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

April 22, 2016

Some brief pointers for editing MBA and other graduate school application essays

 Chances are extremely high that when you initially write any application essay and even when you have a good working version of it going, it is likely to be over the word count.  If it is not over the word count, especially at the initial stage that itself is actually a problem.  In another blog post, I will explain why writing to the word count initially is a very bad idea.  In this post, I will assume that you have a good working version of your essay, but it is just too long. 

Here are some suggestions for editing statement of purposes, Why MBA and why this school, leadership/teamwork/values questions, and personal statements down to word or page count: 

1. Is there anything in the essay that repeats what is said in the other essays? If so, you can probably cut it out.  For applications that involve multiple essays or essay-like application form content, part of your job is to fully leverage the entire application. Hence don’t repeat information that can be easily found elsewhere unless it is really useful to do so. You may be using the same data points (facts about yourself) or experiences in multiple parts of the application, but you should be doing so to maximize the value of that information, which is rarely achieved through mere repetition.  With each part of the application, figure out what really needs to be communicated there and look at the application as a whole to make decisions about how to divide your experiences effectively.

2. Do you find yourself needing to explain too much context about your background? If so, consider whether any of it can be explained in the application’s optional essay. If that does not solve the word count issue, consider whether the problem is that you are approaching the story from the wrong angle. Often the problem with context heavy essays is that they don’t tell a story from the right starting point.  In general, defining the right starting point and building content into an action-focused narrative can help.  I know this sounds abstract, but looking at the starting-point often helps clients reframe their stories for both great impact and for purposes of word count.

3. Do you find yourself extensively name dropping? “I met with Anand Kumar (Class of 2006), Sally Johnson (Class of 2009), Taro Suzuki (Class of 2010), Anat Weinstein (Class of 2011), Mohammad Efendi (Class of 2012), and Tom Lee (Class of 2013)…” (Note all these names were made up and any relationship to actual people alumni is merely coincidental). If you do, consider cutting or summarizing it. Also, consider whether such lists can be included in an optional essay. Some schools have a place for including who you met with from the school, so it is not necessary to repeat that in the essay.  On the other, if you are writing a Ph.D. or LL.M. statement of purpose and you want to work with Professor Mada Sukram, you should mention him. In other words, name drop only if doing so is key to argument you are making about why you want to attend a particular program.

4. Do a paragraph by paragraph and then a sentence by sentence search for redundancy. When a client asks for my help in cutting words, which is typically for the last draft, I look for redundancy.

5. Now the really hard part. You have a tight text and it is still over the word count. You have cut something “important.” Prioritize your content and eliminate low priority items. Killing good content is never fun, but sometimes is simply necessary.

Happy Editing!


-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.

Columbia Business School Re-applicant Essay

For my main post on Columbia Business School MBA application for 2017 admission (January and August Early Decision and Regular Decision), see here. Based on my experience working with CBS reapplicants, Columbia is one of the most reapplicant friendly schools both in terms of the reapplication process for those who reapply within one year of their initial application and in terms of acceptance rates.
Reapplicant Essay (No other essays are required but the optional can be submitted)
These are requirements for reapplicant status:
When judging reapplicants, Columbia makes it perfectly clear what they are expecting. See here for their criteria. Clearly this essay gives you the opportunity to:
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 Columbia is right for you.
For more about my many posts on reapplication, please see here.  I have helped a number of reapplicants gain admission to Columbia.

Best of luck with your CBS application for 2016-2017!


-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.

Columbia MBA Essays for 2017 Admission

Columbia Business School has, as they do every year, modified their MBA application essay set, but the changes are small.  The application is not up yet, but the questions for 2017 entry (J-Term Class of 2018 and August for Class of 2019) are.

You can find testimonials from my clients admitted for Columbia August and January entry here.  Since 2007, when I established my own consultancy, (I have been an MBA admissions consultant since 2001) I have been fortunate to work with 31 clients admitted to Columbia Business School.

Given Columbia's overall rank as well as the unique nature of both January (J-Term) and Early Decision for August (ED), it has been very common for me to work with clients who apply only to that school. In this sense, the only school with the same level of sole applicant focus is INSEAD.  Columbia certainly rewards those who make it their first or sole choice as both J-Term and ED seem to be significantly easier to get admitted to than RD.  Columbia is also one of the most reapplicant friendly schools both in terms of the reapplication process for those who reapply within one year of their initial application and in terms of acceptance rates. For my post on re-application to Columbia, see here.

Before discussing the CBS essays for 2016-2017, I will discuss who J-Term (January Entry) is for and differences between Early Decision and Regular Decision for August Entry. For my analysis of recommendations for 2016 admission, please see here (Will alter this if the rec for 2017 changes). For my analysis of Columbia Business School application interviews, please see here.

