Thursday, April 30, 2009

UCLA Anderson Reflects on Its First Year With Audio Questions

Last year, UCLA Anderson became the first MBA program to ask students to submit an audio response to an essay question. Now that the 2008-2009 admissions season is over, Anderson told the Financial Times that 70% of its applicants elected to submit an audio answer (whether to submit an audio or written response was optional).

Mae Jennifer Shores, UCLA Anderson's director of admissions, says that the the submissions were "ethnic, gender and country neutral," with international applicants just as eager to submit audio clips as domestic applicants. Not surprisingly, Shores says that Anderson may choose to make the audio clips mandatory next year, and is also considering using video clips in next years' application.

We do take issue with the article's suggestion that Anderson's use of an audio question is a desperate attempt to thwart admissions consulting and essay editing services. As we wrote earlier this week, the reality is that the standard essay questions are simply not as useful for admissions officers as they used to be, in terms of helping them distinguish one applicant from the next. As a result, schools such as UCLA Anderson and Chicago Booth are -- to their credit -- inventing more creative questions that to give them another way to separate out the great candidates from the rest of the pack.

The savvy applicant won't run from this opportunity, but instead will embrace it as one more way to make one's application more memorable and to show how that applicant fits with the program. These are the application strategy principles that we lay out in our book, Your MBA Game Plan, and they apply to any essay, whether it is a written, audio, or visual response.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Admissions Officer Survey Featured in Hispanic Outlook for Higher Education

Earlier this month, Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education featured an in-depth look at Veritas Prep's first annual admissions officer survey. In the article, reporter A. Francesca Jenkins dug into the results and interviewed Scott Shrum about the implications of the study.

One important finding that the survey focuses on is the fact that MBA admissions officers were almost evenly split on whether the admissions process will become more or less complicated over time. This reflects the challenges that admissions officers face in managing an ever-growing pool of applicants, while also dealing with an increasingly competitive applicant pool. The former pushes the admissions process in the direction of more simplicity -- the more streamlined the process is, the easier it theoretically is to sort through applications -- while the latter pushes the process in the direction of more complication -- as applicants become savvier and savvier, admissions officers need more creative ways to separate the great applicants from the merely good ones.

We believe that whether a school keeps or drops an essay question is a terrific indicator of how well that question works for them. By "works" we mean how well it helps admissions officers tell one applicant from the next. The fact that some school have moved away from the traditional essay questions suggests that those questions have lost some of their effectiveness, as applicants have perhaps become savvier about answering them well.

If you are faced with answering a PowerPoint or audio question in your business school applications, the same rules still apply: Make sure that your real voice comes through, be sure to answer the question asked, and by all means, make sure that your answer is consistent with the overall themes you've built into your business school application.

You can read more about Veritas Prep's first annual admissions officer study here. To stay abreast of admissions news and trends, be sure to follow us on Twitter!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

2010 U.S. News Business School Rankings Leaked Early?

(UPDATE: U.S. news released the official rankings on April 23, and the rankings below were correct.)

U.S. News won't release its 2010 business school rankings until later this week, online communities have been buzzing with the possibility that the magazine accidentally leaked its rankings in a short online video. U.S. News released a short video giving an overview of grad school trends, and in the video you can see the magazines business school rankings. While the image was small, it only took hours for eagle-eyed MBA applicants to analyze the image and spread the word about the soon-to-be-released 2010 rankings.

This list isn't official and has not yet been confirmed by U.S. News, but here are what are believed to be the top 20 business school in the U.S. this year, according to U.S. News:

Current rank [Previous rank] School Name (Rating) [Previous Rating]
1 [1] Harvard (100) [100]
2 [1] Stanford (99) [100]
3 [4] Northwestern (93) [93]
3 [3] Penn (93) [95]
5 [4] MIT (92) [93]
6 [4] Chicago (91) [93]
7 [7] Berkeley (88) [89]
8 [7] Dartmouth (87) [89]
9 [9] Columbia (86) [88]
10 [13] Yale (85) [80]
11 [10] NYU (83) [84]
12 [14] Duke (82) [79]
13 [12] Michigan (81) [82]
14 [11] UCLA (80) [83]
15 [17] Carnegie Mellon (79) [77]
15 [14] UVA (79) [79]
17 [14] Cornell (76) [79]
18 [18] Texas-Austin (74) [74]
19 [22] Georgetown (73) [69]
20 [19] UNC (70) [72]
20 [21] USC (70) [70]

If you want to see for yourself, you can see the full video here. It will be interesting to see if these turn out to be the real rankings, but if so, then the online community deserves some kudos for some good detective work!

For more information about applying to top business schools, take a look at Veritas Prep's MBA admissions consultants, and follow us on Twitter.

