Grind

I have various clients who are in the “uphill” phase of their MBA applications; having done one or two for Round 1, now pushing for a few more by early January. The gloss of self-discovery and self-expression is gone. It’s now just about getting it all done and done well, in what seems like an endless, thankless grind.

I’m sure there are many others out there in the same position.

So, as a pick-me-up, I’m sharing an old post: a heartwarming report from a 2009 MBA Studio client, who detailed his extended MBA admissions journey, see original report.

Not only is it a worthy success story which I’m most gratified to have played a part in — helping this very deserving applicant with a 640 GMAT into a top European business school — but it is also instructive as to the ups and downs of elite MBA applications, and the virtues of “keeping on keeping on.”

Here is what he wrote in the original:

“Hard work certainly goes a long way. These days a lot of people work hard, so you have to make sure you work even harder and really dedicate yourself to what you are doing and setting out to achieve.” — Lakshmi Mittal

“The above quote by the great Mittal is really my matra and this is what i believed in when i started on this journey. There were a great deal of challenges and difficulties that i faced but what kept me going was the ultimate goal! MBA is what i wanted to do, this would take me to my destination and i wanted to give in my 100 percent to get there!

“I started this blog back in February, 2009 and at that time I had no idea what was ahead of me. I still remember my first post on 9th February 2009. That was the day when I first laid my hands on the “Official Guide for GMAT Review”. That was the day I promised myself that I’ll put in my sole(sic) into the GMAT preparation and give-in my best shot towards my business school application.

“So without further ado here is a timeline representation of some of the important events that followed that day:

Feb 9, 2009 – I prepared a GMAT gameplan – a time table of how I’ll be taking on the GMAT. Ordered 5 books and dowloaded the beatthegmat flashcards by EricMore Info
Feb 18, 2009 – Took my first Diagnostic test from the official guide. Did pretty well!
Mar 2, 2009 – Took my first GMAT CAT (GMATPrep 1 downloaded from – didn’t go well.
Mar 16, 2009 – Took my first Manhattan GMAT CAT
Apr 1, 2009 – Found out about GMAT Focus – that was a true gem!
Apr 20, 2009 – My first 700 score in a practice test!
Apr 22, 2009 – Influenced by all the GMAT gurus in the Beatthegmat community, I started an Error Log to record all my errors and started going throu’ them once every 2 days along with the flash cards.
May 1, 2009 – A very anxious day indeed with GMAT in 24hrs!
May 2, 2009 – GMAT Day (Attempt 1) – scored a 640 (Q44 V34). Was disappointed with the score and decided to re-take.
May 4, 2009 – Back on with preparation! Analyzed what went wrong and tried to come up with solutions. (You can read about it here)
May 7, 2009 – Scheduled my GMAT (attempt 2) for 19th June.
June 1 to June 8, 2009 – Took 4 practice CATs and averaged around 720! It was a real moral boost.
June 19, 2009 – One of the worst days of my journey – GMAT attempt 2 – 620!! Herez some realization.
June 24, 2009 – Back in the game for another attempt. This was the first time i met Charles – the best tutor in NYC.
July, 2009 – Rigorous practice. And this time with tougher materials such as LSAT critical reasoning book, GMAT Focus, and others. (More info)
August 8, 2009 – Realized something – I’m a horrible standardized test taker. GMAT (Attempt 3) – 640, Again! (More Info) I decided to stop wasting any more time on GMAT started the b-school hunt with my 640!
August 9 to 11, 2009 – Prepared a list of parameters that would help me select 6-7 b-schools that i’ll apply to. Shortlisted a few schools in Asia and Europe. (More Info)
August 15, 2009 – Prepared an outline for essays. First stop – INSEAD! Quite a bold move eh! icon smile An MBA application journey, from GMAT prep to acceptance
August 24, 2009 – INSEAD essays first draft – ready!
Sep 1 to 24, 2009 – went over 4 more drafts of INSEAD essays.
Sep 28, 2009 – After 6 drafts of essays, finally submitted my INSEAD application.
Sep 29, 2009 – Submitted my application to University of Hong Kong (I still haven’t heard back from them icon smile An MBA application journey, from GMAT prep to acceptance )
Oct 4, 2009 – ESADE Application submitted – after 3 drafts of essays!
Oct 6 to12, 2009 – IESE essays – done with my 3rd draft of essays.
Oct 15, 2009 – ESADE invited me to interview – this was one of my happiest moments since it was my first interview invite!!
Oct 23, 2009 – IESE Application submitted.
Oct 26, 2009 – IESE Invites me to interview within 3 days – That was the fastest response i’ve got.
Nov 1 to 20, 2009 – Interview preparation along with NUS Business school application essays.
Nov 5, 2009 – INSEAD dings! I kinda expected that.
Nov 13, 2009 – NUS Application submitted.
Nov 22, 2009 – ESADE Admissions interview (face to face with adcom). I still remember that day. It went amazingly well and I was quite confident on making it.
Nov 23, 2009 – IESE Interview – My longest interview but was a fantastic experience with a super friendly adcom!
Nov 25, 2009 – IESE Waitlists me and invited me to an Assessment Day on Jan 31st! It was a 2 months wait!
Nov 27, 2009 – ESADE dings me! I was totally shattered. I still have no idea why but now i understand that there is someone up there who controls your reins. Everything happens for the best!!
Dec 4 to 10, 2009 – HKUST application essays – draft 1,2 and 3.
Dec 12, 2009 – HKUST Application submitted.
Dec 15 to 31, 2009 – The dreadful WAIT!
Jan 1 to 15, 2010 – Applied to Tsinghua University in China, Interviewed and Waitlisted icon sad An MBA application journey, from GMAT prep to acceptance
Jan 29, 2010 – Two days before the big event – IESE Assessment day, I get dinged by HKUST!
Jan 30, 2010 – IESE Case presentation – Sample class by Prof. Mike Rosenberg from IESE B-school.
Jan 31, 2010 – IESE Assessment day – A fantastic experience interacting with 30 brilliant applicants from over 15 countries. A whole day of team activities.
Feb 1 to 10, 2010 – Waited impatiently for the IESE results!
Feb 11, 2010 – The day my dream came true – Got accepted to IESE Business school!

