Monthly Archives: July 2010

How the MBA Admissions Interview Process Really Works

While many business school applicants view the MBA admissions interview as the last hurdle to clear, when they’re only 50 yards from the finish line, that’s not exactly how it works. Every year we hear from applicants who look at the previous season’s admissions statistics and think something like this: “Well, they normally admit 600 students, and I hear that about 800 interview invitations go out every year, so all I have to do is not be in the bottom quarter of interviewees and I’m set!”

This line of thinking assumes that the admissions process is a perfectly linear one in which the committee cuts down the applicant pool and then starts fresh with the remaining applicants, forgetting everything they already know about them as they go into the interview. In reality, however, the admissions office right away knows that it won’t admit a large number of applicants (for whatever reason: lack of fit with the program, underwhelming grades, no evidence of leadership potential, etc.), so it makes sense for them to just cut those applicants out of the process right away, since interviewing everyone just isn’t practical. So, they cut down the pool to a more manageable number before sending out invites.

But, as interview invites go out, they already have well-formed opinions about the remaining applicants: “John has terrific leadership experience but we wonder about his quant skills… Mary has very interesting career goals but we’re just not sure if an MBA is right for her… Tony brings it all to the table and looks like a very promising candidate.” They go into the interview with these opinions and questions, and in large part the purpose of the interview is to help them confirm what they know and find out what they don’t know.

Then — and here’s the important thing to remember — they then feed that information back into your entire candidacy, and they then decide on what to do with you. You could walk into the interview with them already loving you, and do just okay in the interview, and still get in. You could go into the interview with the admissions committee having lots of questions about your fit with the school, and you could earn rave reviews from your interviewer, but ultimately be rejected because of those questions that were raised before you ever walked in the door.

Both types of examples are very common among applicants. Every year we hear from applicants who say, “I thought I bombed the interview, but I still got in!” and “I was AMAZING in the interview, and my interviewer even said so. So how could they have rejected me?” It’s because the interview is just one part of the process, and it’s compared against everything else in your application before a decision is made. Every part of your application matters right up until the moment when a decision is rendered.

What does this mean for you? It may mean that you are already well on your way to being admitted, although you probably won’t know it. Or, it could mean that your odds aren’t great, but at least the school saw enough in you to give you an interviewer, so your odd aren’t great, but you’re still in the game. If you fall in the latter camp, the interview will obviously matter more. Since you don’t know which camp you’re in, you need to prepare for the interview like it matters a ton. But know that everything in your application — your GMAT score, your essays, your letters of recommendation, your undergraduate work, and your work history — still matter a lot.

Finally, we should note that not every school works exactly the same way when it comes to interviews. Many top schools conduct interviews blind, meaning that the interviewer hasn’t extensively reviewed you application. And other schools allow everyone to interview, rather than conducting them by invite only. However, this “the process isn’t perfectly linear” lesson still applies. It all gets fed into the final decision.

For more news and advice on getting into Ross and other world-class business schools, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter!


MIT Sloan Essay Questions for 2010-2011

MIT Sloan recently published its admissions essays. Here they are, followed by our comments in italics:

MIT Sloan Cover Letter
Prepare a cover letter seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA Program. Describe your accomplishments and include an example of how you had an impact on a group or organization. Your letter should conform to standard business correspondence and be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Director of MBA Admissions. (500 words)

While this isn’t an essay in the traditional sense, the cover letter is a rite of passage of MIT Sloan applicants every year. Over the past couple of years the prompt has evolved slightly to place more emphasis on your “impact on an organization.” (And regular readers of this blog know how much emphasis we place on demonstrating impact!!) This year the question remains the same, so the Sloan admissions office must think that this phrasing helps them more effectively get at what they’re looking for in MBA applicants.

MIT Sloan Application Essays

  1. Please describe a time when you went beyond what was defined, expected, established, or popular. (500 words)

    Sloan added this question last year, and it must have liked what it saw in applicants’ responses. Just as the cover letter prompt has evolved to place more emphasis on impact, this change suggests that Sloan is really looking closely for evidence of how you have gone beyond your regular job description to make a positive impact on those around you. We consider this as one of the key ingredients of leadership, and Sloan clearly wants to see more of it in its applicants.

  2. Please describe a time when you convinced an individual or group to accept one of your ideas. (500 words)

    This question is new this year, and it is yet another example of how Sloan is really looking for leaders in its applicant pool. If you just read that last sentence and thought, “Oh no, I’ve never managed anyone or been a team lead,” that’s okay. That’s not how Sloan (or any top MBA program) defines leadership. One practical definition of leadership is the ability to positively influence others, and Sloan directly asks for an example of that ability with this question. Even if your example feels fairly mundane (such as an engineer convincing other engineers to pursue a certain technical solution), you will be successful if you can show real skill maturity in HOW you go it done.

  3. Please describe a time when you took responsibility for achieving an objective. (500 words)

    This question carries over from last year. Once again, we see a question that gets at signs of leadership. In this case, it’s a willingness to take on the burden of achieving a goal. Once again, the “SAR” technique will be critical to demonstrating not just what you accomplished, but also HOW you accomplished it, which is what the admissions committee really wants to see. They don’t want to simply hear about how you were handed a goal and you easily achieved it; discuss an instance when you took on an especially challenging goal, maybe when others avoided it or had failed in achieving it, and describe what exactly you did to make it happen.

