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You can find a better version of my blog at http://www.adammarkus.com/blog/.

Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

June 27, 2015

Dartmouth Tuck MBA Essay Questions for Academic Year 2015-16

In this post I analyze the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth MBA Application Essay Questions for Academic Year 2015–16 (Class of 2018). Tuck is great school in a small town. This is both its strength in terms of forming a close knit community and weakness in terms of being a location that some find unattractive. Sometimes when I talk to clients and mention Tuck, I know immediately that I made a mistake. Other times, I working with someone whose second or third top choice is Tuck. To be honest, I have worked with only a few clients who ever considered Tuck their top choice.  The location seems to be the issue. That Tuck is not the applicant pool as a whole’s first choice is reflected in its yield of 54% (BusinessWeek). It is important to keep this in mind as showing a strong interest in attending the program is something you should convey both in your application and interview.  Tuck allows for student initiated campus-only interviews, which I strongly recommend unless your budget and time makes doing so impossible. Please see here for my post on interviewing at Tuck.


Essay Questions for 2015–16
Let’s take a look at the essay questions. I took the questions from the Tuck blog (As of this posting the online application is not up yet). The instructions are to “Please respond fully but concisely to the following essay questions. There are no right or wrong answers. We encourage applicants to limit the length of their responses to 500 words for each essay. Please double-space your responses.” I don’t know why Tuck can’t be more explicit and not use such wimpy language (“We encourage..”). I will strongly encourage my own clients to keep it to 500 words or so. Since they want 500, I think it best to give them something that is “500-wordish” meaning around 500-550 words.

In addition to the main essays questions, I have also included an analysis of the international experience question from the application form, which I assume will be included this year, but I will alter this post if it is removed or changed when the the online application is updated later this summer.

1. What are your short- and long-term goals? Why do you need an MBA to achieve those goals? Why are you interested in Tuck specifically?
The first part of this question is a very standard version of the Why MBA essay question and remains unchanged from last year. See my Stanford GSB Essay B analysis of goals, why MBA  and why a particular school because it applies here.

Regarding the second part of the question, anyone applying to Tuck, should most certainly watch the video series “Applying to Tuck: The Inside Scoop” with Dawna Clarke, the Director of Admissions. if you are really interested in attending Tuck, I strongly suggest making a real effort to visit or at least to attend a reception. This will be a great way to meet with admissions officers in a very friendly environment. It is also an amazing way to network with the alum at the event and afterwords. At a Tokyo reception I attended, we were actually provided with a list of alumni who would be happy to communicate with potential applicants. In “Tips on Applying,” Ms. Clarke emphasizes the importance of getting in touch with Tuck alumni. She, in fact, specifically says that mentioning that you met with alumni is something you should do both in your essays and interviews. She also mentioned that she considers notes from alumni as being in an applicant’s favor.  Click here for information about Tuck events.

Learning from students and alumni by networking with them is also incredibly valuable.  See my Q&As with former clients who are members of the Class of 2011 and Class of 2013.
One thing that is consistent is that current students, alumni, and  admissions officers emphasize that Tuck is about being part of a community. Especially in regards to the community aspect, I suggest reading the Q&A I conducted with  a member of the Class of 2011.  In particular:
Adam: What is the Tuck community like? 
Tuck 2011: The Tuck community is like family. Literally for those who live on campus since they spend most of time together. Everybody is friendly and you don’t need to worry about making friends here. From an academic point of view, collaboration between students is highly emphasized in Tuck and you will experience and learn to work together with others.


2. Tell us about your most meaningful leadership experience and what role you played. How will that experience contribute to the learning environment at Tuck?
Keep in mind that according to Dawna Clarke in “Tuck’s holistic admissions process” video, leadership ability and/or demonstrated potential is one of three key common characteristics of Tuck students. Weak versions of this essay will focus too much on simply telling a leadership story, not focus on why the experience was meanings,  and/or what you contribute at Tuck based on that experience.

most meaningful: Since the leadership experience you write about should be he the one that you consider most meaningful, you clearly explain that.  Applicants frequently assume the significance of a story without interpreting it sufficiently.  Make sure you have clearly explained why the particular leadership experience you write about is meaningful to you.  This is not just a function of explaining your strengths and weaknesses as a leader, but of actually explaining why this particular experience is so significant.

While not required I would consider collaborative leadership experiences: Tuck is a highly collaborative environment, so it is highly likely that they are particularly interested in gauging an applicants collaborative leadership ability.   Given the part of the question that is focused on contribution at Tuck, this essay is actually very much one about fit. You should be particularly focused on a leadership situation that highlights your capability and self-awareness in respect to leading, negotiating, persuading, mentoring,  and/or working  with other people. Such stories are likely to be the basis for showing how you can contribute to the learning environment at Tuck.

Given that the structure of the first year program includes mandatory study groups of 5-6 students in the Fall and Winter terms and  the Cohen Leadership Development Program,  as well as Tuck’s intensely community-focused nature, being able to show how you will contribute to  the learning environment should go well beyond mentioning a particular area of knowledge that you might have

Leadership is no easy thing. Nor is it always obvious.  The worst possible thing is to conceive of leadership as simple formal responsibility or a title because this conveys nothing about the person in that  role. While some applicants will have held formal leadership positions, many will not. Formal leadership positions are great to write about if they involve the applicant actually having significant impact, making a difficult decision, being a visionary, showing creativity, or otherwise going beyond their formal responsibility, but the same is true for those showing leadership without having a formal title.

