Using Recommendations to Strategically Enhance Your MBA Application

While MBA recommendation letters typically will not make or break your admissions decision, they can reinforce the personal brand you’ve presented throughout your application. We encourage you to use recommendations strategically so that they validate and expand upon key themes already introduced.

Selecting Your Recommenders

We advise selecting recommenders who can comment on your post-graduate, professional experiences and accomplishments. Recommenders should know you well and be able to provide detailed insight into working with you, which includes assessing your professional skills and personality traits. This intimate knowledge of your abilities is significantly more important than the job title of your recommender.  The one exception is if you have a senior colleague with significant influence at the school to which you are applying who would be willing to serve as a recommender.

Select recommenders that will provide a well-rounded view of working with you, though you should elect to have each provide a slightly more nuanced focus on a character trait that you exhibit and have spoken about in your application (i.e., leadership and teamwork).

Taking a Strategic Viewpoint

As mentioned, it is critical for recommendations to validate and enhance the existing application content. As such, read through your essays and make note of traits that you are highlighting for the admissions committee, then determine which recommender would best be able to write anecdotes about you exhibiting those traits. Additionally, if you see gaps in your application, you may choose to close those gaps using the recommendation letters.

Setting Your Recommenders Up for Success

Most importantly, provide each recommender with enough time to meet your request. We suggest that you allot two months between making the request and the submission date.

Provide a portfolio of information to each recommender that includes the following information:

  • School names, recommendation questions, and submission date(s)
  • Method for recommendation submission (e.g., online via link)
  • Background information and your future career goals
  • Sample recommendation letter (customized)
  • Illustrative anecdotes from your work together (customized)

The sample recommendation letter and illustrative stories that you provide should be unique for each recommender and should highlight the qualities you are wanting the recommender to expand upon. These inputs will allow you to subtly influence the recommenders’ output and will ensure that the recommendations include concrete and varied examples that reinforce your existing application content.

The timely provision of this portfolio of information will reinforce to your recommenders that you appreciate their time and are serious about your applications. It will also provide much needed direction that will allow them to allocate their time wisely in support of your efforts.  

After the recommender has submitted the recommendations, be sure to thank him/her for spending time in support of your application.

Frequently Asked Questions

I have a great relationship with my college advisor, would it be appropriate to use her as a recommender?

For entry into business school, it is best to use professional references who can speak to your work experience and skills acquired.

What if I don’t feel comfortable telling my direct supervisor that I am submitting applications to business school?

While it is preferable to have a recommendation from a direct supervisor, it may not always be an option and schools are understanding of this fact. Do attempt to have a former boss, professional colleague who is superior to you on an org chart, or someone who knows you in a more professional context write a recommendation. In some cases, this could include someone from a volunteer activity where you demonstrate teamwork and leadership skills.

How many recommendations is it appropriate to ask a recommender to write?

While this depends on how strong your relationship is with the recommender, our general rule of thumb is to ask a recommender for no more than three recommendations per round. This prevents the recommender from having to meet a burdensome number of back-to-back deadlines.

Is it necessary to get specific recommendations written for each school?

While ideally you will get your recommenders to address each recommendation topic directly, it may be necessary for him/her to write a single recommendation that addresses all the questions from your prospective schools together. Many schools have similar or shared questions for recommenders making this feasible. 

Medical School Interviews 101

The medical school interview is a critical and exciting opportunity, as the outcome will be the most influential factor in your admission success.  It is your chance to showcase your personality, drive, and commitment to a medical career as well as those characteristics that will benefit your medical school class and future patients.

Scheduling the Interview

Most medical schools have rolling admissions, so we recommend scheduling your interview as early as possible in the interview season, which runs from the fall to the spring.  Before solidifying your travel plans, you should contact nearby schools where you have applied to let them know you have an interview in the area and when your interview is scheduled.  This serves the dual purpose of letting the other school know that you are ‘in demand’ while also showcasing a strong interest in their program.

What the Interviewers are Looking for

Most medical schools will offer prospective students one or two 30-minute interviews with faculty members or students.  The interviewers are looking to assess your interpersonal traits, your commitment to and aptitude for medicine, your potential contributions to the school and your class, discuss and resolve any red flags and finally ensure that your interview is consistent with your application.

med school traits.jpg

Interview Types

The Multiple Mini Interview: While this type of interview has been used mainly in Canada, it is growing in popularity within the United States. This interview format consists of multiple “stations” through which each applicant rotates.  At each station, you are given a scenario, asked to role-play, or asked to do a team exercise.  You are provided a couple of minutes to read each exercise and prepare, then you must have a discussion with the interviewers in the room or perform the team task. 

The scenarios are designed to evaluate your values by presenting a dilemma to which you must respond.  Be sure to carefully consider the various sides of the dilemma and to address them all. Role playing exercises test your communication skills and team tasks test your communication skills and ability to work others.  Some stations may be clinically based while others are not. 

The Traditional One-on-One Interview: This interview is the most common.  Each interviewer has his/her own style of interviewing to which you should respond appropriately.  Most commonly, in an “Open File” interview, the interviewer will have access to your submission materials. However, it is important not to assume that your interviewer knows anything about you as he/she may not have had time to review your file. In a “Closed File” interview, the interviewer will have limited access to your application.  These interviews, therefore, offer a greater opportunity to drive the discussion content. 

The Group Interview: This situation involves several interviewers and interviewees.  The objective is to see how you interact with and respond to others. Be sure to listen attentively to everyone’s answers and showcase your ability to be a team player. 

The Panel Interview: Typically, the panel includes multiple interviewers with just one interviewee.

Apply Point’s Tips for Success

  • Take responsibility for the interview content, by creating and driving your own agenda. 
    • Outline the key points and experiences you would like to discuss within the interview.  Take responsibility for bringing up these points, even if they are present in your application.  To do this, review all your application materials, and highlight your most relevant stories and experiences.
    • Speak about any recent accomplishments or events not included in your application.  Continue to improve your candidacy even after you’ve submitted your application.
    • Be proactive about bringing up red flags or weaknesses in your application.  Address these head-on during the interview because they will inevitably come up within the admission committee discussions.  Rather than make excuses, talk about what you’ve learned and/or how you will combat weaknesses going forward.
  • Think about and practice telling your story aloud.  This will help you feel more comfortable connecting the dots between various aspects of your life when asked to elaborate. 
    • Give complete answers and use segues to transition to other related topics you want to discuss.  For example, if you are asked why you selected a particular internship, explain not only the why, but also include the when and the what.
    • Keep the conversation moving; don’t talk any longer than three to five minutes on a given topic.
  • Research the school where you are interviewing as well as the interviewers.
    • Provide specific reasons why the program appeals to you and practice speaking to why you would be a great fit.
    • Be conversational and demonstrate intellectual curiosity with good questions, but don’t interview the interviewer. Be sure that your questions at the interview’s conclusion showcase your interest in the school.
  • Voice your appreciation for the interview’s time and the opportunity to interview.
    • At the end of the interview, thank your interviewer, reiterate why you have a superior fit with this medical school and let him/her know that you would be honored to matriculate.
    • Send hand-written thank you notes.  The note should be short, but should include interview highlights, repeat your interest in the school, and thank the interviewer for his/her time. 

