Category Archives: Information Sessions and Events

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.

HEC Paris Information Session (July 23, 2011)

This is the third in a series of information session reports written by our correspondent during his attendance at the MBA Tour’s July 23rd event in New York City. (Cecilia Wu Tanaka’s note: My apologies for the delay uploading this post…)

The HEC Paris representative, Marie-Laurence Lemaire, Development Manager, started off her presentation with a bit of history. HEC Paris was established two centuries ago and is ranked the #1 business school in Europe (I would later look this up; according to the website the source is The Financial Times.) The school is actually not located in Paris; they moved out because the students were too "distracted" (this drew a few chuckles from the audience.) This was good for getting to know each other anyway, the representative said (and the campus is not that far from Paris, about 18 kilometers.)

The student body is diverse: 85% is not French. There are 150 students in the September intake. Students are divided into working groups that rotate every few months. They also make sure a student is the only one of his or her nationality. HEC Paris wants students to get out of their comfort zone. Just when you get comfortable, your surroundings change. While other schools may do this, I like that this is something articulated explicitly, as change helps one grow.

Some general information:

Language. You don’t need to learn French as the program is conducted in English but if you don’t know French  you’ll study the language. Those who already speak two languages will study a third. A language is not just language but  about the culture.

Essay. Very important. Have people read your essays.

Recommendations. These can be from clients. Job titles of the writer are not important; choose people who know you, your work, and your personality.

GMAT (average: 690) is very important. If you have a low GMAT score then another part of your application must be strong. If you have a low quantitative score the admissions committee will look more closely at transcripts and calculus courses you’ve taken.

Interview. You will also be asked to give a 10 minute oral presentation in the subject of your choice. This presentation is very important.

Work experience. If you have more than 10 years of experience you’ll be rerouted into the executive MBA program. The school does not feel that less than 3 years of work experience constitute enough experiences to share.

Cornell Johnson School Information Session (July 23, 2011)

This is the second in a series of information session reports written by our correspondent during his attendance at the MBA Tour’s July 23rd event in New York City.

Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management

Cornell was represented by Christine Sneva, Acting Director of Admissions and Financial Aid.

Sneva talked about meat and potato topics like “experiential learning” that goes beyond case studies and immersion programs. And she talked about areas of study including finance (and how Cornell has a trading floor on the premises, which I thought was very neat), sustainability, and entrepreneurship. (At which point she said either you’re an entrepreneur or you’re not, and if you don’t understand that, you’re probably not.) She talked about dual degree programs. And then–


This was only my second information session of the morning and I already was starting a bit of eye rolling. So every school prides itself on academic quality and community. She talked about how the Cornell community is tight knit, that students mingle with faculty in social events. There’s even a place for social gatherings, called Sage Hall. Because Cornell is in Ithaca I just picture people all hanging out locally on campus simply because there’s nowhere else to go. At NYU I imagine students probably have their own friends outside of school and socialize with them. Professors may be working at night (this is speculation on my part.) At Cornell people tend to live and work in one general area. Someone in the audience actually brought this up. He asked why on earth anyone would want to go to school in Ithaca. (OK, those are my words but he basically asked this question, just a bit more diplomatically.) Give credit to Sneva, who was prepared for this question. For one, it’s a beautiful campus. The classes are smaller and Cornell makes it a point to keep classes smaller rather than bigger. Then she launched into her spiel about the vast alumni network of Cornell. I wasn’t wholly satisfied by her answer and wasn’t convinced as to why I would potentially want to spend two years of my life in Ithaca but to her credit, she did not make a hard sell. Ithaca is not for everyone. (Side note: Cornell undergraduate alumni, whom she referred to as “Cornellians,” appear to have an edge in the admissions process because they, like no others, are intimately aware of what it’s like to live and study/work in Cornell.)

What reached me about this information session in a way that NYU did not was how Sneva talked about Cornell looking for leaders that will influence their organizations. If Cornell is successful in enrolling such people, I get the sense that Cornell is not populated with people who just want to make riches. I liked this criterion. And in speaking about alumni, she talked about “passion” and “legacy”–because after graduation these students, now alumni, will represent the Cornell brand. I found this appealing as this should make for a stronger network.

She then went into the application. The resume is very important. The essay is important. Why Cornell Johnson? Why an MBA? This was all quite conventional advice but this tidbit was gold: ONCE YOU MAKE IT TO THE INTERVIEW, 90% OF YOUR DECISION IS BASED ON THE INTERVIEW.

