Monthly Archives: May 2010

Columbia MBA Application Essays and Deadlines for 2010-2011

Recently Columbia Business School released its online application for the 2010-2011 admissions season. Columbia’s application deadlines and admissions essays are below, followed by our comments, in italics:

Columbia Business School Admissions Deadlines
January 2011 Entry (“J-Term”): October 6, 2010
Early decision: October 6, 2010
Merit fellowship consideration: January 5, 2011
Regular decision: April 13, 2011

These deadlines are virtually the same as last year’s. Note that Columbia’s J-term deadline coincides with Harvard/Stanford/Wharton’s Round 1 deadlines. Also, remember that Columbia uses a rolling admissions schedule, so the only really firm deadline is the April 13 one. However, even though Columbia doesn’t have a traditional Round 1, Round 2, etc., we still recommend against applying at the last minute. Applying as late as March or April means competing for one of the very few seats still open at that point.

Columbia Business School 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)

    This question carries over unchanged from last year. It’s the standard “Why an MBA? Why this school?” question that many top MBA programs ask. Where some applicants is in failing to explain why Columbia is the best place for them to earn their MBA, given the school’s culture, academic strengths, ties to certain industries, etc. Yes, Columbia has a big name and proximity to Wall Street. Those strengths are obvious. What else does Columbia offer that you can’t find anywhere else? If you can’t answer this question, then maybe you haven’t done enough research on the school.

  2. Please tell us about yourself and your personal interests. The goal of this essay is to get a sense of who you are, rather than what you have achieved professionally. (500 words)

    This question is new this year, and it replaces last year’s question about Columbia’s Master Classes, which included a video prompt that applicants watched before answering the question. It seems as though that question didn’t give the Columbia admissions office what it wanted (i.e., helping them learn more about each applicant), so it replaced that question with one that better helps them get to know you. Note the emphasis on “…rather than what you have achieved professionally.” Don’t be afraid to get a little casual here and show some personality.

  3. (Optional) 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.)

    As we always advise, only use this essay if you need to explain a low undergraduate GPA or other potential blemish in your background. No need to harp on a minor weakness and sound like you’re making excuses when you don’t need any.

    Finally, note that last year’s “team failure” essay is gone, leaving just two mandatory essays. Again, when a school drops an essay it usually isn’t giving the admissions office what it wants. For whatever reason, that essay wasn’t adding enough information on candidates for it to be worth application readers’ time.

If you’re thinking of applying to Columbia Business School, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter for more advice on the business school application process!


Stanford GSB Application Deadlines for 2010-2011

The Stanford Graduate School of Business recently released its MBA admissions deadlines for the 2010-2011 season. Here they are:

Stanford GSB Admissions Deadlines
Round 1: October 6, 2010
Round 2: January 6, 2011
Round 3: April 6, 2011

This year’s deadlines are almost exactly the same as last year’s. Note that Stanford’s early October Round 1 deadline gives the school plenty of time to notify applicants before the holidays, and gives denied applicants plenty of time to rev up their Round 2 applications, if needed. ( Harvard’s and Wharton’s Round 1 deadlines work the same way.)

Applying to Stanford this year? If you’re just getting started, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter for more advice on the business school application process!

Harvard Business School Application Essays and Deadlines for 2010-2011

Earlier this week Harvard Business School announced its application deadlines and admissions essays for the 2010-2011 season. Here they are, taken from Harvard’s site. Our comments are in italics:

Harvard Business School Admissions Deadlines
Round 1: October 1, 2010
Round 2: January 11, 2011
Round 3: March 31, 2011

This year’s Round 1 deadline is exactly the same as last year’s. We wonder if a top school will soon move its deadline into September? Round 2’s deadline is about one week earlier than last year’s, meaning applicants will have a bit less breathing room after the holidays pass this year. Harvard’s Round 3 deadline is also about one week earlier than last year’s R3 deadline.

Harvard Business School Admissions Essays

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

    (HBS has used this same question for a while now. It’s 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 traits that admissions officers look for, including teamwork, innovation, and maturity. Remember, the “why” in your story 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. An okay essay will answer the question and describe what you have learned, but a great one will then discuss how you put that lesson to work in a later experience. This allows you to move away from this essay being purely hypothetical to discussing another achievement in your young career.)
  • 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. What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?
    3. Tell us about a time in your professional experience when you were frustrated or disappointed.
    4. When you join the HBS Class of 2013, how will you introduce yourself to your new classmates?

