So this is going to be a long chapter guys but it’s incredibly necessary! So after you’ve done your research, visited schools, talked to students and perhaps alums, it’ll be time for you to sit down and synthesize all of the information that you’ve gathered. Why will you do this? Well for the essays that are required by each school. I’ve been to many seminars and talks and roundtables etc regarding essays. I’ve also edited my own by
many people – work colleagues, friends also going through the process – admissions consultants, you name it I’ve had them read my essays.
The BEST piece of advice that I received, and I don’t mind sharing by whom, was by MBAMission at a chat in NYC at the Manhattan GMAT offices. This person said that the key to writing essays for business school is to “Show, Don’t Tell!” When I heard this it stuck with me because it was something different than I had heard before. Ok now you’re asking, “What do you mean?” Well now I can tell you what that means from the prospective of an applicant and someone who has reviewed about 500 essays for others via my blog. I also think that the person who wrote it has a book that’s out for business school students which is probably a very good read. I haven’t read it yet though.
In any event when you are writing your essays you want to SHOW the admissions committee what you did instead of TELLING them. You don’t want to say “I did this, and I did this, and I did this.” That’s boring and no one wants to read that but would you believe that MOST essays are like that. The essays shouldn’t be a regurgitation of your resume. Actually, in a perfect world, you wouldn’t even mention the same stories that are in your resume but I’ll get to that later.
You don’t have to be a creative writer, but ask yourself – “Is this essay exciting? Did I tell a story in the 1st person?” One of the things that I do when I’m reviewing essays for other people is make a note of the point at which I got bored reading an essay. I will then continue to read the essay but I always want the applicant to know when things may have become unclear or boring to the reader. That way they can then go back and fix that essay or that section of an essay.
Tip #1 – SHOW, DON’T TELL!
Tip #2 – Get someone to tell you/make note of when (if) they get bored when reviewing your essay.
Tip #3 – Get someone who majored in Literature/English to review your essays.
The goal of the essays is to get to know more about YOU the candidate! If you regurgitate stuff from your resume, then they aren’t learning anything new about you. You have to give the admissions officers as much information about you as possible so they can see how well-rounded you are. How do you do this?
Let’s say you’re applying to a school that has 3 essay questions + an optional essay right? Okay so your resume is probably not going to change so let’s use that as the benchmark or whatever. When you write the essay answers – of course you’re not going to SHOW and NOT TELL, but you also have to make sure that you are not referencing the same things ie. If you were an investment banker – Do not talk about your investment banking experience in all three essays. I would actually go so far to say that you shouldn’t reference it in more than 1 essay.
Of course this rule will vary depending on the school – the number of essays – and all that jazz, but if you want to make your chances the best, show them the breadth of your experiences. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:
Before you start writing essays, take all of the topics for that school and just write a sentence about what you will write about in each one. Does each sentence introduce a new piece of information? If not then write the essays over. Another thing that I do when I review essays is I read them all together and then every time a new piece of information about the person is introduced, I take note. At the end I’ll say to the person – “Here are the things that I learned about you. Are they correct? Is this what you wanted to convey to the reader?” I think it’s very important to understand the information that you’re putting out there. What you write and what you mean may be two different things. It does get tricky though when you have to SHOW and NOT TELL within the essay. It’s definitely an art but a well put together application is the outcome. I’ve moved away from reviewing individual essays for people. I now require that they send me their resume and essays.
ANSWERING LONG-SHORT TERM GOALS ESSAY
ANSWERING HOW YOU WILL BE INVOLVED
ANSWERING IMPACT YOU WILL MAKE (GO BACK TO YOUR PERSONAL STORY) Write a section about not answering WHAT and When but rather WHY, HOW, What Impact?
Tip #4 – GET ESSAY REVIEWERS
Essays take a long time to write! Keep this in mind. If you can write a “submittable” essay then you’re doing it wrong. You should definitely be able to get a rough draft down on paper but essay MUST go through multiple edits. Something that I found helpful was carrying a notebook around me wherever I went. In that notebook I would jot down things that came to mind because you’d be amazed at what sorts of topics or even sentences pop into your brain when you’re not thinking about essays.
