Kellogg Video Essay Questions

For those of you who don’t speak English as a first language and/or don’t feel comfortable in front of a camera, the video essay questions that Kellogg are asking are probably causing a bit of undue stress. Below I’ll offer some tips on how to prepare, including a chance to practice using the same software that Kellogg uses.

As you know, you will be required to record answers to two video essay questions: one about your interest in Kellogg, and another about something of a more personal nature. Applicants last year were asked such questions as “What possession or memento do you treasure most and why?”, “If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be and why?”, etc. The purpose in asking this question is to get to know you better, to see more of your personality and character beyond your resume.

For these more casual and personal questions, the key is to answer the question directly, and then offer a reason and some brief examples.

Take this question for instance:

If you could meet anyone, living or dead, whom would you choose and why?

Whom you choose will reveal something about you, although there is no right or wrong answer here. If you choose a historical figure, say, one who advocated for civil rights, the admissions committee will have learned something more about you. Perhaps you have been working intensely in your business career but in fact, on the side, you have a very activist nature and you also care a good deal about civic issues and have been active in this area. This adds a bit more depth and diversity to your candidacy.

Or, let’s say that you wish to meet your grandmother who had passed away not long ago. In your response you might reveal something about your family, or about qualities that you admired in your grandmother which in turn says something about your own values. This, too, will reveal more about you as a person.

In structuring your response, you should

1) Answer the question (e.g., “I would choose to meet xxx”)

2) Explain briefly why you have chosen this person

3) Provide some brief anecdote(s) or example(s).

In most cases, there are no “wrong” answers unless you reveal something inappropriate or (more likely) fail to provide valuable reasons or details.

I recommend spending some time going through these types of questions since they are not things we normally think about.


We have recorded questions using the same software that Kellogg uses. Our simulated practice will consist of the opportunity to record your responses to 5 questions* and detailed written feedback on both your responses and any visual issues surrounding your recording (e.g., lighting, body language).

*Our questions are based on past applicants’ experiences, though there is no guarantee that you will get the same questions in your actual video essay experience since Kellogg has a large database of questions from which they randomly generate their questions.

If you would like to experience a simulated practice and get some feedback before you record yourself on Kellogg’s application, please write to us at info[at]revecounseling[dot]com for information on how to get started.

Columbia Business School: 2013-14 Deadlines and Essay Analyses


Early Decision (August 2014 entry): October 2, 2013

Regular Decision (August 2014 entry): April 9, 2014

January 2014 entry: October 2, 2013

Important: Columbia admissions is on a rolling basis (first-come, first-serve), so you should apply well before the posted deadlines.

Columbia Business School offers a few different application options.

If you know for certain that Columbia is your top choice, you should definitely consider applying through their Early Decision program. The deadline is earlier (October 2 this year) and you need to make a commitment to attend if admitted. The advantage is that you can submit your application for consideration well before the rush of other applications comes in. If you’re a strong candidate and Columbia is your first choice, you will likely have your strongest chance of getting accepted in this round. It is beneficial for a school to know with some certainty that the applicant they admit will actually come.

If you’re flexible as to when you can start your MBA and you’re looking for a shorter program, you might want to consider applying for their January 2014 entering class. The January program is 16 months and can work well for you if you are looking to return to work soon and don’t need that summer internship. The deadline is also October 2.

Otherwise, there is regular admissions for entry in August 2014. I imagine that this is the most competitive round in terms of volume of applications.

Rolling admissions means that Columbia accepts applicants on a first-come, first-serve basis. If they like you, they will extend an interview invitation to you. They will then make a final decision shortly after your interview is done without waiting for and comparing you against other applicants. So, unlike most other schools that do not operate on a rolling basis, it is better to apply earlier rather than later to Columbia (do not wait until the deadline!). They won’t start reviewing applications until early January for regular admissions, but you can submit yours even before then to get yourself in the pipeline. We have had strong clients who received feedback from the admissions office that they wished they could admit them, but unfortunately there was no space left (they had submitted applications after the winter).

Below are the essay questions for the 2013-14 application and my comments and advice:

(1.) What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? Required by all applicants.

This is not technically an essay but appears in the essay portion of the on-line application. You are asked to write in one succinct sentence your post-MBA career goal. Be specific and clear here as to what you plan to be doing after graduation (e.g., “I will be returning to my company to lead the marketing department in our new office in Delhi.”).

2. Given your individual background, why are you pursuing a Columbia MBA at this time? (500 words) 

I would interpret this as the usual goals essay that is asked by most business schools. They want to know how your background has led you to apply to Columbia’s MBA program at this time. You’ll need to discuss your background (be careful not to simply repeat your resume but instead focus on the most salient points as related to your goals (talk about key points in your career development and the main experiences and issues that have led you to your goals)), your short- and long-term goals (you can go into a little more detail in this essay), and why you want an MBA now and why at Columbia in particular.

3. Columbia Business School is located in the heart of the world’s business capital – Manhattan. How do you anticipate that New York City will impact your experience at Columbia? (250 words)

Please view the videos below [available in the essay section of the on-line application]:

New York City – limitless possibilities

New York City – fast paced and adaptable

Yes! You have to watch these two videos first. However, they’re both very short (the longer one is just a little over 2 minutes). The first video provides an introduction to the atmosphere and culture of New York to those who aren’t familiar with the city, while the second talks more about the access that Columbia students have to businesses and leaders because they are studying in New York.