Rolling Admission
The first thing to keep in mind about admission to both January Term and August Term (ED and RD) is that Columbia uses a rolling admissions system.  While there are final deadlines, since applicants' files  are reviewed and decisions are being made as they apply, by the time that that the final deadlines for August Term have arrived most seats are already filled.  Rolling admissions works just like buying assigned seats for an airplane, movie, concert, etc.  When they are gone, they are gone. Columbia's rolling admissions system is a differentiator from other top MBA programs because only Columbia uses this system. Rolling admissions is commonly used by EMBA programs.

J-Term
The Accelerated MBA, J-Term, can be a great program for those who don't need an internship.  J-term is not for career changers, it is those looking to enhance their position within their present career trajectory and/or entrepreneurs. Keep the following into consideration when explaining why the January Term program is right for you:


The program is designed for those students who do not want or need an internship and don't require merit fellowships. The principal advantage of the 16-month program is its accelerated format, which allows members of the smaller January class to network quickly and effectively and return to the workplace sooner. You need to make the case in Essay 1 (Goals essay) and/or the Optional Essay that you meet the special criteria for this program and that an internship is not something critical for you. For those who don't need a summer internship, this is really a great program.

Internships for J-Term? Based on what former clients tell me, it is common for J-termers to do part-time internships in NYC while studying.  Actually, this is often true for those attending August as well.   These are not the same as summer internships but can surely serve the same function.


Here are some common issues that arise when considering J-term:

Is J-term easier to get into than August entry? There is much speculation on this issue, but no admissions data. Still the lack of merit fellowships, an internship, and the nature of who the program is designed for, clearly indicate that it is going to attract fewer applicants, so my assumption is that it is surely easier.  Happy to proven wrong if CBS admissions provides data showing otherwise.  All I know for sure is that relatively late application to J-term has not prevented my clients from being admitted, whereas late application to RD is a real problem simply from a seat availability perspective. In one way, J-term is clearly easier: Unlike an August entry RD and (and to a lesser extent ED) applicant, someone applying to Columbia J-term can really be assumed to prefer Columbia over all alternatives. This can make interviews a bit easier in the sense that August entry Columbia alumni interviewers are notorious for being particularly aggressive at determining whether the interviewee's first choice is really Columbia. Since J-term has no real US rival, this topic can be easily dispensed with in an interview.

Program Alternatives to J-term: There are no US alternatives to J-term worth mentioning if someone wants a January start. Kellogg and Cornell offer one year MBAs, but neither Kellogg or Cornell start their programs in January and both are accelerated programs in terms of the number of courses taken. Only J-term makes it possible to do two years of courses on such an expedited basis. In addition, the Kellogg program is extremely restrictive, since one has to have taken many core business courses to apply to it. Cornell is also restrictive (Graduate degree or specialized professional certification is required), while Columbia has no such  prior education restrictions.  I have had clients who apply to J-term and IMD and/or INSEAD as both have January entry. Still J-term is an incredibly different program in terms of length and content from either of these top non-US programs. LBS, which does not have a January start, would also be another alternative to CBS in the sense that it can be completed on an accelerated basis, but it has no January start.

Can an August entry applicant reapply to J-term? Yes! You could be rejected from ED or RD for August 2016 entry and reapply for January 2017 entry. If you entered in January 2017, you would graduate in the Class of 2018 with those who entered in August 2016. I have worked with  a number of reapplicants who were admitted to J-term after being dinged from the August entry for that same graduating class. In that situation, the key issues for the reapplicant essay are explaining why J-term is now a better choice and you are a better candidate.


August Entry: ED Versus RD

Applying for Early Decision (ED) is ideal for anyone who considers Columbia to be their first choice and is ready by the application deadline. Columbia takes ED very seriously, so I suggest you do as well. CBS ED really is unique among top MBA programs and the decision to commit to it should not be taken lightly. Every year many applicants to Columbia Business School have to deeply consider whether to apply to the ED or RD round. First, keep the official statement from Columbia regarding ED in mind:

  • Candidates have decided that Columbia is their first choice and must sign the following statement of commitment within their applications: I am committed to attending Columbia Business School and will withdraw all applications and decline all offers from other schools upon admission to Columbia Business School
  • Applicants must submit a nonrefundable $6,000 tuition deposit within two weeks of admission.

In my experience, there are two types of applicants to ED. The first are people who really consider Columbia as their first choice and sometimes make or hope to make no other applications. For this type of applicant, choosing ED is easy. The second type of applicant likes Columbia, but it is not necessarily their first choice. This type of applicant applies to ED because it is perceived as easier to get admitted to than Regular Decision (RD). This type of applicant treats the $6000 deposit as an insurance policy in the event that they are not admitted to HBS, Stanford, and/or Wharton (I don't know of any cases of applicants forfeiting $6000 to go to other top programs, but suppose someone has done it). If they do get into HBS, Stanford, or Wharton and break their commitment to Columbia, they lose $6000 and potentially make Columbia admissions mad. Can Columbia do anything aside from keeping the money? No. For those who have no problem breaking oaths and losing $6000, treating ED as possible insurance is a rational decision through clearly not an ethical one. As an admissions consultant, my sole concern is helping my clients reach their admissions objectives, so I don't pass judgment one way or another on this ethical issue.