Two Additional Law Schools to Accept GRE as Alternative to LSAT

Two additional law schools, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law and Georgetown University Law Center, have joined Harvard Law School and University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law in accepting the GRE for law school admissions. Georgetown will accept the GRE score as an alternative for the LSAT, for those wishing to matriculate in 2018, while Northwestern will accept the scores for students applying to the 2019 entering class.

Both schools conducted studies to determine the ability of the GRE to predict a student’s success within law school. Northwestern’s study was performed in conjunction with ETS, the administrator for the GRE, and found the GRE to be a strong predictor of success for first year Northwestern law students. Georgetown ran an independent study analyzing over ten-years of students’ academic performance and test scores and found that the GRE scores were equal to LSAT scores as predictors of academic success within the Law School.

The four schools that have opened their admissions process to include the GRE did so in an effort to diversify the applicant pool, as well as to reflect the evolving and multi-disciplinary nature of law. “Georgetown Law is committed to attracting the best and the brightest students of all backgrounds,” said Dean William M. Treanor. “We believe this change will make the admissions process more accessible to students who have great potential to make a mark here at Georgetown Law and in successful legal careers, but who might find the LSAT to be a barrier for whatever reason.”

The GRE is offered more frequently throughout the year and in numerous locations, and is often taken by students considering other graduate level educational options. By accepting the GRE, these law schools are helping to alleviate the financial burden of taking multiple tests for students thinking about different paths. Additionally, it may help to recruit students from “non-typical” law school backgrounds, including in-demand STEM students, international students, as well as those from a wider range of socio-economic backgrounds. When Harvard Law School started the pilot GRE program, then-Dean Martha Minow said, “For many students, preparing for and taking both the GRE and the LSAT is unaffordable. All students benefit when we can diversify our community in terms of academic background, country of origin, and financial circumstances. Also, given the promise of the revolutions in biology, computer science, and engineering, law needs students with science, technology, engineering and math backgrounds.  For these students, international students, multidisciplinary scholars, and joint-degree students, the GRE is a familiar and accessible test, and using it is a great way to reach candidates not only for law school, but for tackling the issues and opportunities society will be facing.”

The ABA held a hearing in July to consider specifying what test(s) are valid for law school admissions, which would change current language requiring merely “a valid and reliable admission test.”  While this could impact the ability for schools to accept the GRE as an admissions test alternative, a decision is unlikely to come in the short term. In the meantime, it appears likely that additional law schools will follow the path of these four and include the GRE as an accepted part of the admissions process.  

While the limited number of law schools accepting the GRE might make the LSAT a safer choice for current prospective law students, the broader lessons and values that these law schools are espousing are worth considering when putting together a law school application. Applicants should consider highlighting STEM minors or academic courses, unusual career or internship experiences, or other unique qualities that might add value and interest within the school’s student body.

MBA School Selection: Important Considerations When Building Your School List

According to the 2017 AIGAC MBA Applicants Survey, 39 percent of MBA Applicants reported that their admissions consultant advised them to apply to a school they would have otherwise never considered.

At Apply Point, we work closely with our clients to create a school list that is both compatible with their interests and goals and also sound in terms of acceptance likelihood. We know we’ve succeeded when an applicant has the luxury of choice between multiple programs at the end of the admissions cycle. While there are numerous factors to consider when finalizing school selection, we believe the following three criteria are the most important.

Rankings/Prestige

While we discourage clients from judging schools on rankings alone, US News & World Report’s list of Best Business Schools, for example, is still important to consider when gaining an in-depth understanding of how potential employers will view your investment. Many rankings are also based on algorithms that incorporate various factors of interest to students such as quality assessments, placement success, and student selectivity.

Geography/Network

The second, and perhaps somewhat surprising aspect to consider when putting together a school list is geography. Place will play a crucial role in your ability to network. Thus, we often encourage students who know they want to end up in a certain location to consider the top MBA programs in that city, or within the geographic region. Similarly, if your goals are related to a certain industry, it can be invaluable to attend a school near one of the industry’s hubs.

Career Placement

The last, but perhaps most critical component, is to develop a thorough understanding of which companies are recruiting and hiring employees from the MBA programs you are interested in. We suggest prospective students gain a thorough knowledge of the information contained in each school’s career placement report and also engage with the school’s counselors in the career center to learn more. It can also be helpful to look for student clubs or associations within a business school relevant to your goals (e.g., Finance Club, Luxury Goods Club, Marketing Club), as they will often host events connecting potential employers with interested students, as well as providing other resources.

During the school selection period of the application process, we encourage prospective students to keep an open mind and fully explore the many options that exist. Speaking with professors, career placement professionals, current students, alumni, and admissions directors at different programs is a wonderful way to start.  Your personal MBA rankings may not look exactly like those in US News and World Report or Financial Times. And that is just fine.

Prospective Law Students: The Pros and Cons of Submitting an Early Decision Application

At Apply Point, we often receive questions from prospective students on the utility of applying to a law school through Early Decision (ED) or Early Action (EA). ED is a binding agreement between the law school and a student. In this agreement, a student agrees not to submit ED applications to other programs and, in the case of an acceptance, must withdraw any outstanding applications or not attend law school that year. Conversely, EA or non-binding early programs, do not require a commitment from the applicant, but do provide an accelerated timeline for the receipt of a decision. Before you finalize your application game plan, it is important to consider the pros and cons of ED, a tempting option, as your likelihood of acceptance can be significantly higher.

So, what are the advantages of Early Decision?

Because ED is a yield protection round (everyone admitted must attend), admissions directors can be more forgiving of slight weaknesses. It must be noted, however, that the typical acceptance rate bump will not likely hold true for programs that offer generous scholarships along with binding acceptance, such as the George Washington University Law School’s Binding Presidential Merit Scholarship Program or the Emory University Law School’s Merit Scholarship.

Additionally, ED applicants often receive notification of their acceptance or rejection early, which allows them to continue in the application process with other schools. Students who are not accepted or rejected, early, move into the wider pool of applicants.

and the disadvantages?

While the yield protection aspect of ED is advantageous to applicants when it comes to admissions likelihood, in most cases, applicants are at a disadvantage when being considered for merit-based scholarships. The school simply doesn’t have to do anything to sweeten the deal when the decision is binding. It is also important to note that, on Yale Law’s ‘Ask Asha’ Blog, the Assistant Director of Admissions noted that she considers ED commitments made at other schools. So, students who may have received an acceptance from Yale will not have the opportunity for consideration after applying ED to a different program.

Apply Points’ Take:

We generally do not recommend applying to a law school ED unless an applicant is sure they would attend, regardless of merit-based aid or other opportunities.

 

The GMAT V. The GRE: Which Test is Best for You?

For the past two years, respondents to the AIGAC MBA Applicant Survey have reported that the standardized test is the most challenging component of the MBA application. While there is no way to completely defray the stress associated with the GMAT or GRE (the top 50 business schools accept both), it is helpful to think critically about which one will provide you the best opportunity for success.

At Apply Point, we generally make the following recommendations:

You might prefer the GMAT if:

  • Your strengths are quantitative, analytical
  • You are adept at interpreting data presented in charts, tables, and text to solve problems
  • You know that you want to attend an MBA, or business-related program, such as a MS Finance.

