Thursday, May 28, 2009

Stanford GSB Application Essays and Deadlines for 2009-2010

Last week the Stanford Graduate School of Business released its admissions essay topics and deadlines for the 2009-2010 application season. Just like the upcoming HBS Round 1 deadline, Stanford's Round 1 deadline is now in the first week of October, and the school will now notify Round 1 applicants before the holidays at the end of the year.

Here are Stanford's essays and deadlines, followed by our comments in italics:

Stanford GSB Application Deadlines

Round 1: October 7, 2009
Round 2: January 6, 2010
Round 3: April 7, 2010

(Interesting... Harvard matched Stanford by moving its Round 3 deadline back to April. Now, like HBS, Stanford has moved its Round 1 deadline forward, to early October. For these schools, there's now six months between the Round 1 and Round 3 deadlines! Perhaps one reason for this move is to make admissions officers' lives easier during the peak season, by spreading it out a bit.)

Stanford GSB Application Essays
  1. What matters most to you, and why? (750 words recommended, out of 1,800 total)

    (Ahh, Stanford's tried-and-true essay question. Old timers will remember when this question had no word limit. Now, the essay's 750-word limit forces applicants to be a little more economical with their words, which is a good thing. This question requires a great deal of introspection, after which you should create an essay that truly answers the question asked, whether or not you feel that it's directly applicable to your candidacy. Obviously, the more relevant to the topic at hand, the better, but where applicants often go wrong is by offering grand ideas and big words, rather than a real glimpse into who they are as a person.)

  2. What are your career aspirations? How will your education at Stanford help you achieve them? (450 words recommended)

    (This is the "Why do you want an MBA, and why this school?" question that nearly every school asks. Here you can feel more comfortable writing about the topics that business schools more often look for in their applications. Remember to keep it realistic and to demonstrate that you understand what the Stanford MBA experience will -- and won't -- do for you as a growing professional.)

  3. Answer two of the four questions below. Tell us not only what you did but also how you did it. What was the outcome? How did people respond? Only describe experiences that have occurred during the last three years. (300 words recommended for each)

    Option A: Tell us about a time when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.

    Option B: Tell us about a time when you made a lasting impact on your organization.

    Option C: Tell us about a time when you motivated others to support your vision or initiative.

    Option D: Tell us about a time when you went beyond what was defined, established, or expected.

    (Some small but key differences here vs. last year. For Option A, they have added the "whose performance exceeded expectations" clause, indicating that last year's applicants may not have put enough focus on results in their answers. Option B has changed from "Tell us about a time when you felt most effective as a leader." The change to "the lasting impact" question also suggests that the school is looking for more results in its essay answers. Option C has evolved from a question about overcoming an obstacle or failure to a question that gets at one version of leadership -- motivating others to support your ideas. Stanford considers this type of persuasiveness a key ingredient in the future leaders that it wants to produce. Option D remains from last year; this is another results-oriented question that also gets at a core component of leadership)

For more guidance on your Stanford business school application, visit the Veritas Prep Stanford GSB information page. To get a feel for how strong your chances of getting into Stanford are, try Veritas Prep's Business School Selector.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Business School Waitlist Advice from Forbes

When Forbes reporter Tara Weiss wrote a piece about how applicants can navigate the business school waitlist, she turned to Your MBA Game Plan co-author Scott Shrum for advice on what applicants can do to maximize their chances of success.

As the article states, being on the waitlist is not a comfortable experience. The lack of knowing a firm outcome can be very unsettling, especially when you're waiting on making big decisions such as leaving your current job, moving to a new place, and selling your home. However, you can take solace in the fact that the school must want you if it's waitlisted you -- the admissions office just can't find room for you in the class, at least not yet.

Your time on the waitlist also gives you an opportunity to address an weaknesses in your application. Writes Weiss:

There are several reasons candidates get relegated to the wait list. If you can find out which reason applies to you, you can try to address the problem. Among the most common: a low score on the Graduate Management Admission Test; insufficient community service or leadership experience; low grades in college math classes; unclear career goals. However, "They won't wait list anybody unless they're willing to admit them," says Scott Shrum, director of M.B.A. admissions research at Veritas Prep, an M.B.A. application consulting firm in Los Angeles.

