Applications That Get a "Yes"

Do Harvard and Wharton scrutinize differently? Clear Admit answers this and other queries about getting into the right MBA program

Clear Admit is a Philadelphia-based educational consulting and counseling firm founded in 2001 by MBA graduates with extensive admissions experience. It helps increase clients' chances of getting into top-notch B-schools, with services including initial consultation, interview tips, and essay reviews.

Graham Richmond, co-founder and CEO of Clear Admit, and Alex Brown, senior admissions counselor, recently fielded questions from audience members and BusinessWeek Online's Francesca Di Meglio in an online chat. Here is an edited transcript:

Applications That Get a "Yes"
Alex Brown   

BWO: This comes from a visitor who couldn't join us today: "Can you give some advice to a senior business major thinking of pursuing her MBA right after graduation? In your opinion, is it acceptable to pursue the MBA right away?"

Brown:

My immediate response would be to ask her why she would want to start an MBA before gaining substantial work experience that can create great context.

dftodc: Would you say that having nonprofit work experience before applying to the top 10 B-schools is a positive? Why?

Richmond:

Having nonprofit work experience can certainly differentiate you, but what's more important is what you learned from the experience and the leadership opportunities you had. One other consideration for nonprofit applicants is demonstrating their fit with an MBA program.

BWO: This is another question that comes from someone who couldn't join us today: "I am reapplying to Harvard Business School this year. From what I know, HBS is suspicious of reapplicants. How can I be successful?"

Richmond:

I would not say that HBS is suspicious of reapplicants. It's more that they view a reapplicant in the same way that they view a first-time applicant -- they start from scratch and reassess. Whereas other leading schools that offer feedback (such as the Wharton School and the Kellogg School of Management) allow you to build from your previous application.

princek99: How about experience gained while working at a higher educational institution, either part-time or full-time?

Brown:

That differentiates you for sure, but you have to bring up what you have learned and why the MBA makes sense for your goals.

BWO: Many of our visitors are also wondering if you need international experience to get into B-schools today. What do you think?

Brown:

The short answer is no, but having the perspective provided by the experience can certainly help, and we are in a global economy.

BellaGirl02: I have only been at my current job for two months, and I don't feel like my current manager knows me well enough to give me a good recommendation. I was planning on using my former manager and a competitor from my last job. Is that a good idea?

Brown:

Sure, but you should use the optional essay to explain the rationale for your choice.

BWO: Many of our visitors are also asking about whether they can get by with a lower undergraduate GPA if the rest of their application is solid. What would you say to them?

Richmond:

It's not the rest of their application -- it's the rest of their academic profile that's important. For example, course selection as an undergraduate, GMAT scores, outside course-work since college, etc. These are the things that would be critical to determine how a school would assess a candidate's academic aptitude and motivation.

phoenix_2: I have experience in health information systems for three years, and I would like to move into health-care-strategy consulting. Which schools should I consider, and is my goal realistic?

Richmond:

That sounds like an interesting and logical career goal based on your past experience. Wharton's Health Care Management Program would be a great starting point. Programs like those at Kellogg and the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University also have strengths in this area.

NathanGen: In your opinion, what is the single most important factor in an MBA application?

Brown:

The weakest element of your application is the most important factor. The admissions process takes a holistic approach and looks at many variables, so you really cannot identify one critical variable.

dftodc: Are MBA programs partial to certain goals applicants express on their applications? I will probably want to reenter the nonprofit sector after finishing and would probably be interested in a tuition forgiveness/assistance program. Will this damage my application?

Richmond:

Admissions committees are partial to goals that make sense for the applicant and fit the school to which he or she is applying. Many schools offer tuition forgiveness programs, and it certainly has no impact on the selection process.

princek99: Does leadership experience have to come in a supervisory role? How well can one document one's leadership experience while working in a team? Will it be convincing?

Richmond:

While it is more difficult to demonstrate leadership without explicit authority, we see many applicants doing a fine job of displaying their ability to influence outcomes and leave a footprint on a project despite lack of a formal leadership role. There are not a lot of people at this point in their careers who actually have explicit leadership roles when they apply.

toddcruise: Kellogg requires reapplicants to answer the same essay questions as they did the year before. Do those essay answers need to be completely different?

Richmond:

The essays need not be completely different. However, for a reapplicant, it's important to demonstrate change and improvement in one's candidacy. And most reapplicants have had additional experiences (extracurricular, professional, etc.) that they can reference when they reapply.

mbadin44: If you do not have a business background from your undergraduate degree, do you think it is wise to take introductory-level business courses to shore up your application? And if so, does it matter whether you take them at a community college or university?