You might prefer the GRE if:

  • Your strengths are verbal, writing
  • You want to keep your graduate school options open. The GRE is accepted at most graduate programs, including a couple of law schools.

In Kaplan’s 2016 Survey of Business School Admissions Officers, 26 percent of admissions officers reported that those submitting a GMAT score have an admissions advantage over those who submit a GRE score. However, 73 percent said that neither exam has an advantage. In 2014, Harvard Business School’s Admission Director shared that the school looks carefully at the score components in combination with the student’s transcript and resume. As such, prospective students should use the test strategically to fill in any “gaps” or answer open questions that may stem from their transcript and/or work experience. For example, an applicant with an undergraduate degree and work experience in finance may need to bolster their application with strong verbal scores, while a communications major will want to demonstrate his/her ability to handle the rigors of the quantitative coursework in the MBA by providing a strong quantitative score on the GMAT/GRE.

Above all, an applicant should take the test they feel most comfortable with and are most likely to succeed on. Taking a diagnostic exam of each is a good place to start.

The Medical School Application’s Work and Activities Section: Key Tips to Consider Before You Begin Drafting

Crafting a compelling Work and Activities Section is an important priority for any medical school applicant. It will allow you provide depth on your most meaningful experiences and communicate how a particular research position, teaching opportunity, or clinical exposure inspired your interest in the study of medicine. It will also give you the chance to show through anecdotes such characteristics as intellectual curiosity, adaptability, empathy, as well as your aptitude in critical and creative thinking, or your ability to thrive in a collaborative environment.   

The AMCAS application allows for a total of 15 entries, with three designated as “most meaningful.”  While all of the entries allow for a 700-character (including spaces) description of the activity, the three most meaningful entries include an additional requirement of 1,325 characters (including spaces) where you can provide further context on the perspective you gained and lessons you learned.

Key tips to consider before you begin drafting:

·       Take advantage of all 15 entries, considering the various experiences you have had that influenced your decision to apply to medical school. To start, brainstorm and write them all down in chronological order, limiting yourself to college or post-graduate experiences. This section is purposely broad and can include activities from a multitude of categories (listed below). If you find that you do not have 15, carefully consider even one-day community service events that had a particular impact on you. Keep in mind that while not all experiences will be equally meaningful, several experiences are probably still worth sharing if they influenced your path in some way.

·       After brainstorming all the potential activities, make note of the 15 most relevant, making sure to span a diverse array of categories. Pay particular attention, however, to clinical activities, research, and community service.

·       When selecting your three most meaningful experiences, highlight first those that demonstrate a commitment to medicine and service to others. After that, consider work/activities that are unique and, therefore, will help differentiate you to the admissions committee.

·       When you describe your work/activities, be sure to clearly articulate what you did and what the outcome(s) of your participation included. In your descriptions, highlight also the qualities that you used or developed through your involvement, noting your academic/intellectual growth, maturity, sound judgment, and compassion, as well as ability interact well with others. It is also important to include, where possible, the impact of the activity on your decision to apply to medical school.

·       After writing your descriptions, read them aloud, and edit. Confirm that you are within the allotted number of characters. Such a stringent character limitation emphasizes the importance of tight, clear language and perfect grammar.

The Work and Activities section gives the medical school admissions committee a summary of all those experiences that ultimately inspired your interest in and commitment to a rigorous, yet rewarding career path. Thus, it is vital to ensure each word moves your candidacy forward in a compelling way.

MBA Application Submission: Is There an Optimal Deadline?

When considering the most beneficial timing for your MBA application submission, keep in mind your school preferences, financial need, and the amount of time you can devote to crafting the most compelling application. We’ve examined the pros and cons of the various admission rounds and provided the U.S. News and World Report’s Top 15 ranked schools and their application deadlines below.

Rolling Admissions: Only a few top-tier MBA programs offer rolling admissions, including Columbia University and UCLA. This means they provide admittance decisions to students as the admission committee reviews the application, rather than sending out a batch of decisions on a pre-determined date.

Apply Point Recommendation: Prospective students interested in a school with rolling admissions should submit their application as early as possible. Seats in the incoming class are continuously being filled.  However, it is critical to ensure that you have taken the necessary time to develop the most compelling content possible. Rushing it could result in a lower quality application.

Early Action / Decision: While some programs offer non-binding Early Action application rounds, such as Dartmouth, other schools such as Columbia and Duke offer a binding early application round. The binding programs will ask a prospective student, upon acceptance, to withdraw any outstanding applications, and submit a commitment letter to the school.

If a prospective student is fully committed to attending a particular MBA program, regardless of outside opportunities, financial or otherwise, it can be extremely beneficial to apply in the early decision round.  This is because admissions likelihood is significantly higher. Schools look favorably on commitments to their program, which also help to increase a school’s yield.

It is important to remember that both binding and non-binding early applications are due at the beginning of the admissions cycle. Thus, prospective students will need to plan accordingly to finalize their applications for submission. Additionally, for binding early decision programs, merit-based scholarships are less likely.

Apply Point Recommendation: We generally recommend our prospective students keep their options open by applying in a first or second round rather than taking advantage of the binding early decision programs. But, if the prospective student is 100 percent committed to attending a particular program for personal or professional reasons, and they are comfortable forgoing any scholarship money, the binding early decision may be a good match.  

First Round / Second Round: These two rounds, in general, are created equal. Submission by a prospective student within either of these rounds will allow an applicant to be considered for merit-based financial assistance. Additionally, a good proportion of the incoming class seats are still available.

Apply Point Recommendation: If a prospective student is ready to submit the best version of his/her application prior to the first-round deadline, we would recommend submitting in the first round. If this isn’t the case, we will always counsel applicants to take additional time to submit a stronger application.

Third Round: This is usually the last round prior to the close of the admissions period. It is generally the most competitive round as there are fewer seats available. Depending upon the school, this round may also leave students unavailable for consideration for merit-based financial awards.

Apply Point Recommendation: There are very few cases where we would recommend applying at this point in the admissions cycle. It puts the applicant at a disadvantage. However, if the prospective student is unable to submit in rounds one or two, they have a very compelling application, and they have no need for financial support, they may still be successful.

Every prospective student has a unique situation that should be considered when determining what round to put forth his/her application to an MBA program. Thus, advance planning and an awareness of all the deadline options is crucial when crafting a winning application strategy.

Prospective Law School Students: Do You Need a Break?

Prospective law students often wonder if they should take time off between finishing their undergraduate work and applying to law school. While there is no one size fits all answer, the trend shows that many law schools are expecting and even rewarding students who take at least a brief interlude prior to starting school. Within the class of 2019, the majority of matriculants among the most competitive law schools did report a gap prior to starting law school; among the top ten ranked law schools by U.S. News and World Report, the percentages of incoming classes showed that between 60 and 80 percent of incoming students took at least one year off. Harvard and Yale were among the highest percentages at 80 and 82 percent respectively.