I do recommend the January Merit Fellowship deadline or earlier as optimal for applying to RD.  While you can consider Merit deadline to be kind of a "Round Two Deadline," I recommend you apply as soon as you are ready to do so. I would especially encourage those coming from groups with large numbers of applicants (American males from Wall Street and Indian males in particular), to make their applications to RD ASAP. That said, RD takes applications until April 15, 2015, so applications are still viable for some applicants until quite late in the admissions cycle. In general, applying late in RD is best for those with highly unusual backgrounds, stellar backgrounds, no need for merit scholarships and a love of gambling.  In other words, if you are not exceptional, applying late in RD to Columbia is a very high-risk activity.


How to leverage RD to your advantage when applying to other MBA programs in the First Round.  If you are applying in the first round, an ideal time to apply to Columbia is after you have completed all the applications that were due in September to mid-October.  Assuming you are relatively freed up while you are waiting for your R1 invites, apply to Columbia. This means you will be considered early in RD and that is an advantage because there will be more seats available.

How to leverage RD to your advantage when applying to other MBA programs in the Second Round.  Since most R2 applications are due in January, applying to Columbia in November or December will still give you a relative advantage over those applicants that apply right before the Merit Deadline.  Again, the earlier, the better your chance for an available seat.


The Essay Questions and the Immediate Post-MBA Goals Statement
I have taken the essay questions from the website. If these change once the application is up, I will alter accordingly.

Immediate Post-MBA Goals Statement
What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (51 characters maximum)
Examples of possible responses:
“Work in business development for a media company.”
“Join a strategy consulting firm.”
“Launch a data-management start-up.”

Remember this is 51 characters, not words! This would be about 6-10 words. The question itself, fortunately, includes the above examples to make it clear what Columbia is looking for here.

Given the length, you can't possibly expect to explain what you want to do short-term.  That is what Essay 1 is for. In fact, it is best to simply write this little statement after you have a good working version of Essay 1.  

CBS is looking for a short, but a very clear statement of what you intend to do after your MBA. If you have difficulty explaining your immediate post-MBA plans in the space given, I think that is likely an indication that your plans are too complex, vague, or otherwise not well thought out. What you state here should be backed up by what you discuss in Essay 1 (or the reapplicant essay for reapplicants) and possibly in the other essays.

If you can be clever or catchy in formulating this response that is fine, but it is a completely secondary consideration to simply stating something that is very clear and that is completely consistent with what you write in Essay 1. Being clever is not critical here, being clear is.

Essay #1: 
Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals going forward, and how will the Columbia MBA help you achieve them? (100-750 words)

The only thing that has changed from last year is that the length is now flexible as it was previously 500 words.  Since I have found it necessary to make this clear to clients:  THIS ESSAY IS COMPLETELY FUTURE FOCUSED. That is why they say they "have a clear sense of your professional path to date."  This is actually one of the most basic types of MBA essays: What do you want in the future and how can the MBA program help you achieve THEM?  I have capitalized THEM because the point is that Columbia is looking for both your immediate post-MBA goal and your longer term goals.

Be strategic and thoughtful about why you are wanting a Columbia MBA now:  Given the importance of being able to state your post-MBA goal clearly in 51 characters or less as well as the need in Essay 1 to explain why you want a Columbia MBA, it is critical that you be strategic and thoughtful in presenting your post-MBA plans and your reasons for wanting a Columbia MBA.
If you are having problems clearly articulating your goals either in Essay 1 or in the 50 character statement,  I think GapSWOT, and ROI analysis are great ways for understanding what your goals are, why you want a degree, and how you will use it.


The following image may not work for all browsers. If so, see here.

(A Google Docs version of this matrix can be found at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1WobczFFLHBzQRxUeuwBRNmGQ3q-RKP_94iGHuLlXXEs/edit?usp=sharing)


Step 1. Begin by analyzing your "Present Career." What roles and responsibilities have you had in clubs, part-time jobs, internships, volunteer activities, etc.? What was/is your functional role(s)? What was/are your responsibilities?
Next, analyze your present strengths and weaknesses for succeeding in your present career. In particular, some of your greatest strengths may have been demonstrated outside of work, so make sure you are accounting for them.
Strengths: What are you good at? Where do you add value? What are you praised for? What are you proud of?
Weakness: What are you bad at? What are you criticized for? What do you try to avoid due to your own limitations? What do you fear?
Next, analyze your situation in right now. What opportunities exist for your growth and success? What threats could limit your career growth?




