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MBA Admissions Tip: Common Recommendation Dilemmas

This MBA admissions tip comes to us from our friends at Clear Admit. For more expert b-school admissions advice, check out their blog or previous Clear Admit posts on our blog.

As many of our readers are aware, letters of recommendation are a central part of the application process.  We would like to take a look at how to handle the snags that often arise for applicants in unique employment situations.

The applicant who is most likely to have trouble finding a suitable recommender is either self-employed or works in his or her family’s business.  First, self-employed entrepreneurs by their very nature do not have a direct supervisor.  Similarly, an applicant who works for the family business may have trouble finding a non-related supervisor, or someone who can offer a truly objective opinion.

Applicants who find themselves in this dilemma should not despair. Some applicants might be in a position to solicit a letter from a client or customer with whom they have worked extensively.  In an ongoing relationship like this one, the applicant is accountable to the client, and in this sense the client may act as a supervisor.  A letter from a client or customer works best, of course, when the relationship has been intensive and ongoing; the writer should be familiar with the applicant’s responsibilities and the way he or she fulfills them, as well as his or her career trajectory.

Another option is to look to former supervisors for a letter of recommendation.  This is a good option for an applicant who has maintained a close relationship with a previous employer. I n this scenario, it is important that the applicant has kept the recommender informed about any developments in his or her career goals.  This way, the letter will be oriented towards the future even if it draws on anecdotes from the past.

For applicants who have pursued extensive community involvement outside of work, yet another recommendation option may exist within a volunteer organization.  Someone who has contributed to a nonprofit for several years and has taken on responsibilities at the organizational level would be in a great position to explore this option.  Again, applicants in this position should look for a recommender who ranks above them in the organization’s hierarchy and has first-hand knowledge of their contributions.

Following these criteria, in conjunction with some of the more general guidelines, applicants can acquire insightful, enthusiastic recommendations that bolster their entire applications.

MBA Admissions Tip: Word Limits

This week’s MBA admissions tip comes to us from our friends at Clear Admit. For more expert MBA admissions advice, check out their blog.

With applicants for the round one deadlines putting the finishing touches on their applications, the question of how strictly applicants need to adhere to word limits is perhaps more popular than ever. MBA candidates naturally have a good deal of information they want – and need – to convey in their materials, and getting the important ideas down under restrictive word counts is a difficult task. While it might be tempting to run a bit beyond the guidelines to slip in that one extra thought, it’s important to keep the reasons for word limits in mind.

In addition to being a forum for explaining your goals and sharing your story, the essays also serve as a test of the applicant’s ability to communicate clearly and concisely, not to mention follow directions and answer a question. Because business schools and post-MBA employers place a premium on all of these elements, adhering to word counts ultimately works to the candidate’s advantage.

The other consideration is the reader’s time. Because of high application volume and the need to give every applicant fair and thorough consideration, schools are forced to limit the amount of information in each file. If you consistently extend your answers beyond the suggested limits, you are essentially asking the reader to give you more time than they are devoting to the other applicants. In other words, if you were to ignore the word limits and overshoot by 30% throughout, this might imply that you consider yourself to be 20% more interesting than everyone else who applied.

That being said, there is some leeway. For the vast majority of programs, it’s generally acceptable to exceed the word limit by 10%. There are, of course, a few exceptions:

Caveat #1: If a school gives you a range (e.g. 250-750 words), you should ideally stay within that range.
Caveat #2: If a school gives you a page limit (e.g. 2 pages), you should stay within that limit – without excessive margin manipulation or font size reduction.

In terms of the other end of the length issue, it is likely unwise to consistently fall more than 10% below the word limits, as this is valuable room in which to share further information about your candidacy (and might signal a lack of effort, experience, or accomplishments).

Best of luck to all those working on their application essays!

MBA Admissions Tip: MBA Application Data Form

This MBA admissions tip comes to us from our friends at Clear Admit. For more expert MBA admission advice, check out their blog.