The article also makes an important point about demonstrating enthusiasm for the program in question: It helps your chances, but only so much. If the school that has waitlisted you is your #1 choice, then you're missing an opportunity to improve your chances if you don't let the school know. After all, what school wants to admit a waitlisted candidate who only might attend? However, that is only one piece of the puzzle:

"Some people believe that convincing us they're really, really interested will get them off the wait list. That's just not true," says Peter Johnson, executive director of admissions for the full-time M.B.A. program at the Haas School. "What gets them off the wait list is strengthening one of these weaknesses."

At the end of the day, to some extent you can control how attractive you are as a waitlisted candidate. What you can't control, however, if how many applicants the school will take from the waitlist. You might do everything right, but if the school doesn't need anyone from the waitlist (or, doesn't need anyone from your particular background), then unfortunately you won't get in. Being smart about how to approach the waitlist and maximize your candidacy is all you can do, but it's better than being rejected!

For more help on getting off of a business school's waitlist, take a look at Veritas Prep's Waitlist Assistance package. And, be sure to follow MBA Game Plan on Twitter!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Harvard Business School Application Essays and Deadline for 2009-2010

This week Harvard Business School released its application deadlines and admissions essays for the 2008-2009 season. Here they are, taken from Harvard's site. Our comments are in italics:

HBS Application Deadlines
Round 1: October 1, 2009
Round 2: January 19, 2010
Round 3: April 8, 2010

(Harvard's Round 1 deadline is two weeks earlier than it was last year. However, its Round 2 deadline is nearly two weeks later than last year's, and its Round 3 deadline is nearly a month later. The Round 3 move is especially interesting since this past year Stanford GSB's Round 3 deadline was also on April 8. This was almost certainly a move made to match Stanford in trying to grab any last-minute, high-potential applicants.)

HBS Application Essays
  • What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such? (600 words)

    (This is the same question that HBS has asked for years now, and is a great opportunity for you to spell out three main themes that you want to emphasize in your application. This being HBS, at least one of your examples should highlight leadership, but don't discount stories that also demonstrate other three dimensions that admissions officers look for: teamwork, innovation, and maturity. As we always tell our clients, the "why" is even more important than the "what," so be sure to spell out why these accomplishments are so critical to describing you as an emerging leader. Also, ideally you can draw upon multiple types of experiences -- not only on the job, but also from your community involvement, your hobbies, and even, in some cases, your personal life.)

  • What have you learned from a mistake? (400 words)

    (This question is also a repeat from last year. The key here is to not only describe what happened and what you learned, but also to show how you put that lesson to work in a later situation. That last point allows you to evolve the essay answer from being purely hypothetical to being an opportunity to discuss another achievement.)

  • Please respond to two of the following (400 words each):

    1. What would you like the MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience?

    2. Discuss how you have engaged with a community or organization.

    3. Tell us about a time when you made a difficult decision.

    4. Write a cover letter to your application introducing yourself to the Admissions Board.

    5. What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?

    (Of the above questions, the "difficult decision" and "cover letter" questions are new since last year. They replace a question that asked, "What area of the world are you most curious about and why?" which only lasted for one year, probably because it didn't help the HBS admissions committee learn much new valuable information about its applicants. For the new questions, we like how the "difficult decision" question gives you an opportunity to really show off their maturity. The "cover letter" question is similar to MIT Sloan's, and provides another good opportunity to sketch out the main themes of your application.)

If you would like more information about applying to HBS, visit the Harvard Business School information page. And for more information on business school application deadlines, and be sure to follow us on Twitter!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

HBS to Accept the GRE Starting This Fall

Yesterday Harvard Business School joined Stanford GSB and MIT Sloan when it announced that its general two-year MBA program will starting accepting the GRE from applicants this fall. This move comes after the HBS 2+2 Program announced in March that it would accept both the GRE and the GMAT this year.

In an HBS press release put out this morning, director of admissions Dee Leopold said, "We are pleased to widen our requirements to give all MBA candidates the option of submitting results from either the GRE or GMAT exams. Since many HBS applicants are also considering graduate programs besides the MBA, there is now no need for them to take the GMAT if they have already taken the GRE. We believe that both the GMAT and the GRE meet our expectations of what a standardized test can tell us about a candidate's ability to thrive in our MBA Program."

This is consistent with Harvard Business School's push to find more business leaders outside of the traditional MBA program feeders, such as business-oriented college programs, investment banks, and consulting firms. It also marks another win for ETS in its push to position the GRE as a credible competitor to the GMAT in assessing MBA applicants' abilities. With a handful of top-ten business schools already accepting the GRE, we expect more schools will soon follow suit.