“Like World cup is to soccer, Wimbledon is to Tennis, an acceptance is to an applicant blog. I waited 12 months for such a post and I can’t be happier. I couldn’t have done any of this without the love, support, and encouragement of my parents and my girl friend. I would like to dedicate this admission to them. Amma, Appa and Vrush – this one is for you!

“I also want to thank many people who have played an important part in my journey:

Eric Bahn for Beatthegmat
Charles Bibilos – my tutor
Rocky for all the support
Avi Gordon – MBA Studio and his wonderful book.
Richard Montauk, for his book
All the GMAT Gurus at Beatthegmat
ClearAdmit and Accepted for their amazing resources
The entire MBA blogging community
All my readers for their constant support and encouragement.
Alumni and Students of IESE
Nick Vujicic for inspiring me when i was low. (Check this out)
Guy Kawasaki for sharing his knowledge and teaching me a lot.

“My apologies for making this post so long. If there is one take-away from my MBA application journey (apart from persistence) that I’d cherish life long is this acquired addiction of Blogging. So I’ll be back here soon with another post. Till then, hang in there and have fun! Muchas Gracias!”

Digging Deep for MBA Admissions Value – Take Karate for Example

I’m often, … no correction, always telling MBA applicants to extract the full MBA admissions value from what they have in their bio, and what they have done. Doing this is the only way to present as more valuable than the next applicant to the business school in question; that is, the only way to get admitted in a competitive system.

Easier said than done of course. So the question comes back: How do I do that? And this is a fair-enough question.

How to do it, as I’ve written at greater length in my book, has to do with (a) understand the full dimensions of MBA admissions value associated with what you have done and/or achieved; (b) understanding what is valuable to Adcoms, which is to say what is valuable in the b-school environment and in MBA careers, and (c) being able to connect “a” to “b” in a clear and compelling way.

That’s the theory. Here’s an example. (Note: nothing works in MBA admissions communications as well as an example.)

Let’s say you have been involved in JKA karate for much of your early life, achieved your “black belt” at the age of 18, were reasonably successful in competitions during high school and college, but now just keep your hand in at the dojo as a part-time instructor. Is it valuable or not?