    (The first two questions are repeats, but the other two are new. The first one has “Optional essay for applicants with problematic undergraduate transcripts” written all over it. Only use it if you’re in this situation. The second one is not too different from other school’s “Why MBA?” and “Short-term/long-term career goals” questions. This is a perfectly fine question to choose, but avoid speaking in over broad generalities or in grandiose terms — e.g., “I want to solve the world’s energy crisis.” — that will make admissions officers’ eyes roll. The third question is an interesting because, on the surface, it doesn’t seem very different from the “What have you learned from a mistake?” question. Answer this one only if you can do what we describe for that other question: Don’t only describe a time when you were disappointed, but also discuss what you learned from it and how you put that lesson to work. The last question essentially replaces last year’s “Write a cover letter for the admissions committee” question, and we like it the slightly less formal slant that this version takes. What do you think are your most memorable experiences or attributes? How do you want to be known by your classmates? For this one, we recommend trying for a less formal slant. Make it friendly, written in the first person, and maybe even a little humorous.)

If you’re just starting to plan your MBA candidacy, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter for more advice on the business school application process!

Why MBA Letters of Recommendation Matter

Why do letters of recommendation matter so much in the MBA admissions process? It’s simple: Admissions officers know that your supervisor and colleagues in the workplace are the best judges of your performance and your potential. Just as employers rely on top MBA programs to find the best and the brightest future business leaders, business schools’ admissions officers rely on recommendation writers to help them find them in the first place.

When employers are pressed for why they tend to recruit MBAs from the same top business schools, their answer often boils down to: “The schools wouldn’t have admitted them if they weren’t great, so we know we’re fishing in a pool of highly skilled talent. The schools make it easy for us to find a lot of great potential hires in one place.” That’s not a new idea — yes, getting one’s “ticket punched” at a top MBA program can sometimes seem to be the real value in earning an MBA — but it cuts right to the heart of what employers must deal with. When a company wants to hire a few dozen newly minted MBAs, they simply can’t recruit at every business school around the world. They don’t have the time or the money. Iinstead, they put their trust in the top schools admissions offices to do their jobs right, and to keep their classrooms stocked with A-level talent.

So, how do the MBA admissions officers do it? They have to sift through thousands of great essays, GMAT scores, and resumes to separate the wheat from the chaff. (HBS alone had to sift through more than 9,500 applications this past admissions season.) Even after interviewing some or all of the applicants, how can tell who’s great vs. who merely talks a good game?

Their jobs are made easier, in part, by great letters of recommendation. We recently heard an admissions officer say, “Recommendation writers have seen the applicant in a variety of situations, and knows him far better than we can after reading a few essays. They know the applicant’s true grit, and they’re communicating that to us. A well-written letter of recommendation makes our jobs much easier in this way.” It’s the same exact dynamic at work in both instances: The person in the decision maker’s seat needs to make an important decision without having perfect information. So, they need help from someone else who knows you better.

When business school applicants talk about the admissions game, they spend a lot of time talking about the GMAT and their essays. Their letters of recommendation seem to reside in a place in their minds somewhere below their essays and above the data sheets — important, but not quite as exciting as some of the headliners in their application. Nothing could be further than the truth. Although your recommendation writers most likely (you hope) support your candidacy, what they say about you  is critically important for an admissions officer who needs to make a decision on your candidacy.

So, find recommendation writers who know you well and will be very enthusiastic about your candidacy. Spend as much time as you can preparing them with specific examples to support their answers, and drive home the message that they should communicate nothing less than 100% passion about your candidacy. When MBA admissions officers see these elements in a recommendation, they know they’re on to something good. They can only learn so much about you from your test scores and essays, so this “second voice” is a critical voice in the evaluation process.

Use it to your advantage, and you can put admissions officers at ease as they review your application, because they’ll know that someone else has done the work for them in finding a terrific young professional.

For more help with your MBA letters of recommendation, take a look at Your MBA Game Plan, one of the world’s most popular books about MBA admissions. And, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter for more advice on the MBA admissions process!