After you write you essays you will want to find an essay review. The key is to find a reviewer that will add the value you need. And yes... in my opinion this can be the same person. But here's what I've found - let me know if you agree or if I'm missing any type.
The Grammar Checker - This title is self explanatory haha. This type of reviewer is very important for me because I can be a lazy writer, hence the title of my blog. I know I've said it before but I use Ellipses because I'm lazy and for me it's to be used when I complete a thought. So it's a big help when someone says that a comma should be somewhere or a semi-colon.
The Negative Nelly - This is the person who reads through the essays and just picks apart everything that they don't like. They don't give any constructive criticism but just say "Oh I don't like this part" or "Why is this in here?" What they don't realize is that this is the not the final product yet so it's a work in progress. But this person is necessary because they keep you on your toes. I've found that while some of my harshest criticism has come from this type of person, some of my best ideas have blossomed from something this person has said.
The Positive Paulie - This person loves it and everything you've done and thinks you should submit it right now. When you need a pick me up and someone to just cosign on what you've done, this person should be your go to.
The Suggester - I like this type of reviewer because they point out things and ask questions. This is the type of reviewer I tend to be. When I'm reading an essay, I try to understand the direction the person is trying to take the essay in and then I input a lot of questions to fill in the holes knowing that it will get them to their desired finished
product. Me....personally....will never tell someone "I think you should change this essay and write about something else." I simply won't say it because I don't like when people say that to me. It's not helpful. I love when people say "I would have done it ______" because then I think to myself... "Well great... when you're writing your essay then you can write it that way, but clearly I chose to write mine in this manner."
As I’ve stated previously, I did use an admissions consultant so I feel that I can speak to how it helped me by giving concrete examples of my experience. My first piece of advice surrounding Admissions Consultants is to not listen to whether it was work it by asking someone who hasn’t used one. Reviews online can be helpful but sometimes I found that some people spam with testimonials without having used an admissions consultant. Definitely be careful on those message boards. Remember that most of the people on there are also applicants too! One thing that you could do is ask current students (because you’ve definitely reached out to them) if they used an admissions consultant. I wish I could give you a statistic as to the number of people who use them but I can’t do that.
So that’s my disclaimer about admissions consultants and now I’ll go into how I feel about them. If you remember from my story about getting into business school then you’ll remember that I had soooo many people review my essays. I think this definitely helped and I tried to have my friends give me feedback on my essays BEFORE sending them off to my admissions consultant. Now you’re going to ask who I used. I used Veritas Prep.
I had definitely done research on Veritas Prep but their prices were quite steep and I would not have been able to afford their services. I’m hesitant to publish what their current prices are now because they may change this year or in the coming years. Why did I use them? Well... I won their services as a prize from a contest that was run on BeatTheGMAT.com. Did I NEED to use an admissions consultant? No one will ever know, but I can say that I’m glad that I did because my consultant provided a unique perspective into the stories that I was trying to tell for each of my essays. There is one particular case where I thought that her feedback was invaluable.
The required essay topic that I had to write was about a “Challenging Time” or something of that nature. I wrote about being gay. In hindsight, and kind of what my consultant told me, was “That’s a cop out response.” Initially when I got that feedback I was not only taken aback but also slightly offended. When I read her comments I thought to myself, “How dare she insinuate that it’s not a struggle?” Then when we had our phone call she explained herself and basically challenged me to dig deeper. She said that if being gay for me was truly very challenging then the essay wasn’t strong enough but because we had a rapport up until that point she knew that it may not be the case. So I went back to the drawing board and thought hard about what I wanted to convey and the story that I wanted to SHOW and NOT TELL.