Some clients I have worked with have never really considered themselves as leaders. I think it is critical that if you are applying to Tuck that you have idea about what kind of leader you are.  While there are number of ways to describe leadership, I particularly like this formulation of leadership types that INSEAD Professor Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries has used in one of his Harvard Business Review blog posts (Disclosure I am a student in an INSEAD  program that he co-directs):

I have previously suggested that applicants who are having difficulty really understanding leadership find out what kind of leader they are by taking this quiz based on Lewin’s classic framework.  While leadership  is more complicated than Lewin’s framework, the quiz is a great way to get you started thinking about yourself, a key part of answering any leadership essay question effectively. However I think the 8 archetypes above provide a much better guide for those who both have extensive leadership experience and those who think they lack it.  Think of these 8 archetypes as aspirational images of certain kinds of leader. You may fit into more than one category. You may find you don’t feel like you are really good at any of the above in comparison to the descriptions above, but that is OK because yo u are trying to identify your potential even if it seems based on relatively little “objective evidence.” I have never worked with anyone who could not demonstrate potential in at least one of the categories above.
Some types of leadership experiences that make for effective content in  this essays,  (as well as recommendations and interviews):
-A time you convinced someone or some group.
-A time you led others.
-A time you demonstrated courage.
-A time you made a difficult decision.
-A time you were innovative.
-A time you formulated and executed a strategy or tactics.
-A time you turned around a situation, overcame an obstacle.
-A time reformed something.
-A time you changed something.
-A time you effectively negotiated with someone.
-A time created something.
-A time you managed or organized something.
-A time you mentored or coached someone.
-A time you represented an organization in public.
-A time you managed up, down, or across an organization.
Some of these are simply derived from the archetypes above, but  all reflect what I have seen in my clients’ leadership essays over the years.

3. (Optional) Please provide any additional insight or information that you have not addressed elsewhere that may be helpful in reviewing your application (e.g., unusual choice of evaluators, weaknesses in academic performance, unexplained job gaps or changes, etc.). Complete this question only if you feel your candidacy is not fully represented by this application.

As with other school’s optional questions, do not put an obvious essay for another school here. If you read the above, it should be clear enough that this is the place to explain anything negative or potentially negative in your background. If you have no explanation for something negative, don’t bother writing about it. For example if your GPA is 2.9 and you have no good explanation for why it is 2.9, don’t bother writing something that looks like a lame excuse. This is more likely to hurt than help you. In the same vein, don’t waste the committee’s time telling them that your GMAT is a much better indicator than your GPA (the opposite is also true). They have heard it before and they will look at both scores and can draw their own conclusions without you stating the obvious. That said, if you have a good explanation for a bad GPA, you should most certainly write about it.
In addition to GMAT/GRE, TOEFL, and GPA problems, other possible topics include issues related to recommendations, serious gaps in your resume, concerns related to a near total lack of extracurricular activities, and  major issues in your personal/professional life that you really think the admissions office needs to know about.You can certainly write on something positive here if you think its omission will be negative for you, but before you do, ask yourself these questions:
1. If they did not ask it, do they really need to know it?
2. Will the topic I want to discuss significantly improve my overall essay set?
3. Is the topic one that would not be covered from looking at other parts of my application?
4. Is the essay likely to be read as being a specific answer for Wharton and not an obvious essay for another school?
If you can answer “Yes!” to all four questions, it might be a good topic to write about.

4. (To be completed by all reapplicants) How have you strengthened your candidacy since you last applied? Please reflect on how you have grown personally and professionally.
An effective answer here will do the following:
1. Showcase what has changed since your last application that now makes you a better candidate.
2. Refine your goals. I think it is reasonable that they may have altered since your last application, but if the change is extreme, you had better explain why.
3. Make a better case for why Tuck is right for you.
For more about reapplication, please see “A guide to my resources for reapplicants.”

International Experience Question from the online applicationBriefly describe all experiences you have working, studying, living, or traveling outside your home country. Include the location, purpose, and length of stay. If relevant, reflect on how these experiences have shaped your world view. (Limit 250 words) 
NOTE: THIS MAY CHANGE ONCE THE APPLICATION IS RELEASED.
The usual problem many of my clients encounter is how to even minimally account for their international experience in 250 words.
My advice is to focus on 1-3 key experiences which had a significant impact on you. You need to actually say something meaningful about these experiences in terms of the way they have effected your thinking, perspectives, choices you have made and/or beliefs. Given what you have said about yourself so far in the other essays, what other aspects of who are you and what you have done would you like to tell Tuck about?  This can be a nice way to get an additional key story or two into your application.
If you have limited experiences outside of your home country, you will need to make the most out of very little.
If you lack international experience, go get some! Just kidding, well sort of.  My suggestion to not try to answer this question, but identify international experience in the optional essay or Essay 1 as something you want to get at Tuck.


-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

June 26, 2015

Starting July 19, 2015 the GMAT can be retaken after 16 days!

Big news from GMAC.  The GMAT is certainly becoming even more friendly to test takers.  Effective July 15th, the GMAT can retaken after 16 days and not the current 31 days.  Another great change for test takers is that cancelled tests will not be reported to schools.  All the details are below and here:

Improving the GMAT Exam Experience for MBA Candidates: New Features Launching July 19


Jun 24, 2015
Tags: Official GMATPrepare for the GMATStudy Tips for the GMATTest Security
The Graduate Management Admission Council® (GMAC®) is committed to enabling potential MBA candidates to connect with the best opportunity for and access to graduate management education. As such, GMAC is introducing three new features to improve and streamline the GMAT exam experience for test takers. GMAC asked thousands of candidates and test takers about their GMAT experience and how to make it better. We listened and took action. These new features and options for test takers are effective July 19, 2015.