Brown:

You do not have to do that, as long as you can demonstrate you have decent analytical skills. You may also consider whether you are taking this step to prepare for the application, or to make the transition into business school easier. It really does not matter where you take the courses -- it matters that you do well

Dmitry76: Most schools say that they look at an applicant's community involvement as well. What exactly are they looking for when they say this? Is it just any volunteer work or demonstrated leadership?

Brown:

It's possible that work limits your ability to demonstrate leadership, so your extracurricular activities and community service can illustrate that you're well rounded. Community service and extracurricular activity show you have interests beyond work and can contribute to the MBA community and be compassionate.

mbadin44: How do businesses in America view a degree from an international business school such as China Europe International Business School in China?

Richmond:

In the future, business schools such as CEIBS and others may become significant players. However, at this point American businesses are most familiar with American business schools. This is even a continuous struggle for the more-established schools in Europe.

ScoobySteph: In searching for an admissions consultant, what should someone look for to distinguish among the number of companies that offer such services?

Richmond:

In choosing an admissions consultant, one should look at the qualifications of those providing the service. It's also important to look at the type of service they are providing -- some companies assign you a dedicated counselor throughout the process. At Clear Admit, we think it's important to understand the process from several angles (MBA graduate, applicant, and admissions officer).

BWO: How can potential MBA students stand out from the large pool of applicants?

Brown:

I think the critical issue for each applicant is to be truly introspective such that each will identify his or her own unique characteristics that help him or her stand out. Many applicants try to be something that they are not, which will most often fail.

NathanGen: How should applicants prepare for the interview?

Richmond:

Preparation is critical to success in the interview process. In terms of what sort of preparation, it all depends on how the individual school is using the interview in the admissions process, as well as how the school conducts its interviews. For any interview, the important things are to know yourself, your application, and the school with which you're interviewing -- and practice.

timboly: Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College offers interviews to all applicants. They also have invitation-only interviews. Would it be advisable to initiate the interview or wait for the invitation?

Richmond:

Initiate.

dftodc: What programs would you recommend to someone interested in entrepreneurship in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors alike?

Richmond:

You should be looking for schools that are strong in entrepreneurial and nonprofit management. The best way to identify fit with these schools is to contact leaders in the nonprofit management club and the entrepreneurial club, and look at the Web sites for those academic departments as well. Also, get a sense of the alumni activity in these fields.

rohitprabhu: I have about four years of experience in the IT industry and wish to get into marketing. What is the biggest challenge faced by a person who wishes to make a career change?

Brown:

It will be important to justify the change. You should consider whether you want to change function and industry. For example, doing marketing in the IT sector might be an easier transition than marketing in the CPG sector. It will be important to make connections from your previous experiences for your new career plan. But many people go to B-school to change careers.

texaspunk: I have 11 years of significant experience, but I cannot seem to break 70% in quant (but can get 88% in verbal) on the GMAT. What weight does Wharton put on the GMAT for entrance into the EMBA?

Richmond:

If you've demonstrated strong quantitative abilities elsewhere in your profile, then you should just move on and focus on the rest of the application. EMBA programs tend to be a bit more flexible with this element of one's profile.

BellaGirl02: What is your advice on the different rounds, specifically Round 1 (R1) vs. Round 2 (R2)?

Brown:

First I'd like to dispel a common myth: It's not easier to get in during R2 vs. R1. It's important to apply early -- but only if your application is ready. Don't apply R1 if it means rushing the process. Also, avoid the last rounds if at all possible.

pomposo: I'm an undergrad looking to transfer to USC. In the business world, what's more important -- where you completed your undergraduate business studies or where you receive your MBA?

Richmond:

This is a sequential process, meaning that your undergraduate degree may have some impact on where you gain your first employment, which may in turn affect where you get your MBA, which may in turn affect where you end up in the business world in the long run.

segalo: I was told by a friend who's a graduate of Wharton that having completed the [Certified Financial Analyst exam] might be more of a hindrance than an asset. What do you think?

Brown:

No matter what your background, you will need to justify why you are pursuing this degree. Having a CFA demonstrates commitment to your field, so from that perspective it can be positive.

mdimova: European or American MBA?

Brown:

It depends on your goals, where you may wish to work and live in the long run. There is also a difference between one- and two-year programs. Many of the European schools are one year in length. If you are a career changer, in need of an internship, then the two-year option is likely a better fit.

BWO: Any parting advice for applicants?

Richmond:

Be introspective and thoughtful, make sure your application is the best possible representation of you, and do your research on the schools by talking to current students and alumni. Make sure you budget time for the process. Get feedback from those who know you and those who don't.

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