The topic that I came up with was how coming out as gay was not the most challenging part of my life but instead admitting to myself that I was gay (which happened a year prior) was the most challenging. When I sent that version back to her she said that we were on the right track now. I definitely needed that re-calibration. Now that’s not to say that I couldn’t have gotten that type of feedback some someone else, but A) no one else gave me that feedback on that essay and B) I think it was a function of her seeing so many poor essays.
I can now speak from experience, having read almost 500 essays over these last two years from blog readers who reached out to me, that I can EASILY spot the good essays from the bad essays hence the reason I’m writing this book. I want to pay the information that I’ve gathered forward. However, I digress here – we’re talking about Admissions Consultants. So when I was looking into them (even though I couldn’t afford them) I noticed that a lot of them have packages. The main three are Hourly Consulting, Essay Reviews and School packages. I do remember being having a case of sticker shot when I first saw the prices that they charge per school but in hindsight – if I had the money – I would definitely pay for it.
I’m not saying that it’s necessary, but if you don’t have the luxury to have other “competent” people review your essays who have seen many essays come across their desks AND you can afford it. Then I would suggest one do so. I personally, making $54,000/year prior to business school while living in New York City, did not have the means to pay a couple thousands of dollars.
If you want to use a consultant strictly for resume reviews then I personally think $250 is a steep price to pay because there are a lot of people out there who can edit resumes. Having said that, seeing as though that seems to be the going rate for those services, there’s clearly a market out there for it otherwise all of the admissions consulting companies would lower their prices.
If you’re a re-applicant or an international student then I suggest that if you use an admissions consulting company that you find out beforehand if thye’ve worked with other people with in your situation. If they haven’t then I, personally, wouldn’t work with them because you don’t want to be their guinea pig – unless you ask for a discount! Who knows maybe they’ll say yes if you’re their first. They’re going to want that testimonial.
One thing to keep in mind when working with Admissions Consultants is to not take their critiques personally or get defensive. This one is a biggie. Remember their goal is to get you to a point where you can say, “If I spend any more time on my application it won't get better. This is the best application that I can submit.” I will tell you now that the consultant SHOULD expose the holes in your candidacy. It's definitely counterintuitive. We all want to go with our ideas that we think are great whether it be topics for essays or what we think we should highlight in our application. A good consultant will say whether he/she thinks that your ideas are good. Don't get me wrong, the consultant won't simply say that it's a good idea or bad idea, but a GOOD one will work with you and help you formulate the correct plan. It may not be that your ideas are bad, but it just needs to be done in a different manner.
Some people are just happy to have hired an admission consultant and haven’t properly vetted the person or company. In my opinion, if you’re thinking about hiring an
admissions consultant there is no question that is inappropriate to ask him/her. For instance:
How many times do we speak?
Is there a time limit during our calls or meetings?
Do you reformat and/or help me with my resume?
How many times will we go over my essays?
Will you help me pick recommenders and tell me how to approach them? Have you worked with other candidates applying to school X?
Keep in mind that in most cases you’re paying them thousands of dollars. In the end they work for you so you should be able to get any question answered.
Another tip I would have for those looking to hire an admissions consultant would be to be ready to expose yourself.
This was a big one for me. I knew where my weakness was. It was my GPA. It's not that I'm dumb or stupid, but I wasn't focused during undergrad. I went to school on a full academic scholarship but had no desire to go to business school post-undergrad. So with that came some complacency. I knew my weakness was my GPA and I BECAME okay with that because I was determined to make the rest of my application outshine my sub-par performance. I was upfront about this with my consultant because I wanted her to realize what the road ahead looked like..
I didn't see a point in hiding this information from her because A.) It would be exposed anyway and B.) By being upfront with her, she could start to formulate ideas for how we can remedy the situation. It's tough to be upfront about holes in your candidacy because we all want to focus on the positives, but hey guess what people... the Admissions Committee will focus on the negatives if you don't explain them!