With MBA programs’ Round One deadlines just around the corner, we wanted to offer some words of advice about an often overlooked element of one’s file: the application data forms. All too often, we see candidates leave these online application forms for the last minute, even rushing to enter all the required information from work on “deadline day.” The truth is that a weak effort on these forms can do serious harm to one’s candidacy, as it might reflect poorly on the applicant’s professional polish or commitment to the application process. This being the case, here are a few tips for those who are in the midst of completing this component of the application:

1) Don’t be lazy. We know that many applicants feel “burned out” from their essays and that it’s tempting to zip through the application forms and provide a bare minimum of information. While it’s fine to use your resume as a starting point, make sure that you think beyond this ready-made content and consider other information that might be of interest. In many cases, the forms are a great opportunity for you to list outside activities in depth, offer a quick explanation of a bad semester, share the significance of some professional awards you’ve received, and so on. In fact, your application forms will often be the starting point for the admissions officer’s review of your file, so it’s important to put your best foot forward.

2) Follow instructions. If a school asks you to list activities in order of importance to you, then do not list them chronologically (as you may have done for another school). If the school asks for a contact person, title or the number of hours/week, do not leave these fields blank. As attention to detail is very important, spell checking another important step in this process. In fact, many admissions officers have stated that they use the application forms as a way to see whether or not candidates have the ability to follow instructions and show attention to detail.

3) Make everything clear. The last thing you want is for your reader to have to play detective in understanding your career progression, making sense of gaps in employment, or evaluating your undergraduate performance. If your listings are not clear, the reader may assume you are hiding something – a conclusion that could seriously damage your chances. By the same token, you should avoid using industry jargon and be sure that all of your statements will make sense to a reader who is not familiar with your industry or function. Given the level of competition in the applicant pool, the admissions office can afford to dismiss files that are confusing or difficult to follow.

4) Don’t go overboard. Admissions officers typically review several files in a sitting – devoting much less time than you might imagine to each file. With this in mind, avoid listing 18 activities, 22 awards and 17 publications – especially if some of those items date back to high school (or are more than 10 years old). Stay focused on the elements of your background that are most relevant, while following the instructions that have been outlined. Remember that the application process is an exercise in marketing, and that the schools appreciate applicants who are discerning about what details to share and know how to present themselves most effectively.

As always, best of luck to those of you who are applying!

MBA Admission Tip: Know Your Audience

This weekly MBA admissions tip comes to us from our friends at Clear Admit. For more expert MBA admissions advice, check out their blog.

As Round One deadlines approach,  applicants are coming to understand that applying to business school is an incredibly demanding process. In addition to taking the GMAT, assembling academic transcripts and providing recommendation letters, candidates are required to draft multiple essays, job descriptions, lists of activities and more.

With the obvious incentive to save time where ever possible, it’s understandable that many applicants simply cut and paste content from an existing resume and write about their work in the manner that comes most naturally. However, in doing so, countless candidates each year assemble their materials without ever asking a fundamental question:

Who will read my application?

While the answer to this question may vary from school to school, one thing is certain: It is unlikely that the person reading your file will have an intimate level of familiarity with your specific industry or job function. This being the case, if you use industry-specific jargon or assume prior knowledge of your field on the part of the admissions officer, you undoubtedly will lose your reader.

It’s also important to keep the big picture in mind; many applicants become so mired in the details of their own work and role that they fail to provide sufficient context for a company outsider to understand the importance of one’s efforts to the department or organization as a whole. The solution is to write about your experiences in a way that the average person will understand. While this is easier said than done, it underlines the importance of sharing your materials with an unbiased adviser (ideally not a work colleague or family member) to make sure that you aren’t off base with some of your assumptions.

To learn more about who will actually read your essays at the various schools, or to inquire about our application editing services, simply contact Clear Admit with your CV/resume and sign up for a free initial assessment.

MBA Admissions Tip: The Optional Essay

This post comes to us from our friends at Clear Admit. For more expert MBA admissions advice, check out their blog.