Cancelled Scores Removed from Score Reports  
  • The "C" that represents a candidate's cancelled scores will not be shown on any future GMAT score reports generated by GMAC. This means that when a test taker cancels their score, only the test taker will know. This feature will be applied retroactively to all previously cancelled test scores, which will be removed from all future score reports that are sent to schools. However, score reports with cancelled scores have already been sent to schools, they can't be modified.
  • Removing cancelled scores from the score reports will help candidates gain more control and confidence of their GMAT experience—something that candidates have repeatedly asked for. In a survey of more than 3,000 students, 85% of respondents indicated that they would like to see the "C" removed from their score reports. This feature will also help deter any misinterpretations of cancelled scores in candidate profiles.
  • Please reference the Cancelled Score Policy Update FAQ for additional questions.
Repeat Exams Allowed after 16 Days
  • Candidates have the option to retake the GMAT exam after a 16-day time period (versus the current 31-day retake period). This allows candidates the flexibility to retake the exam within a shorter period of time in order to accommodate their schedules, study habits, peak performance times, and/or school deadlines.
  • As always, candidates can't exceed five GMAT exams within a 12-month period.
Authentication Code Replaced with Date of Birth 
  • Candidates will be able to view their Official Score Report online using their date of birth to authenticate their access. A separate authentication code will no longer be issued at the test center.
  • This change is expected to streamline the process for candidates to access their GMAT scores—and everyone likes one less password/code to remember.”



-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

June 18, 2015

Short, Medium, and Long-term Planning for Graduate Admission

In this post I discuss graduate degree planning. Whether you are applying for admission to programs with a start this year, next year, in a few years, or maybe in five years or more, having a plan in place increases your chances of success.  While I work mostly with MBA applicants (Clear enough from reviewing my client results), this post is equally applicable to those applying for any sort of graduate program. Beyond MBA (and EMBA), since 2001, my clients have been admitted to a full range of graduate degree programs including Masters of Law (Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Columbia, NYU, Chicago, Northwestern, Berkeley), Public Policy (Harvard Kennedy School of Government), International Relations (Columbia, Fletcher & Georgetown), Finance (London Business School, London School of Economics), Economics (University of Chicago), Engineering (Stanford), Computer Science (Stanford),  Environmental Studies (Yale), and Physics ( Harvard and Stanford). While I work primarily those applying for masters degrees, I have also helped clients gain entry to doctoral programs.  This post draws on the full range of my experience as a graduate admissions consultant.

 Planners and Procrastinators
Let’s start at the end of the process for  submitting applications: Are you a Planner or a Procrastinator? When it comes to applying to graduate school, there are those who plan, are organized, and stick to a timetable that does not involve them pulling an “all nighter”  to get an application in and then there are those who do the opposite and create a situation where they are applying at the last moment. I have worked with both types of clients, though thankfully more of the former than the latter.  When I work with someone who is organized and takes the application seriously enough to give it their best shot, my work is a consultant is at its best because my client has time to implement what I suggest, time to review and rewrite, and even put a draft away and come back to it with fresh eyes. Clients who procrastinate, who must submit first or second drafts, and are more worried about having an answer that is decent rather excellent, are missing the opportunity to submit truly excellent applications.  I am  a results based coach and consultant: I only consider it a win if my client gains admission, not just if I get paid for my work.  The last minute types rarely get results that are as good. I can make fast emergency room type suggestions to make an essay viable, but that is not the way I want to work and it is not the kind of essay I want my clients or anyone applying to graduate school to submit. That is one reason  I think planning is important.

If you are someone who does procrastinate, who tends to submit things at the last moment, and who has gotten away with it, feel free to try your luck again. But sooner or later doing stuff at the last minute will backfire. Especially as you get older, your ability to do  all nighters will decline.  I am 47 and I know this.  If you are trying to produce quality deliverables, working in a panic and with little time to edit will work against you.  Consider the application process an opportunity to alter your behavior so that in whatever career you pursue you don’t find yourself repeatedly in situations where you are doing stuff at the last minute and making careless mistakes. And careless mistakes are so common with hastily prepared applications. As someone who works regularly with reapplicants, one of the most common mistakes I find is an application filled with typos and contradictory information. Such mistakes would have been eliminated had the applicant not been working against the clock.

Make Planning Your Friend
A friend is someone who you like and who supports you. Your plan for graduate school should be like that too.  Don’t make a plan that you can’t keep. You know your own schedule and how much free time you will have for the admissions process. While I don’t have data for non-MBA programs, based on the 2013 AIGAC survey, applicants spent a total of 90-140 hours on their applications including test preparation time, not including any time needed for TOEFL or IELTS preparation.  For those applying to non-MBA graduate programs that require multiple essays such as the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, the total hours would probably be somewhere around 75-125 hours (not including TOEFL or IELTS preparation) because interview preparation is not needed.  For applying to graduate programs that only require a statement of purpose and a GRE or GMAT, the time cou ld be significantly less. Of course, this does not include any time for writing samples or portfolios for programs that require it.

English language preparation can be a significant barrier for some international  applicants, while for others taking TOEFL or IELTS is merely a minor inconvenience.  If you need to further develop your English abilities you should really factor this in to the time you will need. English performance can easily delay the application process by months and in some cases by a year or more.

Being realistic about the time you will likely spend on the process is a core part of coming up with a realistic plan.  Especially for those who are applying in the next admissions cycle, a realistic plan is critical.

In the rest of the post, I will outline short, medium, and long term planning.  In subsequent posts, I will elaborate on the topics mentioned here. Eventually I will hyper link different parts of this post with subsequent and previous posts.

Short Term Planning
If you are less than 12 months away from the deadlines for the school(s) that you will apply to, you will need to engage in short term planning.  A good short term plan typically consists of the following elements:
-Reviewing applications to determine what you need to submit (test scores, transcripts, a resume, recommendations, writing samples,  proof of foreign language proficiency , etc.)
-Planning out a schedule for studying for and taking GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, and/or IELTS as needed.
-Determining whether you need an admissions consultant or otherwise who will review your application content.   Even if you don’t have use an admissions consultant and can’t get anyone with knowledge about the program you are applying to to assist you, have at least someone who you can use for proofreading.
-Determine who you will use as your recommenders.
-Investigate and prepare for any scholarships that might be applicable to you.
-Prepare/update your resume/CV
-Figure out which schools you really want to apply to and investigate them throughly.
-Determine why you need to attend the degree program, why particular programs, and what you intend to do with the degree subsequently (future goals).
-Begin drafting essays once the school releases the essay question(s). For graduate programs other than MBA, you most likely need not wait  because such programs don’t often change their essay content.  It always fine to contact an admissions office to ask if they will be changing their essay question(s).
-Create a schedule with set target dates from completing the above.