If you can't afford a full comprehensive consulting package, definitely look into a la carte options. In my opinion at the very least, the essay editing is the most important for crafting your story. GPAs and GMAT scores will inevitably be compared to those of other applicants. Essays are where applicants can separate themselves from the masses. The $200-$300 you may spend to have someone review your essays is worth it, and I've heard this from multiple sources.
Keep in mind that you'll be competing against people who have used these services and have very refined applications!
The more I interacted with my consultant and heard her thoughts, the more I wondered how people could go through this application process without one. Sure, people do it but many more people use some sort of consulting service than one can imagine. Don’t believe the Duke reported numbers from their self-reported statistics.
Ah recommenders recommenders. When I started writing this chapter I wasn’t thinking that I would have to go through the whole – “Don’t go for title” but there would have been a large assumption in that statement. The assumption being that everyone who reads
this book already knows this. So I will go into it all and then also tell you how I went about selecting/reaching out to recommenders.
All of the other books out there SHOULD tell you that you shouldn’t just target the person(s) who know you the best in terms of your professional life. This would obviously also be the same for some schools who require a non-professional recommender. Just because someone has a great title doesn’t mean that they’ll be able to add the most color around what you accomplished at work or your personality at work. Now, I there are cases where people do have recommendations from incredibly high-powered people. Whether you do have that type of recommender or not there are still steps that you should take the necessary steps to prepare your recommenders. The steps that I took are very humbling and introspective but I know of others who did similar things and – well – it worked out.
I chose my direct Manager and my VP of Marketing. If I drew a hierarchy of our department then the VP of Marketing was directly above my Manager at the time that I started my applications and for a brief period I reported directly to the VP of Marketing. I felt very comfortable choosing both of these people because my VP of Marketing had been there longer than I had when the team was much smaller and I had contact with her every day. Of course it just made sense for me to have my Manager write one of my letters of recommendations.
It’s important for you to think far far ahead about whom you may have write a letter of recommendation. I say that because they have lives too and your letter of recommendation is not the priority in their lives. I reached out to my potentially recommenders in May of 2010 and I planned on submitting the first week of January, 2011. Why did I start so early? Well, I worked for a popular fashion retailer doing digital marketing. Q4 for retail is November – January and I knew that I would position myself best to not aggravate them allowing them to start thinking early about it.
Like I said, I set up meetings with the both of them (together) and I walked them through the process and the stage that I was at. Neither one of them had an MBA and I didn’t want to assume that they knew what schools were looking for and/or how to write recommendation letters. YES, there is a way to write recommendation letters. I think we had about three meetings total over the course of a couple of months.
I literally made a packet for them that contained the following (which I’ve never told anyone):
MY CURRENT RESUME: Of course I was currently working for them, but I wanted them to be able to see which important projects I had on my resume. That way they could either add color around these projects in their recommendation letters or (and more preferable) they could choose other projects to speak to that I worked on. Remember, it’s important to introduce as much information about yourself into your application and this is another way to do just that.
MY “WHY BUSINESS SCHOOL” ESSAY: I definitely told them WHY I wanted to go to business school, but I wanted them to have the essay that I had submitted to schools. I didn’t print out all of my essays for them but this was the main one that I wanted them to understand.
LIST OF SCHOOLS: I wanted them to also have the list of schools that I was applying too. I also provided them a paragraph about each school. I know you’re going to ask what that means. So each school touts their core competency in something. I either copied a paragraph from their website or created one for each school. This gave some context to my recommenders when writing their letters. If they chose to weave that into their letters or not, I’m not sure, but I didn’t think that it would hurt. I also listed the THREE QUALITIES that admissions officers said they were looking for in their students. Think back to the chapter about talking to students and admissions officers. Here is where I brought back the three words – to add some consistency.
MY LATEST PERFORMANCE REVIEW: My manager had not been there for my latest performance review but I wanted her to be up to speed. My VP was the one who conducted the interview so I knew she was up to speed, but I also knew that I was not top of mind for her (not in a bad way) but in a way that I’m sure she forgot all of the nuances from it. I never saw the recommendation letter questions that they had to answer but again, I knew that my VP would be out on maternity leave and I wanted her to have ALL information necessary.