Looking at your own situation, why do you want to be in New York and how do you wish to benefit from the location? You’ll need to think about and write this essay from the view of your goals. Specifically, how can studying in New York help you grow in the ways that you hope? Definitely talk about the professional aspects of what you hope to achieve, but you can also talk about personal aspects. For example, maybe in addition to studying finance and doing an internship in Manhattan and listening to speakers, you also have an interest in volunteering in the ethnic communities, and you would like to explore this while you are in New York. Or perhaps you are from a remote part of the world, and it will be the first time to be in a city like New York. Think of the different ways you believe that studying in New York will help develop both your goals and your growth as a person.

4. What will the people in your Cluster be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (250 words)

The Cluster will be the group of 65-70 students to which you’ll be assigned once you start at Columbia. You’ll be taking most of your first year core courses with these students as well as socializing with them outside of class.

In this essay, you are asked to reveal something interesting about yourself. Since these Cluster mates will be your friends, you are invited to write something personal here. The purpose of this essay is to offer a glimpse of you that is not apparent in the other parts of your application, which will focus entirely on your professional side. Is there anything interesting or unexpected or unusual or funny that you’d like for your future classmates to know about you? This is an open ended essay and there is no set rule as to how to write it, but if applicable, talk about (as a conclusion) how you can also somehow contribute to your classmates with this particular attribute (e.g., If you choose to discuss your hobbies in singing or acting you can also mention how you would like to contribute your talents to their MBA Follies, the students’ annual comedy show.)

5. Is there any further information that you wish to provide the Admissions Committee? Please use this space to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history. (Maximum 500 words)

Use this optional essay to shed light on any aspect of your background that you are concerned might impact the way the admissions committee views your application. Examples include less than average test scores or GPA, employment gaps, and inability to secure a recommendation letter from a current supervisor. If in doubt, it is better to explain it, since the admissions committee will see the problem whether or not you actually talk about it. Without an explanation on your part, they will not give you the benefit of the doubt but, rather, assume the worst.

When addressing concerns, be sure to never offer excuses. Put yourself in the shoes of the admissions committee and try and anticipate how you can help them, by providing the information that they need. For example, if your TOEFL score is low, then you’ll need to provide them not reasons why your score is low but a description of the ways that you use English effectively. After all, the admissions committee is trying to gather evidence that you will not struggle in the curriculum.

For reapplicants:

How have you enhanced your candidacy since your previous application? Please detail your progress since you last applied and reiterate how you plan to achieve your immediate and long term post-MBA professional goals. (Maximum 500 words).

If you applied in the past but were not admitted, discuss here the different ways in which you have improved your candidacy since that application. Consider any weaknesses that you had, and talk about how you have worked on improving them. For example, if you had applied with average test scores, hopefully you can now show them higher test scores; if you had insufficient international experience then but have since gotten involved in some international projects, talk about that. The admissions committee wants to see an improved applicant.

Finally, update and reconfirm your career goals.

How to find the best admissions consultant

Those of you who have decided to apply to graduate school this fall/winter and to employ an admissions consultant may already be looking around for the best person to help you. Each year some applicants come to us because they were not happy with the person they had worked with, and through them I have learned about some of the more common grievances among applicants. Additionally, I have worked on the side of recruiting, training, supervising and even firing admissions consultants for over ten years. I’ve settled conflicts between clients and consultants and have a good understanding of how things can go wrong. Because hiring a consultant is such a huge investment, below I offer some advice as you research the best person to work with you:

1. What is your own philosophy about presenting yourself to your target universities?

This past season I worked with a Chinese client, and I had learned earlier of the common practice in China of applicants hiring consultants to write their essays entirely for them. Since we don’t engage in ghostwriting, I asked her why she came to us. She responded, “It’s outrageous for someone to want to take my words from me; I want to tell my own story, and to use my own words.”

Ethically speaking, using your own words and writing your own essays is the only choice. Practically speaking, admissions committees are now catching on to essays that are not genuine. (This is why more and more business schools are using the Turnitin software to detect plagiarism as well as reducing the number of essays required and instead placing more emphasis on the interview.) However, you do need to be honest with yourself about your expectations: Do you wish to, or are you willing to do most of the work in the writing process? Do you prefer a consultant who is willing to play a big role in writing your essays for you?

I once worked with a client who kept pushing me to polish his essays up to a native English level, because he was worried his English ability was too low. Despite the fact that he had signed a contract with us agreeing to our non-ghostwriting policy, he got very angry at my unwillingness to write his essays for him. I believe that he had every intention of following our philosophy, but when he realized his test scores were not improving, he became increasingly panicked about his chances of attending a top 10 business school, and his desperation overpowered everything else. So you will need to ask yourself honestly what type of help you truly wish to get and find a counselor whose philosophy and methods match your needs.

2. How much flexibility do you need?

Looking at the coming fall and winter months, how busy will you be with work, test preparation, family, etc.? Are you in a line of work where you might be called at a moment’s notice to travel overseas? Do you foresee periods when you might need to work 20 hours a day? Ask your prospective consultant how she works and how she responds to schedules like yours. Some consultants try to be flexible and make themselves available as much as possible; some have stricter rules about when they expect to receive client essays and make appointments.

