The Road to Business School is the premier forum to meet-and-greet with admissions officers and get an edge in your application. In 2010, "The Road" brought over 20 top business schools to seven cities for open networking sessions, admissions panels, and GMAT breakout sessions. In this MBA Admissions Panel, we hear from admissions representatives from NYU Stern, Tuck School of Business, Boston University, an UCLA Anderson. These admission reps are asked:
How important is visiting a school during the application process?
How should one outline their short-term and long-term goals?
How important is the optional essay-- should you always use it?
Kaplan pioneered GMAT prep 40 years ago. Now we’ve done it again. Experience true GMAT expertise with our new course, featuring:
The best guarantee in the industry: higher score or your money back
More in-class content and strategy than ever before
The most realistic practice: take your practice CATs at the actual testing center
Our exclusive Online Center linking you to your course, CATs, teacher and classmates
Attend a FREE GMAT class session and see for yourself why Kaplan is the industry leader in GMAT prep. And remember, MBA Podcaster listeners save 10% on all Kaplan GMAT comprehensive and tutoring programs. Just use code MBAPC10 at checkout or when you call 1-800-KAP-TEST.
Dilini Fernando: Welcome to MBA PodTV. I’m your host, Dilini Fernando.
Today, we’re bringing you special coverage of Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions Business School Admissions Panel held at the premier event called “Road to Business School.” The Road to Business School is the premier forum to meet and greet with admissions officers and to get an edge in your application. In 2010, the Road brought over 20 top business schools to seven cities for open networking sessions, admissions panels, and GMAT breakout sessions. The panel features admissions representatives from NYU Stern, the Tuck School of Business, Boston University School of Management, and UCLA Anderson.
Liza Weale: In terms of visiting schools, is that a part that is evaluated during the application process? And this might vary school by school so you can chime in on that.
Pat Harrison: We are somewhat remote. We are in the woods of New Hampshire so it is a little bit of a trip. So when somebody shows us that they’ve made the effort to come up to Tuck, it shows us that they’ve got more interest than somebody who might just be applying to any number of schools.
Tuck School of Business
Dana Dubovik: Yeah. At Boston University, it certainly doesn’t hurt you if you haven’t come and visit, but it baffles me every year how many people don’t visit a school when once a school reaches your short list, not visiting before you go is sort of like buying a house you’ve never seen. You would never do that. This is a big investment so we encourage you to do that.
And like everyone is saying, there are so many ways to get information when visiting. I know our students when they come, they can arrange to have coffee with a student. They can sit in on a class. We have an email address that current students check if you want to chat with them one-off. There are information sessions. There are just so many ways, and certainly in Boston, we’re not very far from you in New York either so you have no excuses here.
Liza Weale: Okay. Well, I want to jump into what is always sort of the crux of this kind of panels, and I think what interested prospective applicants always get the most value out of is talking more about the application process. So we’ll cover lots of it, but one piece I want to ask on first is what is most important in the application process? Is it work experience? GMAT? GPA? Letters of recommendation?
Alison, do you want to start with this one?
Alison Goggin: Sure. The short answer is it’s all important and you’re not going to find a school out there that’s going to say this piece is more important than another piece of the application because it’s all really a story, and there are certain things in your profile that may be strengths and things that are very unique about your particular story and there may be some things that you need to develop or some possible weaknesses. So all of our committees, we really look at it in a holistic way. So we’re going to look at academics to make sure that you can perform in our rigorous programs. We’re going to look at work experience to see that you have a proven track record. We’re going to look at your next step in your career goals so that we have a good sense that you know where you’re going.
And then of course, there are all those personal characteristics. What are your passions? What do you want to get involved in when you’re at school?
And all of those things so it’s just kind of like a balance, and for many applicants it’s not strong all across the board. I mean obviously, that’s what we love to see, but more often than not, you see some things that really make someone stand out, but there might be some other things that you can say, “Okay. Well, they’ll work on those things while they’re in business school.”
So the short answer is it’s all important. You need to dedicate time to each of those areas and really invest in the whole process and not overinvest in one aspect because that will just be to the detriment of something else in your application.
Liza Weale: Okay. So essays, on the essay side, I guess I’d just start with the question of what advice would you give this group about how to start the process, how to start the — schools can have one, two, six, a lot of essays, a few essays, word count, and they all vary. So what kind of advice would you give this group on how to start that process?