Why a Recession May Be a Great Time to Start a Business

While it might not seem intuitive, a recession may actually be the best time to start a business. According to a blog post on the City University of New York's web site, a recession often directly and indirectly creates a set of circumstances in which it's easier to get a new venture off the ground.

First, a soft economy will often spur local and state officials to eliminate or reduce red tape in an effort to stimulate growth and get back some lost tax dollars. The result can mean getting a license just days or weeks after applying, rather than months. Second, vendors and suppliers, who are often struggling to maintain their own businesses, often are much more willing to accommodate an entrepreneur with lower prices or better service. Need something delivered to your new storefront today? No problem... The vendor's truck is empty and available whenever you need it. And anyone who has seen all of the "For Lease" signs posted all over the U.S. shouldn't be surprised to hear that commercials rents are quickly dropping in most markets.

According to data published by Columbia University's Entrepreneurship Center, the number of small businesses that shut down actually declines during a recession, in part because of the factors mentioned above. And, as a recession drags on, the number of business started each year tends to grow, perhaps as an early sign of a pending turnaround.

If you're interested in starting a business, should you dive right in, or perhaps earn an MBA first and then try your hand at entrepreneurship? That largely depends on your own personal situation and how much experience you have, but one thing is clear: Don't worry too much about timing the market, since even a recession may be a great time to start a business.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

New International Loan Program at Chicago Booth

International business school applicants received more good news last week, when the University of Chicago Booth School of Business announced a new loan program for international students. Launched in partnership with JPMorgan Chase, the program will give these students access to private educational loans without requiring a co-signer.

Under the terms of the new deal, JPMorgan Chase will provide financing to qualified international students for amounts up to the total cost of attendance, minus any financial aid received. Exact terms will be announced later this spring, when students will receive more information on the program.

"Almost 20 percent of our students are from abroad, and they add a great deal of intellectual vibrancy and cultural richness throughout the University and our community," said Kimberly Goff-Crews, Vice-President for Campus Life and Dean of Students, in a release on the school's site. "We have focused our attention on finding loan programs that will meet the needs of this important segment of our student body."

For more advice on applying to Chicago Booth, visit the Veritas Prep Chicago Booth information page, or follow us on Twitter!.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Five Things to Consider When Choosing a Business School

Last week the Bay Area's Contra Costa Times turned to Veritas Prep for insights on what the value of an MBA is in the current economic climate. In the article, we provided some advice for applicants as they choose which business schools they want to attend. As we always do, we stressed that an applicant must look at so many things beyond just rankings when choosing an MBA program.

Adapted from the article, here are five questions you should ask when evaluating how well you fit a certain business school, and how well that school fits you:
  • What employers recruit from the school? If you want to switch careers and get a job in banking, but no investment firms recruit at the school, then don't expect your post-MBA job search to be easy.

  • How far do the school's reputation and alumni network reach? Many schools provide an excellent education, but only have a regionally strong brand. If you want to get a new job in another part of the world after school, this may make it harder to do.

  • What type of programs does it offer? Most business schools offer a full-time, two-year program. If this may not fit your schedule or you don't want to quit your job, see if they offer part-time programs that allow you to work and study at the same time.

  • What are its academic specialties? Is the school strongest in one specialty, such as finance or marketing? Or is it a more general management-oriented program? Make sure this strength matches what you want to focus on in school.

  • How much will the school cost you? Obviously, half of the return on investment equation is the size of investment itself. If a school offers you a significant grant or your employer will cover the cost of the program, that may tip the scales in that school's favor.

These are only a handful of things to consider, but they are all important questions you need to be able to answer for every school to which you plan to apply.

For more advice on choosing a business school, talk to Veritas Prep's MBA admissions experts, and follow us on Twitter!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Planning Ahead for a 2009-2010 HBS Application

Last Thursday Harvard Business School's Dee Leopold posted a brief update on the HBS blog, providing some news for waitlisted applicants as well as some advice for those who may apply in 2009-2010. While the waitlist update was surely welcomed by 2008-2009 applicants, what she said about next year's Round 1 deadline was perhaps most interesting of all.

Dee wrote:

  • Our Round 1 deadline for the next application season will be earlier in October, BEFORE fall class visits are open. We encourage those of you who are thinking of applying in Round 1 to consider a class visit this spring -- class visits are available until May 8. Visiting an HBS class has absolutely no impact on the application process - we just want everyone to know that you are welcome.

  • We will be making more offers from the waitlist this year, and we hope to make the majority of these decisions as soon as we can - definitely before the end of May.

  • International students will have access to loans without needing a U.S. co-signer. We will release details/terms on specific programs as they are finalized.