Step 2. Now, do the same thing in Step 1 for your "Post-MBA" future after you have earned your graduate degree. If you cannot complete this step you need to do more research and need to think more about it. I frequently help clients with this issue through a process of brainstorming.




Step 3. If you could complete step 2, than you should see the "Gap" between your present and your future. What skills, knowledge, and other resources do you need to close the gap between your present and future responsibilities, strengths, and opportunities?



Step 4. After completing Step 3, you now need to determine how an MBA will add value to you. It is possible that an increased salary as a result of job change will be sufficient "ROI" for the degree to justify itself, but you should show how a degree will allow you to reach your career goals. How will the degree enhance your skills and opportunities and help you overcome your weaknesses and external threats? If you can complete Step 4, then you should be ready to explain what your goals are, why you want a degree, and the relationship between your past and future career, as well as your strengths and weaknesses.



The above table will also help you answer such common interview questions as: Where do you want to work after you finish your degree? Why do you want an MBA? What are you strengths? What are your weaknesses? What are your goals?




Be informed about your goals. Columbia Admissions needs to believe you know what you are talking about. If you are changing careers, no one expects you to be an expert, but you should come across as having a clear plan based on real research into your future. If you are planning on staying in your present industry, you should be well informed not only about the companies you have worked for but about the industry as a whole. If you are not already doing so, read industry related publications and network.




Those  applicants who are changing fields should most certainly read industry related publications in their intended field. Additionally, I suggest conducting informational interviews with at least one peer level and one senior level person in that field. Conduct a peer level interview to get a good idea of what it would be like to actually work in that industry. Conduct a senior level interview to get the perspective of someone who can see the big picture and all the little details as well. Don't know anyone in your intended field? Network! One great way to start is through LinkedIn. Another is by making use of your undergraduate alumni network and/or career center. No matter whether you are changing fields or not, learn what is hot now and try to figure out what will be hot by the time you graduate. Now, of course, this is just a plan and chances are that what is hot in your industry or field now may very well be cold in the future.




The point is to come across to Columbia Adcom as someone who is not only well informed but has CUTTING-EDGE knowledge. Look at ideas@work,  and  Chazen Global Insights. Some other great general sources for learning what is hot: Harvard Working KnowledgeHarvard Business ReviewUniversity of Chicago GSB's Working PapersThe University of Chicago's Capital IdeasStanford Social Innovation ReviewKnowledge @ Wharton, and MIT Sloan Management Review. You may also want to do a search on iTunes for podcasts: My favorites are Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (from the Stanford School of Engineering, but totally relevant) Net Impact, Chicago GSB Podcast Series, and Harvard Business IdeaCast. INSEAD, IMD, LBS, and Wharton also have podcasts. Other sources: Read magazines, websites, and books that relate to your intended field.




If at the end of the above process you feel as though you are uncertain about whether you need an MBA, please see Do You Really Need an MBA?



Be Future Focused
While you may need to reference your past in order to explain your goals and why Columbia, this essay should be focused on the future.  Any statements you make about your past experience should be analytical rather than descriptive and for the sole purpose of explaining what you want to do in the future and why.

Balance and integrate Goals and Why Columbia?
A good version of Essay 1 will balance  and integrate goals with Columbia. That is to say, the objective is not merely to discuss your goals and then extensively or briefly discuss Columbia, but to put together an essay that integrates and balances the two.  Your objective is to write an essay that shows Columbia why it is the best possible place for you to achieve your career goals. If your goals are not showing themselves to be particularly well supported by Columbia, you may need to either change your goals or decide to apply elsewhere.
The resources available at CBS and Columbia University are vast, so figure out specifically what you want from the school as you will need to discuss that. The program is flexible, so identify your needs from Columbia as specifically as possible. After all, you want to show them you love and need them For learning about what is hot at Columbia, I suggest taking a look at their News and Ideas Homepage.  You will likely want to write about taking a Master Class. Japanese applicants should most certainly visit http://columbiamba.jimdo.com/index.php. Also see here for why Columbia students love Columbia.


While you should be explaining why you need an MBA, you need to make  sure that your reasons align well with Columbia. I suggest reviewing some of the full course descriptions that you can find on their website. You need not mention the names of particular courses as long as it would be clear to your reader that your learning needs align well with Columbia's offerings. For example, it is really a waste of word count to mention the names of particular finance courses if the main point you are simply trying to make is that you want to enhance your finance skills. Every admissions officer at Columbia is well aware of the programs major offerings.  If you have a particular interest in a more specialized course or studying with a particular professor, it might be worth mentioning it as long as it is an explanation of why you want to study the subject and not based on circular reasoning.