3. Ask the consultant how many clients he works with and/or how he handles his client load and the bottlenecks in the season.

Perhaps the biggest complaint I have heard from unhappy clients is the feeling that they were not a priority to the person to whom they’d paid huge sums of money to serve as their coach. Often this happens through small gestures on the part of the consultant – delayed responses to e-mail messages, quick and superficial responses, slow return of essays, forgetting of details that have already been discussed, etc.

I believe that professional and ethical consultants start off the season with every intention to prioritize each and every client. However, when the demands become great – when 15 people are sending 4 essays each and all asking to receive feedback “right away” (remember, the majority of deadlines fall around the same time) – the consultant becomes overwhelmed, and becomes pressured to prioritize. Some consultants might do this based on deadline – they may prioritize those who urgently need to finish their applications soon – and they may prioritize according to the “status” of the client (the more “superstar” clients with the 700+ GMAT may get more attention). This happens when a consultant takes on more clients than he can handle.

It would be unfair of me to give a “magic” number that you can use when shopping for consultants since everyone has a different capacity for working (e.g., a consultant who is single versus a consultant who has children at home to take care of versus a consultant who might have another job on the side). Generally speaking, I would suggest paying attention and asking questions of a consultant who says he works with more than 10-12 clients per season. (It may turn out not to be a problem at all; my point is to just pay attention and get more information.)

4. Ask the consultant about her refund and cancellation policies and ask for a copy in writing.

In Japan where we are incorporated, consulting services like ours are required by law to provide refunds to clients. And yet, you’ll be surprised how many consultants fail to do this. The unfortunate thing about this industry is that it is unregulated; literally anyone who can speak English can start this sort of business. We once had a client come to us in December because her consultant from another company literally disappeared in the middle of the application season. She never heard from him again and when she went to the head of the company for a refund, she was told that she was not entitled to one. Though she ultimately decided not to, we had talked to her at some length about her right to bring legal action against this company.

5. Find out about the consultant’s experience but be critical in the right ways.

A common question we get from prospective clients is “What schools have your previous clients gotten into?” As we have been working in this field for almost 15 years, we have helped clients get into literally every known business school in the US, Europe and Canada, as well as to all the major programs in law and public policy (we have fewer non-MBA clients). Our list of results each year depends entirely on the clients that we get; for example, we have no Wharton or Columbia admits this year because none of our clients applied to Wharton or Columbia. Asking about results is definitely a legitimate question, but you need to be sure to approach the list with a critical eye. For example, sometimes a consultant’s impressive list reflects more his restriction of working only with high scoring, company-sponsored applicants than it does actual talent. Instead, ask how they help to strengthen a client’s candidacy when the client is applying to a top school, especially with lower than average test scores if that is your situation, or ask them for some short sample advice. These types of questions can give you a better window into their experience and knowledge as consultants.

Regarding newer consultants with fewer years of experience, should you discount them? I would say no. All of the experienced consultants today started from zero and if they were hired by a reputable organization, then they likely had to pass both a rigorous interview process and training program. (At Reve our counselors go through an initial interview and, if approved, need to complete three application-related documents and essay critiques as well as conduct a one-hour mock counseling session with a Japanese “client.” Once accepted, they will undergo several months of training.) One of our first year consultants two seasons ago helped a client get into Stanford, and a second year consultant helped another client get into Harvard. However, what I had as a consultant starting out 14 years ago at The Princeton Review and what my newer consultants have is support. A new consultant should ideally be working in an environment in which she has received extensive training and is getting ongoing support from veteran consultants.

Of course, aside from these questions you’ll also want to talk to friends and colleagues about their personal experiences of having worked with specific consultants. The right fit with a trusted professional will be an investment worth making, and it is a good idea to ask all the right questions before making this investment.

What does it take to get into a top school?

Just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you will change the world.

I read this once in the comment section of a Stanford student blog and it really struck me. It’s good food for thought for any of us going through life, and it’s definitely something we need to think about when applying to graduate school.

How many times have you heard of applicants with straight A’s and/or stellar test scores getting turned down in the college or graduate school admissions process? How many times have you heard from admissions representatives that the GMAT or GRE is only “one of many criteria” that they look at? Harvard College has often said that they can fill their incoming freshman class with valedictorians (each high school’s #1 academically ranked student) alone, and yet they don’t. I believe it is this kind of talk that makes the selection process so baffling and even frustrating for many applicants.

While there are definitely many factors – often subjective – that contribute to each admission decision, overall the idea is not so mysterious at all. Admissions committees, especially at the top schools, want people who are going to contribute, who are going to make a difference, and who are going to make an impact. You can be the most brilliant person in your class or in your company and score off the charts on the GMAT or GRE, but if you have never really shown a pattern of adding value to the environment around you, then your intelligence doesn’t mean a whole lot to the universities you’re targeting.

What does it mean to add value or contribute or make an impact? Often times it means showing commitment, thinking beyond yourself, and taking initiative. It is going above and beyond and doing more than you need to do.

Very early in my career I had gone to my boss at Harvard to ask why I was only given the standard 3% salary raise; surely I had done an excellent job that year. What does it take to get more than that? He told me that 3% is for people who are doing an excellent job. It is for people who do what they are supposed to do and who do it well. The higher raises are for those who go above and beyond, who accomplish more than is expected of them.

Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT, and so on reserve their seats for those candidates who go above and beyond.

At work, this means taking some kind of leadership, even if it is not an official position. Maybe you’re the youngest on your team, but instead of just following the orders you’ve been given, you’ve taken one step further to identify a problem or a solution that even your seniors hadn’t seen. Maybe you’ve spoken up to management about some practices that you disagree with, when all your other peers would prefer not to take that risk.

In your personal life it may mean making the time and effort to do something more than sleeping in late on weekends. It could mean taking part in a community activity (e.g., doing volunteer work or, better yet, taking a leadership role in the volunteer work) or in your own professional, intellectual, or personal development (e.g., taking a class or training for a marathon). This is not required and I have seen great applicants get admitted without a lot of non-work activity. However, your activities outside of your career will be another window into your values, curiosity, perseverance and sense of commitment, and this can add significant value to the admissions committees’ ability to understand you.

Is all of this required to get admitted to your dream school? If you do all of those things – make impact at work, volunteer on weekends – does it mean you will be guaranteed admission at a top school? No. Because admission is relative, and you will be assessed in comparison to other applicants. However, the more evidence you can provide that you are not only intelligent but also someone who has made a difference, the likelier it is that you can rise above the majority of people who simply do an “excellent job.” During these spring and summer months as you focus on reaching your target scores on the GMAT, GRE and/or TOEFL, be sure to also take time to identify all the ways in which you have made contributions in your career, education, community, and personal life. The combination – a strong academic profile and a solid record of making impact – will help you to build a competitive application to the top schools.


Cecilia Wu Tanaka is co-founder of Reve Counseling and a veteran graduate admissions counselor with 19 years in the field. Prior to starting Reve 8 years ago she headed up a $1.25 million counseling department at the largest test prep company in Asia. In her previous life, she sat on various admissions committees at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, conducted interviews for the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and directed the interview program at Harvard Medical School.

2013-14 Graduate Applicants: What to Do this Spring and Summer

This post is for those of you who are planning on applying to masters level programs for 2014.

While the majority of deadlines are in the fall and winter, preparation for graduate school admission actually takes place almost a full year (if not more) in advance. Below is a checklist of what you will need to start thinking about and planning this spring and summer:

Study for and take your GMAT/GRE/TOEFL

I probably don’t need to tell you that your first major hurdle will be the GMAT/GRE/TOEFL. If you haven’t already begun studying, you should do so immediately. We have had clients who scored impressively well on their first try, but that is usually the exception. The majority of our clients spend a good 6-8 months preparing for the exams, with some needing more than a year.

The scores are not everything, but they are important. At reputable schools, there are always more qualified candidates than there are seats available. You don’t want to give the admissions committee a reason to choose another applicant over you. When there are 8 or 12 candidates competing for each seat, you’ll want to be in the strongest position possible. And while many graduate programs will provide a range of admissible scores, remember that those who score on the very low end are typically exceptional candidates with extenuating circumstances.

And if you have already taken the GMAT, GRE, and/or TOEFL in the past, check the dates to make sure the scores haven’t expired. GMAT and GRE scores need to be no older than 5 years and the TOEFL no older than 2. I have had clients who found out one or two months before their school deadlines that their scores just missed the cut-off by a week or so, and they had to scramble to retake them. So be sure to check now.

Improve your academic record 

Find out what your undergraduate GPA (grade point average) is, or what your average grade or rank was. Unfortunately, the undergraduate academic record is one part of the application that matters but that cannot be changed. While the admissions committee may be sympathetic to the fact that your 2.8 GPA was due to the 70 hours a week you had spent on the varsity football team, another applicant who presents a straight-A transcript and a pattern of intellectual motivation will have an advantage academically over you.

Or, let’s say, you were a straight A student but you’d majored in literature or history, and you avoided anything related to math. If you are applying for an MBA or a masters in public policy, for example, you will need to convince the admissions committee that you are both comfortable with and adept at analytical work.

To help remedy either of the above situations, enroll in some classes this spring and/or summer if you possibly can. Take classes at a local university. If you are deficient in quantitative skills and your target programs require strong quantitative ability, take (for example) an accounting, calculus, finance or statistics class. If your undergraduate GPA is low, take a class (or more) – conducted in English – and try and earn an A. Give the admissions committee evidence that you have the intellectual prowess necessary to do well in a demanding graduate program in English.

Continue to build your leadership

Top graduate programs across the board are looking for future leaders, whether they’re in business, law, international affairs, education or the arts. In your work do your best to seek out opportunities where you can take initiative or problem solve. If you have an official leadership position, great; if not, you can still find ways to go the extra mile in what you do. We had a client not long ago who was working in a rather low level position. However, because of her passion for the field, she continually did more than she needed to do, both on the job and off. At night and on weekends she attended seminars and took classes. At work she learned as much as she could and eventually initiated a proposal which was accepted. Her company will start up a new division based on her idea and they sent her to graduate school to develop expertise to run the new division.

Research schools

You absolutely need to do more than just read the internet. Join information sessions, network, and visit schools if possible.