RECOMMENDATION LETTER DEADLINES: This seems obvious, but it’s not. I’ve talked to some classmates and received emails from applicants whose recommenders either forgot or neglected to abide by the deadlines. This is not a situation that anyone thinks they’re going to get into until it’s too late. I don’t know if it’s taken anyone totally out of the running but I’d imagine that in the whole “business” of business school, it’s been detrimental to someone’s candidacy more than once. I wanted to make sure that I was NOT in that situation. So I provided them with a sheet of all of the deadlines that they had to abide by.
PAGES FROM A CHAPTER FROM A BOOK ABOUT LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATIONS: This was important because while, me the applicant, had a myriad of resources out there for me on how to write essays, recommenders don’t have that luxury, unless they look for it, and really...who is going to do that much research? So I included a little something something in there for them.
At the time when I had my first meeting with them I had already evaluated my profile. By saying that, I knew what my strengths and weaknesses were in my application. For me, it was my seemingly weak quantitative capabilities. I was an Economics major in undergrad and had taken a myriad of math courses, but again my undergrad GPA did not reflect how well I could perform in those types of environments. I caveat that with saying that it wasn’t that I couldn’t do them, I just had no desire to do well in undergrad – (See my comments on Optional Essay 4). I was an Analyst and dealt with numbers and calculations all day at work so I knew that I was strong in that regard but again, it’s better for them to SHOW and NOT TELL that I was strong.
We talked about all of the things that I had worked on in the past and my performance (which also helped that I had the performance review in front of me) so that we could fill in the blanks. Aside from the things above we also spoke about what they thought my strengths and weaknesses were. This was humbling but I knew that it would be coming into that type of situation. Also, if I can be completely honest, I didn’t care what they said at that point because I knew that they were in my court. If they felt strongly about something being a strength or weakness then I knew that they’d be able to write a great story about it.
Just like with applicants writing essays, there’s a way for recommenders to write a good application. First of all, they have to write it. That is always a plus. Again, sounds obvious but some people think that they can write themselves a glowing recommendation and then just have their recommender sign-off of on it. That’s not even the way that it works to my knowledge. You input your recommenders’ email addresses and then they get an email prompt to log into a system. They then fill out all of the questions and then I’m sure electronically sign the document before they submit it. So either way you’ll still have to send them your letter of recommendation and they’ll see it. But I just think it’s dumb when someone attempts to write their own recommendation letters. Doesn’t make sense to me and I’ll never understand it. But anyway, enough about THOSE people.
I remember my manager said that she was happy that I provided all of that information and “backstory” for her because she had never written a letter of recommendation before so this provided her with some guidance. My VP reminded me that she has to write things that are remedied by business school. Think back to what applicants have to write for the “Strengths/Weaknesses” question in essays.
This section isn’t that difficult and I’m not going to attempt to write in a way that appeals to everyone. I can tell you though that when I got to business school, the very resume that I submitted for my application was COMPLETELY re-done by my Career Work Group (CWG) leader is at Johnson at Cornell University for you to truly understand. So a CWG is a group of 5-6 students who have the same professional interests. So basically, if you want to do Marketing, then you’ll be put into a group of 5-6 other classmates who also want to do Marketing. Then you’ll be paired with 2 second year students who just completed their marketing internships.
I met with my CWG once a week and we re-did our resumes, interview preparation, talked about the industry itself and anything else you can think of that a group of likeminded people may discuss. I say this all to say that when my CWG leaders gave my my groups’ resumes (the very ones we applied with in most cases) there were so many red marks. Each school has a resume format. I personally don’t think that one format is better than another – from school to school, but it’s usually done because all of the resumes go into a Resume book for recruiters. It just makes it look nice to see the same formatted resume. The funny thing is sometimes people will say “oh I don’t like the school format because I can’t fit as much.” Or something like that and then they won’t adhere to it. I think that does a disservice to themselves because initially if a recruiter is flipping through a book and see all of the same resumes and then one that looks different, I would say to myself,” Oh this person can’t follow directions.” But I digress (again... haha).