Wharton Admissions Deadlines for 2009-2010

The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School recently released its application deadlines for the coming year. They are almost virtually the same as last year’s.

Wharton Application Deadlines
Round 1: October 4, 2010
Round 2: January 4, 2011
Round 3: March 3, 2011

Note that, just as it was last year, Wharton’s Round 1 deadline is in the beginning of October. (Harvard’s and Stanford’s Round 1 deadlines are also in early October.) We won’t be surprised if more top business schools follow suit and start moving their deadlines to the first half of October to give them more time to release Round 1 decisions before the holidays (and before the Round 2 deadline). Note that Wharton’s Round 3 application deadline is still in March, leaving just Stanford and Harvard as the top schools with April deadlines right now.

For more news and advice on getting into Wharton and other top-ranked MBA programs, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter!

New Dean at Harvard Business School

Last week Harvard Business School announced that Nitin Nohria, the Richard P. Chapman Professor of Business Administration at HBS, will become the School’s 10th dean, replacing current Dean Jay Light on July 1, 2010. Nohria, currently the co-chair of the school’s Leadership Initiative, gained notoriety last year when he co-authored a Harvard Business Review article that ultimately led to the creation of the MBA Oath. His reputation for being willing to ask tough questions about ethics and the social of managers that makes him an attractive choice to lead HBS in the aftermath of the financial markets meltdown and the ensuing hit to the MBA’s reputation.

Nohria has been at HBS for the past 22 years, joining the faculty as an assistant professor in 1988 after earning his PhD at MIT Sloan, with an emphasis in behavioral sciences. He earned tenure in 1997, and was named to the Chapman Professorship in 1999. Most recently he has served as the Harvard’s senior associate dean for faculty development and chair of its organizational behavior unit.

In a statement accepting the role, Nohria gave a hint as to what his priorities will be at HBS’s new dean:

I feel a profound sense of responsibility for continuing Harvard Business School’s proud legacy of groundbreaking ideas and transformational educational experiences. With business education at an inflection point, we must strive to equip future leaders with the competence and character to address emerging global business and social challenges. As we enter our second century, I look forward to working with the School’s faculty, staff, students, and alumni to forge a vision for Harvard Business School that will enable it to remain a beacon for business education for the next 100 years.

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How to Think Like an MBA Admissions Officer, Part II

A little while ago we wrote a very popular piece titled How to Think Like an MBA Admissions Officer, in which we described how admissions officers often form impressions of an applicant within seconds of picking up an application. While this can be a tough pill to swallow after you’ve put possible dozens of hours into each of your applications, keep in mind that admissions officers are only human, and they can’t help but be influenced by the hundreds or thousands of applications that they’ve previously read.

Whether or not they’re thinking about it consciously, the question that runs through MBA admissions officers’ minds essentially boils down to this: “How much time should I devote to this application?” Give off all the obvious signs of an applicant who will never fit with the school — e.g., by not being a team player or having a low GPA — and you’ll make an admissions officer’s decision easy (and “Ding!” will be their decision).

For admissions officers, these decisions aren’t made out of laziness, but rather a simple need to process tons of information in a very little time. MBA admissions officers are constantly asking themselves the “Worth my time?” question as they move from one application to the next, trying to find the best ones to recommend for further evaluation.

Finding great applicants in the pile of applications is not the hard part — it’s finding the best ones that is the challenge. And the more time that the admissions officer spends on a bad one, the more he has to make up for it later (either by hurrying up with another application or working even longer hours).

As yourself these five things as you think about whether you will end up in the “No more time needed” stack of applications or the “This one’s worth more of our time” pile:

  1. Will your work experience look impressive or bland?
  2. Will your GMAT and GPA seem like assets or liabilities (or will they offset one another)?
  3. Do you seem like someone on an upward trajectory, or someone who’s stagnating in his or her career?
  4. Is there anything in your application that will make the admissions officer want you over the other people who have very similar professional/ethnic backgrounds?
  5. What about your application will the reader remember 15 minutes after reading it?

Objectivity is very important here, especially when asking yourself why an admissions officer might want to choose you over someone else who looks very similar to you on paper. This is also where another pair of eyes can help, ideally from someone who doesn’t know you too well. Your friends and family are biased… They think you’re amazing, but they’ve known you forever! An MBA admissions officer doesn’t have such an advantage.

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