With ETS making steady progress in winning over the top business schools, it's no wonder that the Graduate Management Admission Council has started to make noise about producing a next-generation GMAT exam, due to reach the market by 2013.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Columbia 2010 J-Term Admissions Essays

Recently Columbia started accepting applications for the January 2010 intake of its accelerated MBA program. There is just a single deadline -- October 7, 2009 -- on a rolling admissions basis. Below are the Columbia J-Term's admissions essays, with our comments in italics:

Columbia January Term Admissions Essays

  1. What are your short-term and long-term post-MBA goals? How will Columbia Business School help you achieve these goals? (750 words)

  2. (This is pretty much the standard "Why an MBA? / Why this school?" question, but your answer will need to be a little more focused than the answer that an applicant would submit to a typical two-year program. The J-Term is especially designed for young professionals who plan to return to their current employers or otherwise don't need the benefit of a summer internship to transition to a new career, and Columbia will closely look for evidence that you understand the what you will gain and what you will give up by attending its accelerated program.)

  3. Master Classes are the epitome of bridging the gap between theory and practice at Columbia Business School. (View link.) Please provide an example from your own life in which practical experience taught you more than theory alone. (500 words)

  4. (The key takeaway for you as an applicant is that Columbia prides itself on its Master Classes, so make sure you understand what they are and why they are important to the Columbia academic experience. Columbia, like many other top schools, has made a push to better connect the theory covered in its core classes with the practical challenges that its graduates will face, and Master Classes are the school's way of doing that. For your response, while this question doesn't specifically ask about a professional failure, such an example might provide you with rich material for a response. Just be sure to emphasize what you learned as a result, and, ideally, how you applied this lesson later on.)

  5. Please provide an example of a team failure of which you've been a part. If given a second chance, what would you do differently? (500 words)

  6. (The admissions office is most interested in what you learned from such a failure. Although the second part of this question asks a theoretical question -- What would you do? -- ideally you can describe a time when you applied what you learned to another real-life situation, thus preventing the same problem from happening again.)

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

  8. (Use this space wisely. Do not dwell on your weaknesses, go on and on with excuses about something that happened ten years ago, or unduly draw attention to a minor weakness!)

For more advice on applying to Columbia, visit the Veritas Prep Columbia Business School information page.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

New iPhone App for GMAT Prep

Veritas Prep is making some waves in the mobile application space! We are proud to introduce the Veritas Prep GMAT Practice Quiz app for the iPhone and iPod Touch! This new app gives you extensive practice on all five question types you will encounter on the GMAT: Data Sufficiency, Problem Solving, Sentence Correction, Critical Reasoning, and Reading Comprehension.

It also allows you to:
  • Practice with more than 180 realistic GMAT practice questions

  • Take timed practice exams or practice for a subject without worrying about time

  • Use the complete diagnostics provided to better understand your strengths and weaknesses

The Veritas Prep iPhone GMAT app is 100% free... All you need is an iPhone or an iPod touch and an iTunes account. (Sorry Blackberry and Android users, this is an Apple-only app for the time being!)

The first reviews on iTunes look very positive. Check it out!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Now Who's to Blame for This Mess?

Forbes recently raised the question of whether we should blame the business schools, the graduates themselves, or the companies that hire the graduates.

Much of the article is the normal chatter about how the typical business school curriculum places too much emphasis on shareholder value and not enough on improving the community around the enterprise. While we don't disagree, it's hard to argue that this trend in management education alone contributed to the problems our economy now faces. It is one ingredient of the problem, for certain, but we're wary of anyone who believes that the few hundred hours a young professional spends in some some finance courses in business are enough to steer that person towards world-class leadership or financial self-destruction.

We like what Michael Ervolini stated, which nicely sums up a point that we've made previously:

B-schools serve a purpose to provide talented employees that have received some minimum training for their career. You can not expect too much from a two-year stint, however, even at the most prestigious of programs. This is particularly the case with an average of only 18 months actually on campus.

While business schools certainly need to take responsibility for the quality of the business leaders they're putting out in the market, the hiring companies' jobs have only just begun once they hire these grads. That's why companies such as General Electric and Procter & Gamble are so successful so consistently -- because of the value that they place on training and personal development in their future leaders -- will continue to be the case for years to come.

If you're just now thinking about getting an MBA, be sure to follow us on Twitter!