In addition, ask yourself what you can do in terms of your professional or extracurricular activities to enhance your candidacy.  If you are only a few months or less from the time of application, it might be hard to start something new that is meaningful, but for those with greater time, it is still possible to add something to your profile. In subsequent posts, I will discuss what might be added even in a limited time frame.

Medium Term Planning
If you are 1-2 years years away from the deadlines for the school(s) that you plan to apply to, you can begin the above short term plan to get an early start.  But given your time frame you can do even more than that. You have time to start new activities to build your experience in order to make you a stronger candidate.  Whether it is taking on leadership roles at work or in extracurricular activities (Good for MBA and MPA applicants especially), conducting research on topic related to the field you want to study, enhancing valuable skills (foreign language skills, quantitative skills, skills related to your future academic and/or professional plans), overcoming a prior weakness in your background (like lack of volunteer or community service), if you are 1-2 years away from applying you have much more of an opportunity to really enhance your candidacy.  Changing jobs might be of immense value for some. For others, it might mean be more aggressive about seeking out leadership opportunities on the job or in extracurricular activities. For others, it might be about getting some international experience.  Whatever the gap or whatever way you wish to enhance your candidacy, you have some time to address it

If you are 1-2 years away from applying, it is really good time to take care of any standardized tests (Just keep the period of validity for the test in mind, so that you make sure your score will be valid when you make application) that you might need to take and also to enhance your foreign language skills if that is needed for the programs you will apply to.

You also have plenty of time to engage in detailed research, including school visits and networking with alumni and/or current students. If you are applying to academic programs for a Masters or Ph.D., you should be reading work by faculty you are interested in studying with.

Long Term Planning
If you are 3 or more years away from applying to graduate school, you really are in a position to do all the things mentioned above, but more than that, you really have the potential to build an extensive track record of activity to enhance your credibility as a candidate.  That is to say, you can really make significant changes to yourself. Do you need to enhance your work experience?  Diversify your experience? Gain new skills?  Develop academic expertise?  Produce high quality writing samples or a portfolio(Typically for creative writing and arts degrees)?  You have the time to do it if you make the effort.

Do you have a general sense that you should pursue a graduate degree, but are unclear about what kind of degree you want?  Now is a good time to begin to figure out what you want. Whether it is through career coaching, degree advising, networking, researching about various options, taking courses in different fields of interest, if you are 3 or more years away from applying, engage in some experimentation and open yourself up to a range of possibilities before narrowing down.

Once you  are certain about what kind of degree you want, ask yourself and others what you can do now to make that degree into a reality.  Getting advice early means that you have the bandwidth to ask a great range of people before reaching any final conclusions. Getting advice early also means you are more likely to be able to act on any advice you decide to follow.

Even if you are three or more years aways from application, set some goals for yourself and break them down sufficiently into a series of steps that are realistic to complete. Don’t overwhelm yourself with goals stated so grandly that you will fail, but also don’t underwhelm yourself. If you are not willing to push yourself now, when will you be ready?

Finally, if you are seeking advice on degree planning, I offer personalized coaching for those in college, recent graduates, and anyone else who is considering an MBA or other graduate degree. To learn more about this service, please see here.







-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

June 07, 2015

HBS Class of 2018 MBA Admissions Application

In this post I  analyze the Harvard Business School MBA Application for the Class of 2018. In addition to discussing overall HBS application strategy and  the required essay, I will discuss key parts of the application form, resume, and transcript. I also provide some advice at the end of this post for HBS reapplicants.  I have already written a previous analysis of the essay question for this year, which I have further modified here after reviewing the online application.  For my posts on recommendation, please see my Key Posts on recommendations. For my post on HBS interviews, please see here.

My comprehensive service clients have been admitted to HBS for the Classes of  2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2005. My clients' results and testimonials can be found here. In addition to providing comprehensive application consulting on HBS, I regularly help additional candidates with HBS interview preparation.  Since I started my own counseling service in 2007, I have worked with 27 successful applicants from Canada, Europe, India, the Middle East, Japan, other parts of Asia, and the United States on HBS application. I think that this range of experience has helped me understand the many possible ways of making an effective application to HBS.  For the Class of 2017, I worked with an exceptional group of clients and 10 of them will be going to HBS this fall.  All I can tell you is that HBS takes a truly diverse range of people. Some had high GPAs and great GMAT scores, others had GPAs and scores well below the 80% range for HBS, but what they all had in common were strong personal professional backgrounds that came out in their essays.