An example of circular (tautological) reasoning:  "I want to take Capital Markets & Investments because I am interested in learning about capital market investing."
This kind of circular reasoning is so common. Usually it takes place within a paragraph consisting of many such sentences. They actually convey nothing about the applicant.  They are just abstract needs and will have limited impact on your reader.  The admissions reader wants to learn about you, not about their own program.



An example of an explanation for why:  "While I have been exposed to finance through my work at MegaBank of Joy, I presently lack the kind of comprehensive understanding of capital market investing that I will need to succeed as an investment analyst and I know I can gain at Columbia."  A more complete explanation would include additional details about the kind of issues that the applicant is interested in learning about and/or specific ways the applicant intended to apply what he or she would learn at Columbia.  By focusing on very specific learning needs and explaining those needs in relationship to one's goals and/or past experience, the admissions reader will be learning about you.



Essay 2:
Columbia Business School’s students participate in industry focused New York immersion seminars; in project based Master Classes; and in school year internships. Most importantly, our students are taught by a combination of distinguished research faculty and accomplished practitioners. How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”? (100-500 words)

The major change from last year's version of the question is that now has a flexible length, whereas it was previously 250 words. The day I visited Columbia Business School in 2013 was when they rolling out their new branding campaign, At the Very Center of Business (Thanks for the free breakfast. I could have taken a t-shirt too, but I make it a rule never to wear a university's t-shirt unless I am a student or an alumnus, so for B-School purposes that means you will find me in an INSEAD shirt).  After you watch the video, I suggest reading their detailed press release on At the Very Center of Business, which I will discuss below.


On one level, CBS is at the center because it is in NYC. I could make the same totally cynical comment  I made last year about how the focus on NYC here is a way to avoid the fact that it is unclear when their new campus will be ready, but I would not do that.  I just did again!  Sorry...   I know the Columbia folks can take my jab, they are tough, they are New Yorkers.  Anyway, everyone knows you don't go to Columbia Business School right now because of the state of the art building, you go because of the quality of the faculty and adjunct faculty, the school's deep connections to Wall Street and all other major industries in the city and worldwide, the networking opportunities, the interning opportunities, the diversity of  CBS students, and the city of NYC.  Anyone who is considering Columbia and does not factor NYC into the equation would surely be missing a critical part of the school's value proposition. I was recently talking with a potential client who did not quite get this value proposition because he was simply fixated on the classroom.  While classroom technology plays a role in selecting a school, a full-time two-year MBA program at a top American school is simply not reducible to the building.  I think this is especially true of Columbia.  That said, at least in the class I visited in 2013, the professor was great, the students were friendly but highly engaged, and even though the whiteboard was old school and hard to see, I was impressed.  Columbia really is at the center of NYC, but so is NYU Stern (And given Stern's greater proximity to Wall Street, Soho, start-ups, etc, I think I would be careful about claiming to be at the center of NYC, but that is why they say the center of business).


Of course, Columbia wants to claim that it is at the worldwide center of business.  Maybe, but it has no exclusivity in that regard, but don't tell them that.  I think the branding concept reflects this school's need to assert its self-importance and to have applicants affirm this.  Saying you are at the center is an incredibly narcissistic statement.  "I am at the center" is a statement of self-importance. It is pure arrogance.  It reflects an underlying insecurity about one's place in the universe, in other words, if someone tells you they are the center, assume they probably are not.  At a minimum, assume they have a strong need to be loved. I have always maintained that Columbia needs to feel loved. This is especially true in the interview process. It is also true in the essays.  Therefore, YOU MUST TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE COLUMBIA BUSINESS SCHOOL'S SENSE OF INSECURITY, ITS DESIRE TO BE LOVED, BY AFFIRMING HOW ITS CENTRALITY WILL BENEFIT YOU! 

Use the At the Very Center of Business branding campaign to help you brainstorm content for Essay 2:
"The Four Pillars of the Branding Campaign
The campaign narrative is supported by four key attributes that collectively comprise Columbia Business School's brand:

Which of these pillars will you  take advantage of? Think about each of them to come up with 1-3 topics for this essay.
KNOWLEDGE
-What specific research activities at Columbia really excite you?  How will you use this research?
Will CBS help you become a thought leader? How?
- See my suggestions for learning about Columbia in Essay 1 above.
ACCESS
-How will leverage the access you gain at CBS?  In what ways?  For what purpose?
COMMUNITY
-What do you hope to gain from the community?
IMPACT
-How will being at the center help you make an impact? What kind of impact do you want to have?

In Essay 1, you are explaining why you need an MBA from Columbia now and would surely be addressing particular aspects of the MBA program in your answer. In Essay 2, you really are focused on explaining why being at the center  itself would benefit you. The reasons might relate to your professional goals, but may very well be highly personal or most likely a combination of the two. An effective answer here will provide the reader with greater insight into your personality, interests, and motivations.  A bad answer might very consist of making a bunch of general comments about why Columbia  and NYC would be great, but not giving the reader into any insight about you.

