Category Archives: General Admission Information – MBA

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!


From the Harvard Business School Admissions Director’s Blog

– Cecilia Wu Tanaka

With this post I am going to become one of those people who “dissects” and analyzes everything that HBS Admissions Director Dee Leopold says, but I’m also an applicant advisor and applicant advocate who’s spent some time on the other side of the admissions table at Harvard. If I can help shed some light on this nerve-wracking process for you, I will definitely try.

In particular, when I saw this director’s update this week on the HBS website, a number of things jumped out at me. So let me do a little bit of interpretation and translation here for you (black text is from the director’s blog, orange is mine):

  • Try to resist the urge to make "standing out" your primary goal in the admissions process. If you have made traditional choices all along (college, extra-curriculars, major field of study, jobs), own it. You’ll look silly if you try to portray yourself as a rogue daredevil. There are plenty of people at HBS who come from traditional backgrounds.

Be yourself. This is what she is saying. It seems simple, but you’d be amazed at how many applicants do try to sound a bit “fancier” in the application process. Imagine a guy trying to impress a date, or someone feeling self-conscious at a cocktail party…it’s human nature to try and sort of shape oneself into a slightly better image of what and who s/he really is in situations where selection and evaluation take place. Dee is asking you to be yourself, nothing more and nothing less, because if you try to sound more than you really are, they will be able to see right through you, because they’ve got a lot of experience reading people. But the good news? It’s okay to be yourself. You have nothing to lose by just being you.

  • Do your homework about the case method. It’s our signature pedagogy and it is nothing like traditional academia. Watch Inside the Case Method (link below) on our website and ask yourself if you find this method of learning intriguing and exciting. If it’s not for you, choose another school now vs. later.

Are you sure you want to go to HBS? Do you really know what you are getting yourself into? The case method is unique and not for everyone. Will you appreciate it? Will you be able to not only function but thrive in it? In your application and interview the admissions committee will be evaluating your fit for this particular method. They are looking for people who are proactive, who can take charge of their own learning and contribute actively to that of their classmates, because the case method is not about sitting back in a classroom and absorbing lectures. If the case method does not work for you, this will come out in your application, and the result won’t be good. They want to save you potential heartache. So make sure you’re the right fit before you apply.

  • When choosing recommenders, determine whether or not they can answer the question we pose: what piece of constructive advice have you given to the candidate? If they can’t answer, they probably don’t know you well enough to write a helpful recommendation.

The admissions committee doesn’t want recommenders with fancy titles or HBS pedigrees writing for you, if they are not even close to you. They are looking for people – regardless of status – who really know you well and who can give them information that will actually help them in their attempt to understand you better. The CEO of Famous Company who writes a couple of lines about what a nice person you are does not help your case in any way. If the admissions committee reads this kind of letter, they will throw their hands up in disgust and curse, because they are looking for detailed information and they are not getting it. So help the admissions committee help you and choose your recommenders carefully.

  • Realize that we’re serious when we say that our challenge is "selection" vs. "evaluation." Our promise to our faculty and to every student is to deliver the most diverse class – on multiple dimensions – as we possibly can. I’ve never heard an HBS student say: "I wish there were more students just like me in my section." Selection can look mysterious to the outside world because not all of the elements of diversity can be captured in metrics. Some, like leadership style, are subtle and communicated more obliquely.

I love this one…because this ultimately sums up the application process. The admissions committee is selecting a class, NOT evaluating it. What it means: if you are denied admission, it does NOT mean you are not capable, it does NOT mean you are not a good fit. They are checking you out, but they are not making decisions based on who is good, who is not. Because applicants to HBS tend to be self-selecting, and there are way more outstanding candidates than there are seats.

But what they are doing is trying to figure out WHICH of those great candidates they should take. How about a recent, happy-go-lucky grad from New York, a more cerebral older former attorney from Prague, a scrappy mid-20s female entrepreneur from rural China? They’re imagining future section mates and what students would make for an interesting and vibrant mix.

Bottom line: There is a huge element of chance in this selection process. Once you’ve met a certain academic and professional standard, your fate is out of your hands.

  • Stay curious. It’s so easy to stay "heads down" during the application process and become so introspective that you lose sight of the larger world. Keep reading. Keep listening. We’re looking for people who can dig into a case about a company they have never heard of, in an industry they don’t think they care about – and be 100% engaged.

Stay interesting and know what’s going on in the world. Be prepared to talk about current events, a business leader who’s impacted you, a good book you have read. Who knows? We may invite you for an interview, and that will be your final chance to show us why we should select you.

Cecilia Wu Tanaka is co-founder of Reve Counseling and a veteran graduate admissions counselor. Prior to starting Reve 7 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.

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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.

GMAT to add new section in 2012

Some of you have probably already heard about the Next Generation GMAT that will launch in June 2012. This new version, the first major update in more than 10 years, will replace one of the AWA essays with an “Integrated Reasoning” section. More details as well as a short video explaining the new section can be found here.

Basically, the new Integrated Reasoning section will ask you to form conclusions and answer questions based on the analyses of various data – charts, spreadsheets, graphs, etc. For many business school applicants who are fairly quantitative to begin with, this may not be too daunting of a new challenge.

The test makers are in the midst of developing this new section and will be piloting their questions in future GMATs. If you are one of the lucky ones who gets one of these pilot sections, don’t worry; your performance here will not figure into your official score total and your schools will not see your performance. Apparently, you may even get paid to work on the pilot section.

