The blogging process is very liberating and I must recommend all those who read my blog to do this. Surprisingly, it helps write your essays better. Why? Because your psyche changes from being ‘Oh what will others think of what I am writing’ to ‘Hmm … I think I write well, so many people appreciate what I post’ J Of course there are nice people out there, and a lot of them visit my blog (woohoo!) but hearing good things, and even the not so good things which you then take as feedback, is always constructive to the overall writing process.
Having said that, I realize that many of you are now in the essay writing mode for R2. I have always been a R1 type of guy – applied to a few schools last year, dinged by all. Thought I will come back in R1 next year with a much better profile, GMAT score, app strategy – and I did. Should you do the same? Absolutely not. In my case, I knew there were some (modest aren’t I?) gaps in my candidature which I needed to plug. Yet, I ‘hoped against hope hopen’ and applied to get a flavor of a) how the app process works, and b) what do schools think of me. The answer to both the questions wasn’t pretty. But was it worth getting that answer? Defintiely
If you are a R2 participant, you are in the following buckets – a) For you R2 is R1, i.e. you came a bit late to the party, b) You got dinged in R1 from most, if not all, schools and you hence HAVE to apply – I sympathize my friend, and c) You got into a school in R1, but now that you have a backup in hand, you want to give the higher ranked schools a shot. All the reasons are of course worthy enough in their own context.
While applying to various schools over the past few years, I of course have gained *some* wisdom on this process. So I am laying it down for all R2ers. Do note that advice for some schools may be too India focused, given my ethnicity and the peculiarity that ‘being an Indian’ brings to the application process. Ready? Here we go
If you are above 700, and you are asking should I retake the test, please close this window and never return to my blog again. Are you kidding me? The GMAT is a standardized test, which means it adapts to your intelligence while you take the test. If you got a 700+ one thing is for sure, you are a smart dude/dudette. If your ego now wants to hassle you on proving how smart you are, then anyways you don’t need advice from anyone and you will retake the test. BUT, if you are someone sensible and have understood that a 700+ is a good score and now you should focus on the other aspects of your application, you’ll probably fare well than the guy who went and retook, got a 740, but will probably get dinged as that 740 was the ONLY outstanding part of that person’s application.
The only reason you should consider retaking the test is when you have a very lopsided split (eg: 99 percentile in Math but 70 percentile in Verbal) OR you genuinely – GENUINELY – had a bad testing day and you know you can do better. Disclaimer: On various forums, folks with a 42 V (95 percentile) and 46 Q (70 something percentile) have made it to HBS. Of course, none of them is an Indian as Adcoms expect Indians to be magical at Quant.
If you are an Indian however, put this range at 720+ And the next time I meet an Indian applicant at an admissions reception (although I won’t be attending any other anymore, the reception part can be substituted for airport/lunch/dinner etc.), and he/she says ‘My GMAT is just OK, it’s a 740’ OR ‘I need to work on my GMAT … I only managed a 710’ OR ‘HBS won’t look at me if I don’t have a 760’ etc., I swear to God, I will slap that person.
What’s done is done. You cannot change your undergrad GPA – don’t fret about it. If you feel its low, don’t apply to the school you think its low for. If it was low due to a specific reason – eg: tragedy in the family – then explain that in the optional essay. Again, for Indians or Foreign Applicants, the AdCom knows the specifics of grading in each country very well. No need to justify why you didn’t get a 70% or why you didn’t go to an IIT etc.
Be very polite to your recommenders, especially if they are writing more than 3 for you … well technically they will write one and tweak it three times, but still. Remember, that your bosses/ex bosses are senior to you, and hence presumably much busier than you. On their priority list, writing a reco for you is not top of mind. So don’t push them – they may submit a good reco for you, but you are burning bridges with them from the longer term perspective
Aah – the holy grail of the app process. A lot of people think the holy grail is the essay(s) for each school, but its actually school selection. Trust me – if you have a good fit with the school, your essays will just shine. And please do note: Fit does NOT equal business school rankings. Determining fit is entirely upto you, but here is a list of parameters you could base this on:
- Your post MBA goals: Does the school offer good opportunities in this area?
- Class size: Where do you see yourself working better – smaller classes/more intimate environment (eg: Tuck, Stanford, Darden, Yale etc.), or you don’t really care (eg: HBS, Wharton etc.)
- External perception: If you want to go marketing, but are going to Columbia (Finance) you may have a tougher time finding a job. Apply the pareto principle of 80/20 – the 20 here means that of course you can search and find a job in marketing even if you goto a school like Columbia/NYU etc.,
but that process will be harder versus let’s say at a Kellogg Pls read this with an open mind. Each school places all of its students in variety of functions and industries. The ‘perception’ links to how people see the school in general. if you told someone you went to Columbia, they’d probably say you are working in finance. Same for Wharton, which is even more surprising. And these are real world examples, so I’m not kidding about the whole ‘perception’ thing. Plus there are tons of other factors to consider when you choose to goto a school. Let’s say you own a house in NYC and have a solid friends network. Will you give that up to goto Kellogg just because people don’t ‘perceive’ Columbia to be too strong on that front. NO. I hope my point is clearer now.
