Tag Archives: admissions red flags

Get the Feel of an MBA Classroom Experience Before You Apply

A few years back I put up this link to a Darden class (particularly it shows “the case method” in action) to make the point that applicants should make themselves aware of what it is like to be part of it. I you’re going to talk about your great affinity for case-method learning, make sure you are informed about what it is really like.

By extension, watch a generous sampling of videos that are freely and plentifully available on the Web to give yourself an overall sense of what the MBA experience and MBA life is like. This mini-immersion will allow you to better express what you hope to get out of the classroom and what you will contribute to it.

I say all this because applicants sometimes come to me with an unrealistic idea of what goes on in the classroom and outside of it: what the instructor does, how instruction occurs, what students do, what MBA students are like, and so on. With the wrong perception, essays start to sound ill-informed, if not downright naive. This is an admissions red flag.

Videos can be found on schools’ Web sites, or MBA information sites, or more generally for example by searching for MBA classroom on YouTube. And don’t just watch the serious ones — the goofy or playful ones like this, below, are just as relevant for getting a sense of what the real MBA experience is all about.

 

 

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.