Of course, you can begin with the internet. Find out when schools will be visiting your city or offering information sessions. Check out The MBA Tour, which organizes multi-school information events in cities around the world. Sign up and attend different sessions even if you are not 100% sure you want to apply. The purpose is to learn more about schools and to have more options. You may find that 7 months later you do want to apply to Cornell after all but there are no more information sessions to attend.

Connect with current students and alumni of schools you are interested in. If you don’t know anyone, ask friends and colleagues and friends of friends for contacts. You can also check the school websites to connect with students through blogs or clubs. Talk to them. Short of visiting the school, this is the best way to get some close understanding of what it feels like to attend.

If you have the resources, it is always a great idea to visit the school. Nothing can substitute the experience of attending a class, having lunch in the dining halls with current students, or attending a party on campus. When scheduling your visit, however, be careful to check the school calendar first; schools tend to enter exam mode in May and will be very quiet over the summer. At some programs, applicants are not allowed to visit classes during the first couple of weeks that school begins in the fall.

The more research you conduct, the better you will be able to make the right choices for your future. You will also be able to express your interest in the school more convincingly in your essays and interviews.

Look for money

Graduate programs can cost up to $100,000. If you are not receiving sponsorship by your company, it may be worth your time to do some research about scholarship opportunities. The Fulbright Foreign Student Program (for international applicants) and The Rotary Foundation (see District Grants and Global Grants) are two of the most prestigious organizations supporting potential graduate students and they are accepting applications now.

Check also on the websites of your target schools. Many schools offer scholarships; you may need to submit additional essays at the time of application or simply check “Yes” in the box where they ask if you would like to be considered for scholarship money.

This article here lists a few resources as well.

Finally, check with foundations in your own country as well as your country of residence. In Japan where most of our clients are, there is the new scholarship program started up by one of our former clients at the Kamiyama Foundation, and the College Women’s Association of Japan (CWAJ), from which another former client had benefited with a $2,000 monthly stipend throughout her MBA studies. The Kamiyama scholarship does not require Japanese nationality status – only a commitment to eventually contribute to Japan – so even if you’re an expatriate, it may be worth it to look into scholarship opportunities in your country of residence.

Think deeply about your goals

I’m often surprised at how many people decide on applying for a graduate degree without having first considered what they would like to do once they graduate.

Spend these spring and summer months solidifying your short-term career goal. This may be less difficult if you are company-sponsored and returning to your employer. If you plan to leave, though, think about what you will do after your degree. In what kind of industry do you wish to be? What kind of responsibilities do you hope to have? What kinds of contributions do you wish to make? What kind of position might allow you to do these things? What gaps or needs in society will you be fulfilling? Why is this goal important to you? Do you have some transferable skills for this new position? How easy or difficult will it be to get this kind of position, given your background and the job market? If you are unclear about any aspect of your future target career, do some networking now to learn more about it. Schedule information sessions with individuals doing the kind of work that you would like to be doing. Learn from them. The more focused and realistic you sound, the stronger your applications will be.

Secure your recommenders

You will need 2-3 letters of recommendation for graduate school. If you are applying to the Stanford Graduate School of Business, you will also need a recommendation from a peer (someone who’s worked side by side with you – not a superior and not a subordinate). While they won’t need to submit the recommendations now, consider the best mix of recommenders for your applications and ask if they will support you in your graduate applications. As a courtesy to them get their support early and talk to them about your plans, and let them know of the deadlines so they can plan ahead.


The list is long, but if you start now, you can tackle your applications later this summer/fall with the peace of mind that these other tasks are either behind you or under control.


Cecilia Wu Tanaka is co-founder of Reve Counseling and a veteran graduate admissions counselor with 19 years in the field. Prior to starting Reve 8 years ago she headed up a $1.25 million counseling department at the largest test prep company in Asia. In her previous life, she sat on various admissions committees at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, conducted interviews for the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and directed the interview program at Harvard Medical School.

Weekend Round-up: The Latest MBA Admissions News

Here is some recommended reading from the world of MBA admissions this past week (please click on colored article titles):

1. Oliver Ashby, Senior Manager of Recruitments and Admissions at London Business School, discusses a number of topics from job hunting to career goals to the GMAT IR in this detailed interview with PaGaLGuY:

Despite tough UK visa rules, you can wriggle out 8 months for job hunting after London Business School MBA

2. Garth Saloner, Dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, talks about the value of a Stanford education at Poets & Quants:

An Interview With Stanford Dean Garth Saloner

3. BloombergBusinessweek offers some tips on how to get through the group MBA interview which the University of Michigan, Wharton and IMD have been conducting:

How to Stand Out in an MBA Group Interview

4. US News & World Report has some tips on how to get more financial aid from graduate school, and your efforts should continue even after you have enrolled:

4 Tips for Getting More Graduate School Financial Aid

And finally, a couple of links that are not directly related to admissions but perhaps could be of interest to you:

The Choices for Japanese Youth – Recommendations for this generation of young Japanese, by London Business School’s Professor of Management Practice Lynda Gratton

The Top 10 Motivational Books of All Time Inc.‘s Geoffrey James lists the top 1o books “that drive readers to change their lives, improve their lot, and build better careers.”

Happy reading and have a good weekend!


Should You Apply in Round 3?

Should You Apply in Round 3?