We realize that the questions of whether to answer an optional essay and, if so, what to say, are ones that loom large for many b-school applicants at this time of year. While we’ve been offering a great deal of school-specific essay advice over the past few months, we wanted to take some time to suggest a few considerations that applicants might want to take into account when making this call.

Is it relevant?
Perhaps this goes without saying, but the only information worth sharing in an optional essay is that which will make a material difference in your candidacy. Whether you wish to comment on an exciting leadership role you’ve just taken on or explain that you were overextended extracurricularly during that one bad semester in college, make sure to think carefully about whether this information will affect and enhance the reader’s perception of your business school candidacy.


Was it requested?
Most schools do request that applicants use an optional essay to address certain issues, such as a failing grade in a degree program or the absence of a letter of recommendation from one’s current direct supervisor. In spite of the technically optional nature of the question, it’s very important to follow directions and provide this information if a school requests it.

Also along the lines of what information is requested, it’s wise to think carefully about a school’s other essay questions before deciding to use an optional essay or provide additional information, as each of these topics affords applicants a chance to introduce the information about their background and interests that they consider to be most important. Your objective should be to provide as complete a picture of your candidacy as possible within the framework of a school’s required essays (as these are a good indication of what a given program is most interested in hearing about) and to only introduce information in an optional essay that you could not have covered elsewhere without sacrificing something more essential.

Is it constructive?
Once you’ve decided that a detail is relevant to your candidacy and merits mentioning in an optional essay, the next step is to think carefully about the way this information might be perceived and make sure that the impact it makes on your chances of admission is a positive one. For instance, an essay that simply alerts the adcom to a serious medical condition might help its author stand out from other applicants, but could also leave the reader wondering whether this person could handle the demands of a rigorous academic program. On the other hand, a few details about this applicant’s strategies for achieving success in spite of some kind of disability and commitment to supporting others with a chronic illness or impairment might make him or her seem like a very valuable addition to the business school community.

Is it concise?
It’s always a good idea to keep in mind that by answering an optional essay, you are creating extra work for the person reading your file. While this should not dissuade you from addressing a topic that you have deemed important based on the considerations above, it’s very important that you demonstrate good judgment by limiting your comments to the most relevant information and keeping your response as direct and concise as possible.

We hope that these general guidelines have helped to clear up some confusion and shed some light on the optional essay issue. For more tailored feedback on your personal situation, feel free to send your resume or CV to info@clearadmit.com for a free initial consultation.

MBA Admissions Tip: Off-Campus Information Sessions

This post comes to us from our friends at Clear Admit.. For more expert MBA admissions advice, check out their blog.

For all those applicants who have recently opened a calendar to plot out the next few months only to realize they can’t possibly fit in campus visits on top of full time jobs and essay writing, never fear!  It’s true that traveling to a school’s campus is the ideal way to learn about their MBA program, but visiting is often not a viable option for applicants who are located remotely or unsure of their level of interest in a given school.  The good news is that business schools might very well come to them.  Many b-schools are getting ready to hit the road and embark on worldwide tours to dispense information and recruit qualified applicants.  Such events offer a great opportunity for interested students to meet with admissions staff (and sometimes current students and/or alumni), learn about the program and ask specific questions.

Some of the top schools are already on the road, so we recommend looking into the travel schedules for programs of interest and planning accordingly. Keeping in mind that these schedules are updated and amended throughout the fall, here are some of the top programs’ itineraries for the months ahead:

Berkeley / Haas:

Chicago Booth:


Duke / Fuqua:


Northwestern / Kellogg:

Michigan / Ross:

MIT / Sloan:

Stanford GSB:

NYU / Stern:

Dartmouth / Tuck:

UCLA / Anderson:

UNC / Kenan Flagler:

UVA / Darden:

U Penn / Wharton:

Yale SOM:





MBA Admissions Tip: Applying to Business School as a Younger Applicant

This weekly MBA admissions tip comes to us from our friends at Clear Admit. For more expert b-school admissions advice, check out their blog.

