The business school application scares most people. Sure, to outsiders, it looks simple enough—fill out a few forms, take a standardized test, send transcripts, answer some essay questions, get recommendations, and voilà, you're in.
If only. Since you are reading this book, you know it is not simple at all. Even deciding whether to apply, or to what schools you should apply is a challenge. And there are no easy answers.
Part of the problem is that there's an imbalance; you spend hours, if not days or months, wondering whether to interrupt a successful career to spend thousands of dollars on a business education. You study for months for a standardized test that tries to outsmart you. You spend time and energy figuring out which programs appeal most. You travel to visit campuses, cold-call alumni, and corral at least two, maybe three people senior to you to write thoughtful, specific recommendations about your excellence. To add to the indignity of it all, you have to write a set of personal, soul-wrenching essays that justify your decision to attend the program of your choice. Then, there's the probabilistic evidence that less than 10 percent of applicants to your favorite school are admitted.
So, why bother? Because the business school experience can change your life. It is the ticket to a new career and an expanded network. Business school is an amazing opportunity for knowledge and growth; it's fun, and there's a better than even chance that your MBA degree will pay itself back in a relatively few years.
Managing Your Campaign
Admitted is not about the benefits of business school. Instead, it organizes your thoughts so that you can turn in the best application that you are able to put forth, should you decide to go for it. It pushes you to figure out whether, and why, you want to earn an MBA. In fact, in the very first chapter, there's an exercise that questions your resolve to attend business school. It challenges you to figure out whether you really want to go down this path. After all, if you don't want to attend business school, you'll be wasting the year or so it takes to prepare the application, and then, of course, the lost years of income while you are in school.
Once you decide to jump into the business school application, this workbook can help you navigate the process. It's here to help you structure your campaign, and encourages you to think long and hard about your aspirations, experience, work style, emotional intelligence, and place in the world.
Along with helpful tips and stories about successful applicants, Admitted breaks down the application journey from beginning to end. The first few exercises on preparation may be simple for those who are absolutely committed to getting started with applications and are raring to go. Even so, the exercises encourage you to take a step back and test yourself on what you really want and what you hope to get out of the MBA experience. Whether the "Why MBA?" question is asked overtly on the application, or whether it comes up in an interview, the people deciding on your candidacy need to understand what has drawn you to business school and what role the degree will play in your ultimate goals. When the competition is so stiff, those who build a class are going to absolutely favor the students who really know why they want to be there over those who are still trying to figure it all out.
As you explore and try on different MBA programs for size, Admitted serves as your guide. Instead of telling you what school fits, the exercises in the book encourage and challenge you to ask the important questions that will help you decide what fits and importantly, what does not.
The workbook also has exercises for you to dissect your work history and create compelling stories about what you've achieved. Admissions officers want to see that you've taken advantage of every opportunity on the job and in your extracurricular life. They want to see that you have taken charge and made things happen for yourself and your organization.
The exercises and templates in the following chapters will give you tools to make your stories compelling and relevant to the questions asked on the application and by potential interviewers.
A Framework to Tackle the Essays
There's nothing worse than staring at a blank computer monitor and trying to come up with your three most significant accomplishments, or justification for your short- and long-term career goals.
Not surprisingly, one of the most frequent laments of aspiring MBA students is, "How do I figure out how to answer the questions?"
Exercises in Admitted help you to articulate your goals and dreams and the reasons you feel motivated to do what you do. Just like with the MBA essay questions, in this workbook, you can give no right or wrong answers. That's because only you, and maybe your close circle of friends, family, and mentors, really know what is authentic for you. Everyone's story is unique, thank heavens; after all, the admissions committees never want to hear canned responses, nor do they want to sit through the same boring answer over and over again.
Many students think there is some magical response for every essay question, and piling the pixie dust onto the application will result in guaranteed acceptance. There isn't. Admissions committees can see manufactured answers from a great distance. That's because there are no easy answers. You are in charge of "your one wild and precious life," as poet Mary Oliver calls it. The decisions you have made are your very own, and those decisions are what admissions committee members want to know about. They want to know what drives you and what values you hold dear. They want to know what makes you get up in the morning and work late at night. They want to know what it is that makes you so very, very interesting. And that's why they ask such open-ended questions.
The Questions behind the Questions
The exercises in this workbook are designed to help you answer the questions behind the questions. When a school asks you about your career vision or leadership or ability to work in teams, it is looking for more than a linear reply. It is giving you a platform to justify why you are the right candidate for a seat in the next matriculating class.
Completing the exercises in this workbook will help you articulate that profound assertion. Some of what you write won't make any sense at first. But the creative part of your brain works in mysterious ways, and you may find that one question inspires a wisp of an idea that might answer another question, and that might become the building block for another essay entirely. Or it may provide some inspiration that you had never expected.