So I tell you the story about receiving a lot of red marks and corrections on my resume because there is a resume format that one should follow. I don’t mean a format with the margins and things like that. There are many things out there that say what those guidelines are but here are some simple things that I did and/or would have done.
First, for each school there is a resume format. It probably doesn’t hurt to first go to Google and see if you can find the resume format or resume book for the school that
you’re applying too. If that doesn’t yield any results then just simply ask a current student that you’re corresponding with if you can have a copy of their resume. Current students have so many resume versions and iterations that you’d be hard pressed to find a current student who wouldn’t share theirs with you. If you have encountered a person like that, then ask yourself if that’s the type of school you want to go to. One where people may not be willing to help. (See the chapter on choosing a school.).
Here are some other simple tips that you SHOULD abide by in your resume.
If you’re currently working, then your education goes at the BOTTOM of the
resume. It doesn’t matter if you went to the University of the Universe and graduated Magna Cum Laude Saude Traude whatever. If you’ve just graduated from Undergrad or a Masters program then you can put your education at the top.
Do not just write sentences of your duties. How can an admissions officer evaluate your competency properly if you say, “Worked closely with CFO with Analyst reports from system X.” That doesn’t add any additional information to your profile. The way to write the bullet points is in this format:
(Here is what I worked on and did, Here is the outcome.) The outcome should be quantifiable. Sure there are some things that are most qualitative but the impact can be explained in some way.
Skills/Hobbies/Awards/Certifications should go at the very bottom. On my resume I have them as two separate sections but for some people they may go hand-in-hand. What I want to say about this is that if it’s on your resume, BE PREPARED TO TALK ABOUT IT!
So that’s pretty much it for the resume. The goal here is to make sure that you have your most important PROJECTS succinctly spelled out for whomever is reading the resume. If you can put it in the format for each school then that’s one more added benefit. People at the school are used to seeing resumes in a certain format and not have to decipher or infer things from a resume. Make it STELLAR. I think this is the easiest part of the whole application process, although reformatting in Microsoft Word is not the easiest thing in the world. I’ll be honest and say that I still have no idea how to “play” around with the margin sliders – a lot of trial and error, I suppose.
First of all – DO IT! When I was applying I had many of my friends, those who were also applying to business school, conduct mock interviews for me. It was incredibly helpful for practical purposes. I was able to talk about “my story” over and over again and get the right verbiage correct. Many people neglect this step in the application process and it’s baffling to me.
When I finally made it to business school I offered to do mock interviews to people who would email me from my blog. Again, I cannot count how many mock-interviews I did for people – let’s say about 50. Then as a 2nd year at Johnson at Cornell University, I was able to conduct admissions interviews as a member of JAG, Johnson Admissions Group.
That being said, I can now look back on all of those experiences and give some concrete advice for those of you who are now applying to business school. If you read the
following topics and think “oh that’s obvious.” Just know that I’m mentioning it because I’ve seen people do quite the opposite.
You should be able to walk the person through your resume without having to actually look at your resume. It’s YOUR experience and YOU typed the resume. You shouldn’t have to look at your resume when you’re walking through it with someone. Obviously, if you’re doing a mock-interview on the phone with someone they can’t tell if you’re looking at the paper or not but for your own practice you should try not too. This will make you more comfortable when you do land the actual interview and can maintain eye contact with the interviewer.
You shouldn’t spend a long time walking the person through your resume. This tells the person a lot about how you will actually interview for a job/internship. When I did my mock-interviews, I always started with something like, “...so after undergrad I started working at _________, doing X.” From there I would mention the key takeaways from each job that I had and/or a key project I worked on ending with something like, “...and that’s why I decided to come to business school.”