As many of our readers know, it has become increasingly common for younger individuals to apply to MBA programs.  Whereas the average age at the leading business schools has traditionally hovered at around 28 and the average amount of work experience at around five years, many programs are now carefully considering the more youthful end of the applicant pool.  Of course, the fact that admissions officers are taking a closer look at younger applicants does not mean that getting accepted to a top program is easy for this group.  In fact, it may be difficult for younger applicants to present themselves as fully prepared to contribute to an MBA program because they often lack leadership experience and extended business exposure.  This is especially true as they will be compared to their fellow applicants who have more years in the working world (often translating to more leadership experience and professional accomplishments).  With this in mind, we’d like to offer a few tips that will help younger MBA candidates leverage the strengths of their candidacies and become increasingly competitive applicants at their choice schools.

Note: For the purposes of this article, we’ll define “younger applicants” as ranging from zero to two years of experience (e.g undergraduate seniors and folks who are one to two years removed from their college graduation).

1) Have an exceptional academic profile. Ideally all MBA candidates will be able to present stellar GPA and GMAT scores, but for younger candidates this is especially crucial.  If younger candidates are likely to fall short in the “work experience” category, then their academic profiles are all the more important to show that they are prepared for the rigors of an MBA classroom.  Therefore it’s better if your scores (GMAT and GPA) are above than the published averages for schools’ incoming classes.  In addition, it will be to your benefit if you have received undergraduate scholarships and awards or graduated at the top of your class, as this indicates that you excelled relative to your peers.

2) Demonstrate your leadership experience and potential. Younger applicants may have only limited full-time professional experience.  Without much time in the working world, there is often less opportunity to move up and gain the responsibilities that lead to management and leadership experiences.  Despite this fact, one way to demonstrate your responsibility and management experience is through your participation in and leadership of extracurricular and undergraduate activities.  In short, as a younger applicant, it is important for you to use whatever experiences you have had thus far (internships, collegiate activities, part-time work, community service, etc.) to demonstrate your leadership and responsibility, displaying your experience as well as your potential for personal growth and ability to benefit your target MBA programs.

3) Have clear goals. Presenting a clear vision for the future is always a good strategy, as the majority of MBA programs are hesitant to accept students who they feel will get lost in the program’s available choices once they arrive.  For younger applicants this is even more crucial, as your relative lack of professional work experience could cause some concern about your ability to pinpoint your short- and long-term goals.  It is therefore important that you provide details about your planned career path, as well as demonstrate confidence that you will stick to this plan.  Applicants who have more years in the working world can draw on their experiences as proof that they understand their interests and work habits; as a younger applicant, you must demonstrate that you are able to do the same despite your relative inexperience.

4) Be able to explain why you are seeking an MBA now as opposed to later. It’s necessary for younger applicants to describe how the timing of their applications relates to their academic or work experiences to date as well as their future goals.  Your challenge will be to convince your target MBA programs that you are able to make a valuable contribution to their schools without further work experience.  In order to do this, you will need to demonstrate that continuing at your current job is not conducive to your future goals at this juncture.  You might also suggest that there is some degree of urgency related to the pursuit of yours goals, due to applicable circumstances such as a closing market opportunity, taking advantage of an industry trend, or making a transition in your career.    Having clear goals and a detailed career plan will help you explain why you must pursue a formal business education now in order to achieve your objectives.

5) Demonstrate your maturity. It’s important that younger applicants don’t let the adcom mistake their youth for immaturity.  One of the ways you can demonstrate your maturity is by showcasing your ability to analyze your actions, accept blame, and grow and learn from mistakes and failures, as these are trademarks of a reflective and mature individual.  An easy opportunity to do this is in essays that ask you to detail a failure, mistake, or setback.  In these essays, it is crucial that you do not appear petty, arrogant, or unable to accept or grow from criticism, as this would only further emphasize your youth.  Another way you can demonstrate your maturity is by focusing on your more recent work experiences and accomplishments.  Some of these might be from college, as you may not have had time to prove yourself in the working world, however, it’s generally best to try and use the most recent experiences possible, as these will provide a clearer picture of who you are today.  You may be tempted to use high school or grade school experiences as examples of leadership, challenges, and accomplishments, but because pre-undergraduate activities will make you appear younger than you are, they should ideally not be discussed in depth.