While, it isn’t necessary for all students to take a gap year, it can be a beneficial use of time for the following types of applicants:

-        Those with a general interest in the study of law, but without experience in the day-to-day operations of a law firm and/or those who do not yet feel comfortable selecting a career path within the legal industry

-        Those who have a passion they would like to pursue, who can spend some time in the field to confirm law school is the right next step to help them achieve their goals

-        Those who need to enhance the competitiveness of their application with additional experiences and insight into their future goals

-        Those who may benefit from a year of earnings prior to taking on the financial burden of law school

-        Those interested in working at a firm post- law school, as prior work experience can be looked upon quite favorably by hiring managers

For prospective students who do wish to take a gap year, there are many jobs and activities that may improve their resume, provide clarity, and ultimately bolster their candidacy in the application process. We’ve listed a few ideas below:

-        Management consulting/investment banking: If a future applicant has a passion for business and hope to work in corporate law, they can increase their understanding of the work by spending time at a consulting or investment banking group.

-        Policy analysis/research: With an interest in constitutional or immigration law, working directly in this space can provide them experience with relevant stakeholders, as well as the eventual ability to speak to their future goals more specifically within their law school application. It may also help them more strategically select law school programs that will best position them to do the work they love.

-        Non-profit work: If they have identified an interest in public interest law or just in gaining professional skills quickly, working for a non-profit organization could be a sound next step. Typically, nonprofits have lean workforces and, as a result, even recent college graduates are asked to work outside their comfort zone to acquire new skills. Further, it is important to note that some organizations like Teach for America have relationships and scholarship programs with select law schools.

-        Paralegal/legal assistant/legal administrator: For those interested in learning more about working within a law firm, this type of experience will broaden a candidate’s understanding of the day-to-day life of a lawyer and will also likely show meaningful commitment to both law schools and future legal recruiters.

While it isn’t necessary to take a gap-year between undergraduate and law school, if you do, it is of vital importance to spend your time thoughtfully and productively.  It may seem appealing, in those months after college, to solely focus on LSAT and application preparations.  But remember, admissions committees will be looking very closely. Meaningful and productive work will help you to construct a narrative that will bolster your story as an applicant and positively contribute to the dynamic of your law school class.  

MBA School Selection: What are the Alumni Saying?

While there are many considerations that go into forming a comprehensive list of well-fitting, potential schools—including prestige and career placement—one that can be easily overlooked is the “alumni factor.”  In the 2017 AIGAC MBA Applicant Survey, 45 percent of respondents listed ‘access to a strong network’ as a factor in applying to an MBA program this year, though just 32 percent of respondents listed the alumni network as the factor with the most influence on their specific school choice[i]. It is important to note that, while you are matriculated at a school for two years, the strength of an institution’s alumni commitment can have a long-lasting impact on your professional life. Alumni can provide critical information, advice, and access to industries and employers long after graduation day. Thus, we have isolated a couple of rankings that provide a more in-depth view of the alumni network experience and perspective.

Alumni Networks. The Economist surveys current and recently graduated MBAs in order to create an amalgamated “potential to network” score. This includes an equal weighting of the ratio of MBA alumni to current full-time MBA students, number of overseas alumni chapters, and a student rating of alumni network effectiveness. This score comprises ten percent of their overall MBA ranking[ii].

Alumni Recommendations. The Financial Times surveys MBAs three years post-graduation and asks them to select three MBA programs that they would recruit from[iii]. While this component comprises only two percent of their overall ranking, we feel that looking specifically at this variable can provide valuable insight into how recent MBA graduates view their programs as well as the programs attended by their peers in terms of workforce readiness.

While some schools are named on both lists (Insead, UC Berkeley, Northwestern, NYU, Harvard, London Business School, and University of Chicago), there is some variation between the two lists. For potential MBA applicants, careful consideration of the strength of the alumni network from the point of view of both current students as well as recent alumni may help you to create a broader, yet strategic list of prospective schools for visiting and exploring.

Key considerations when determining if an alumni network may be beneficial for you:

  1. The size and activity-level of the organization overall, but also how active the chapters are in regions/cities where you are interested in living post-graduation
  2. The number of alumni working at employers you are interested in, as well as in industries that you are pursuing
  3. The relationship between the school and alumni. For example, the school’s career-services support for alumni
  4. The number of alumni who continue to participate in events over time

Researching a school’s alumni network online, looking beneath overall rankings, reviewing LinkedIn groups and members, and reaching out to a school’s alumni group directly can provide you with valuable information that may serve you well as you start to narrow down your list of prospective schools.


[i] http://aigac.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/2017-aigac-presentation-final-jun-2017.pdf

[ii] http://www.economist.com/whichmba/full-time-mba-ranking

[iii] http://rankings.ft.com/businessschoolrankings/global-mba-ranking-2017

Set Yourself Apart with a Compelling Medical School Personal Statement

     The medical school personal statement presents a critical opportunity for you to bring your voice to the admissions committee and provide them with deeper insight into how your most meaningful experiences have inspired your commitment to the study of medicine. Part memoir and part strategic communication, the brainstorming and drafting aspects of the personal statement process can be as personally fulfilling as they are productive. We can’t wait to help you get started.

Brainstorming

·       Start with a white board or a blank notepad and think about your key experiences to date. Don’t limit yourself to strictly “medically related” experiences. Consider all those parts of your life that have been formative to your personality and development -- college courses, meaningful conversations with professors or mentors, sports, clubs, books or research are all great topics at this juncture. Write them down including any details that may eventually bring complexity, sophistication, and nuance to your story.

·       In looking at your list, highlight your top two or three formative experiences. Keep in mind that, ideally, these experiences should be both recent and unique. You want to demonstrate maturity as you elaborate on your decision to apply to medical school. While a childhood dream is sweet, the perspective you’ve gained as an adult is far more meaningful to the admissions committee.

·       Finally, write down your personal mission statement. Why are you interested in pursuing medical school? What draws you to this career? Make this as specific as possible and avoid clichés. Ask yourself, is it clear from my mission statement how medical school, rather than another graduate program is necessary for me to achieve my goal?  

Organize and write

·       Think through the best structure for organizing your formative experiences and future goals and create an outline. In looking through your most formative experiences, what are the common threads? Are there qualities that clearly come across in each of the stories? How are these linked to your future as a medical school student? Once you go through this exercise, it will be easier to identify the key themes and stories you will use to ‘anchor’ the narrative. You want to be sure to keep your statement cohesive and focused throughout.

·       Create the first draft by filling in your outline, which will entail showing the reader through specific anecdote and story why you want to go to medical school as well the skills and traits you possess that will allow you to succeed there. Remember, you want to avoid making general statements and claims about your skills and abilities. Don’t tell them, show them.

Read, revise, step-away and repeat

·       Read your personal statement aloud. How does it sound? Where did you find yourself stumbling on the words? Smooth those sections out so they read clearly. Give yourself a break, and then follow this practice again. We also suggest seeking out seasoned editors who can review your work.  

·       Does your statement present the best version of you? Is “your voice” present? Would a reader be able to pick up on the fact that you’re intellectually curious…a critical and creative thinker…an individual who can thrive in collaborative environments and meaningfully connect and empathize with those around you, who can think under pressure, who has an ability and eventual desire to innovate and lead in an ever-evolving field? If not, refine your personal stories to shine light on at least some of those aspects of your personality that will be relevant to medical school.

Clean up and finalize

·       Do a final review of your essay for grammatical or spelling errors.

·       For AMCAS submissions, you are given only 5300 characters (including spaces) to tell your story. Be aware of this restriction as you embark on the editing process.