A number of MBA programs have their final deadlines coming up in the next few weeks. If you have not yet settled on a business school for the coming fall and yet you have been hoping to go if you could, you may be struggling with the decision of whether or not to make this last minute attempt.

What do Round 3 applicants look like?

According to business schools, the third round is smaller in volume than the first two rounds. There are fewer available seats. And the overall quality of applicants is lower.

Are my chances better or worse in Round 3?

Given the above profile of R3 applicants, the answer could be either, depending on your profile.

As mentioned in an earlier post I had written, R3 is when admissions officers admit to making decisions to help round out their class. By the 3rd round, they will have a pretty good idea of how their incoming class is shaping up in terms of gender, nationality, and industry. While they likely don’t have specific quotas set for each possible category of students, no school wants an imbalanced class. So (for example) if there are “too” many incoming students from China and India and virtually none from Southeast Asia, a strong Southeast Asian applicant in R3 is going to grab the committee’s attention. The same holds true for women applicants and applicants from any field that is not well represented in a typical MBA applicant pool. So yes, if you have an “unusual” or atypical profile and you are strong, you could have a shot in R3.

At the same time, a poor application is a poor application regardless of when you submit it. An interesting phenomenon is that many applicants sloppily put together an application in R3 because they believe it is their last chance to get into a school. This is known as the “hail Mary” pass, a term used in American football in which there is little time left in the game and a player makes a desperate attempt to throw a pass, knowing in all likelihood that his team will not win. Many applicants who apply this same philosophy to R3 think, “Well, if I don’t get in, I’ll just reapply in the fall.” If your profile is weak and you don’t have the time or energy to put your very best into your application, then it really makes no sense to apply in a round that is already known to be the most difficult round.

Why you still need to be strategic about your decision to apply in Round 3

By applying in R3 you might feel some satisfaction that you have at least tried, and so you don’t have to have any regrets. However, if there is any chance that you may reapply if you don’t get admitted, then you may want to think carefully about whether or not you should apply in R3.

Schools actually look favorably upon reapplicants as reapplying shows a high level of commitment to the school. And at some schools reapplicants actually enjoy a higher percentage acceptance rate when compared to the general applicant pool. This could be because many reapplicants who are serious will work hard over the summer to improve on the weaknesses that kept them from being admitted the first time around.

However, schools do have access to your first application and the admissions committees may read it. If you are unable to put together a decent application package together the first time around, those bad essays or recommendations will still be there when you reapply. Of course, the admissions committee will be basing their decisions on the most recent application that you submit, however, it is best if they don’t see two sets of applications that are drastically different in quality and substance. One example that comes to mind is an applicant whose first language is not English, and he writes his R3 essays in very raw and broken English. In his reapplication the following season he hires a consultant who helps him polish his essays to a native level. If the admissions committee reads these 2 sets of essays, they will be suspicious of the applicant’s English ability.

Ultimately my point is this: don’t volunteer a negative first impression of yourself if you don’t need to, unless you know for sure that you will not be reapplying. And by giving a negative impression I mean showing those qualities that might be hard to later overcome or explain. If you submit an application with weak test scores or work experience, you can at least still improve on those.

What does this all mean?

I’ll sum up my advice in this way (and please note that this is very general advice; for personalized advice tailored to your particular situation it is best to consult with someone individually):

  • If you believe you have an atypical profile and you feel ready to make a good application, apply. A strong applicant with an unusual profile will stand out in R3.
  • If you have a typical profile but you feel ready to make a good application, apply.
  • If your profile is overall strong but you have some weaknesses, but you are ready to put all your effort into your application, apply. (Of course, also take into consideration the level of the school and your qualifications.)
  • If you don’t have the time to put an application together with care and to show the admissions committee that you are taking their school seriously – if you think you might just write your essays quickly overnight and you know you won’t do a very good job – I would advise you to think twice about applying, unless you are certain you do not plan to reapply in the near future.

Good luck!


Weekend Round-up: The Latest MBA Admissions News

I’ll try and post weekly round-ups of useful MBA admissions news that I find on the web. I post stories regularly via Twitter and Facebook, but in case you don’t subscribe or would simply like your news in one place, just check in here on the weekends.

To read the articles simply click on the orange titles below:


1) Here’s an analysis of the recent drop in application volume at b-schools, including a thorough chart listing the acceptance rates of a number of programs:

Poets and Quants

Top B-Schools Much Less Selective

2) Useful for Asian applicants – some discussion on the cultural differences between Asian values and western admissions values:

Clear Admit

Clear Admit’s Kevin Chen Gives Advice to Asian MBA Applicants


1) The University of Chicago admissions blog offers some advice for those considering applying in Round 3. This advice can apply to other MBA programs as well.

University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Preparing for Round Three

2) From Bloomberg Businessweek, a summary of the admissions notification status at 10 top business schools:

Bloomberg Businessweek

MBA Admissions Decisions Coming Down to the Wire


1) Purdue Krannert’s Director of Admissions offers some personal advice on the biggest mistakes applicants can make in their admission interviews. Again, these tips are useful whether or not you are interviewing with Krannert.