To me this was a bombshell because it would probably encourage me a little and scare the hell out of me a lot. So the weeks and months of preparation and essay writing and GMAT taking have brought me to this place. And the future course of my life boils down to this 45-minute conversation. Wow.

Actually, I think it’s good to know this because then it means, as an applicant, I’m close. She gave more information and advice. The nature of the interview itself is spontaneous, conversational. There are no staged questions. Show enthusiasm. Do your research. Visit the school (especially for New Yorkers, who are at least in the same state.) She mentioned the Cornell Club in midtown and buses that go to Ithaca.

The evaluation covers three areas:

1. Academics

2. Career decision-making and self-efficacy. This means one’s belief in one’s own ability. (She added, to my amusement, that this was probably “through the roof” for the people in this audience.)

3. Leadership and community.

They’re looking for people who are easy to talk to (extroversion/introversion doesn’t matter but outliers are obvious. In a small class, it’s easy to tell who sticks out.) Is the applicant proactive? Connects with people? Has a good sense of the school?

When the Cornell information session ended I felt that I had some sense of the school, and a positive one at that. I’m still not sure I’d want to study in such a remote location but at least now I’d be willing to look into the school, which I previously hadn’t considered before. On that level, at least, I think this session was a very successful one.

NYU Stern School of Business Information Session

This is the first in a series of information reports written by our correspondent during his attendance at the MBA Tour’s July 23rd event in New York city.

NYU Stern School of Business

The first thing the NYU rep did was have everyone stand up and introduce himself to the person next to him. After some spirited chatter she indicated that this kind of thing was what Stern was about: community. She spoke about the growth of professional relationships. She talked about the numerous professional and social clubs, some of which may lead to jobs; and that second year students mentor first years. Indeed, community was one of Stern’s core values, which follow:

1. Academic Excellence. Faculty with real life experience. (In mentioning the new dean, she briefly mentioned how NYU Stern wants its students to think of how the economy relates to society as a whole, or something along those lines. I would have liked to hear more about this philosophy because it was one of the few things that made Stern unique sounding.)

2. Leveraging Location.

3. Community.

4. IQ and EQ. The importance of “soft skills” (her words, not mine); interpersonal skills.

While it seems that just about every school includes these values as their own, NYU is unique in its location (aside from its noticeably absent rival, Columbia.) The NYU rep indicated that its students work with case studies involving the New York Mets, the Metropolitan Opera, and Steinway Piano. And the room was packed, in part I imagine, due to its location in lower Manhattan (Cornell, despite its Ivy League status, had noticeably fewer attendees.)

The Stern rep gave some basic pointers on the application:

An applicant is judged on:

1. Academic potential

2. Career aspiration and achievements

3. Personal characteristics


– Take practice tests.

– NYU only looks at the highest score.

– NYU now accepts the GRE as it reaches more people.


These should be from professional to convey how you are in the workplace.


Show where you are; where you want to go; how to get there.

Optional essay:

Explain anything. Don’t make the admissions committee make guesses about you.

The NYU rep ended by providing the various deadlines.

During the introduction the person next to me was a man from Maryland with a background in real estate finance. After NYU’s presentation was over he deadpanned, “Everything she said was off the website.”

Thinking back on NYU’s information session I can’t say I have a clearer picture of the school. I really didn’t get anything out of this session. My impression is that NYU is diverse (as she cited significant proportions of women and minorities) and is well located. And my feeling that NYU is hip is left intact. I may know nothing of its academic rigor or what companies Stern graduates go on to work for but I’ll probably get to meet a lot of people.

New York MBA Conference: How Admissions Decisions are Made

The MBA Tour sponsored an all-day MBA fair in New York city on July 23, and we sent our local correspondent to cover the scene:

I arrived at the Grand Hyatt in Midtown at 8:50AM and there was already a line of about fifteen people waiting to get their name tags. By the time I made my way to the front of the line, checked in, and put the lanyard over my neck the Admissions panel at 9AM had started so I sprinted up the stairs to the big Broadway room, which seated around a hundred people. It was mostly already full.

At the front were a panel of three women; I couldn’t see their names because of where I was seated. They had already started talking about the GMAT. I heard one of them mention as a resource. One said that the GMAT is a good indicator of how a potential student would fare in the core classes but not necessarily the MBA program as a whole. (After having sat through numerous information sessions later on I get the sense that  the schools really just want to make sure you can handle the quant classes in the core.)

The rest of the panel consisted of segments on the essay, letters of recommendation, the resume, and the interview, followed by a Q&A session that I’ve incorporated into their appropriate categories.