Four Ways HBS Evaluates Applicants
My objective when working with each of my clients is to help them identify the best content in their essays, resume, interview and other application components to show fit for each school they apply to. My approach is to understand the audience that is being communicated to because the only objective of your application is to communicate effectively to your audience, the admissions committee.We can summarize what  HBS is looking for in terms of three stated values-Habit of Leadership, Analytical Aptitude and Appetite, and Engaged Community Citizenship- plus Diversity. These four core ways that HBS evaluates applicants need to be communicated in your application and one or more of them should be used in your essay.
The mission of HBS is to educate leaders.  All my clients admitted to HBS had a diversity of educational, extracurricular, and professional backgrounds, but were united by one thing: In one or more aspects of their lives, they demonstrated this habit of leadership. HBS takes a very broad view of what they are looking for:
If you are having difficulty really understanding leadership, one great place to read about leadership, and business in general, is Harvard Business School Working Knowledge.
-A time you represented an organization in public.
-A time you managed up, down, or across an organization.
Some of these are simply derived from the archetypes above, but  all reflect what I have seen in my clients essays over the years.
Engaged Community Citizenship
While “Engaged Community Citizenship” might take the form of leadership, it is quite distinct:
So much of our MBA experience - including the case method, section life, and student-organized events - requires the active collaboration of the entire HBS community. That's why we look for students who exhibit the highest ethical standards and respect for others, and can make positive contributions to the MBA Program. The right candidates must be eager to share their experiences, support their colleagues, and teach as well as learn from their peers.
HBS and other MBA programs are looking for students who will make a contribution. This really makes sense because of the collaborative nature of MBA education. While professors play an important role in the classroom, students learn from each other on a continuous basis both inside and outside of class. An MBA education is very much one based on relationship building. One of the chief functions of an MBA admissions committee is to select people who will be good classmates. The director and the rest of the committee have done their job properly if they have selected students who can work well together, learn from each other, and if these students become alumni who value the relationships they initially formed at business school. Given that two of the major takeaways from an HBS education are the relationships that a student forms during the program and access to the alumni network, HBS is looking for candidates who will fully engage with others.  It is important to show engagement with others in your HBS essay, in your interview, in your post-interview essay, in your application, and in your resume.  You should also make it a point to get your recommenders to discuss how you add value to the team, to whatever “community” (A workplace is a community) they worked with you in.
Engagement in a community may take many different forms.  Over the years, I have found the following types of activities to be very effective for MBA applications:
-Volunteer or social activities at work, whether it is actually organizing them or participating in them.
-Volunteer or social activities at school, whether it is actually organizing them or participating in them.
-Volunteer or social activities outside of work or school, whether it is actually organizing them or participating in them.
-A volunteer activity related to your post-MBA goals
-A volunteer activity that allowed for the development of leadership and/or teamwork experience
-A volunteer activity that put you in contact with people who are quite different from you in terms of nationality, income level, and/or educational background
-An international volunteer or social activity
-Active involvement in an alumni organization
-Active participation in a sports team
-Active political involvement (Not just voting or knowledge of politics, but actual activities)
-Participation in an orchestra, band or other musical group
-Participation in drama or dance
-Organizing trips or other activities for a group of friends
-Serving as the leader, organizer, or active member of a team-based educational activity such as a seminar, project, or overseas trip
The above are just some possibilities.
Some people will no doubt worry that they lack extracurricular activities to demonstrate such community citizenship, but in my experience there is always some way to demonstrate this. Part of my job is to help my clients identify such activities and communicate about them effectively. If you have demonstrated extensive community citizenship in your resume, you may very well not need to write about in the HBS essay, but you might still find that explaining your motivation for such activities is something you want to convey to HBS.  For those with limited objective resume content in this area, if there is an effective way to get some positive aspect of your community citizenship into the essay, do so.
Analytical Aptitude and Appetite
Harvard Business School is a demanding, fast-paced, and highly-verbal environment. We look for individuals who enjoy lively discussion and debate. Our case and field-based methods of learning depend upon the active participation of prepared students who can assess, analyze, and act upon complex information within often-ambiguous contexts. The MBA Admissions Board will review your prior academic performance, the results of the GMAT or GRE, and, if applicable, TOEFL iBT and/or IELTS, and the nature of your work experience. There is no particular previous course of study required to apply; you must, however, demonstrate the ability to master analytical and quantitative concepts.
HBS is a highly competitive and challenging academic environment. It is not for anyone.  “Analytical Aptitude And Appetite,” what can more generally be thought of as academic potential, will be very easy for some candidates to demonstrate without ever writing an essay on the topic. You must demonstrate your analytical intelligence somewhere in your application. Yes, a solid GPA and GMAT are enough for that purpose, but if you think your academic record and GMAT are weak, I do suggest demonstrating your high analytical aptitude and appetite in your essay. Also, whether you address your analytical abilities in your essay, for most applicants, it would also be very useful to have one or more recommenders discussing this.
Some effective ways to demonstrate analytical intelligence include the following:
-Solving a complex problem at work, school, or elsewhere
-Discussing the successful completion of complex analytical tasks
-Breaking down a complex problem that you solved and communicating it a very brief and clear way
- Demonstrating great personal insight into ones weaknesses, failures, and/or mistakes
-Showing the ability to learn from weaknesses, failures, and/or mistakes
-Showing the ability to learn and master something highly complex
-Demonstrating a high level of creativity
Those with truly outstanding academic background and test scores need to likely focus less attention on this area. If you think you have weaknesses in this area, consider how to use the essay and Additional Information section to mitigate them. The above list provides some effective ways to do that.
Diversity
A truly diverse student body — in background, nationality, interests and ambitions — is the foundation of the HBS experience. Indeed, these differences are critical to the HBS learning model, which thrives on the many perspectives and life experiences our students from all over the world bring to their classes. From academic assignments to casual conversations, the unique qualities of individual lives enrich the education of the entire community.
This overall intention to create a highly diverse class significantly impacts HBS admissions' decisions. The critical thing is that you demonstrate why you are unique and how you will add to the diversity of the class.  In your essay you need to show what makes you stand out. Especially if you think your academic, personal, professional, and/or extracurricular experiences are not inherently unique, it is very important that your essay demonstrates what makes you stand out.
Some ways of demonstrating diversity that my clients have used successfully include the following:
-Being the first person or kind of person to do something
-Being the youngest person to do do something
-Making an original contribution to something
-Having an unusual family, academic, personal, or professional background
-Unusual skills or talents
-Extensive international experience
-Receiving prestigious awards or scholarships
-Even post-MBA goals might be used for this purpose if your goals help to make you stand out.
Keep in mind that diversity is a matter of interpretation and presentation and it is each applicant's responsibility to best demonstrate how they will add value to their classmates. One of my jobs as a consultant is always help my clients identify ways that make them distinct even if they think they are not special. I operate on the assumption that everyone is unique.
"Instructions: Please provide a current resume or CV.  Ideally, this would be about 1-2 pages in length."   
"Instructions: List up to three extracurricular activities in order of importance to you (i.e., list the most important first).  Please tell us about the things you did (or do) while you were (or are) attending your college or university.  Include other activities, like community service, here as well.  Please limit this to three activities, but don't worry if you don't have a list of three.  We use this section mostly to get a sense of how you spent your time in college as well as the sort of leadership roles and activities that attract you. "
"Instructions: Were you on the Dean's List? Did your apple pie win a blue ribbon at the state fair? Tell us about it here. List any distinctions, honors, and awards (academic, military, extracurricular, professional, community) in order of importance to you (i.e., list the most important first). You may list up to three awards."
Please enter your Intended Post-MBA goals below.