Unconventional Applicants to MBA Programs Must Consider Abilities in Innovation, Leadership, and Teamwork

To be tardy to Professor Barton Hamilton’s Managerial Economics class at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis means you will be serenading your fellow classmates with song.  One could choose as simple a tune as ‘Happy Birthday’ or, for alumni David Logan, former tenor at the Des Moines Metro Opera, ‘Nessun Dorma’ from Puccini’s Turandot, may be the more compelling crowd-pleaser.   

While unlikely Logan encountered stage fright if ever a few moments late to Hamilton’s class, students from seemingly unconventional backgrounds seeking their MBA’s, like Logan, often face uncertainty when trying to set themselves apart in the MBA application process. Business schools pride themselves on building diverse classes with students coming from a wide array of industries and educational backgrounds, but exactly how should the musician, teacher, graphic designer, and architect translate their experiences and abilities for admissions committees that employ a specific set of criteria when gauging prospective students’ potential? The key is to consider one’s ability to innovate, to lead, and to learn from and inspire fellow teammates.

Innovation: When considering your ability to innovate, think about meaningful, post-baccalaureate professional experiences when you employed critical thinking to introduce change, to develop imaginative solutions, and/or to evaluate risk. You don’t have to be a patent holder, tech entrepreneur, or engineer to capitalize on your ability to innovate in your business school application.  You could have done something as simple as made small, yet impactful improvements to a project management tool or have taken a novel approach in prospecting new clients.  Just be sure to show admissions committees your potential through story, rather than relying on claims of your success.  Specific anecdotes are always far more memorable than general statements about your beliefs or achievements.  

Leadership: Don’t worry if you haven’t yet managed a team on a regular basis.  When it comes to articulating your leadership potential, think about meaningful projects when you exercised a leadership role, which can show the reader your abilities in a convincing and memorable way.  What were the group dynamics?  What about the successes, failures, and lessons learned from the project? Can you think about a specific example when you demonstrated initiative?  What caused you to initiate certain actions and what were the results? What about a time that you provided feedback and a positive outcome resulted? 

Teamwork: Long before you take your first course, the student affairs team at the business school you choose will be dissecting your next incoming class in order to construct small study groups of four or five students who ideally will complement one another’s strengths, skill-sets, and experiences. Once you matriculate, you will have no choice, but to spend many sleepless nights with this group completing core curriculum projects. As your ability to thrive in a team setting is vital, both in business school and beyond, it is important to think about meaningful experiences you can incorporate into your application, which will show the reader a time when you translated a strategy into action for your team, encountered a significant obstacle in getting people to take action, or did something unexpected to build trust among team members. 

On the day Logan did rush into class a few moments too late, unsuspecting classmates experienced one of the greatest joys of business school: observing and learning from one another’s unique gifts in an environment committed to creative thinking and camaraderie.

Top Ten Things To Consider When Applying To An EMBA Program Part II: The Interview, Work Experience, and Essays

Executive MBA programs have never been looking for just good students.  They are trying to find leaders who will continue their positive trajectory of success after the program is complete. They are striving to build a class comprised of students with a diverse variety of talents, qualities, attitudes and backgrounds. 

So, what does this mean for your application?  Let’s examine each piece of the puzzle.

Interview

 The interview is arguably one of the most important parts of the business school application.  Not only must you look an admissions officer in the eye to discuss the contents of the paper application you’ve been refining for months, but you must also convince them of your strong communication abilities and the value you will bring into the classroom. 

--Prepare:

·      Go through commonly asked interview questions and practice your responses.  Taking it a step further by setting up mock interviews with admissions consultants or colleagues is also helpful.  A mock interview can stimulate the real thing because you will be forced to think on your feet and respond under pressure.

·      Most likely, one of the first questions is going to be open-ended.  Develop a three-minute elevator pitch that describes your background, strengths and professional story that doesn’t ‘read’ your resume.  

--Handle Weaknesses and Failures Effectively:

·      When discussing weaknesses, be honest and focus on skills instead of personality traits.  This is crucial as personality traits are usually considered permanent, while skills can be refined and improved.  

·      Questions regarding failure can be unpleasant, but they are inevitable.  The key is to emphasize what you learned from the failure and how you have become a more insightful leader because of these lessons.

--Be Precise:

·      Be specific about why business school is the perfect intersection of where you have been and where you want to go.  It is absolutely vital to be precise, not only when responding to questions regarding your short and long-term career goals, but also when responding to questions regarding the specific program to which you are applying.  Do extensive research by talking to students and members of the faculty.  Visit the school, sit-in on classes and, on interview day, come with questions that show your high level of interest in the program.

·      When asked questions about specific instances when you made an impact, it is important to give context by explaining the situation.  Then, you will be able to discuss the actions you took, which led to the end result.  Think of these responses as a three-step process – Situation, Action, Result.  

Work Experience and Scope of Professional Responsibilities

The quality and quantity of an applicant’s work experience is key when determining top management potential, so a polished resume is an absolute must.  Incoming EMBA students have an average of 13 years of post-baccalaureate work experience, with an average of 8 in a management role.

--Construct a powerful, yet precise resume:

·      Provide hard numbers that exhibit the results you’ve achieved and the impact you’ve made.  Don’t rely on a job description to communicate the value you’ve created, especially in the areas of leadership, innovation and teamwork.

·      Show your progression in responsibility and ensure your career goals are achievable in light of your background.  Emphasize the experiences that are in-line with your career goals and de-emphasize those that are not.

·      Business schools want diversity in work experience.  Don’t get discouraged if you are in the non-profit or creative sectors.  Just be sure to exhibit, from past experiences, your leadership skills and business potential.

Essays:

Another application staple, the essays, are often cited by admissions directors to be the most important part of the application.  They play a critical role in painting a picture of your potential by telling your personal and professional story and setting the stage for the other application components.  A well-written essay examines the value you can bring in terms of leadership, innovation and teamwork, your fit with a particular program, and how you stand out overall.

--Show, don’t tell:

One of the most important things to remember, when composing your essays, is the importance of specifics when painting a compelling picture for the reader.  Show the reader your leadership and innovation potential by describing, in depth, a situation, where they can see for themselves.  Your description should be thorough enough that you won’t have to state the obvious.  

--Don’t be afraid to discuss failure: 

Failure and weaknesses make for compelling applicants because it communicates sincerity and shows the admissions committee how you learn from your mistakes.  It is also a good idea to connect your development opportunities with the schools strengths.  How can the program you are applying to help you refine these particular areas of weakness?             

The application process may seem daunting, but the rigorous admissions standards applied will lead to an unparalleled EMBA experience, a classroom where each seat is taken by a talented leader who is more than merely a test score and a transcript.

What’s In It For Them?

When Evaluating MBA Program Formats, Take A Closer Look at the Incentives Driving Business Schools

At that last information session you attended, the Associate Director of Admissions gave an impressive presentation and sold you on the idea of pursuing your MBA part-time.  Not only would you be able to keep your job to attend classes at night, at the end of three years, you would also have a newly minted degree along with additional years of full-time work experience and maybe even another promotion.  As the seemingly endless possibilities raced through your mind, the presenter also claimed you would get the same quality of education as the full-timers complete with the same professors and career placement opportunities.  A part-time MBA seemed like the obvious choice.