The Essay

The members of the panel kept using the refrain “but check with the school” so what they were saying was very general. They offered some basic tips like check the maximum number of words, check your grammar and spelling, and be sure to put the (right) name of the school.

Here’s what I thought was a useful tidbit, on optional essays. You don’t get extra credit so if you don’t have something compelling, skip it. You can, however, also take this opportunity to explain low GMAT scores or tell your personal story. One of the panelists brought up an essay by a student who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. But if you don’t have anything compelling to say, this is just more for them to read.

Letters of Recommendation

Ask for letters as soon as possible. Aside from choosing your writers, you really have little control over this part. Prep your writers–give them your resume. Tell them why you want an MBA. And if your school is asking for a recommendation from your supervisor and you’re uncomfortable with this (as you intend to leave the company), explain this to the admissions office. In terms of whom to ask to write on your behalf, this panel and representatives from the schools whose information sessions I attended later on all echoed the same thing: choose people who know you well, not just people who have a high status and rank. In one example given, one high-ranking executive wrote a one-sentence letter of recommendation (though shame on him, I say.) Another piece of instruction I kept hearing is that the admissions committees want recommendations from people in the workplace. This makes sense; they want to know what you’re like in action. So should you have  professors write letters for you? Only if you’ve worked with them. And what if you’re an entrepreneur? Since you don’t have a supervisor, seek letters from clients, vendors, etc. One last thing they mentioned: If the letters are to be submitted electronically, let your writers now. And make sure they use the (right) name of the school.


Don’t merely provide a listing but really highlight what the school’s interested in. Know the emphasis of the program–what is your target school looking for? Do you have strengths you can offer to the school?–and the profile of the students. Show results. Show special special projects. Show that each year you’ve taken projects out of your comfort zone. Do you have cross functional work experience? Or team oriented projects and collaborative experiences? The more of this you can demonstrate the better.

In college, what did you do in addition to studying? They want to see well-rounded individuals. Include activities. What was meaningful to you? What were one or two that really excited you? And did you work during school to support yourself? If so, include this as it shows maturity and depth. Include interests, outside work, work at non-profits, sports, travel–they want to see the total person.

Other bits of advice:

– Make sure you can explain gaps in employment on chronological resumes.

– If you have different career paths, address them somewhere.

– Check page numbers. If they say two pages, they may automatically throw out your third page.

– Don’t include your high school. No one cares.

And one general takeaway: The admissions committee wants to know if you have strengths that fit the school. Don’t make them have to search to find out what they are. Make it easy for them.

The Interview

So you got an interview. Congratulations!

From the moment you step into the school for the interview until you leave, everything will be fair game for your evaluation. First impressions are important. This includes not just your professional appearance but how you greet the admissions staff upon arrival. Word gets around among schools, so don’t be rude to the receptionist.

How to prepare:

– In terms of research by now you should have done more than just visit the website. Hopefully you’ve spoken with alumni and even visited the school.

– Call ahead to see if the interview is a panel or one on one meeting. If there are other candidates present you will be observed on how you interact with them.

– Review your application before your interview as they are different between schools.

– Be prepared to conduct a conversation.

– Show your intellectual ability about your sector. Be current on recent events in your sector (read The Economist, The Financial Times, etc.)

– Think about what you want to talk about. What can you contribute?

– Don’t repeat what you’ve already written about (in other parts of your application.)

– Be prepared to talk about weak points.

– Show energy and enthusiasm about their school.

– For international students especially, your communication ability is important.

In the following Q&A session questions fell into the above categories so I’ve already incorporated them here. One question of note was when to apply–in round 1, round 2, etc. While of course earlier is better, especially if you’re applying for scholarships, it is less about the rounds than when you are ready. Apply when you have the best application to present yourself.

Will follow up over the coming two weeks with summaries of some of the individual school presentations.

How to Make the Most of an Information Session

Our guest blogger this week is Reve counselor Chelsea. Chelsea is currently pursuing her master’s degree at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and was formerly a recruiter for a New York-based hedge fund, private equity and technology development company. She holds a B.A. from Williams College. She is writing this week about how to best utilize information sessions. Take it away, Chelsea!


There are many steps applicants can take to ensure they make the most of a graduate school’s information session, which is an important part of the overall application process. While the following tips are geared towards information sessions given at the school campus, many recommendations can also apply to off campus events.