500 characters remaining

You don't have to perfect post-MBA plan, but you need to have a plan. You most likely will spend more time thinking about what you are going to write here than writing it. I think it is fine to include the longer term here if it helps to explain the rationale for your short-term objectives. Keep in mind that your wider vision is a perfectly acceptable topic to discuss in the essay (if you think it will really help your section mates understand who you are)  and not here. Also, since this question does not ask about HBS, you should  not necessarily include any why HBS content here. If you are having difficulty with your career goals, see my analysis of Stanford Essay B for a method for thinking about goals.  I frequently work with my clients on their goals.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
"Instructions: Please only add additional information here if you need to clarify any information provided in the other sections of your application. This is not meant to be used as an additional essay.Please limit your additional information to the space in this section. We'll know you'll be tempted, but please don't send us any additional materials (e.g., additional recommendations, work portfolios). To be fair to all applicants, extra materials won't be considered." (500 characters, not words)
Use this space to explain anything that can be effectively explained in the space provided. This is a great place to explain choice of recommenders, a problem in your past, or to add in information about something you really think HBS needs to know. It is completely fine to leave this space blank if you have nothing you need to add.

HBS Reapplicants: I do recommend using the Additional Information space to explain what has changed since your prior application.  I know 500 characters is not much, but given the nature of the HBS essay, I don't consider it a great place for discussing reapplication because that is not necessarily a topic you would use to introduce yourself to your section.  Use the 500 characters here to highlight positive changes that you especially want HBS to take into consideration when evaluating you.

If you are a reapplying to HBS, I do recommend addressing that issue either in the essay or, if you only need a brief amount of  words, in the Additional Information section. If you are reapplicant, please see here.  It is usually the case that ones tries to show growth since the last application. Whatever form(s) this growth takes, you might need a brief amount of word count or significant word count.  Common topics:1. Changes in career goals since the previous application. Feel free to alter your goals, just explain why.2. Why you are a better candidate now. This could be everything from a career change to increased GMAT scores to improved English ability to taking courses to overcome an academic weakness to a valuable extracurricular activity.
For more about reapplication, please see the Reapplication section of my Key Posts page.

Best of luck to everyone applying to HBS.



Habit of Leadership
Leadership may be expressed in many forms, from college extracurricular activities to academic or business achievements, from personal accomplishments to community commitments. We appreciate leadership on any scale, from organizing a classroom to directing a combat squad, from running an independent business to spearheading initiatives at work. In essence, we are looking for evidence of your potential.

HBS does not explicitly ask you to show your potential for leadership in your essay,  but it may very well be something you decide to write about, ask one or both of your recommenders to write about, and certainly show in your resume and application form.   Leadership is no easy thing. Nor is it always obvious. If you leadership is fully obvious from resume, than perhaps your essay not discuss it, but the worst possible thing is to conceive of leadership as simple formal responsibility or a title because this conveys nothing about the person in that position. While some applicants will have held formal leadership positions, many will not. Formal leadership positions are great to write about if they involve the applicant actually having significant impact, making a difficult decision, being a visionary, showing creativity, or otherwise going beyond their formal responsibility, but the same is true for those showing leadership without having a formal title.

Some clients I have worked with have never really considered themselves as leaders. I think it is critical that if you are applying to HBS that you have idea about what kind of leader you are.  While there are number of ways to describe leadership, I particularly like this formulation of leadership types that INSEAD Professor Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries has used in one of his Harvard Business Review blog posts (Disclosure I am a student in an INSEAD  program that he co-directs):

I have previously suggested that applicants who are having difficulty really understanding leadership find out what kind of leader they are by taking this quiz based on Lewin's classic framework.  While leadership  is more complicated than Lewin's framework, the quiz is a great way to get you started thinking about yourself, a key part of answering any leadership essay question effectively. However I think the 8 archetypes above provide a much better guide for those who both have extensive leadership experience and those who think they lack it.  Think of these 8 archetypes as aspirational images of certain kinds of leader. You may fit into more than one category. You may find you don't feel like you are really good at any of the above in comparison to the descriptions above, but that is OK because you are trying to identify your potential even if it seems based on relatively little "objective evidence." If leadership is not obvious from your resume or likely to be a topic your recommenders will focus on, you should certainly consider how you show your leadership potential. I have never worked with anyone who could not demonstrate potential in at least one of the categories above.
Some types of leadership experiences that make for effective content in essays, recommendations and interviews:
-A time you convinced someone or some group.
-A time you lead others.
-A time you demonstrated courage.
-A time you made a difficult decision.
-A time you were innovative.
-A time you formulated and executed a strategy or tactics.
-A time you turned around a situation, overcame an obstacle.
-A time reformed something.
-A time you changed something.
-A time you effectively negotiated with someone.
-A time created something.
-A time you managed or organized something.
-A time you mentored or coached someone.