MBA Admissions Tip: Planning for the Round 1 MBA Deadlines

This MBA admissions tip comes to us from our friends at Clear Admit. For more expert MBA admissions advice, check out their blog.

Anyone who’s familiar with the MBA application process knows that August moves forward at an accelerated pace, and come September, entire weeks seem to disappear.  To help this year’s Round One applicants avoid the classic time crunch, today’s blog post offers some basic advice on how to approach the Round One deadlines at a reasonable pace.

Let’s start by taking a quick look at the published Round One deadlines for the top MBA programs:

September 15: ISB (for Indian Passport Holders)
September 23:
Cambridge / Judge
September 28:
INSEAD (September Intake)
September 29:
Duke / Fuqua (Early Action)
October 3:
Harvard, Wharton
October 5:
Columbia (Early Decision and January Term)
October 6:
Yale SOM
October 10:
Michigan Ross
October 12:
Cornell / Johnson, Stanford GSB, Chicago / Booth, Berkeley / Haas, Dartmouth / Tuck (Early Action)
October 14:
Oxford / Saïd
October 17:
UVA Darden
October 18:
Northwestern / Kellogg
October 21:
UNC / Kenan-Flagler (Early Action)
October 24:
CMU / Tepper, UT Austin / McCombs
October 25:
MIT / Sloan
October 26:
UCLA / Anderson
November 1:
Duke / Fuqua (Round 1)
November 9:
Dartmouth / Tuck (November Round)

Though some schools have yet to announce their deadlines (such as London Business School and NYU), one can still get a general sense of the lineup of R1 deadlines.  Here are a few tips to keep in mind when creating your personal timeline:

1) Plan to be busy in August and September. Yes, it can be tempting to work on one’s tan instead of one’s essays.  However, many MBA applicants squander the month of August only to wake up in September and realize that they cannot make their target deadlines.  If not bogged down by professional obligations in August, this makes for a great opportunity to devote time to working on your MBA applications in the evenings.  The last weeks of summer can easily be split between resume drafting, essay writing, recommendation coaching, GMAT prep, school research, and more.

2) Think carefully about the timing of the R1 deadlines. Looking at the deadlines above, it becomes clear that some deadlines may be easier to make than others.  A candidate applying to Wharton and MIT Sloan could have a leisurely October when compared to someone targeting Wharton, Yale, and Tuck.  Look at the deadlines, assume about three weeks of research and writing for each school’s application and count backwards to determine a start date for each.  It is entirely possible to meet back-to-back deadlines, such as Darden and Kellogg, but doing so requires a well-planned schedule and consistent progress.

3) Consider taking some time off from work. We realize that many MBA applicants work 70 hours/week and haven’t had a day off in months.  For such applicants, a day or two out of the office can really do wonders for focus and organization.  Applying to business school is a serious undertaking, and in the long-term you won’t regret having given yourself enough time to prepare strong applications.  Many successful candidates take a week off in late September to make the final push.  It’s not a glamorous way to spend your vacation time, but an offer to attend a leading MBA program can make the sacrifice well worth it.

4) Get your recommenders on board early. While many of the schools have not yet made their online applications and recommendation forms available, it’s a good idea to engage your recommenders early and inform them about the process and your timeline.  Sit down with each recommender in August, perhaps over lunch or coffee.  Present them with a rough sketch of the deadlines and the process.  It’s then a wise idea to meet again once the forms are available, and by that time many applicants are in a position to share their background materials (a resume, career goals essays, etc.) to help their recommenders understand—and support—their message.

Happy planning!  For more information on the application process and school selection, we encourage you to contact us at info@clearadmit.com for a free consultation.