I’d like to add some follow-up to his advice though:

a)  Regarding the use of “I” in an interview, he means to be careful about claiming too much credit for group achievements and trying too hard to sound impressive. Ultimately, you do need to talk about what YOU’VE done since you are the one applying to business school, not your team at work. However, if an achievement was made possible through group effort, then you need to make that clear. A mix of “I” and “we” is always good to show that you can make contributions but work cooperatively as part of a group also.

b)   Not asking about financial aid. If finances are an issue, you have every right to ask about it. However, just make sure that it is not the only thing you ask. You want to show genuine interest in the school and not just in the costs. An alternative option is to save your financial aid questions for the financial aid office, and not the admissions interviewer. (See link below on how to ask appropriate questions in an MBA interview.)

Purdue University Krannert School of Management

3 Ways to Ruin Your MBA Interview 

2) This is a great post for anyone who’s ever felt unsure about how to ask good questions at the end of an interview:

Bloomberg Businessweek

Questions to Ask in Your MBA Admissions Interview

Enjoy your reading and your weekend!




Common Interview Mistakes

Interviews are often the final hurdle to cross before the application process is completed. Contrary to what many people think, interviews are typically not “make or break” events – that is, the final outcome of your candidacy does not rest entirely on your performance during the interview. Most nice and interesting applicants will simply be confirming the admissions committee’s initial impressions of their paper applications. The applicants who stand out will be those who do particularly well or particularly poorly (i.e., who present some issue of concern such as insufficient English or communication skill, an unpleasant personality, or lack of interest in the school).

Below are some common mistakes that I have found in my past experience interviewing international candidates for the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and in our collective experience training applicants for their interviews:

1. Sounding memorized and rehearsed

It is very obvious when an applicant has overly rehearsed his answers. Usually, the responses sound like the recitation of an essay: the English is smooth, the language is formal, and the answer is long.

Why this is bad: It gives the impression that you are unable to think and speak spontaneously. As the interviewer will be judging communication skills, the ability to speak naturally will be important. Also, having prepared answers will prevent you from being flexible enough to respond to questions that are phrased slightly differently from the ones you had memorized (e.g., An applicant memorizes a response for “What are your short- and long-term goals?” but instead gets asked “What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now?”).

What to do: Instead of reading and memorizing your essays in preparation for your interviews, jot down notes or short phrases (as in a short outline). Use the notes as triggers and practice thinking and speaking spontaneously.

2. Not being convincing enough about your interest in the school

Among applicants who speak English fluently, this is often the biggest mistake they make.

How does one show insufficient interest in a school? This can include providing generic reasons for wanting to attend (e.g., “Your school is strong in general management and has a diverse student body.”), showing lack of effort in researching about the school, and being unable to name any students or alumni that they have spoken to. Of course, you do not need to volunteer information about how you researched the school or which students or alumni you spoke to. However, if you are asked these questions, you should be able to answer them in some detail.

Why this is bad: No school wants to admit an applicant who doesn’t want to attend. It makes their yield (the number of applicants who accept their admission offers) look bad and it simply feels offensive to the interviewer.

What to do: Do plenty of research on the school. When you know about the program and why it fits you, your explanation of why you want to attend should flow out naturally. And what if you are applying to your safety school? Even if it is a school that is at the bottom of your list, it should still be a school where you think you’d be happy if you had to attend. If it becomes difficult to find reasons for wanting to attend that school, then that is a sign that you should not apply.

3. Not smiling, not sounding natural

This applies to those individuals who may have a more “serious” personality or who come from cultures where emotional restraint is valued.

In America in particular, outgoing personalities and warmth are valued, particularly in extroverted environments like business school. And how that is conveyed is, first and foremost, through smiling. Secondly, one conveys that through natural conversation. What I sometimes see in mock interviews are Asian applicants who do not smile, do not engage in small talk, and only recite answers as if they are giving mini-speeches.

Why this is bad: You may inadvertently give an impression that you are cold, unfriendly and overly formal.

What to do: Simply smile when you greet the interviewer. This shows the interviewer that you are happy to meet her and to conduct this interview. Engage in a little bit of small talk if there is time (follow your interviewer’s lead). Small talk is designed to put both interviewer and interviewee at ease before the meeting starts. Close your interview with a gracious thank you and handshake. In between, try to sound and appear professionally relaxed. You can smile or laugh when appropriate, you can move your hands or legs when appropriate, and you can engage in back-and-forth conversation when appropriate. You still have to be professional, but my point is you do not need to be stiff and overly formal.

Just bear in mind that at the interview stage, the interviewer will be looking to see if you are the kind of person that classmates and faculty would enjoy spending time with. They will have your paper application to learn about your achievements and leadership potential. In the interview, they are mainly interested in seeing if you have good communication skills and are a likable person.

Wait listed…now what?

The following is a detailed post I wrote a few years ago on what it means and what you should do if you receive a wait list decision from your target school(s). I review and update it as necessary, and re-run it each year. I hope this gives you some ideas in terms of next steps as well as some measure of comfort.


When you applied to schools, you probably mentally prepared yourself for one of two fates: acceptance or rejection. And then the decision arrives, and you are told you are wait listed. The admissions committee tells you that they recognize your “strong achievements” and that they remain “sincerely interested” in your candidacy but they cannot offer you a seat just yet. What does this all mean, and what can you do?

First of all, what it means to be wait listed

As someone who has both experienced the torture of being wait listed and monitored wait lists at Harvard, I can tell you a lot from experience.