Adrian Aguirre: Every business school knows that the majority of the applicants are not English majors or people that are writers. So we’re not necessarily looking for works of fiction there or for wonderfully written prose. What we’re looking for is authenticity, and what you’re trying to convey there is your sense of maturity and it really is sort of the one shot that you have to have a one-on-one dialogue with the admissions committee.
So this is the place where within those two pages for that essay, most schools tend to ask in one way or another why business school and sort of who are you? What are you trying to do? So this is your chance to tell your story, show a sense of maturity that you’ve sort of done your thinking, you know where you are, where you want to go, and how the school plays a part in that process.
They’re not necessarily very long, but we do recommend that people spend the necessary time to write them to be authentic. When you finish writing those, have other people comment on them, not just your parents or significant others but coworkers or friends, and ask them, “Do you think I’m representing honestly who I am here?” Because oftentimes, you’ll write sort of what you think you are or what you would like to project and miss out on the really great things that make you who you are and other people can actually tell you that and help you fine-tune your story.
Boston University School of Business
Dana Dubovik: You’re having people read them. Just like Adrian said, you should have people editing your essays. One trick is to have them read the essay but don’t tell them what the question was. Don’t give them that prompt. And ask them to tell you what they think you were being asked. If they get it pretty close, then you’re probably answering the question well.
And you also want to make sure because the essays are similar from school to school that you’re tailoring each one to the school you’re applying to. If you can easily dump one essay for one school into another essay for another school, then it’s not tailored enough. It really needs to be specific.
Pat Harrison: Have somebody who doesn’t know you very well read your essays as well because they can point out the holes in your story. You’re thinking about this. You’ve been thinking about it for a couple of years on why you want to go from Point A to Point B, but you may assume that the reader knows that, and you have to remember, all we have is what’s on the paper. So don’t make us ever guess at anything because we always guess wrong.
So if you’re looking to make a major career switch, be sure that you explain that. If you have a job gap, be sure to explain that. Every school is going to give you an optional essay. Use that optional essay to explain some of those things that maybe don’t leap off the page of — that aren’t clear, the job changes or if you don’t have an immediate supervisor giving you a recommendation.
If you don’t tell us why not, what are we going to guess? That you don’t have a very good relationship with your supervisor. It could be that you don’t want to tell your supervisor because of the economy and you’re afraid of losing your job, and that’s why you’ve not asked your supervisor. But if we don’t know that, we can only make certain assumptions. So be sure to tell us everything, and having somebody who doesn’t know you well can point out those spots where it may not be obvious what you’re missing.
Liza Weale: That’s interesting. So just going a little bit more about the extra essay because I think that sometimes causes angst like what schools want to see in that. So one thing is it sounds like you’re saying that if there are any gaps or anything that might raise an eyebrow in the overall package, you can use that extra essay to explain that reason that might raise somebody’s eyebrow.
But what else? Should people definitely use it? And if so, what else for?
Pat Harrison: Don’t feel like you have to. The fewer the better for us. We are reading thousands of applications so don’t feel that you have to put something just to fill space, but it’s there for you to round out the picture, and if you aren’t getting it across make sure to give you the opportunity to do so.
Alison Goggin: Don’t put another essay that you worked so hard on for another school into that optional essay for a different school. Because I know you put a lot of time and effort into those essays, but I can tell. We can all tell. We know each other’s questions and it’s just kind of like an optional essay and all of a sudden they are talking about a leadership experience. That’s again not going to add to your application. In fact, it would probably detract.
Liza Weale: How important are the short-term and long-term goals? Does everybody have to know what they want to do, and to what degree? Pat, do you want to start off with that one?
Pat Harrison: We like to see some level of specificity. We know you’re probably — it’s very likely that you’re going to come to business school and learn about a lot of other careers and opportunities, and that may change. But having a sense at this point of what it is you want to do and why, what your strengths are and kind of where you think you want to go, you don’t necessarily have to have it down to a particular employer and what floor your office is going to be on and where you’re going to be, but having a good sense of where you want to go I think is very important both short-term and long-term.
UCLA Anderson School of Business
And I don’t like to see essays where the short-term goal is to get your MBA. You do see people who say, “I’m going to get the MBA skills and then I’m going to go on and do X, Y, and Z.” I want to see the short-term being the immediate post MBA as the short-term.
Adrian Aguirre: Having been an MBA student myself, it’s a little bit of the other perspective, which is what really happens sort of on the student population, we ask for people to tell us what they want to do, and the large majority will say exactly what they want to do. Once they get to school, we ask them what they want to do and the large majority is not sure.