The advantage you may gain by continuing on a steady career trajectory while also working towards an MBA, may be worth more than you could have ever imagined. However, before you make the final decision on whether or not to pursue a full-time, part-time, or executive MBA, you must evaluate the real advantages and disadvantages of each format.  Start by looking at the incentives driving business schools.

The Full-Time MBA and Rankings:

Full-time MBA programs in the U.S. are driven by rankings.  Business schools are incentivized to do everything they can to land the top slots in the Business Week and U.S. News and World Report rankings, which are released annually in March and November.  Rankings systems that evaluate full time programs have the most time intensive methodologies that incorporate a number of quantitative factors, so schools have a lot to be accountable for.   Factors including the average GMAT score, GPA of incoming classes, student evaluations of the school, and the percentage of graduates employed within three months of graduation are evaluated.  So what does this mean for you as a prospective applicant to a full-time program?  It means that because business schools devote a lot of time and attention to upholding competitive admissions standards along with a highly qualified career placement staff, you will be entering a full-time class that is far more diverse and competitive than its part-time or executive counterparts.  Your full-time experience will also be complete with a plethora of resources devoted to helping you find an internship and job post-MBA.  Applicants who apply to full-time programs come from all around the world and those who are accepted meet stringent admissions standards that require competitive GMAT scores and GPAs, an impressive professional track record and an ability to set themselves apart and articulate their short and long term goals throughout their essays and interviews.  As a full-time admit, you may also qualify for generous merit-based scholarships, that is if the schools want you and believe you will contribute favorably to their class and rankings placement. 

The Part-Time/Executive MBA Programs and Revenue:

Merit based scholarships are not available in part-time or executive programs.  This is because part-time and executive MBA programs are huge revenue-generators, rather than rankings generators, for the schools.  Admissions directors are incentivized to fill their classes even if it means compromising the same admissions standards applied to their full-time applicants and/or painting a rosier picture to prospective students regarding the similarities between the full-time and part-time experience.  It is important to note that part-time and executive rankings are based on subjective data, so admissions statistics don’t play an important role.  When it comes to part-time and executive admissions standards, it is also important to note that the bar is set lower simply because part-time and executive applicants are a fairly self-selecting group.  They are typically only those who are living and working in the city where the MBA program is based (there are some exceptions for EMBA programs).  So what does this mean for you as a prospective applicant to a part-time or executive program?  It means admissions will be less competitive, but you will still be able to get a degree from a prestigious business school, one you may not have been granted access to if you applied to their full-time program; You will have a less diverse class with far fewer international classmates than if you were to enroll in the full-time program; You won’t qualify for any scholarships, but you won’t forgo the opportunity cost of quitting your job for two years; In their sales pitch, schools may say you will be taught by the same faculty members as the full-time program, but usually this isn’t entirely the case; Schools may also say you will have access to the same career placement resources, but this is usually never the case.  You may not even need career placement assistance, especially if you just want to progress at your current company.  However, if you want to switch careers entirely, a full-time program will be a better bet for you.

Just like the contrasting rankings methodologies employed for full-time and part-time programs, the differences between the two MBA formats are stark.  Don’t let any sales pitch convince you otherwise.  Take the time to get the right information to help you make the best decision for your future.

When Deciding Where To Apply to Med School, Look Behind The Numbers

Learn Interesting Trends in the Medical Community. Consider Your Goals.

When deciding where to apply to medical school, there are numerous things to evaluate.  You will want to look at everything from admit statistics and geography to teaching style and grading systems.  But, what about your short and long term goals?  How important are they when it comes to choosing a medical school?  While it is far too early to get your heart set on a specific specialty, you may want to start thinking broadly about what you want to do long-term.  Are you set on primary care, interested in surgery, or committed to having a career in research?  Assessing your interests now is significant because, for instance, you won’t want to go to a school with a research requirement if you’re not interested in doing any. 

It is also important to dig deep and look behind the numbers schools report, so you know exactly what’s going on out there.  This is especially important when it comes to primary care.  If you’re interested in primary care, it is easy to just peruse the US News & World Report’s Primary Care Rankings and begin formulating a list of schools to which you could apply. However, the percentages of students going into primary care, that these schools report, are often aspirational to say the least.  Schools, such as the University of North Carolina, ranked 1st in the US News & World Report Primary Care Rankings, are finding that more than half of those who claim primary care actually end up specializing in something else. 

“About 10 years ago, our legislature passed a bill saying medical schools have to put 50 percent of people into primary care,” said Robert Gwyther, M.D. who advises students at UNC-Chapel Hill. “They count internal medicine and pediatrics and obstetrics as primary care, and it’s still a challenge for UNC to get the 50 percent.”

“And we know that 95 percent of the interns will end up practicing in a specialty,” he said.

Schools like UNC continue to combat primary care’s shortage of physicians, but it has proven to be a difficult task.  When Duke University School of Medicine experimented with what the school calls a “primary care leadership track,” several years ago, only three students out of Duke’s 102 graduates chose family-medicine residencies.  More recently, the Frank N. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University, opened with a very specific mission: mint new doctors who want to go into primary care practice.  Bruce Koeppen, Quinnipiac’s Dean, says it’s important to admit the right students to the program, so he will interview 400 applicants for 60 spots.  He will be looking more closely at women, individuals coming to medicine as a second career, those who are first in their families to go to college and students who have come from medically underserved areas, as these are the individuals more likely to go into primary care. 

Time will tell whether or not Quinnipiac will succeed.  And time will tell whether you decide to pursue primary care, a highly sought-after specialty or a career in research.  In the meantime, arm yourself with knowledge, look behind the numbers and start to formulate a vision for your future.  It will make the process of choosing where to attend medical school that much more meaningful.

Yield Protection: Know What You’re Up Against and Use It To Your Advantage

Colleges and graduate programs will do whatever it takes to protect their yield and won’t spare any expense.  Admit weekends will wine and dine prospective students with dinners at faculty clubs, organized social events and panel presentations featuring the school’s best and brightest alumni, faculty and current students.  Admissions departments will send gifts to admitted students and, in some cases, like that at a women’s college in Decatur, Georgia, school officials may even mail out a booklet containing scented pages to prospective students.  Admits of Agnes Scott College could smell pine while viewing a photograph of campus trees and a few pages later, got a whiff of freshly mowed grass while looking at an aerial shot of the Quad. 

Admissions directors and marketing managers will jump through all kinds of hoops to ensure admitted applicants matriculate as students in the next class.  But, why?  What are their incentives?  As long as programs get a full class eventually, why should it matter?  The answer is that it all comes down to rankings, as a school’s yield percentage is a significant player in the race for the top slots.     

Besides these obvious activities to woo admits, schools are also guilty of manipulating the admissions process, a practice commonly referred to as ‘yield protection.’  Some programs will waitlist average applicants so admissions directors can see who is interested enough to fight their way in.  Other programs will waitlist higher than average applicants if they believe these applicants would receive interview and admissions offers at more elite institutions.