Of course it’s valuable. Karate is a recognized development activity. It takes youth through a structured and disciplined and group-oriented series of challenges. Also, no question that having spent this much of your life on the activity, it has to get some airtime in your application.

More pertinently, which parts are valuable? What do you say? Is it valuable to say you can fight people and easily knock them down. Of course not. That’s a red flag. Is it valuable to say you can defend yourself in any situation? That’s not going to hurt your application, but it won’t help. Adcom doesn’t rate people on whether they can physically defend themselves — it’s not something that counts at business school or with the careers office or recruiters or in the business world for MBA graduates.

The value is in the discipline you learned, in the experience of setbacks and perseverance; in participating well with competitors and competition; in learning to manage adversity; in being part of a structured environment, and in learning to structure and manage your time (e.g. going to the dojo 5x a week on top of everything else.)

There may also be value to be had in the psychic development karate offers: exposure to alternative (oriental) philosophy, mindfulness, inner peace and self-reliance, and so on. If you are now a coach or trainer or mentor of the next generation, there is obvious admissions value in that.

There may be more. The point is, there is lots to say that points to a valid admissions “value claim” for you as a person and professional going forward. Once unearthed, you choose which parts to emphasize, and you move onto the next value activity, approaching it in the same way.


Unpacking the Categories of MBA Admissions Dings

It’s July, and a new admissions cycle year starts at the MBA Admissions Studio. As it happens, during my off-season sabbatical time — which new clients have patiently waited out (thank you) I’ve had numerous emails of the “I-was-dinged-last-year, what-did-I do-wrong?” type. So this seems as good a place as any to start the discussion this year, in the spirit of helping those dinged last year apply better, and those who are applying for the first time understand the category of potential pitfalls.

There are three types of ding:

  1. You were dinged because there is something or things in your background that make you just not good enough or right enough for the program, in comparison with the average standard of admitted applicants. This could be because of lack of high-quality or brand-company work experience, a low GMAT or GPA, being too young or old at the time of application, and so on. In this category, in other words, your ding is caused by something or things that you are, or are not. You fail to meet minimum qualification standards.
  2. You are good enough and fit well — you are a competitive, qualified applicant — but applied badly in that you made a clear mistake or raised a red flag in your application. Your ding was caused by something specific you said or did not say.
  3. You are good enough and fit well — you are a competitive, qualified applicant – and you didn’t make any obvious application mistakes, but applied badly in that your admissions value was not clear or somehow you didn’t stand out. This is the category of applicant that Adcom refers to when it says “we had many qualified applicants and we couldn’t take them all.” Your ding was caused by other qualified competitors applying better than you did in a system where there are more applicants than places.

What are the fixes? Let me take them one by one.

In the first situation, the problem is choice of school, or career timing of application or both. Bear in mind that everyone has weaknesses — I’ve never seen an applicant without weaknesses (though they don’t always know it.) But here we are talking about aggregate weakness in an applicant such that, no matter how they apply, they are going to be dinged because they don’t meet the standard of generally accepted applicant. The dinged candidate “doesn’t have the goods” so, logically, the only way to solve the problem is to get the goods, or lower one’s school sights, or both. Getting the goods is realistic only if age is on your side and you can take a few years to drive up your MBA admissions value via new career experiences, greater responsibility or new leadership roles, promotions or awards, new extra-mural participation, and so on.

The second situation is the easiest of the three to deal with. Here the solution has to do recognition — recognizing in advance what creates or exacerbates problems in an application, so-called “red flags,” and staying well clear of these. These problems are, in theory at least, easily fixable once recognized (assuming none of them point to deeper category 1 problems.)

The third type of ding is all about the soupy stuff of competitive admissions. Here the applicant didn’t do anything wrong, just didn’t do as well as others in the application process. The solution has to do with applying all the hard and soft value-enhancement and value-communications techniques that make an application ‘pop’ from the pile. This is not easy, and varies on a case-by-case basis. But there are general principles that apply in optimizing any application.

I’ve written extensively on this site and in my book on the profile principles and communication strategies that can be applied, including creating the foundation of a solid yet differentiated application platform and driving up candidate value and uniqueness through use of memorable proof examples and stories. More to follow as the weeks roll by to R1 deadlines.