 Essay #3:
CBS Matters, a key element of the School’s culture, allows the people in your Cluster to learn more about you on a personal level. What will your Clustermates be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (100-250 words)

The big change from last year is that the word  pleasantly is in bold, so keep it surprising but pleasant! The CBS MATTERS video is very helpful to watch as it will help you understand the value in sharing an important part of yourself with your cluster. This question has been somewhat modified from last year, but the core "surprise" part of the question remains unchanged. I love "SURPRISE US" questions. Actually, one of the things I do in my initial consultations with a potential client is to ask this question because it helps me understand whether the person I am talking to has really had to present themselves in a positive and interesting way as a person (and not just for getting a job).  Unlike Columbia, I don't use it as a basis for selecting clients, but rather as a way to gauge an applicants' self-awareness and ability to respond spontaneously to an unexpected question as this might be something my client will need to work on.  To surprise someone in a positive way is to give them a new reason to be interested in you. This essay should do that!


The word, pleasantly, is really important. The topic(s) you write about should be positive aspects of who you are. This is an essay about how you will add value to your Cluster (If you have no idea what that is, see here).

Good answers here are really engaging and very unique
I actually like this question quite a bit because it is a great way for applicants to highlight some really unique aspect or aspects about themselves. The point is that it should be something that would not be obvious about you. The focus may be on something very specific that you did or something about your character. Whatever it is, it should not simply be pleasantly surprising, but also relevant in some way.  It might be something that will add value to your Cluster. If it is highly personal, it should reveal a quality or aspect to you that is not merely interesting, but also something really worth knowing.  A good answer here might involve an unusual hobby or experience but the possibilities are endless. Just keep it positive!


Bad answers to this question will likely to do the following:
-Focus too much on action and context and not enough on providing an interpretation of oneself
-Focus on something that is relatively obvious from your resume
-Focus on something that does not really have any clear selling points about who you are
- Focus on something that simply is not in the least surprising and thus dull
-Focus on something that is not pleasent

I mention the above because I view these as typical problems I see with ineffective answers to this question. Consider the above a checklist to use when determining whether you are on the wrong track for preparing an effective answer.



Optional Essay:

An optional fourth essay will allow you to discuss any issues that do not fall within the purview of the required essays
I am not sure what the wording be will be for this year, but the wording of the question last year was as follows: "Is there any further information that you wish to provide the Admissions Committee? If so, use this space to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history. (Maximum 500 words)"Will edit accordingly if this changes once the application is out.  


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 Columbia 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.


Columbia Loves to Be Loved
One thing that is consistent about Columbia Business School is that they want to know that their school is your first choice. If you have an alumni interview you can be expected to be asked about that very directly. See here for my advice on Columbia interviews. Best of luck!


-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.

April 13, 2016

Admitted to an MBA program for 2016 entry? Complete a survey and win a prize!

Could you spare a few minutes to complete a survey?  I’m a member of AIGAC, The Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants. In June, we will hold our annual conference in Cambridge at HBS, Harvard Kennedy School, and MIT Sloan. While there, we will begin discussions of the survey. Further into the summer, we will analyze and share anonymous data about MBA applicants via sessions and webinars with members, schools, and media. That data will come from these surveys, and we need a lot of responses to make the data useful.
 
The process works like this: AIGAC helps the MBA programs, which leads them to help us, which leads us to serve our clients better. Past applicants taking the survey allowed me to help you better; your taking the survey is a nice way to pay that forward. If you are curious, you can read more about our survey here http://aigac.org/for-media/application-survey/
 
Can you help? If you do, you’ll be eligible to enter a drawing for a $500 cash payment (to be sent via PayPal). Your email address would only be used for prize notification, a third party consulting firm houses all data and no contact information is shared.  
 

The survey should take about 15 minutes to complete and can be accessed by clicking this link: http://survey.constituentresearch.com/s/AIGACApplicantSurvey/?collector=143514
 
 
We truly appreciate your time. Please help us continue to improve the MBA application process.
 
To your success!
 
Sincerely,
 
Adam Markus




-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.

April 12, 2016

IMD MBA Application Essays for 2017 Admission

In this post, I discuss the application essays for 2017 admission to IMD.  There have been changes to the short goals questions, but the three main essay questions have not changed from 2016. While IMD had rather significant staff turnover in 2014, which I discuss here, I still highly recommend reading my February 2014 and September 2012 interviews with IMD’s former Associate Director of MBA Admissions and Marketing as it is unclear that changes in admissions policy would result in that information no longer being accurate.  You might also want to read my Q&A with a fo rmer client who is a member of the Class of 2009. I think these interviews will provide you with some key insights into IMD. My report on my visit to IMD can be found here. You may also be interested in my report on my May 2012 visit to IMD.

