“If you’re over 27, you should have the word ‘director’ in your title.”
“If you went to Harvard for undergrad, you’re in everywhere.”
“If you broke 750, you don’t need any work experience.”
“Don’t even bother applying Round 3.”
If you’re intimidated or galvanized by any of the above statements, here’s a hard, reality-restoring look at resume embellishments, “sexy” companies, application rounds, and what your exotic work experience will really do for you.
1. 30 is too old.
Some people have a negative outlook or believe that instilling fear in others is the best way to get attention or qualify themselves as experts. There will always be some “authority” out there who sets an arbitrary cut-off specification for anything career or life-progression related. You will always be “too young,” “too old,” or “too inexperienced” in the eyes of naysayers for whatever it is you want.
As you probably know deep inside, there is no cut-off. You will find people who are 37 or even 40 in MBA programs; the adcom simply wants to see that you have made the most out of your working life. For every year that you are out of college, you need to demonstrate increased responsibility and achievement. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what you want and whether you are willing to make the necessary sacrifices to get it.
2. If you didn’t break 700, you don’t stand a chance at a top school.
Forget 700; some people will tell you that if you didn’t break 750, you don’t stand a chance. The fact remains that there are a good number of applicants who didn’t break 700 accepted to Harvard and Stanford each year. Just check out Sanford Kreisberg’s post for one person’s take on the matter. If you work for a company like Google or Apple, have a 3.8 from Yale, and scored a 680 on the GMAT, you could definitely be admitted to a “top 5” or even “top 3” school over someone with a spottier work history and a 750 GMAT score.
3. It’s much, much easier in Round 1.
Rumor has it that your odds of admission go up if you apply Round 1: more spaces available and thus, a higher probability you will snag a slot. As spaces fill, admissions officers are more discriminating, or so experts say.
All this said, apply when you’re ready. Round 1 applicants tend to be very prepared and self-aware, so it makes sense their applications would be more successful (it doesn’t necessarily mean any special luck is on their side). Unless you’re dealing with rolling admissions and are told otherwise, you don’t get bonus points for submitting your app early. Since standards don’t fluctuate much, the adcom will have a sense of where your app stacks up against the rest before they even see what the tide brings in. Don’t turn in an app that is less than your best – remember that you may reapply should this year not work out, and your app will be on file for years to come.
4. If you have exotic work experience, you’re in everywhere.
As admissions consultant Sandy Kreisberg has said, there is a “small pot” for certain kinds of “cream” at HBS. That said, the “pot” is indeed smaller for certain categories of applicants. As a result, the admissions process is always more conservative than people expect it to be. Stories of non-traditional applicants tend to travel faster; everyone hears about poets, opera singers, and fashion designers who somehow land seats at the nation’s powerhouse programs. While successful applicants of this nature exist, they don’t make up the majority of acceptances. There’s no way around it: work experience, GMAT scores, and GPAs are generally what get people in.
6. The interview doesn’t matter.
To determine exactly how much the interview “matters” in quantifiable terms, simply look at the numbers. If every admitted student must interview, you know you can’t get in without an invite. If only a small portion are invited to interview and over 60% of those invited students are admitted, the interview itself is probably a less decisive factor (it’s more crucial, for instance, that you survive the cut-off to begin with). If, however, 70% of applicants are invited to interview and only 30% of those are admitted, then it becomes paramount that you perform well during the interview. It’s less of a box to check and more of a contest.
7. Certain companies are “sexy” and others aren’t.
While it’s true that brands like Google and Apple can turn a resume into gold, the length of time for which you worked at a company also matters, as does your title there and any indication of career progression. Wherever you work, you need to demonstrate that you can rise to the top of your peer group and distinguish yourself.
Keep in mind that if you do not work for a “sexy” company, you can add sparkle to your resume through your GMAT and GPA and other stats as well as extracurricular activities and community involvement. Thus, it is unlikely that a single isolated aspect of your profile will get you in or keep you out.
8. Your GPA doesn’t matter.
Every year, some applicants do gain admission to HBS, Wharton and other top programs with 3.2 GPAs and even 2.9s. However, this is not the norm. And remember that if you don’t work for a brand name company or have an outta-the-ballpark GMAT score, high grades from a respectable institution will boost your application profile. Otherwise, you’re asking the adcom to take a big risk when admitting you. At the very least, strive to avoid raising any red flags with your undergraduate performance.