As an applicant, instead of getting frustrated by these practices, use them to your advantage in the application process.  Whether you are applying to college, medical, law or business school, or other graduate programs within the arts and sciences, don’t forget the following tips:

Make Absolutely Sure Admissions Directors at Your Top Choices Know Their Program Is Your First Choice: Attend forums and recruiting events where you can introduce yourself to deans and admissions directors and reiterate how excited you would be if admitted to their institution. 

Put It In Writing: After events, send hand-written thank you notes to everyone you spoke with and, of course, drop in a line about your strong desire to attend if admitted.

Be Proactive: Don’t just attend scheduled events.  Arrange school visits through the admissions office and set up one-on-one appointments with various faculty members, deans, admissions directors and current students.  This not only shows your strong interest in their school, but this will also benefit you during the interview when you will be able to speak in-depth about the school’s offerings.

If You Are Waitlisted, Take Action: Visit the school if you haven’t already, send a letter with updates on your candidacy with a particular emphasis on how well you would fit in at your first choice school, send an additional recommendation letter and keep communication open.  You may think it could be annoying, but occasionally following up with admissions committees is a good way to reiterate interest and keep at the top of their minds.   

During a time of manipulative yield protection activities and marketing tactics that include scented brochures, you must arm yourself with the knowledge of this game and use it to your advantage.  In a few years, when you are studying on the quad of the reach school where you were initially waitlisted, the smell of that freshly mowed grass will be that much sweeter.

In Medical School Admissions, Assessing Your Ability To Compete In The Classroom Is Just The Beginning

Since its last major overhaul in 1992, the MCAT has included four sections meant to examine a test taker’s ability in verbal reasoning, biological sciences, physical sciences and writing.  After completing the multiple-choice questions and composing writing samples, medical school applicants hope for the best.  They know that, while this isn’t the only piece of the application puzzle, if they perform well, they are much more likely to be admitted to medical school.  They also assume that a high score means they will do well in the various classroom and clinical challenges awaiting them.  After further examination, however, medical educators and physicians have realized the current MCAT isn’t enough.   They believe that critical evaluative factors, currently left out, will be a much better predictor of a test taker’s effectiveness as a future physician.  As a result, new sections in the 2015 MCAT will stress the psychological and social dimensions of medicine as medical schools want more well-rounded applicants from a variety of backgrounds. 

And the MCAT is not all.  In an age when residency programs have been urged to pay closer attention to resident competencies in interpersonal communication and professional behavior, it is no surprise that medical school admissions committees are looking more closely at these qualities as well. “Future professionals need to have clinical skills and they need the science,” said Andy Ellner, co-director of the Harvard Center for Primary Care. “But they also need to understand organizations, how to work in teams, be leaders, manage people. They need to think about complex systems and make them work more effectively.”  

But how do you best express clinical intuition, communication skills and bedside manner in the personal statement, meaningful experiences, supplemental essays and interviews? Crucial to consider, your soft skills and how you present them could mean the difference between an acceptance letter and a denial notice.

Be Specific: Think back to some of those unforgettable moments you had in your undergraduate studies.  Why were they so memorable?  Was there a time you will always remember that put you on the path to pursue medicine?  As long as you are not applying to medical school just to please your parents, you are sure to have a compelling collection of memories you can mold into words.  Brainstorming is the first step and there are not limits at this stage.  Take the time to recall all the details.  You will soon see that the details of a situation and the descriptive insights you developed as a result is what is going to allow the admissions director to get to know the person behind file #38461.  Use colors, emotions, smells and reactions to bring the reader in, right at the moment you learned some of the most important lessons of your life.  

Failures and Weaknesses are OK to discuss: It is in times of failure you learn the most, so don’t be afraid to discuss weaknesses or failures in the application.  Admissions directors really want compelling applicants, rather than perfect ones and, most of all, they want to see that you are human and self-reflective.  The important thing to remember when handling weaknesses or failures is that it is a four-step process.  First, discuss the failure or weakness.  Second, address the result of that failure, ideally a particular scenario in which you can provide specifics.  Third, talk about steps you are taking to improve and finally, talk about the results of your improvement action plan.  What are the positives that have resulted from your ability to recognize a weakness and work towards a better solution? 

Intellectually Curious:  Most likely, at this stage of your medical education, you have not achieved grand things on the research bench or saved many lives in the developing world.  And that’s ok.  What’s important are your insights about what you observe, your intellectual curiosity and your willingness to get involved and learn as much as you possibly can, even if it means unpleasant circumstances or difficult patients. In every research endeavor or clinical experience, take notes.  What questions do you have at this moment?  Why did shadowing that particular physician have an impact on you?  What about this research process leaves you bewildered?  Why?  It will be much easier to compose entries demonstrating intellectual curiosity if you can refer back to the specifics of what you were curious about.

Go Beyond Your Research and Clinical Experiences, But Remember What They’re Looking For:  While clinical and research experiences are certainly important to discuss in your application, don’t limit yourself.  Just remember the qualities admissions directors are looking for, transferrable skill-sets that will be applicable when you are a resident and practicing physician.  For example, there are probably numerous ways to discuss your ability to emotionally connect with and influence others in your various teaching, community service and employment experiences.  Through these kinds of examples, you will also be able to show you are a well-rounded student who has been able to expand her perspective in a variety of areas.    

Social Media: You may assume your first impression to an admissions officer will be contained entirely in the memorable and polished application package you’ve been refining for months.  However, in the age of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, this just isn’t the case. Therefore, it is important to be cautious, not only about the material you post online through social networking sites, but also about the information posted about you or others with the same name. A profile that lacks solid judgment may be looked down upon and create a disadvantage for you in the medical school application process. However, a well-written profile highlighting personal and professional achievements could help you stand out from the crowd.

If attending physicians are looking for more from their residents and patients are looking for more from their doctors, experts have decided that one of the first places to go, for a possible solution, is medical school admissions.  Applicants have always been more than test score and a transcript but now, more than ever, an applicant’s interpersonal ability and professionalism are moving closer to center stage.

Be Aware Of Biases, Strengthen Your Candidacy

At the top graduate programs, creating an inclusive and diverse student community ranks highly among other key strategic initiatives.  To achieve their short- and long-term diversity goals, Universities host events ranging from diversity weekends and leadership panels to professional networking events and women’s breakfast forums.  But, are there barriers to a truly diverse applicant pool the schools are missing?  What about the initial contact a prospective applicant has with a program?   

In a Wharton study by Katherine Milkman, to explore the treatment of prospective applicants to doctoral programs, researchers found that professors were significantly less likely to be responsive to communication from women or minority applicants -- and the level of unresponsiveness was greater within academic disciplines that tend to pay more, and at private institutions, where faculty salaries are higher on average.

The study also found that if women or minorities are not given the same level of encouragement -- or the same ability to access "insider" information -- as their white male colleagues, they may be discouraged from even trying to pursue a particular opportunity, or they may start the application process at such a disadvantage that there is no chance of catching up.

Unfortunately, as this study illustrates, strong biases still exist within higher education, but instead of getting discouraged, take action.  Start by paying close attention to how you are marketing your candidacy and fit to a particular program.  Even in that initial contact, you must realize that you are in a fish bowl, being watched and evaluated by faculty, alumni, current students and staff.  In each and every email communication, attach a polished CV that shows you are a strong and competitive candidate; After any face-to-face or phone meeting, when someone has given up their time to speak with you, send a hand-written thank you note; Ask good questions that show you are serious and well-informed about the program’s offerings.  Don’t just regurgitate information easily found on the program’s website.  Dig deep into the intricacies of the program to research specific classes and recent studies done by professors.  After some initial contact, attend all the prospective student events you can, and make a list of those influential admissions directors or faculty members you would like to meet.  Securing a spot in a top program is highly competitive, so any step you can take to stand out is crucial. 