When an admissions committee puts an applicant on the wait list, this is what they are saying: “You are great. We like you. You have most or even all of the things that we are looking for in a candidate. However, we don’t have the space to take everyone that we like, and some applicants are a little stronger and/or fit our current needs more. At the same time, we don’t want to lose you. Now, we have made XXX number of offers, and not everyone is going to accept our offer. Therefore, if any spaces open up, we will consider you once again.”

If you’re an MBA applicant applying in an early round, this could also be translated into “We think you are great, but we also want to see what else is out there. So we will review your application again with the next round of applicants.” Try to think of this in a positive light; instead of being rejected, you’re instead given two (or more, if you get wait listed again) chances at admission in one season.

Secondly, how does the wait list work?

Common questions with regard to the wait list include:

  • How many people are on the wait list?
  • Is the wait list ranked?
  • Is there any guarantee I will be offered a seat off the wait list?

The answers are typically 1) it depends on the school; 2) no; 3) no.

Let me talk about the latter two points.

Admissions committees will almost always tell you that the wait list is not ranked. However, in my experience, I would be lying if I said that there aren’t some people closer to the top of the wait list than others. Quality is one criterion while other factors will be those beyond your control. Admissions offices at MBA programs admit to using the 3rd round as a time to “round out” their classes and to look at balance in terms of diversity (e.g., Do they need more people from a particular racial group, geographic region, career field?). The wait list is another such time.

As for whether or not you will come off the wait list, and when, there really is no guarantee at all and the admissions officers are being completely honest with you when they say “I don’t know.” I once worked with a client who got off the wait list 2 weeks before school orientation started!

At the beginning of each season, admissions directors make their projected yields; that is, how many offers they need to make in order to yield their ideal class size. Let’s say that ABC University has 400 seats in its first year class. Traditionally, 55% of their admitted candidates take the offer, while the other 45% choose to attend another school. Thus, ABC University will admit 580 applicants in anticipation that 45% of those applicants will turn down their offers. If more than 45% of the admitted applicants choose to go somewhere else, that is the time that ABC University will go to their wait list.

Finally, what can you do?

There are a number of things you can do if you are wait listed:

  1. The most important thing you can do is follow the school’s instructions. I cannot stress this enough. Many schools welcome communication and updates from wait listed applicants. However, there are also some schools like Harvard Business School that firmly ask applicants to do nothing. It is imperative to follow the school’s instructions because 1) you want to show them that you can follow directions and 2) you do not want to annoy them at any cost. Admissions offices are watching the behaviors of their wait listed candidates closely and you don’t want to give them any reason to reject you.
  2. If you are wait listed at a school that does welcome you to update your application, then you may submit a short note or essay that describes anything new and noteworthy that you would like to add to your application. This includes information about a promotion, new responsibilities, new awards, new coursework/grades, and stronger test scores. If you’ve since visited the campus, that is definitely worth mentioning as well.
  3. Send another recommendation. Assuming your school allows this, you may consider adding another letter if you believe the new perspective will add value to your application. Related to this, you may also consider having an alum or current student send in a “push” letter for you, confirming your strengths as a candidate, your fit with the school, and your commitment to attending the school.
  4. Stay in touch (within reason) with the school. This point is critical. A major factor that influences a school’s decision to admit someone off the waitlist is his/her level of interest in the school. By the time the admissions committee gets to the wait list, they want to only take people who they know will come if made an offer. They are running out of time so they do not want to make offers to people who need time to decide. Therefore, if you are wait listed by a school that says it is okay to communicate with them, then stay in touch periodically (i.e., sending a quick note telling them you are still interested in remaining on the wait list). By this I mean perhaps once every 4 or so weeks (you’ll need to use your judgment) or at key decision times, like the 2-3 weeks preceding their next decision round (if this is an MBA program). As already discussed, it is equally important to not annoy the admissions staff; do not call or email every week or demand a meeting with the admissions staff or they will start worrying if you will be this anxious and high-maintenance once you are a student there.
  5. Analyze your weaknesses. What in your application needed improvement? Could you retake the TOEFL, GMAT or GRE? Do your English skills need improvement? Were your achievements on the weak side? As much as possible, try to tackle these weaknesses and show the admissions committee that you have made improvements since you submitted the application. I sometimes work with clients who insist on writing short essays every month showing their passion for the school, but they do nothing to improve their test scores, which is the very reason they were put on the waitlist – not lack of interest in the school. You do not need to overly reassure the admissions committee of your strengths; you need to reassure them that you can overcome the weaknesses (if any) that made them hesitate to admit you in the first place.
  6. Continue on with your plans, and your life. Do not put your life on hold for the school that wait lists you. Statistically speaking, your chances of getting admitted off any wait list is small (and the more competitive the school, the smaller the chances). The safest thing to do is to continue with your plans to attend one of the schools to which you have been admitted. If you do get an offer from the school where you are wait listed, then at that point you can change your plans. It is a torturous position to place an applicant, but the best protection for yourself is to move forward with your plans.
  7. Release your spot if you are no longer interested in waiting. Many candidates prefer not to wait, and begin to lose interest over time. In this case, as a courtesy, let the school know you are no longer interested. This frees up the wait list so that someone else who really wants to attend can have a better chance of getting in.