What does this new version of the GMAT mean for you if business school is in your plans for 2012? You can either take the GMAT now or wait for the new test. Remember, your scores are valid for 5 years so even with the new GMAT in 2012, business schools will still accept the “old” GMAT as long as it is a test that you have taken within 5 years of your application.

Where to Go?

After an intense counseling season I am back. We had wonderful results this year, and over the last several weeks we have been talking with some of our undecided clients about which schools they “should” go to. The questions that came up prompted me to write a post about how to go about making your decision if you happen to be in that most fortunate position of considering multiple admission offers.

It goes without saying for most people that reputation is the most important factor in deciding between schools. However, what to do if you’ve been accepted to a “lower-ranking” school where you know you will fit like a glove and a more prestigious school that you don’t feel fits you 100%? In an ideal world we’d go where we are happiest, and that is the common advice given to high school seniors when choosing their colleges. When graduate education becomes literally an investment in your future, though, you would be wise to consider the impact of the school’s reputation on your long-term career prospects. While your 2 year (or however long) experience at graduate school will be important, please also consider the next 30 or 40 years of your career. More prestigious schools may open more doors for you by virtue of their reputation alone. They may have more powerful connections with companies and alumni/ae which in turn would mean more opportunities for you in terms of internship and job interviews, professional connections, and other related resources.

As you are making your decision, you should talk to the following people if you are undecided about a school’s reputation:

  • Alumni/ae
  • Headhunters
  • Career center staff at your target schools
  • Current students

To those related to the school: What companies come to recruit? What kind of support do students receive from the career office? How smooth is the recruitment process? What kinds of internships do students get? Where do graduates get placed? What percentage of graduating students obtain jobs by graduation? How do students do in your particular field of interest?

To headhunters: How are companies in your target industry and region faring? How are they hiring? What are their perceptions of graduates from your target schools? Have they hired individuals from your target schools in recent years?

I understand that some applicants need to weigh their own desires against other compelling factors like finances, location (if they need to be near family) and/or resources available to partners and families. I do encourage all applicants to look beyond the duration of the program and to consider graduate education an investment in the next 30-40 years of your career, and to make the most sound decision after considering all of this.

Congratulations to you on achieving this significant milestone in your career!

MBA versus MPP or MPA: How to Decide

Starting this month we will be introducing our team of counselors who will contribute to our blog from time to time.

Our first featured writer/counselor is Lucia, who has a strong background as well as interests in economics, public policy, international policy, social entrepreneurship, CSR, small business development, and media, among other fields. She is trilingual in English, Chinese and Japanese and has a BA from Wellesley College and an MPA from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Would a degree in Public Policy or Public Administration suit me better than a degree in Business Administration?

This is a question many applicants are considering.

There are certainly similarities between MPP/MPA and MBAs. In both cases, students will be developing practical leadership, teambuilding and decision making skills. There will be statistical analysis, consulting projects and project evaluations.

Finding the right program for you requires thinking very clearly about what you plan to do after you graduate. You need to think, “What life and what career am I preparing for?”

Students in MPA and MPP/MPA programs are often aiming for careers in government or in public service management like education, healthcare, energy, or city planning. They also work in private consulting companies, non-profit and international organizations. They are found in private companies, especially those that develop services and products for the public such as water, energy, transport, and health.

MPP/MPA students concentrate on understanding the dynamics of effectively managing and providing public services. MPP/MPA students need to understand the complex dynamics between government, citizens and private sector stakeholders.

Let’s look at an example. Think about healthcare. An MBA student may look at an individual healthcare company’s financial statements; MPP/MPA students look at a city’s health budget or a vaccine project under the Ministry of Health. An MBA student may work on a new healthcare project and judge success by the amount of profit generated. An MPP/MPA student may work on a healthcare project and judge success by different indicators – how many patients reached, how many neighborhoods involved, how smoothly different government agencies work together.

In both cases, budgets, efficiency, communication, and management skills are essential. In many cases, however, public and private sectors work very closely together so the line between “Business Administration” and “Public Administration” is not always clear.

So the best thing to do is to think about your passions. Are you fascinated with politics and society? Do you want to understand how government policies affect immigrants in your country? Do you want to change the kind of education your schools focus on? Do you have ideas about how new energy sources could be used cheaply in your country? Or do you think government does not encourage creativity in corporations? Do you wonder why so few women are top managers in government? Do you wonder how Japan will deal with its shrinking labor pool and rising levels of “metabo”?

Then maybe you should be considering a degree in Public Policy or Public Administration. If, however, you want to learn how to launch and market a cell phone you have designed, expect to be the manager of the overseas branch of a domestic manufacturing company, or want to introduce new human resources programs to domestic trading companies, then maybe an MBA would be better for you after all.

In reality, at many larger universities, students in MPP/MPA and MBA programs can take classes within both schools. Talk to Reve counselors about schools that allow the flexibility to experience courses in both programs.


MBA Application Volume May Have Hit its Peak

According to statistics released from GMAC, GMAT registrations during the first quarter of 2009 rose only 2% from the same period last year, compared to 11% the year before and 9% the year before that. It is the first time since 2005 that GMAT registration volume hasn’t been growing at breakneck speeds. While we don’t know yet if MBA applications will actually start to fall, many believe that application volume has reached its peak and will start plateauing. Good news for all those considering an MBA in the coming years!