In this post, I  first discuss IMD and then the three essays, the short questions on short-term goals and challenges required to reach them, and the optional essay.

IMD (The Institute for Management Development), consistently ranked among the best MBA programs in the world, is a small intensive one-year program that starts in January.  IMD, along with Columbia Business School January Term and INSEAD (INSEAD has both September and January start dates) are three of the best options for those who want to start in January 2017 at a top MBA program.

To learn about IMD, visit the website. You should download three PDFs from the website: “MBA Program Brochure,” “MBA Class Profiles,” and “Class and Placement Overview.”  In addition, if possible, I suggest either attending an information session or visiting. Getting an alumni perspective would also be particularly helpful. Review the website completely and by all means read the MBA Diary to get IMD students’ perspectives.  To learn about IMD faculty perspectives, please visit Tomorrow’s Challenges.  IMD’s small size sets it apart from other top programs, as its brochure states: “90 Exceptional People Who Will Shape The Future of Business.” If you get into IMD, chances are quite high that you will go there.

When you think about IMD, two keywords to focus on are “international” and “leadership.” Based on my experience working with clients admitted there for Class of 2015, Class of 2014,  Class of 2013, the Class of 2011, Class of 2010,  and Class of 2009, I can say that IMD is looking for those individuals who both already have and aspire to increased capacity in both being international and being leaders. Visiting the program in 2012 and through conversations with my former clients who attended IMD has only further convinced me that international and leadership are key to IMD.

In any given year, I work with only a few people applying to IMD because this is most certainly a very unique program.  Almost all of my clients who applied to IMD have been interviewed.  Even for the Class of 2012, when I had no admits, the two clients I worked with on IMD were offered interviews, but one was admitted to his/her first choice school and did not interview and the other, was unfortunately dinged after interview.  Getting dinged after an IMD interview, especially for candidates without solid English ability, effective presentation skills, and/or the perceived potential to work well in a small group is common enough.  In some cases, the candidate is indeed solid, but in the process of building the right class of 90 students simply does not fit. For the Class of 2013, I had two clients who who were offered interview, one was admitted. For the Class of 2014, I had two clients apply and both were admitted (one is listed as 2013 result because he/she was admitted to another school in 2013). For the Class of 2015. I had two admitted with five being interviewed (One client was admitted directly.  But the rest who interviewed were Indian males, two were waitlisted and only one of them got off the waitlist, but is going to INSEAD. Indian males face an uphill battle to get into IMD because the number of highly qualified male Indian candidates far exceed the school’s capacity).

THE ESSAYS ARE THE EASY PART OF THE IMD APPLICATION PROCESS. Even though the new essays are in some sense more challenging (though fewer in number) than the previous essay set, there is no MBA interview that compares to the day of trial that IMD puts potential applicants through.  Reading a report of an IMD interview makes me feel exhausted.  The particular style of group and individual interviewing and observation admissions does, is truly impressive and totally necessary given their class size and reputation.  The IMD interview eliminates those who will not be able to survive in a very intense program. IMD interviews a rather high percentage of those who apply, but again, the program is rather self-selecting so this percentage makes sense. Consider that IMD is trying to fill a class of 90.  They are working with limited numbers and I know that they are being highly selective when it comes to making final decisions.  As I mentioned in my school visit post,  I visited on an interview day and saw the candidates “relaxing” at lunch, when in fact they were being observed by the students they were having lunch with.  That is how much IMD cares about fit!  Finding the right 90 who will come together is what the IMD admissions process is about. The application serves as the basis to determine whether you should be considered for their interview, but based on what I understand the application can’t mitigate a bad interview day.

INTERNATIONAL

Like its bigger rival INSEAD, IMD is truly an international program with a very diverse student body and faculty. You can actually view all of the current class as well as read a statistical summary of their backgrounds on PDFs found on the IMD site. Doing so will certainly help you understand that IMD students are incredibly diverse and multilingual.  I think it also important to keep in mind that being international is about being open-minded to diversity and to having mental flexibility.  Both through the essays and interview you will be assessed for capacity to be an open-minded person.

LEADERS

The IMD program is focused on making leaders, not just managers or experts in a particular business field. It is therefore not designed for those who primarily want to develop expertise in a business subfield. IMD makes the program’s focus very clear on page 2 of the PDF version of their brochure: Top executives of leading multinational companies tell us clearly: they need leaders, not managers. Leaders with the insight and ability to address issues and problems that are more complex and changing more quickly than ever before. Leaders who are confident, creating their own solutions to these emerging issues with integrity and high ethics. Leaders who understand themselves and how they interact with others. Leaders who understand the needs of their organizations and their business environments. Leaders who can drive change through innovation. Leaders who can move their businesses forward. The single aim of the IMD MBA program is to develop these leaders.

