Category Archives: MBA Admissions

MBA Admissions: About You. About More Than You

The military style of management is usually best avoided in MBA admissions because it is not subtle or complex enough for civilian organizations.

MBA Admissions  committees are interested in your leadership style with respect to how you are able to motivate people without resorting to chain of command. To go up to someone’s desk and scream in their ear is hardly going to work in the office. In business, pulling rank usually does more harm than good.

However, occasionally there is something to be gleaned from the military, and here is a video worth two minutes of your time. It features Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL, now  Governer-elect of Missouri.

In it he describes his epiphany during ‘Hell Week’ when it dawned on him: “This isn’t about me. This test is about my ability to lead and be of service to the people who are in that tent right now.”

Here’s the point from an MBA admissions perspective:

A lot of applicants describe corporate hazing of one type or another. That is, the 80 hours a week worked, vertical learning curves ascended, all-nighters pulled, jet-lag endured, and so on — in terms of personal gain. “I suffered, I showed perseverance and came though it, and learned a lot, and now I’m a better and stronger person.”

That’s okay as far as it goes.

But the real admissions jackpot comes from being able to see it and frame it in cohort terms. How the pain was all about bearing the load with and for the rest of the group, towards achieving goals for the group.

That is, how your effort was about more than just you. Therefore implying what you will do with your MBA will also be more than just about you.

In this regard, note how often MBA admissions instructions from Adcoms conspicuously remind you how leadership is about collective responsibility.

Here’s one from MIT Sloan a few years back: “We seek to enroll well-rounded individuals with the following characteristics:

  • Success in your professional endeavors (whether you are well into your career or a college senior)
  • Ability to collaborate to accomplish a common goal
  • Drive to inspire others to achieve success
  • Vision to seek alternative solutions to existing challenges
  • Pursuit of meaningful goals.”

Getting The MBA Pre-Application Campus Visit Right

At this stage of the MBA admissions season many have finalized where they are applying to, but some are still visiting campuses. Here’s one from my files: HBS Adcom talking about the HBS campus visit a few years ago (nothing has changed.)

First it clears up some of the shibboleths of who’s noticing what in your b-school visit and how it is weighed in admissions. What is true of Harvard is broadly true of other schools too. Second, it’s worth noting as a writing sample. Here’s the text:

“Lots of questions on the road from prospective applicants about visiting schools.

Answer: We always welcome visitors to campus. It’s beautiful here and we have lots to show you. Do you need to make a pilgrimage in order to send a signal to the Admissions Office? Absolutely not. Visiting campus has absolutely no impact on how your application is reviewed. It may have a gigantic impact on how enthusiastic you are about US – that’s where the value-added comes into play.

Are we going to ask you to sign-in to an information session? Yes. Do we use that list in the evaluation process? No. So why do we ask you to do it? To track whether these sessions have any impact on whether an attendee chooses to apply to HBS or not, i.e. standard market research. If we found out that no one who attended an info session chose to apply to HBS, you’d better believe that we would make some changes!

When may I visit classes? This is the tough question. For those applying in Round One, it’s not possible to visit a class before the October 1 deadline. Why? Our first year students begin classes in early September. Our first priority is for them to get settled into the classroom. We have limited seats designated for visitors in each class – and we could fill them every day of the year. The faculty likes for the first few weeks of the first semester to be “students only.” We rely on the students in sections to be hosts for our visitors – and they really aren’t ready to do that right away. Class visits will begin in mid-October; information about the sign-up process will be posted on our website.

Applying to business school(s) is expensive and stressful. The last thing you need is to make it a scavenger hunt in which you need have “visited campus” checked off the list.

So…the message is: We welcome you to visit HBS – but don’t think of this as a “command performance.”

The takeaways and more:

(a) Visiting is good because it will create in you a much sharper appreciation for the school and its particular form of MBA offering. It will help you refine your list of target schools, and make your applications essays more naturally enthusiastic and therefore convincing.

But visiting is not a formal requirement and is not heavily weighed by Adcom in deciding whether to admit or ding you.

Use your time with admissions and/or school marketing reps wisely, that is, to ask pointed questions about particular aspects of the program or the school that are relevant to your career progress, so that you come away with specific information that will help you make the right school-choice decision, and then help you motivate this convincingly in your essays and interview.

Be aware, the formal visit program will only take you so far. To go deeper into the school’s culture, get talking to students. If you walk up and say “Hi, I’m a prospective applicant, may I ask you about your experiences at this school…” it is likely you will get a friendly and informative response.

(b) I’m aware it’s dangerous to offer HBS blog text as a writing model because applicants will mimic this style. Do NOT do this. But it has elements worth noting.

It’s informal-formal, like recorded speaking. There are no mistakes, but the copy is not stiff and overly “written.” In this way the author comes across like someone you’d like to meet.

Also note the the rhetorical question-and-answer style. It doesn’t always work, but when it does it is a superb device for getting information across quickly and clearly. Overall the text has a crisp, to-the-point feel, but it is not rushed or clipped.

Your MBA admissions essays are not a blog, but information-laden crispness that suggests you are worth meeting is exactly what you are looking to achieve.

Jack-o’-Lanterns And Why Being A ‘Maker’ Can Help Your MBA Application

It’s almost Halloween. That means some of us are turning pumpkins into gruesome candle faces. Other than pleasant distraction, can this have anything to do with MBA admissions?

Well here’s the thing.  To apply successfully you need to extract the full MBA admissions value from what what you do and have done in your life.

Truth is, if you just hack out pumpkin that’s not something you will get much advantage from talking about in your MBA essays. But there are people out there that have incredible craft and design skills, and perhaps are part of the international Maker Movement and present at Maker “faires”, and if that is you then that is something you absolutely should talk about in your essays or MBA interview.

The Maker Movement is a loose connection of crafts people, technologists, and tinkerers who make stuff, from basic crafts to the latest gizmos.

It’s creative. Innovative. Productive. Self-reliant. Often team-oriented. These are all value points that matter to MBA  Adcoms.

The takeaway principle is this: whatever it is that you do or are part of may seem too small and piecemeal to matter for MBA admissions. And on its own it probably is.

But look for ways to connect it to what is valuable in MBA terms. Note this sometimes requires bridging-up in terms of scale, or linking disparate items to an organizing category.

In this specific example, carving a pumpkin has no intrinsic value to your MBA application; but being active in and identified with the Maker Movement would have many dimensions that you could mine for an MBA admissions boost.