MBA Admissions Tip: Using Rankings to Your Advantage

This post comes to us from our friends at Clear Admit. For more expert admissions advice, check out their blog.

There are numerous sources that can knowledgeably rank the “top” MBA programs.  However, because business schools receive different rankings depending on sources’ criteria, it can be difficult to understand which are the “best” schools.  Therefore, today we’d like to talk about how b-school applicants can use rankings to discover the “best” schools—for them.  Although the general merits of each school are important, we also believe that it is important for MBA applicants to rank schools based on their individual needs and interests.  We encourage applicants to use official MBA school rankings in the following ways:

1. Use rankings to create a consensus. Sources rarely have the exact same rankings as each other, and therefore trying to determine the “top 5” schools can be frustrating.  However, it’s best to compile these different sources of rankings to form a consensus regarding the top schools.  For example, if your target program is consistently listed in the top 15, regardless of its individual ranking among different sources, you should feel confident that it is regarded as a top school by industry professionals and future employers.  You may not be able to pinpoint the ultimate “number one” school, but you will be able to distinguish between the different tiers of schools.

2. Consider individual rankings. MBA applicants should assess schools based on how they will help them gain what they want from their business school experiences.  Therefore we urge you to ask yourself—what matters most to you in an MBA program?  Some applicants may value strict adherence to the case method more than the amount or size of research centers, whereas other applicants may want a large number of diverse student organizations or a strong joint-degree program.  Looking at the individual criteria from which rankings are calculated may help you judge business schools based on the specific factors that matter most to you.  For example, if you are interested in entrepreneurship, then perhaps you should consider applying to an MBA program with a strong program in this field, even if it receives lower scores in other areas—especially if these areas are not a main concern for you.

3.  Think about where you want to go after business school. In addition to considering what you want to get out of your business school experience, you should think about how business school will help you pursue your future career.  Therefore, some important rankings to consider may be the number of internships students gain at a particular MBA program, or how many recruiters from different fields visit specific campuses.  These rankings may be especially important if you need to follow a specific career path to achieve your career goals.

In addition to studying rankings, we encourage b-school applicants to do further research in understanding the comparable merits of business schools, such as perusing admissions information, talking to professors and students, and visiting campuses. Furthermore, we encourage applicants to check out our Clear Admit School Guides, which offer detailed profiles of the leading MBA programs.  Best of luck to those researching business schools!

MBA Admissions Tip: School-Hosted Blogs

Laptop manThis weekly MBA admissions tip comes from our friends at Clear Admit. For more expert b-school admissions advice, check out their blog.

As the summer progresses and applicants begin researching their target schools in more depth, we would like to highlight a valuable research tool: school-hosted blogs. The last few years have seen a significant increase in the number of MBA student blogs hosted by schools’ admissions offices, as well as in admissions offices’ use of blogs to keep applicants informed of deadlines, admissions policies and events. Both types of blogs are useful throughout the admissions cycle; the factual information in the admissions office blogs is helpful in understanding and planning for the application process, while the student blogs offer valuable insights into student life, culture and academics.

Below we’ve provided links to some of the active blogs hosted by the leading MBA programs.

Admissions Office Blogs:

Harvard Business School Director’s Blog

Kellogg School of Management

UC Berkeley Haas School of Business

UCLA Anderson School of Management

Wharton MBA Admissions

Stanford MBA Admission Blog

Chicago MBA Admissions Blog

Ross School of Business

School-Hosted Student Blogs:

London Business School

MIT Sloan Student Journals

Wharton Student Diaries

UC Berkeley Haas School of Business

UCLA Anderson School of Management

Yale SOM Community Blog

Finally, The Tuck School of Business offers a blog for which both students and admissions officers contribute.

To help our readers easily access these blogs, we offer feeds on the right-hand column of this page that display the most recent entries from school-hosted blogs. Whether you are an applicant looking to learn more about a target school or a news junkie who just can’t get enough of the MBA world, these feeds should help you keep on top of all the latest blogging from the schools.  Happy reading!