Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Admissions Tips for Applications

With Round One application deadlines quickly approaching for most b-schools, applicants can surely use some last minute tips straight from admissions committee members. After years in the Admissions business, I’ve seen many students make mistakes in the application process, almost all of which are completely avoidable. Below are a few things to think about as you prepare your applications, and a few more you’ll want to consider before you hit the submit button.

Get to know your schools. This goes beyond perusing our websites! Attend local information sessions to get a better feel of each school’s culture, and what they’re each looking for in their applicants. This will help you in your essay writing, as you strive to convince the committee that you’re a great match for their institution. Be sure that you have articulated what value you will gain from the MBA experience, and why the school’s culture fits with what you are trying to accomplish.

Make sure your application is the most accurate representation of who you are. Consider whether each piece of the application is as strong as it could be and whether the components of your application present a clear, holistic picture of you, your self-awareness, and your reasons for pursuing the MBA.

Answer the questions. We encourage you to take the time to read each essay question closely. For instance, the Chicago GSB essay questions may seem similar to other essays you've encountered, but in order to clearly answer the questions that are posed, you must pay close attention to exactly what you're being asked. Don’t assume that you can take a “one size fits all” approach to your essays.

Be creative and consider taking risks. There is no right or wrong way to show us who you are. We’re always impressed when a student uses the application in a strategic way to best articulate her strengths, personality and unique characteristics.

Recommenders; choose wisely! By now, you should have given some serious thought about who will write your letters of recommendation. Your choice is as important as the content of the letter itself. While you may think we’ll be impressed with a letter from an important political figure or the CEO, if that person doesn’t know you well, it’s a poor choice. Your recommenders should be people who know you and your work well, and they should be able to offer specific examples of your performance and contributions to the organization.

Have someone read your essays. Did they feel your answers really captured the question you were asked? If not, you may want to take additional time to re-work your essay(s). This is also a great chance to have someone else proofread! Sloppy mistakes are unnecessary and will leave a bad impression with the committee. Be thorough in your review before submitting your application.

Do not wait until the absolute last minute to submit your application online. Given the volume of applications most schools receive, you may experience significant delays or timeouts if you submit at the last minute. While there’s a thrill for some people (not me!) in submitting at the last minute, technological glitches are a reality of our lives. Give yourself time to submit your applications and get confirmation that they have been received.

Celebrate! Relax! Once your application is submitted, remind yourself that you've worked hard and submitted your best effort. Congratulate yourself for completing this difficult and stressful task! Then, go out and celebrate this enormous accomplishment!

Good luck with your applications. Don't forget that you can always call or email Admissions staff members for questions or concerns; that’s what we’re here for!

Joanne Legler, Associate Director of Admissions, Chicago GSB

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The MBA Decision: Full-time, Part-time, Executive

As you begin this journey, your first step might be to explore the different formats offered by business schools today – full-time, part-time, and executive. While I attended a part-time program myself, the Evening Program of the Goizueta Business School at Emory, I am now the director of admissions for the full-time program at the Darden Business School at the University of Virginia. For me, the decision was easy – my employer, Procter & Gamble, was willing to pay my tuition if I attended a part-time program. A much higher percentage of part-time and executive students are sponsored by their companies than full-time students. So, what is the difference? First, you need to decide if you are looking for an MBA degree or not. In general, most executive programs are targeted at senior executives and offer a shortened timeline and a different curriculum. As a result, they are not usually able to grant the same degree as a full or part-time program. And, not all part-time programs offer the same degree as the full-time program, although the ones at Goizueta and Darden do. You will need to investigate the programs you are actually considering to know for sure.

Once you have decided which sort of degree will be best for your career and life goals, you will need to consider the format. Most full-time programs in the United States are 21-month programs that start in the fall of one year, provide a summer break for an internship experience the next year, and graduate in May of the second year. Part-time and Executive programs vary widely, both in length and in format, as some might meet two nights a week, one weekend a month, or primarily online. Again, you will need to fully research your choices to know for sure and think seriously about how you work best.

The last big difference to me is in the type of support you will get in terms of career search and recruiting. Most part-time and executive programs expect you to stay in your current job or at least with your current company. As a result, the amount of career development programming is less than for full-time programs. If you are looking to make a change in industry, function, or both, I believe a full-time MBA program may be the better fit. In a full-time program, you have much more time for self-reflection, to determine which career is the best fit for your strengths, two recruiting cycles to meet companies, and the opportunity to explore a new career via the internship.

Whichever type of program you choose, an MBA should be transformational for you in your life and career – it has been for me.

Sara E. Neher, Director of MBA Admissions, Darden School of Business