Before the information session:

· Do your research

Even though the information session itself provides a general overview of the school and its program(s), it is a good idea to do some preliminary research beforehand. For example, you can browse the school’s website and read recent articles in the school’s student newspaper. Not only will this give you an general sense of the school environment and the current issues taking place on campus, it will also help you identify specific areas you’d like to learn more about at the information session. For example, your background research might make you want to learn more about the school’s resources for international students, which is something you can make sure to ask about at the information session.

· Set up additional appointments

Most schools offer campus tours in addition to information sessions. If the school you’re visiting didn’t already provide you with information about taking a tour, you can call the admissions office to inquire about signing up for one. In addition, many admissions offices are able to arrange class visits and student lunches for prospective students. Again, if the admissions office hasn’t already provided you with information about these options, it is a good idea to call the office to see if you can arrange a time to meet with a current student and also to observe a class (ideally a class you might be interested in taking). Meeting with a current student before or after the information session will help you learn the unbiased, “inside scoop” about the school from a student’s perspective. Observing a course will expose you to sample classroom settings and teaching styles at the school.

· Get organized

Be ready to bring paper and pen to the information session so you can take notes on what is said. If you will be visiting many schools over a short period of time, it might also be helpful to bring a camera to take pictures of the campus (including the classrooms, the neighborhood, and some of the housing options). This will help you remember the details of the different schools after all of your visits. Lastly, I personally found it helpful when applying to graduate schools to create a spreadsheet on which I consolidated information about each school. I found this method helpful for comparing and contrasting the different schools as well as for keeping track of the various application deadlines.

· Prepare your “elevator pitch”

An “elevator pitch” is a brief, concise description all about you and your goals. The reason it’s wise to prepare this before the information session is because you might have an opportunity during your visit to speak one-on-one with an admissions representative or a faculty member. If this opportunity arises, you want to be prepared to take full advantage of it and use it as a chance to make an impression on the individuals who might be involved in your application process. Be careful not to sound overly rehearsed! It might be a good idea to do a few “role play” practice sessions with your Reve counselor (your counselor can pretend to be the admissions officer, for example, and ask you questions as though you were just meeting at the information session).

During the information session:

· Observe

The information session is an opportunity for a graduate program to describe and “sell” itself to prospective students. Therefore, it is wise to pay attention to what the school representative emphasizes and what he or she deemphasizes during the session. This will help you discover the school’s strengths and weaknesses. For example, if the presenter repeatedly highlights the program’s academic rigor but fails to mention anything about its career services resources, it may mean that the school is academically quite strong but doesn’t offer much career assistance. In this case, you may want to explicitly inquire about this during the question period. You could also make a note for yourself to stop by the career services office later to investigate or to ask current students their opinion of the school’s career services resources.

· Ask questions

The person hosting the information session will usually leave time for questions at the end. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! This is your chance to learn as much as you can about the school and the program you’re considering, and the school representative is there to answer your questions. Take advantage of it!

After the information session:

· Thank the host

The school representative who gave the presentation likely put a lot of time and effort into the session. It is a nice gesture to thank the representative before you leave. Taking the time to thank the host also gives you an opportunity to introduce yourself to someone who might be involved in your future application evaluation. If the conversation goes well, you might also consider giving your business card as a way to help the representative remember you. I’d personally recommend against handing over your resume (unless the representative explicitly asks for it), as it is more appropriate to include this in your official application. Lastly, if anyone affiliated with the school took extra time to speak with or assist you, it may be appropriate to send him or her a brief “thank you” note. A short email is usually sufficient.

· Check out the neighborhood

If you have time at the end of the day, you might consider exploring the neighborhood around the school. It is helpful to see whether the school is located in an area you’d feel comfortable living in during the duration of your program. Some things to consider may be the availability of public transportation and the general safety of the neighborhood.


Columbia MBA Info Session in Tokyo

A Columbia representative will also be in Tokyo next week:

Tokyo Admissions Information Session and Reception
Please join Katie Lynch, Associate Director of Admissions, along with
local Alumni who will share information about the Columbia Business
School MBA program.

Friday, August 21st – 7:00pm
Tokyo Kaikan, Silver Room
3-2-1 Marunouchi
Tokyo 100-0005

You can sign up the event from the link below:

Haas School of Business Info Session in Tokyo

One of our former students at Haas just passed along the following information:

Peter Johnson, the Director of Admissions (in charge of international applicants) will be in Tokyo next week for an information session:

Date and Time:  August 20th, 7:30 pm

Location: Agos Japan, Ninomiya Bldg

18-4 Sakuragaoka-cho, Shibuya-ku

Tokyo 150-0031

Participants must RSVP to:

[Agos Japan is near the JR South and New South exits of Shibuya station.]