THE ESSAY
"There is one essay question for the Class of 2018:
It's the first day of class at HBS. You are in Aldrich Hall meeting your "section." This is the group of 90 classmates who will become your close companions in the first-year MBA classroom. Our signature case method participant-based learning model ensures that you will get to know each other very well. The bonds you collectively create throughout this shared experience will be lasting.
Introduce yourself.
Note: Should you enroll at HBS, there will be an opportunity for you to share this with your classmates.
We suggest you view this video before beginning to write.
Use your judgment as to how much to tell us. We don't have a "right answer" or "correct length" in mind. We review all the elements of your written application to decide who moves forward to the interview stage.
Upload your Word or PDF document below.  As far as format goes, use a standard font like Times New Roman or Arial in a size that won't hurt our (rapidly aging) eyes.  No need to repeat the question above unless you want to. " 

The question is discussed in more detail on Direct from the Director:
"Yes, it’s “new”...but most of you are embarking on this business school application journey for the first time too!     
Why do we like it?
• It’s just about as straightforward and practical as we can make it.   It gives you a chance to tell your story however you choose. Imagine simply saying it out loud. This is what we mean when we’ve been encouraging you to use your own “voice” when approaching this part of the application.  We have no pre-conceived ideas of what “good” looks like. We look forward to lots of variance.
• It’s useful. You will actually be introducing yourself to classmates at HBS. 
Why did we drop the “optional” option?
• We were trying to signal that the essay wasn’t The Most Important Element of the application so we thought saying “optional” might accomplish that. But, this season, every applicant submitted a response. We get it. You want to tell us things.
Tell us again what the essay is for?
• For you: an opportunity to pause and reflect. Business school is a big experience -  it’s exciting, it’s an unknown,it’s a beginning, it’s an investment in your future. Stopping to reflect and gather your thoughts in writing is a useful exercise. That’s not just our opinion -  it’s what we hear from students all the time.
• For us: a chance to get to know you beyond the elements of the application that feel fixed and stationary. Can also be a starting point for interview conversations."

HBS is far from the first school to ask applicants to introduce themselves to classmates. In this case, the length seems unlimited (See below, I don't recommend a very long essay)  and the classmates in question are the other 89 students in your section.

You need to think about what you would actually say to your future classmates. Since you will  need to introduce yourself, think of one core requirement of this essay being how to make an effective introduction to people you are going to be working with for an entire year. First impressions matter a lot. You need to put significant time into thinking about the impression you will make.

While you need to think what you would actually say to your future classmates, make sure the admissions officers reading your essay understand why it is relevant. Given the criteria- Habit of Leadership, Analytical Aptitude and Appetite, and Engaged Community Citizenship- plus Diversity- I have mentioned above, I think it is important that your essay highlights how you demonstrate one or more of those criteria.  If you skimmed over that section above, go take a look at it now.

Assume that the length is not unlimited even though it appears to be up to you.  How long of an introduction would you make? My suggestion is that whatever length of a text you write, read it out loud and ask yourself, how long you would actually speak. HBS suggests that you "Imagine simply saying it out loud."  Suggestion: one to three minutes is good, five minutes is probably a max out.

Treat this like a transcription of what you would say.  In other words, this is spoken rather than written text. I know that when I start reviewing my client's HBS essays for 2016 entry, I will be reading them out loud, timing how long it takes me to read it,  and considering the way they sound. I will be advising my clients to do that.

Make it easy to understand.  You are introducing yourself to strangers who you want to become your friends and colleagues. They will have very diverse backgrounds. Your job is to make this essay easy to understand. Think big picture, clear stories, and no extreme complications.

Make it believable. This should go without saying, but some applicants have a tendency to overstate their accomplishments.  This is not the place for it.  Be honest and show your authentic self.

Make it interesting. Your objective is to get your classmates to like you and become interested in you. You need to help HBS see why you deserve a shot to be in one of the 90 student sections.  You need to show your selling points and make it clear what differentiates you. Simultaneously, you can't focus just on accomplishments, instead you want to reveal something positive and personal that will be perceived as attractive and memorable.

While I don't necessarily suggest writing what you can contribute to your section in this essay, I do think that should be implied. In other words, someone reading this essay should have a clear sense of how you will be a positive addition to the section through the diversity (See the section above on diversity)  of your experience, values, and or skills. Actually in most HBS essay sets in the past, community engagement is not directly requested. I would argue, in fact, that even if a school does not ask an applicant to tell them what he or she can contribute, the applicant should make that clear in the essay(s) by showing  the ways one has added value to others, teams, organizations, projects, etc. Interviews are usually a further opportunity to discuss how one will make a contribution.

Also, keep in mind that the essay is not the whole application.   Your resume, application form, and recommendations all have an important role in the application process. Don't unnecessarily duplicate information found elsewhere in your application.  This is the place to come to life as an applicant, so that you are perceived as someone who can add value to your section and to HBS as a whole.
If you are trying to understand the diverse range of essays that gets someone admitted to HBS, I do recommend  The Unofficial Harvard Business School Essay Book.  In fact,  one of my clients admitted to the Class of 2016 contributed his or her essay to it, which made me really happy.  I can't tell you which one. I do highly recommend reading this book because it will give you a really good idea about the range of possible answers and dispel any myths about needing to submit something that is professionally written. I would also recommend the old book that contained HBS admits essays. That collection is still a good read for understanding how to put together an MBA essay though the specific questions are no longer being asked by HBS. Combined, both books are really great guides for someone looking to see sample successful MBA essays. Beyond those essay books, a piece of absolutely required reading for HBS admissions is Poets & Quants’ John Byrne’s interview with Dee Leopold, Managing Director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard Business School. If you are looking for one article to give you overall insight into how HBS makes admissions decisions, John Byrne has done an exceptional job of asking Dee Leopold the right questions.

RESUME
The resume has always been an important part of any HBS application.  You can find a resume template I have linked to on my blog here.  That resume template can also simply serve as a checklist for what to include.  While many schools prefer a one-page resume, HBS really does not care.  Depending on a client's background, I will recommend 1 or 2 pages.  I think it best to think of a resume as a record of accomplishment. If you have sufficient accomplishments, 2 pages is fine.  Some applicants try to a use an MBA student's recruitment resume format as the basis for their own resume, but I generally don't consider this a good idea as such resumes serve a very different purpose.  An MBA resume should really designed to focus on you overall, that is your academic, professional, and personal accomplishments and key facts. A recruiting resume is meant for a different kind of audience, recruiters, and typically focuses on a much more narrow range of information.

