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Journey to my MBA

Thursday, September 14, 2006

When is the best time to apply to Business School?

Hi Dave,

Just wanted to say thanks for your advice on GMAT courses. I ended up just getting access to the Manhattan GMAT materials. Scored well, and now onto the next phase. Just starting to take a look at all the deadlines for R1 and R2. Not feasible to apply to R1 for some schools without rushing. However, I do want to find out if you had any advice on which round is better - R1 or R2 (R3 is usually out of the question, I know)? I keep getting conflicting reports - either R1 is almost more competitive to get into and R2 is better, or R1 is the best because there are fewer applicants. I am sure it differs by school but is there a list of which rounds are better to apply for which schools?


Here's my reply:

I love this question. It's full of genuine confusion caused by rumor and comments from people who think they know "the system". If you spend any time out on the Business School forums, it's easy to get caught up in the opinions and shortcut answers. Watch yourself out there, it's easy to lose your focus and not be able to find clear answers about the realities of the application process. I know it's nerve racking. It's often hard to know whom to believe. I hope this article will alleviate some of the mystery and provide you with some good info to keep you on track to put together a great application package. If you look at the question carefully, there are actually three distinct questions being asked.

1) Which round is better to apply to in general?
2) Which round is less competitive?
3) When should I apply?

Let me just say that the answers to these questions are not easy to answer without first understanding the realities of the application process. There are some things that can guide one in the application process. So whenever I can, I'll state those guidelines succinctly.

The number one rule in the application process is the following:

"Apply when you have the best possible application you can put together."

As far as answering the question,"which round is better to apply to", the answer will always be, THE EARLIER THE BETTER. Here's the logic. You have a monthly financial budget of $3,000 US dollars. You start out fine with a few surprise spending sprees because you're emotions got the best of you. But as the month nears it's end and you only have $50 to spend, you're going to be less spontaneous and less forgiving. That's how it works with the application admissions. There are some extenuating factors however. For example, schools will accept more people during times when numbers of applications are low across the board. This is because they expect a lower yield of students who matriculate.

Last year was one of the lowest numbers of applications that the Business School world has seen in nearly 10 years. This year is better, but the numbers are still not where they were 5 years ago. Why is this factor important? It is because Business Schools, whether they admit it or not, lower their bar on what they consider reviewable quality applicants. I am not saying that schools lower their quality standards as to the admitted applicants. I am saying that they'll look at applications with more of an open mind than they normally would. So application packages that aren't as good in quality would get a better look in years like this. Moreover, applicants who apply earlier will also get a better look because the budget is not as restrictive.

What you have to understand is what defines an excellent application. Stop for a second and ask yourself what it is? Is it being a great manager? A 700 GMAT scorer? All around great resume? Now read on.

I have a friend who did all kinds statistical analysis that "positively told him" the answers to a couple of these questions. It was very frustrating to listen to him because he was removing the "human factor" in the admissions process. The human factor of the admissions process means that the people reviewing the application want an excellent application that peaks their interest. Ask yourself what you think would peak the interest of an application reviewer who must contend with reviewing THOUSANDS of applications every year. Let me list for you what wouldn't peak their interest.

1) Essay's with poor justification and passion. In other words, the essay's read like a long format of a resume.

2) Essay's with moderately poor grammar

3) Over-generalized statements. "I want to help others." or "I'm a team player". You need specifics or a defining story that show this instead of making the statement. If you were very handsome or beautiful, would you go around telling someone that you're handsome or pretty? What if you relied on the fact that you showed a little skin or wore flattering outfit instead? Wouldn't that make a similiar statement without losing your class? The same thing applies to describing your qualities. Do it through a story or expression of what you do. Do it with class.

This topic is so important that I'd like to use another analogy. Write a love letter. Use specifics. What if you wrote, "you're pretty or you're handsome." Would that impact you? What if I wrote, "You're eyes are so warm and inviting. You're smile and laugh make me want to laugh too and I love it more because your laughter impacts other in the same way." Ok now... didn't these make a bigger impact than the, "you're pretty or you're handsome" statements? Big difference isn't it?