Now imagine practicing that story over and over again by having someone mock interview you. You will quickly learn what their takeaways were from your “narrative” and then you can work on how you actually portray yourself to the other person. In a best case (the one you should make sure happens) scenario, the mock interviewer will be taking notes to review with you afterwards. Trust me, you’ll see the feedback change over time as you practice and practice.
It amazes me the amount of people who I offered to mock interview who declined by saying, “I’m not comfortable.” And then to find out that they left their interviews feeling bad about them. Not sure why you wouldn’t practice for something that is potentially so pivotal to one’s candidacy. ::shrugs::
Another question that probably comes up in interviews is the strengths and weakness question. I always asked this question because I wanted to see people’s responses. No one should ever be surprised by the interview questions that they may receive in a mock-interview or even a real interview for that matter. There are so many resources online with interview questions and if you want to increase your chances of not being blind sighted by a question you should do a simple Google search for interview questions. Even if you can’t find the specific interview questions for the school that you’re applying too, just find ANY school and come up with answers to those.
When doing a mock-interview it’s very easy to see when people have “done their homework.” But that just goes with anything right? If you’ve prepared beforehand then you will perform better 9 times out of 10. At the end of a mock-interview make sure that you get feedback from the other person. They should give CONSTRUCTIVE criticism and not just tell you that something wasn’t clear enough. When I take notes during a mock-interview I’m not only listening to what the person is saying but also how they’re saying it. I know that I have to give them feedback that they can then internalize and work on. I’ve seen drastic improvement from people who take the advice to heart.
If you find questions that you think may be tough to answer, should they come up in an interview, then make sure your mock interview asks you them during your chat. It’s better to come up with a wrong/incorrect/misleading answer during a mock interview
than during the real thing. Just swallow your pride and jump the broom and do it! That last comment is not something that I did because I was embarrassed to get it wrong. I definitely practiced answers to those tough questions on my own but in hindsight, I would have done it the way that I suggested.
This section was just about the mock interview but definitely see the section on the actual interview itself.
If your GPA has a 4 in it and said 4 is BEFORE the decimal point (4.0) then please just skip this chapter because it’s not for you. It wouldn’t even matter which school you went to or what your major is. Your GPA can’t get any better so I’m serious. Don’t waste your time reading this GPA section. I would venture far enough to say that even if you have a 3.9 or 3.8 just skip this chapter.
Now for those of you who have a GPA closer to the one that I had – 2.56 then this section is for you. Basically, if you’re not one of those people who say... have a GPA in the 2.5 – 2.9 range then this section should be helpful to you. Like I said, my Undergraduate GPA was a 2.56 so I knew for a fact that this would be a huge red flag in my application and unfortunately there wasn’t anything that I could do 6 years out of college to change it. I accepted that it was an obstacle that I had to conquer and I was trying to tell myself that I was okay with that.
In actuality, and you can ask my friends, I was totally freaking out about it when I was going through the process. I knew that my GPA was the lowest of the low – basically a C average. I didn’t think that top business schools would take someone with essentially a C average GPA. Then I did a lot of digging.
As I’ve stated before, when I started the business school application process I didn’t know anyone who had an MBA. The more research that I did I found out that there were seemingly incredible applicants (on paper) who did not get into business schools. This is what gave me hope in thinking that there was more to the process. I found out that everyone had obstacles that they had to overcome and was okay with mine being a 2.56 GPA. After I came to terms with that, I decided to really dig into why GPA was a seemingly strong factor to one’s success in business school. Rather, why admissions committees looked at undergraduate GPA as a factor.
I don’t know if business schools do multiple regressions on their graduates after business school to see if the metrics they’re using are good qualifiers, but my guess is no. In any event, that was not something that I could hide. I decided to take this obstacle head on. I found out that business schools use undergrad GPA and want the highest ones partly because that’s what the ranking publications use as a data point in their ranking algorithms. Now, I know you’re thinking back to the Ranking section where I said that rankings don’t matter, but to schools they do. They’re lying to you if they say that they don’t care about them.