In her study, Milkman also found that minority students got a better response from minorities of their race.  “If someone in that department shares your identity, they are more likely to be an advocate or willing to help you and less likely to discriminate," she says.

 Diversity initiatives are likely to be key priorities in higher education for many years to come, and schools clearly have more work to do.  In the meantime, it is up to you, as an applicant and prospective student, to be aware of biases so you can strengthen your candidacy.

…And One More Thing, Don’t Forget to Schedule your Interview in the Morning

The behavioral interview is not without its faults.  In a brief span of approximately 45 minutes, interviewers form stereotypes concerning the characteristics required for success in the academic program or job, they tend to give negative information more weight and they make key decisions within the first few minutes, using the remainder of the interview to validate their original decision.

Despite the faults of this popular evaluative tool, most graduate business programs and medical schools require interviews for anyone they admit.  And they are becoming increasingly important.  Admissions directors agree that while an applicant can look perfect on paper, if they can’t perform well in an interview, chances are they will have a hard time securing a job post MBA or connecting with patients and attending physicians in residency.  They may also have a hard time fitting in as a student in a particular program.  Once an applicant secures an interview, many admissions directors agree, it is the most important piece of the puzzle. 

When preparing clients for their interviews, there are long lists of tips we discuss.  I advise them to create their own agenda, as there will certainly be differentiating points the interviewer won’t ask about; I encourage them to ask strong questions at the end of the interview, which not only show an in-depth knowledge of the program, but also a genuine curiosity; and I review with them specific past examples they could use to demonstrate their leadership potential or demonstrated commitment to a career in medicine.  As a former admissions director, conducting interviews was one of my favorite parts of the job.  And until recently, I haven’t given much thought to my own biases that existed or how they could have negatively affected applicants.  I like to think that I gave everyone a fair shot, but some recent research inspired me to apply a bit more scrutiny to the whole process of interviewing and the applicant evaluations that result.   

In “Daily Horizons: Evidence of Narrow Bracketing in Judgment From 10 Years of MBA Admissions Interviews,” recently published in Psychological Science, Wharton Management professor Uri Simonsohn and Harvard professor Francesca Gino used MBA admissions data (not from Wharton or Harvard) to study how applicant scores were affected if they interviewed at the end of the day, after a series of strong or weak candidates.  They found that a similarly qualified applicant who interviewed after a string of strong candidates got lower scores than what they would have received otherwise.  And, those who interviewed after a group of weaker candidates got better evaluations. 

“An interviewer who expects to evaluate positively about 50 percent of the applicants on any given day may be reluctant to evaluate positively many more or fewer than 50 percent of applicants on any given day.  An applicant who happens to interview on a day when several others have already received a positive evaluation would, therefore, be at a disadvantage,” Simonsohn and Gino wrote.

While Universities may be able to control this effect by having interviewers enter each applicant’s score into a spreadsheet that would help them monitor the results of interviews over time and keep focus on today’s crop of candidates, it is important for applicants to understand that their competition is likely to come from two pools: everyone and the other applicants who are interviewed that day.

I often wonder if I was guilty of this narrow bracketing phenomenon in my previous role.  Today, as a consultant, all I can do is arm my clients with the sound advice I know is tried and true.  From now on, I just might add one more tidbit: Schedule your interview in the morning.

Want a Career Abroad? Consider a European MBA.

Paths to business school tend to be as varied and diverse as the careers that begin after graduation. Sarah is an economic development consultant who wants to expand her financial acumen; Michael is an engineer who aims to manage the operations division; and Matthew is an investment banker who plans to make a career change.  And they all have one thing in common. They all want to go to business school in order to gain a general management education, where they will be able to learn from the diverse backgrounds of their classmates and expand their perspective.

But the question is: where will they begin?  All are seriously considering MBA programs in Europe, but all are wondering if they should take the plunge and do something drastically different than their colleagues at work who are looking to pursue an MBA in the US.

For prospective MBA students like Michael, Matthew and Sarah, there are many options to consider when deciding where to apply. 

First, there is the question of rankings and prestige.  When you are preparing to embark on an academic program that will not require you to obtain a license upon graduating, as you would after completing law or medical school, the reputation of the institution is especially important.  This is because the most sought after recruiters have relationships with top schools and it is more likely to not only to secure a job, but to secure a highly competitive position when you emerge from a well reputed school.  And many European programs are at the top of their game.  London Business School, INSEAD, IE and IESE are all listed in the top 10 of The Financial Time’s Global MBA Rankings. 

Second, you must evaluate the quality of the Career Services department.  Where are recent graduates working?  Which companies recruit on campus?  What was last year’s placement rate?   As soon as orientation, you will be meeting with career services staff to get the ball rolling, so it is important to do extensive research.  Many American and European programs have excellent reputations in career placement, but many agree that European programs have an advantage for those who want to work abroad.  At top European programs, the opportunities are not concentrated in any one city, country or industry, so you have a lot of opportunities to evaluate, many located within a reasonable distance, and plenty of multinational employers to impress. 

Third, consider geography.  It seems so simple, but geography is one of the most important qualities to evaluate.  If you want to work abroad and gain an invaluable international perspective, there is simply no better plan than to pursue an MBA program in Europe, where you will be able to easily network with companies near where you study or in neighboring cities and regions.  In a European MBA program, you will also have access to greater diversity.  You will be sitting next to people in class who come from all over the world, have extensive experience in a plethora of industries and have diverse educational backgrounds.  While US MBA programs boast that 30% of their classes come from around the world, approximately 80% of top European programs are foreign students.  And many European programs are strict about a dominant culture emerging.  At IMD’s tiny 90-person MBA program, 35 nationalities are represented.  Your ability to learn and work in a global context will be vital to your career. 

If, like Michael, Matthew and Sarah, you are seriously considering a European MBA, it is also important to know that while European programs tend to be cheaper and their one-year format makes them shorter than their American counterparts, some programs, like INSEAD, require you to be able to speak another language fluently.  So, it is important to pay particular attention to the program’s requirements when evaluating different options.

When my clients begin evaluating their options, the first thing I advise them to do is independent primary research.  It is not enough to peruse websites, read brochures or rely on outside opinions.  Prospective business school applicants should be talking to as many admissions directors, career placement staffers, faculty members, alumni and current students as possible, not only to learn first-hand what distinguishes certain programs, but to also begin building a relationship with the faculty and staff at programs they may interview with in the future.   Even if you are now just beginning your MBA program research, I would recommend that you attend one of the many MBA fairs coming to a city near you, either The MBA Tour, QS World MBA Tour or Access MBA.

Prospective applicants will be able to have one-on-one meetings with school representatives and also attend panel presentations that will address current issues affecting the world of general management education.  At these fairs, you will not only be able to talk with representatives from many American programs, but you can also look into the European programs like IE, IESE and Hult International Business School you may be curious about.