4) Resume's that show poor streamlining and a poor ability to summarize ones own great work.

5) Letter of Rec's that come from people who obviously didn't know you all that well. They lack passion in their own words and over-generalize your qualities without providing clear examples. They don't state clearly whether or not they want to work with you again and they don't succinctly state why you were a great asset to them personally and work place wise.

So why is all this important?

You have to know what the definition of an excellent application package before ceating it.

So many people focus on being a good candidate and lose focus on creating a quality application package. What do I mean by this? I mean that people get too caught up in wanting to sound good rather than being good. Be real. Applicants need to understand that trying to sound good only makes you sound more and more like a cheesy/corny/'hard to believe' late night infomercial. The product may actually be good, but the presentation is so full of, "but wait there's more" comments that it would be easy to see why the application package reviewer would lose interest in you. In effect, you're helping them to change the channel.

Let me put this into real terms. When I read about Bill Gates and his money, I think to myself, "wow, that's nice." When I read about the amazing people he's had an opportunity to meet and the kinds of committees that he's asked to be involved with, I think, "yeah sounds about right." However, it captivates my interest when I read about Bill Gates the person. When I get a chance to peak into what his work ethic or leadership style is... I WANT TO READ MORE.

Take his passion for instance. He's extremely competitive and is very smart. So when he's working on something and the people around him don't have similiar drive and the smarts to keep up... then they don't interest him.

That's an insightful little excerpt don't you think? I'm not saying that applicants should be Bill Gates. I am saying that applicants should be humanizing themselves by showing how interesting they are.

The "captivating story" rather than the "impressive resume" peak my interest and make me want to know more about you. Let's be clear here though; being captivating is an arbitrary thing. You have to know what things might captivate me so that you can choose the right kind of stories and details that would catch my interest. It's like a first date. Would you take a girl or guy out to a restaurant or after dinner place without asking them or intuiting what you think would peak their interest? That means you need to know what different schools are looking for. "Can you summarize their date ad for them?" Let's be honest though. A captiving series of stories that express the person behind an impressive resume is all the more interesting. In that sense, the better your resume, the better your illustration to humanize yourself ought to be.

One of my wife's most favorite movies is Mel Gibson's "What Women Want." It's a movie about a guy who can suddenly hear womens thoughts. He starts out by using his powers in a manipulative way. The unforgettable part of the movie happens when he uses his abilities by learning to adapt and connect with women that matter to him. He doesn't just learn what they want to hear, but he learns what it means to be a really great participating partner. He comes to understand what makes them tick and by doing so, he comes to understand what would be wise to say or do to be a good friend, partner and father.

So what's my point? Understanding women is important in the application process. That's something you may not hear from anyone that talks about the application process. Why do you ask? In case you haven't figured it out yet, 80-90% of all the admissions directors are women. I respect women. But they are not men.

Men and women are not equal. I believe smart women can read into things that many men do not do as well in. If a movie was made called, "What men really want." I can guarantee you that, if the movie were honest and heart felt, the things that are important to portray would not be the same as in the "What women really want" movie. I believe that in general, woman are more receptive when they are given honest respect and you give them your honest humanized story. Please don't comment about women being better or less than men. That is not my point. Getting lost in the women vs men argument could make you lose focus on why I wrote this article. I'm telling you that there are certain realities to the application process and that they should be taken into consideration to craft ones best application. This woman vs man issue is no different than understanding the differences of particular schools. You must understand the type of culture and people you are talking to when putting together your application. If you think that the woman vs man issue is biased.. then fine. Prep your application in such a way as to not consider the audience. See my point? Coming to a clear understanding of the audience is a key to the application process.

The guidelines that answer this chaps questions can be best summarized with the following statements:
1) Apply early, but when you're best application is possible.
2) Know what an excellent application is.
3) Know your audience.


Blogger Swami G said...

You've out-done yourself with this one!


12:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, you didn't really answer the question though. Nice job airing it out about the gender constituency of adcoms. Nice.

I guess 'as soon as you can get a good application together' is fine enough. Thanks.

You should grammar check too, by the way.

10:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow..Thanks Dave!

11:24 AM  

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