It helps if you approach the application process with an open mind. Begin the process as you would a journey. Take yourself seriously, but not too seriously. Look for clues in your past and present that will help you explain why you are who you are, at this very moment, applying to a particular school. And why, of course, they should admit you. Prepare to be enlightened and even surprised by what you find out about yourself.
How this Book is Organized
Let's be honest. You don't have to read the whole workbook, and you certainly don't have to do every exercise. In fact, if you do just a few exercises, and they inspire you to get up and start networking, visiting campuses, or drafting your goals essay, then it's worth it. Clearly some sections will make more sense to you than others. For your convenience as you pick and choose the sections that will best help you, each chapter is summarized below.
Admitted is divided into eight chapters:
There's always more to do than you think. This chapter helps you get all your ducks in a row, figure out what you need to do before you get started, or if you've already started, it helps you figure out what you might have overlooked. Importantly, it tests your rationale for going to business school, and helps you prepare your response to the question that you will be asked in the application, in your interview, by your friends and family, and by those you choose to write your recommendations: "Why do you want an MBA?" In this section, you'll also learn how to define and organize your network, so that you can choose the program that fits you and your goals best.
2. Filling in the Gaps
Before you apply, it's important to know where you may stand. Fortunately, business schools publish profiles of the most recently admitted class, so you can compare your undergraduate grades and test scores and see how you measure up. This section offers tips on how to analyze your profile and suggests ways you can fill in gaps if necessary.
3. Work Experience
Business school admissions committees want to see that you have progressed in your career, made deliberate choices, and are going in a specific direction (forward, we hope). This section tutors you in analyzing your career history and gives you clues on how to write about your experiences. A resume template and a storytelling tool called "the hero's model," a classic paradigm that has worked for centuries, from the myths of ancient Greece to modern video games, round out the section.
4. Extracurricular Activities: Mining Your History for the Out-of-the-
Extracurriculars are helpful not just to show that you are interested in community service—in fact, some of your activities may be purely for fun. And that's fine. What's important is that you prove you're well-rounded, and this section teaches you how to talk about your leadership and teamwork experiences outside of work. Representatives from the Harvard Business School have noted that they are looking for a "habit of leadership" in potential candidates. If you don't work for a company where you are promoted to CEO by the time you apply, you can use your leadership skills as captain of a sports team or organizer of a junior karate championship. Discover how you can draw upon your leadership and teamwork experiences to round out your application and give color to the kind of person you are in real life.
5. The Essays
Work experience and extracurriculars warm you up for the big essay questions, which ask, in essence:
Why You? Why the MBA? Why Now?
The essays are the heart of the application. Certainly some schools' essay questions are scarier than others—take, for example, that of Stanford Graduate School of Business: "What is most important to you and why?" The answers to these questions require a great deal of self-reflection, and this section helps piece together your answers.
Admissions officers are looking for examples of your character, influence, teamwork, and leadership. The exercises in this section will help you identify certain traits and experiences about which you will want to write. This section asks you to look at your decisions, motivations, attitudes, and aspirations. It asks you about whom you influence and who influences you; it asks you what you are good at and what you could be better at. It then looks at leadership and emotional intelligence, teamwork, resiliency, risk taking, giving and receiving feedback. This is the longest chapter in the book, and like the essays themselves, is disproportionately valuable.
6. Recommendation Wrangling
Admissions committees look at recommendation letters far more closely than you may imagine. So it's important to choose your recommenders carefully and to prep them well in advance. In fact, selecting and briefing those who will write your recommendation letters is so important that you should schedule this activity in the early part of your timetable. Once you set your target admissions round, you should give your recommender a two- to three-month lead time. This chapter comes after the essay deep-dive because the information you will provide the recommender will come, in part, from the material in the previous three chapters. With templates to guide the recommender, this chapter allows you to share examples of your leadership and teamwork with tangible, measurable results. In this section, you will also have a chance to figure out how the recommender should discuss your weaknesses or areas of development.
7. Prep for the Interview
This chapter gives you the tools and exercises to review and clarify your story and to make it succinct and believable. You'll be asked to review parts of your application and some of the stories you may want to add. You'll also find suggestions for questions to ask the interviewer and a mock interview evaluation form to give your practice partner. Because yes, you have to practice.
8. The Waiting is the Hardest Part
By the time you get to this chapter, you probably won't want anything more to do with the application. This section simply reminds you that you have interests beyond applying to business school, and you have friends and family who want to know how you are doing. It also tells you that it's okay to be anxious; anyone would be in your shoes.
This workbook has been a labor of love. It started out as an idea over lunch with a colleague and turned into what you are reading right now. Everyone approaches business school applications differently, and you are right to do so. You'll figure out what works for you. All I hope is that this workbook gives you a way to put your best self forward before the admissions committee.
You deserve it.