Note her first point. If you apply in Round 1 this coming fall, you won't have a chance to sit in on an HBS class before you submit your application. Therefore, even if you're not certain that you'll apply to HBS, if you can get to Boston this spring, it's a good idea to schedule your visit now. Doing so -- and being able to write about it in your HBS admissions essays -- may give you an important leg up vs. other applicants next year.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

New Wharton Loans for International Students

Yesterday Wharton announced a new student loan program for international students that will not require borrowers to have U.S. co-signers. The program, launched in partnership with Digital Federal Credit Union, is the long-awaited replacement that the school has been searching for since Citi canceled its student loan program last October.

This program will cover tuition and living expenses for international students at Wharton. The loan terms are quite attractive given the current lending climate: an interest rate of Prime plus 3% (reduced by 25 basis points if the borrower signs up for an automatic payment plan), plus no origination fee. Wharton will share some of the risk of default with the credit union, which indicates how badly Wharton wanted to make this new loan program happen.

The school's Student Financial Services Office is in the process of reviewing several proposals for new loan programs for domestic students and for international students with U.S.-based co-signers. The school expects to have a list of approved lenders for both federal and private loan programs within the next few weeks.

For more information on applying to and attending Wharton, visit the Veritas Prep Wharton information page at Veritas Prep. Also, be sure to follow us on Twitter!

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Value of an MBA in Today's Market

Last week the Bay Area's Contra Costa Times featured an article titled "Value of an MBA Put to the Test," focusing on the evolving return-on-investment equation for prospective business school students. In it, David Morrill turned to Veritas Prep for advice to give to prospective business school applicants in this economy.

The interview gave us the chance to emphasize some of what we always tell our applicants about how important fit is when selecting an MBA program.

Taken from the article:

Scott Shrum, director of MBA admissions research at Veritas Prep, advises and prepares students for the process. He says that if a student goes into a graduate school without a plan and the right mindset, they could have a rude awakening.

"If you measure the value of an MBA as a ticket to a six-figure job, then a lot of those people might be disappointed when they graduate," Shrum said. "It's those that realize an MBA is a transformative experience and much more than the paycheck who is going to reap the benefits."

Morrill's article also explored the importance of investing in one's own education, especially when the job market is tight:

"In good times it matters less because there are more are more jobs to be had," Shrum said. "But in a down economy you need to be much choosier, because now companies tend to retreat to the schools they are familiar with and give them good talent."

However, the lesser-known schools shouldn't be entirely thrown aside in consideration. Some offer more flexible hours, online options, and niche affiliations such as the hotel and recreation industry.

Also, if a person doesn't really want to work for a big firm, and is a self-starter that just needs to learn how to read an income statement and pick up the business basics to be an entrepreneur, then there's no reason to spend a bunch of money on a branded school, Shrum said.

The most important point is what we've always said: There's no one-size-fits-all MBA program, and there's rarely a single answer when someone asks, "What's the perfect business school for me?" There are a lot of variables to consider, way beyond the rankings, and you owe it to yourself to consider all of them before you make one of the biggest decisions of your young professional career.

For more advice on MBA admissions, be sure to follow us on Twitter!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

HBS Round 3 Interview Update

This past Friday Dee Leopold posted an update on the HBS blog about interview invitations for Round Three applicants:

I'll make this short and sweet - today we sent out about 100 interview invitations to Round 3 candidates. There will be some more, but I don't know when, to whom, or exactly how many.

Her comment about there being more invitations coming is consistent with what she has previously posted on the blog. Based on Rounds 1 and 2, we estimate that maybe another 5-15 invitations will come out over the next several weeks.

For more new and analysis of HBS and other top MBA programs, you can follow MBA Game Plan on Twitter.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

New GMAT Coming in 2013

Perhaps motivated by ETS's push into the MBA admissions market with the GRE, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) recently announced that a new GMAT exam will launch in 2013. Dubbed the "Next Generation GMAT," the new exam will be designed to overcome the business school community's largest objections to the current exam.

One of those criticisms has been that the current GMAT has a strong bias in favor of Western culture, in part because it is only offered in English. While this does create some built-in unnatural advantages and disadvantages based on a student's native language, one strength of this approach is that it makes it easier to compare GMAT scores of students from anywhere in the world. If, with the new exam, Student A scores a 700 in English and Student B scores a 700 in French, will an MBA admissions officer really be able to treat these two scores as the same? It will be interesting to see how GMAC tackles problems such as these.

The GMAT has also recently been plagued other problems, such as last year's Scoretop scandal and issues with professional test takers that prompted GMAC to introduce pal-scanning technology to its GMAT test centers. While it's not clear how a new exam by itself will overcome these issues, one solution could end up involving more face-to-face evaluation (which would be time-consuming and expensive).

GMAC has promised to include business schools in its discussions for what the next generation GMAT should look like. As the world's fastest-growing GMAT prep and admissions consulting provider, we think we also have something to add to the discussion. How about you? What do you think would make the GMAT a fairer and more effective measurement tool for business school applicants?