Letter to the Class of 2015, Reapplicants & Late Round Applicants

I always point out to potential MBA friends (virtual and real) that I’m no expert on the application process, and I don’t believe getting a few acceptance puts me any step(s) closer to becoming an expert. That said, I believe I understand a few things that can help any candidate when prepping their application. So today, you’ll get that advice free of charge :-). If you’re a late round applicant for the 2012 cycle, scroll towards the bottom where the meat of the post resides.

Your Stats…

The GMAT is a b#&%h, let’s all agree on that. If you want to get a good score then start studying NOW, yes NOW, class of 2015. I took Knewton GMAT Prep (mostly on demand) and it turned out to be great for my wallet and I think my results (700) were good enough for me that I didn’t feel the urge to take it again. Some of you may have higher ambitions and I feel confident with a retake anyone can push their score up 20 – 30 points. As an aside, if you’re on a budget (as I was) I would highly recommend Knewton GMAT prep.

GPA, unfortunately is something that’s tough to change, but if you read most MBA consultant sites you can take additional classes to supplement your lowish GPA if it’s really an issue. If this isn’t possible use the additional essay to focus on lessons learned if you feel it needs explaining. Don’t make excuses – humility is the best course of action. And if your GPA is low, the GMAT is that much more important for you to do well on. If your undergrad GPA is lower than a 3.1 and you’d like to attend a top ten school, take classes and/or kill it on the GMAT. I also hear certificate programs are looked upon favorably.

Finally w/regard to Stats, don’t overly focus on these in your essays. In fact, I would recommend little to no mention about how well you did on your GMAT or how hard you worked in school to get a 3.8. First of all, the numbers should speak for themselves. And second, don’t risk being branded as a ‘one-dimensional intellectual cling-on’ by touting your performance on your GMAT or your transcript. Conversely, don’t let your lowish stats define your candidacy. If you’re a natural leader, with great essays adcom’s will recognize your experiences are much more valuable than a 700 GMAT.

Your story…

I’d like to focus on this because I think it’s more important than any other part of the app, if you fall in the reasonable range with your stats. Telling your story is like flying a plane, the most exciting and memorable part(s) should be the takeoff and touchdown. As you scribe your essays, if you find yourself writing at 35,000 ft. for most of it, start over. Seriously, only politicians talk in eternal generalities.

The takeoff – focus on specifics when you set things up, draw the reader into the story by offering the unique details that aren’t going to be shared by many other candidates; this is your opportunity to separate yourself from the pack out of the gate. If you find yourself talking about, industry trends, the world of finance or the macro-political landscape make sure you tie it directly to a personal story or relationship that’s unique to you. Otherwise none of that matters and you’ve just wasted valuable real estate.

The middle – you have two options here. Option one; continue with specific examples of your leadership ability, teamwork, a special story that is leading you to pursue an MBA, etc.  Option two; discussion of vision, vision of your future, vision of the future of your intended field, vision etc. I think either could work here, so it’s really up to personal preference and personal style at this point. If there is a point to talk at a high-level, this is your opportunity. That said, make sure it naturally segways into the Why MBA portion.

The landing – how will you do it specifically? and where do you see yourself specifically ? I think this is the part where a lot of candidates go wrong after going right. Plenty focus on ‘the moral of the story’… if the moral of the story isn’t why I’m getting my MBA and this is what I expect to get out of it and the specific approach I’m taking to get there, then you are falling back into the general pool. This is the part (along with the takeoff) where you take action.

Let’s go back to the airplane analogy for a minute… What do you need to do in order to land a plane? Point the nose down, turn on the fasten seat belt sign, deploy the flaps and lower the landing gear. Specific actions lead to the intended result: a safe landing. NOW, at the  very end there is an opportunity to wrap things up with a bit of grandiosity. Again, this is a personal style judgment, I’m a fan of a few fireworks at the end myself (but I stress few).

A great resource to see if you’ve nailed it would be to follow this advice from Sandy Kreisberg, HBS Guru.


Last but not least, I want to talk briefly about emotion. Think about being on the other end of your essay, or in simpler terms, the reader of your essay. Do you sound like an MBA droid? Are you full of yourself? Is humility not in your vocabulary? Do you care about anything other than work? What are your real passions outside of getting an MBA?

I think the last two questions are FUNDAMENTAL distinguishers of which candidates are Vanilla and which candidate are Caramel Swirl Cookies-n-Cream. The MBA has changed, no longer are b-schools trying to churn out just the best leaders in business; they’re trying to produce the best leaders that will enhance society. If you can’t answer ‘YES’ to the emotional side of a reader that’s asking him or herself the question: Will letting this guy or gal get an MBA from my school turn them into a transformational leader? Then think long and hard about if you fit within the expectations of the new MBA candidate.

Attaining an MBA from a top school is more competitive than ever and no amount of raw intelligence, ‘ideal’ work experience or superb interviewing skills is going to escort you through the gates of Harvard. You have to demonstrate the kind of leadership and authenticity that stirs the cauldron of emotion.


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