When I first start working comprehensively with any client, whether they are applying to HBS or not, I always start with the resume for a couple of reasons:
1.  It is a great way for any applicant to summarize the most important information about them and  their accomplishments. It sometimes helps applicants actually remind themselves of what they have done.
2.  For me, it is a way I learn about a client so that I can better understand their background.
One key thing to remember about what you include on your resume:  Anything that is there, just like any component of the application, may become the basis for a HBS interview question. Therefore if you don't want to talk about it and don't need to write about it, leave it off the resume.

EMPLOYMENT
 There is also an Employment Section of the application that provides space for you to discuss two positions in detail including providing  brief descriptions of your professional accomplishments and challenges.  To some extent this information will overlap with the resume. This is nothing to worry about. That said the challenge question ("Most Significant Challenge" 250 characters) in particular is very possibly something you would not be covering in your resume. Stanford has a similar detailed employment section in their application, which they seriously.  I assume  HBS does as well, so  just as with the resume, make sure your answers in the application are as effective as possible. Don't treat it like some form you do at the last minute.



ACADEMIC TRANSCRIPTS
First, keep in mind that admissions officers read transcripts and are trained to know what they are reading. They don't just look at GPA  (If your school calculates it).  If there is something really bad on your transcript (a fail, a withdrawal, etc) or odd, you really do want to explain it in the 500 character (not word) Additional Section. If is just a C and you have no specific excuse, don't bother trying to explain it.  If your academic performance varied greatly from year to year (or semester to semester), was there a reason for it?  Is it one that you want to provide? I don't recommend discussing how you became depressed after your boy/girl friend broke up with you, but, if, for example, you were taking a major leadership position in a student organization, running a start-up, working a lot to pay for school,  doing major research, experienced a major illness or misfortune,  or playing a varsity sport, you do have a topic worth discussing. Finally, If your transcript,  GMAT/GRE, or resume don't indicate that you have solid quantitative skills, you should explain why you do if you can. The proper place to provide that explanation is in the additional section or the essay.

EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES

Given HBS' instructions on this, I do highly recommend including your best extracurricular activities with perhaps 2 out of 3 being focused on college/university activities, unless you have some particularly impressive post college/university activities, where I might see including only 1 activity from college/university. If you have done nothing impressive extracurricular-wise after graduating and have 3 good activities from university, feel free to just use use this section for those activities. If you did nothing but study during college or university and really have no activities, hopefully you have three post-college things to include.  If you have any activities that are directly relevant to your professional goals or to your personal story and you really want to emphasize them, use this space accordingly. While I would surely emphasize the most impressive activities in terms of leadership or engagement, if you need to focus on personal interests that were not group focused (running for example) because you simply don't anything better, put it here.  Activities that show you are well-rounded, civically engaged, artistic, athletic are all possibilities here.

Keep in mind that extracurricular activities can (and usually should)  also be fully accounted for on the resume and given the fact that you can submit a two-page resume, there is no reason that can't account for an activity.  Also, if you are not using the space for anything else, the 500 character additional information section could be used for elaborating on anything you consider really important, but could not include in this section or in the resume.

AWARDS AND RECOGNITION

For some applicants this section is really easy to fill out because they have won a number of awards, distinctions, or honors and just need to prioritize them. Other candidates will freak out about this section because they never won anything that they think fits.  While, it is sometimes really the case that I will have perfectly great applicant who has nothing to report in this section, most applicants are actually likely to have something.  HBS is not asking you a narrow question here, so think broadly.  It is possible that this section will overlap with the resume, employment, essay, or extracurricular section of the application.


INTENDED POST-MBA CAREER GOALS






-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

May 16, 2015

Which 2016 entry top MBA program essays to start with?

Now that the 2016 entry essays for Columbia, HBS, MIT, Stanford and Wharton (schools all link to my analysis for 2016 entry)  are known, I have an opinion about which school to start with, but the answer just really depends on the applicant.

Every year, my early bird clients always ask me which school to start with.  So here goes the advice I am going to start giving out:

I am assuming that  deadlines are not driving the decision because if they are, no reason to read this post.  If you perceive that you have limited time, apply to schools based on deadline order.

Since the HBS essay question for the Class of 2018 is no longer completely open ended and likely not to be particularly long, I see no inherent reason to start with HBS.

Start with HBS or Stanford? I will be recommending that my clients who apply to Stanford and HBS, start with Stanford this year because I think doing so will make it easier to get to HBS.

Wharton’s required Essay is also a fine place to start because it will help you with CBS Essays 1 and 2 and Stanford Essay B.  It may or may not be useful for HBS.  For those initially not wanting to take the deep dive into Stanford A,  Wharton’s required essay is a good starting place.  Wharton’s Optional (good stuff essay, not concerns essay) can either be written before doing the essays for other schools or after you have a portfolio of other school’s content to work with.

If you are applying to CBS for Early Decision,  it is a fine place to start because it will give you any goals content you need for other schools as well as rationale for attending a school, which could modified for subsequent schools.  CBS Essay Three (Surprise) could also be the same thing as or part of what you write for HBS.  The CBS essay content is likely to be easy to apply to Wharton’s required and possibly even the optional essay.  CBS Essay One and Two could also be helpful for writing Stanford B.

MIT remains the odd man out. It is really completely unclear whether MIT’s one required essay would overlap at all with any of these other school’s essays.  Maybe there will be some overlap between Wharton’s and MIT’s optional essays or HBS’ essay and MIT’s optional essay, but maybe not.

If you are applying to INSEAD for September 2016 entry and also to HBS, I would recommend starting with INSEAD because Job Essay 2 and Motivation Essay 1 are likely to provide you with content that can be reapplied, in shortened form, to HBS.

Of course you might be applying to other schools which could effect my remarks above, but those schools essays are not known at this time.






-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.
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