With that being the case, I did a lot of research asking how I could mitigate my low undergraduate GPA. Other than the rankings data point, schools use Undergraduate GPA as a way to see how well you perform in an academic environment. Knowing this, I knew that I then had to write the optional essay. With this essay, I don’t even think I said
“GPA” but I alluded to it by saying, “my undergraduate performance.” There are many reasons why one may need to write the optional essay (if there is one) but for me I knew it was imperative to do so. I didn’t make excuses as to why my performance was so poor but rather wrote that essay in a way that explained my undergraduate experience, what I learned from it, and how I would not make the same mistake in business school. I knew that as far as that essay went, that’s all that I could do. There is a key to how to write a “Poor GPA Essay.” and there’s a fine line between making excuses and explaining.
Another thing that you may want to look at, if you have a subpar GPA, is what your grades were in either your Major – if you had a quant heavy major – and/or your quant classes. So for instance, I was an Economic major and had taken a lot of math courses and my Major GPA was actually higher than my cumulative GPA. Let me give you the backstory a little bit. When I was a freshman/sophmore in college I was pre-med and was actually struggling in my science classes and writing classes. My quant classes were pretty fun actually – well some of them. Then in my junior year I switched my major to Economics.
That is a story that I could tell very well in addition to other things. So all hope is not lost if you decipher your transcript. For those out there, I can only offer my story as a guide to GPA. It is important. If you’ve done a masters program business schools won’t take that GPA. They’ll definitely see it on your transcript from your masters program but it won’t replace your undergraduate GPA. My advice would be to own it and then figure out how to mitigate it. I do know of people with sub 2.5 GPAs who have gotten into business school. Trust me on that one – so it can be done!
So we’ve spoken about essay reviewers, resume reviewers etc. There should also be people who review your whole application. This can be the same people who read your essays but here’s what you should do. This should be done after a couple of days away from your application so you can look at it with a fresh pair of eyes. You should PRINT your resume, essays, and your transcript and look at them holistically, just as an admissions committee member would. Read through everything and see if you can see the story that you’re trying to tell and ask yourself the following questions:
- Is there a narrative?
- Do my other essays support my career goals essay?
- Does my career path to date support my career goals
- Did I introduce new information about myself in EVERY essay?
- Do I sound like an interesting person?
- Does this school HAVE to accept me otherwise their program will be lacking
If you can’t answer YES to all of these questions then you still have some work to do. After you go back and revamp whichever component you think may be necessary to revamp, then send off the same pieces of information over to someone who has time to look over your whole application. When you do this you can do one of two things. First, you can send them the same questions above and have them answer. Second, you can just have them give you feedback. When I sent them off to people I actually sent them similar questions because I wanted to guide them.
Yes, there is a chapter about actually “hitting” submit. It’s one of the most nerve- wracking things that you’ll experience throughout the process. I liken it to pressing “View Score” at the end of the GMAT, the last time that you take it. Once you hit submit you’re going to experience a myriad of emotions namely – Exhaustion, Joy, and Fear. I remember writing a blog post laying out my experience the day that I hit submit. When I hit submit on my application I went outside and had a cigarette. Yes, I’m a cigarette smoker and had to relieve some stress. I was fortunate enough to be able to submit my application at work due to computer errors on my Mac and having very understanding coworkers.
Once you hit submit, I suggest that you close all of your essays. Don’t look at anything related to the application process at all for at least 24 hours. Actually, don’t even open up your essays again. Put them in a locked folder titled – “Don’t Torture Yourself.” What do I mean by this? Well, if you look at your essays or resume or something like that you’re going to inevitably find a typo or something that needs to be corrected. Then you’re going to torture yourself and think that you should send an update or something of that nature. Just know that more times than not, someone has something incorrect in their application SOMEWHERE. It’s just inevitable. So I say, don’t torture yourself when you hit submit.
Instead, you should reward yourself for getting through the grueling process that is applying to business school. CONGRATULATE YOURSELF!