  4. You may use this section to address whatever else you want the Admissions Committee to know. (250 words)

    Our usual words of warning here… Applicants tend to err on the side of overusing this essay to explain away small details in their profiles. Only use this essay if needed! Two examples are if you have a low undergrad GPA (this is the most common use that we see) or if your current supervisor does not write a recommendation for you. But don’t waste the admissions office’s time unless you really need to answer a significant question that admissions officers might have about your application.

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Win $50,000 by Telling GMAC How You Would Change Management Education!

What could your idea be worth? How about $50,000? The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) has invited anyone to answer this question: What one idea would improve graduate management education? GMAC’s Management Education for Tomorrow (MET) Fund will award a total of $250,000 in prizes to 15 people whose ideas rise to the top, with the most promising proposal taking home $50,000. All you have to do is submit three paragraphs making the case for your idea is the one that can best revolutionize management education.

GMAC will accept entries to the MET Fund’s Ideas to Innovation (I2I) Challenge at from now until Friday, October 8. After rounds of review and voting by a panel of educators and business leaders from around the world, the prize winners will be announced in mid-December., in what is considered Phase 1 of the process.

During Phase 2, to begin in 2011, GMAC will post the winning ideas online and ask schools and other nonprofit organizations to develop ways to implement them. GMAC will underwrite one or more of the best proposals using funds dedicated to the MET Fund, a $10 million initiative to invest in the development of management education worldwide.

What is “innovation,” for the purposes of the contest? GMAC defines innovation as the implementation of an idea that improves management education in a meaningful way—for students, for schools, for societies. GMAC seeks ideas that are achievable, easily understood and able to demonstrate measurable results within one to three years. GMAC is particularly interested in proposals that show potential to broadly impact management education in either a specific part of the world or globally.

If you’ve got an idea that will get GMAC’s attention, visit and get started. May the best idea win!

For more news and advice on getting into Ross and other world-class business schools, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter!

Michigan (Ross) MBA Admissions Essay Questions for 2010-2011

The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business has released its admissions essays for the coming year. Ross has made some very significant changes to its essays this year. While the school’s Round 1 deadline is still more than three months away, now is a great time to start mapping out your application strategy, starting with these essays.

Here are Ross’s admissions essays, followed by our comments in italics:

Michigan (Ross) Admissions Essays

  1. Introduce yourself in 100 words or less.

    Talk about a short essay question! This question is new this year, and it’s the quintessential “elevator pitch.” You have just four to six sentences to highlight what the admissions committee absolutely must know about you. This is not an exercise is seeing how much information you can cram into 100 words. Instead, your challenge is to distill down your candidacy to no more than several key points that 1) demonstrate your fit with Ross and 2) help you stand out vs. the competition. This essay will be a super-summary of the rest of your application, so don’t be bothered if some of the content here seems to overlap with what’s in your other essays.

  2. Describe your career goals. How will the Ross MBA help you to achieve your goals? (500 words)

    This question is also new this year. It is essentially the typical “Why do you want an MBA, and why this school?” question. Remember to keep it realistic and to demonstrate that you understand what a Ross MBA will and won’t do for you as a young professional. Note that many similar questions start with “Describe your career progress to date,” but this essay is only forward-looking. Still, any discussion of your career goals will likely include at least some background on what you’ve learned and accomplished. So, you should plan on succinctly discussing what you’ve done until now.

  3. Describe a time in your career when you were frustrated or disappointed. What did you learn from that experience? (500 words)

    This question is also new, and replaces a question on last year’s application that asked for an applicant’s most significant professional accomplishment. This goes deeper into the “emotional intelligence” that we hear admissions officers talk about wanting to see in today’s applicants. While this isn’t explicitly a “failure” essay, an example of a time when you failed is fair game here. Other possibilities are a time when you had to deal with a difficult co-worker or a time when you had a hard time winning others over to your way of thinking. These would all make for good demonstrations of how you’ve dealt with adversity. And remember that the second half of this question is the most critical: What did you learn from this rough patch in your career? (And, how did it make you a better person or more successful professional later on?) That’s what Ross wants to see here.

  4. Select one of the following questions:
    • What are you most passionate about and why? (300 words)
    • We expect that Ross MBAs will not only be effective leaders, but also effective teachers. How will you contribute to the learning experience of your peers at Ross? (300 words)

    Both of these questions are new. The first one is very much like Stanford’s famous “What matters most to you, and why?” question, and requires an honest response about something that truly moves you. Again, the second half of the question is the meatiest part: You can be passionate about anything, but what really makes great responses stand out is when the “Why” part is memorable, believable, and contains specifics about how you have acted on that passion.

    Regarding the second question, when you hear the word “diversity” used to describe a business school classroom, this goes beyond race or gender. This also refers to the experiences (both personal and professional) that you bring to the classroom. Your job here is to demonstrate those experiences and convince the Ross admissions office that you’ll actively contribute these in the school’s “action-based learning” environment. Ross doesn’t want wallflowers in the classroom, so don’t look like one!

  5. Optional question: Is there anything else you think the Admissions Committee should know about you to evaluate your candidacy? (500 words)

    As always, 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. More generally, if you don’t have anything else you need to tell the admissions office, it’s okay to skip this essay!

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