- Home country perception: Very important if you plan on returning post MBA. Eg: Tuck isn’t well known here. So if I had plans to return upon completing my MBA, Tuck wouldn’t have been a top choice
- Financial Aid/Scholarships – Listed on the school website. Important to read however is the eligibility criteria. There may be 10 scholarships available, but only to American students – how does that help you?
- Loans for International Students w/o Co Signor – Extremely important, more than scholarships. Many top programs (eg: Columbia, Kellogg – it has something but offered by Northwestern and its complicated, Cornell etc.) do NOT offer such loans. You’ll get in, but how will you attend?
Also, one thing you should take out of your head RIGHT AWAY is that getting in is more important, everything else follows. NO – it is not a step by step process. Eg: if the school doesn’t offer no cosignor loans, and you are an international student who anyways has a low chance of a scholarship, why would you apply to the school in the first place?
SCHOOL SPECIFIC ADVICE – this is where it can get more contextual to Indians
- HBS: If you didn’t go to an IIT AND don’t work for a well-established global company (The likes of Bain, McKinsey, BCG, Booz, Schlumberger, Baker Hughes, Unilever, P&G etc. OR haven’t worked with a senior director/CEO at Tata – large donor to HBS, Mahindra – again, large donor to HBS plus the Chairman is an alumnus and a very active President of Harvard Club of India), your chances of making it are very low.
- Wharton: A little more lenient on the above, but strong preference to the set that fits above
Note: This year, HBS and Wharton have taken many more women into the class of 2015 than before. This does NOT mean that lesser qualified women got in versus more qualified men. BUT, the preference to admit smarter women is definitely there - so do be realistic in assessing your chances.
- Stanford: I think even Derrick Bolton is puzzled after the admissions season is over as to who all and what type of people he admitted. So no advice
- MIT Sloan: Not a good year to apply. They miscounted their class last year, got a higher yield, and hence have fewer spots available this year. Further, as yield was higher last year, they will be cautious this year and hence extend fewer offers. So, a much more competitive year at Sloan than normal + they gave away this year’s scholarship money (a decent part of it) to those deferring from last year.
Edit: Only 4 students defered to this year. However, I still maintain this year’s competitiveness - comments in the section below
Edit2: The MIT Sloan ding letter explicitly mentions that there are 324 seats in the MBA program this year. They have mentioned 324 twice, and specifically mentioned that this year ‘approx. 4,000 applicants will compete for 324 seats in the MBA program’. This seems a step down - last year they admitted 400 students. Hence, even more competitive this year
- Kellogg: Be ready for nail biting and venting your frustration at the adcom. One of the most confusing and ridiculous interview policy – only for international students, with maximum effect on Indian candidates. I wrote a long post of them earlier – worth a read
- Tuck: They have the most helpful admissions staff hands down. They make applying to the school a pleasure, even though the $250 you just plunked down to get a rejection will eventually hurt. Do note that, as per the discourse during the Delhi/bangalore information session, 50% of the class gets decided in the EA/Nov round. BUT, Jan is the biggest round for Tuck and fills almost 40-45% of the class. Hence, Jan is neither less nor more competitive - its just normal. This year EA volume was up by 20-30%, which may mean that they extended more offers in the EA round as the deposit for that is due on Jan 18th and will give a better sense to the adcom on where they stand.
- Cornell: They are really behind this year with their application migration (from paper to paperless) debacle. Hence, if you are a stickler for discipline, you will have testing moments. Their R2 deadline was 27th Nov, but they haven’t even started reading applications yet!
Nothing specific on other schools. As I got into Tuck, the only other thing I must mention is that the school is VERY VERY particular about fit, and NO, the only way to demonstrate fit/interest is NOT to visit campus. I didn’t. Researching in depth about the school, speaking with alumni (and remembering their name in the interview), how you will contribute at Tuck and as an Alumni etc. are really key statements. You will be asked all of this in your interview. I know 2 much more qualified individuals from India, both are my friends, one of them has a $200Mn firm (well his dad does) so doesn’t require scholarships from the school, is ‘pre placed’ as he will come back to run the business, and is probably a future donor to the school – he got interviewed but was rejected. When we compared notes, the one area where he was week was Why Tuck?
All the best guys! I truly hope you taste success in your endeavours in R2. I hope all of you all had a Merry Christmas (although the essays would have made it a bit ‘un’ merry I am sure) and have a terrific new year – starting with getting that admit! Cheers!