So there is nothing wrong with that, and I think what we’re all saying is have a plan A and if you’re going to have a plan B, the plan B can potentially work, but business school is not the place for you to say, “Okay. Now I’m going to do soul searching and think and figure out what I want to do with my life.”
But I don’t want you to also come in thinking, “If I haven’t figured out what my life purpose is I shouldn’t go there,” because the truth is that people go there and they’re still evaluating things to some degree. So don’t beat yourself up too much if you haven’t figured it out exactly yet.
Liza Weale: So switching away a little bit from essays, now let’s move into letters of recommendation. Who is the right person to write the letter of recommendation?
Adrian Aguirre: You want people that one, can talk in detail about what you do. I think oftentimes, the mistake is to go for the highest-ranking person in the company or the highest person that you know who is a CEO or a president, and that person may know you, like you, but not at the level of detail that a person in the admissions committee needs to see. We want to see details. We want to see references to specifics in the job, projects, opportunities where you may have had a challenge and overcome it or learn from a mistake or become sort of a better person because of that experience. And the people that tend to be in that position to that best is your direct supervisor or a past supervisor if you don’t want to maybe compromise your work situation currently.
So we’re not impressed by title. We’re impressed by detail. And obviously, you want this person to care enough about you to spend the time because this is going to take some time for them. They’re going to write potentially a few pages of very detailed information.
So you’re going to have to properly prep them, and I don’t mean write the rec for them. You’re not going to be able to do that. But give them an idea of what you’re trying to do, why you’re pursuing the MBA so to make them vested in your process. Share with them your résumé. The more they know, the better they’re going to be able to do, and you’d be amazed. Recommendation letters carry a very important weight because it’s a very detailed data point for us.
NYU Stern Business School
Dana Dubovik: Find out from each school who they want the recs to come from. If it doesn’t say clearly, it actually doesn’t say clearly on our website, but we welcome the question of who they should be. We want professional and this could vary a little bit from school to school. We, most of the time, don’t want to see an academic recommendation unless you’ve worked for the professor. We’re looking for people who can speak to you professionally and about you as an employee. We’re not looking for someone to say, “They came to class and got an A.” It’s just not what we’re trying to get from this particular component. It could vary a little bit so I suggest you ask, but for instance, we wouldn’t want to see that.
And use some judgment in who you do select because most schools are going to want more than one and you only have one direct supervisor so now comes the time who should the next one come from. Use your judgment a little bit. We are not looking for friends of the family, your next-door neighbor who has known you your whole life. If your boss is a relative, do not choose that person as your recommender. They are biased whether they think they are or not because they know you.
And one thing that when we see in the application is if we see someone who is a relative or someone who is a personal friend of the family, that’s a bit of not such a good thing for us. At least that’s not something that we’re looking for. So try to be aware of those things.
Liza Weale: Another thing that I heard a piece of feedback once in this area too for your recommenders is ask the person if they are willing to write it. Basically, you want to make sure that the person who is writing your recommendation is going to write you a favorable recommendation.
And wouldn’t it be a bummer if you asked somebody that you assume is very much on your side and is going to write you a powerful recommendation; and in reality, for whatever reason, they’re not quite comfortable enough to have told you, “You know what? I wouldn’t have actually written you a great recommendation but now I feel guilty I’m going to write this recommendation.” Ask the recommender, “Would you feel comfortable writing a recommendation for me and will help my application? Would you write my recommendation for me?”
So just make sure that you’ve got them on your side, and then I think what Dana said too is prepping them, making sure that not only does it help them understand how you’re trying to sell yourself to the school, but again, it gives you another chance to actually refine your own story because they might see, “Wow! I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned XYZ. So you have that feedback from somebody who knows you very well too.
So with that, I want to thank the panelists very much. Thank you, guys. Let’s give them all a round of applause.
Dilini Fernando: That’s it for this episode of MBA PodTV. I’m your host, Dilini Fernando. Join us at MBAPodcaster.com to register for weekly audio and video shows. Join us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with the latest news and insights on your MBA application process.
For further information on the Business Schools mentioned in this show, visit out other podcasts:
Attend a FREE GMAT class session by Kaplan & remember, MBA Podcaster listeners save 10% on all Kaplan GMAT comprehensive and tutoring programs. Just use code MBAPOD10 at checkout or when you call 1-800-KAP-TEST.
Subscribe to MBA Podcaster
Stay up to date with the latest news, information, advice, and all our newly released podcasts and videocasts.