If you are not looking for an education focused on leadership, do not apply to IMD, but if you are, IMD offers a very intensive one-year leadership education: The program starts with a foundation in the core business courses, e.g. accounting, finance, marketing and operations. This helps you to understand all of the functional areas of the organization and how they work together. It continues with real-world projects and additional courses that allow you to apply what you have learned in the classroom to real leadership situations.

A review of the program structure makes it perfectly clear that it is not a degree for those wanting expertise in a particular business subfield (e.g. finance or marketing) because there is actually only one three-week period of study available for electives.

THE  THREE ESSAY QUESTIONS

Essay 1:
Describe yourself in two hundred words or less 
In a Class of 90, there is no room for letting in someone who can’t function well and does not have something distinct to contribute.   What are the key aspects that IMD really needs to know about you that will make them want to invite you for their interview?

The question is straightforward but keep in mind the third question below.  They relate to each other. Essay 1 is about who you are now, while Essay 3  is about who you will become.    Think of this as your "elevator pitch" to IMD.  Given the limited space I suggest you think very carefully about what to include. I suggest trying to focus more an analytical description of yourself rather than a life story.

Some Questions to get you brainstorming:

1. What do you want IMD to know about you that would positively impact your chances for admission? After all, you might consider getting the love of your life to marry you to be something really important to know about you, but will  admissions  care? If what you write does not reveal (whether stated or implied) potential and/or contribution, chances are likely that it is not significant enough.
2. What major positive aspects of your life have not been effectively INTERPRETED to the admissions committee in other parts of the application?
3. Through the application form they will have learned quite a bit about your employment experience, so remember to focus here on who you are and not simply on what you have done.
4.  What could you discuss about yourself that you think would really help admissions understand you and want to admit you?
5. How can you make the most effective first impression?
6.  Are you being dull? Don’t be! Mentioning ”I studied hard to get a 4.0 in university ” is most likely very dull and rather obvious.  On the other hand if you overcome great challenges to get such an academic result, you could have a great story.  Obvious stories are dull.  Reveal something important about yourself that goes beyond the surface level and could not be easily assumed from reviewing other aspects of your application.


Essay 2:
Describe a time in your life where you faced an unrecoverable event. How did it affect you and what were your greatest learnings? (300 words)
An unrecoverable event could be a total complete failure with no upside.  At the extreme (and  the extreme is not necessary), this could be losing a client who you will never get back, getting rejected from an academic program, losing a job, making a terrible investment decision, being responsible for destroying a friendship or relationship with someone else, being the source of damage or harm to others, experiencing something tragic (death of a loved one), losing something personally valuable to.

An unrecoverable event is not situation that one can overcome. Therefore a setback situation is unlikely to work well here if you were able to overcome the setback (hence recover from it). For instance, you provide an initial draft of a presentation to a supervisor who rejects it, tells you why, and then you provide a revision which she accepts. This situation is recoverable and hence out of bounds.   If  your supervisor rejected your presentation, kicked you off the project, and reassigned the presentation to a colleague, that would surely be an unrecoverable event.

They are looking to see how you deal with the worst in life.  They want insights into your resilience and self-awareness.  Don’t write about something trivial here, real pain, tragedy, and failure are just what the doctor ordered.

A key question requirement is real learning because without that, you will not be answering the question. What is real learning?  Real learning means the insights gained during and after the experience are not obviously things you knew before your unrecoverable event took place. What learn might have helped you subsequently and ideally should have because the best demonstration of learning is application.

The basic components of an answer:
1. Clearly state what the situation was.
2. Clearly state your role.
3. Clearly state what was unrecoverable.
4. Explain what you learned (and, if possible, how you applied it).

Essay 3:
On your 75th birthday someone close to you presents your laudatio (tribute). It can be a friend, colleague, family member etc.
Please describe in detail what this person would say about you and your life.  (300 words)
I think it is particularly interesting to use the word “laudatio” when it will be perfectly meaningless to many applicants unless they have studied Latin.  At least, based on my search of both the British and American English Oxford dictionaries, it is not even a Latin word that has been incorporated into English.  Hence only those with a background in Latin will even have an idea of what this is.
If you try Google, you will not find a actual description of laudatio in English very easily. The first English listing a found was for “”Laudatio Turiae”, where “Laudatio” refers to an epitaph, which is a fine word in English.  I am glad that IMD choose to include “tribute” in parenthesis so that those without a Latin education will be able to understand the question.  Still I think the question could have been stated more simply.
Therefore, to restate this question in English and in way that will be, hopefully, easy for anyone to understand, I give you the following: On your 75th birthday someone of your choosing makes a speech in praise of your life from their perspective. 
Hence this question is asking you to imagine your future.  IMD wants to test your ambition and long-term vision.  What kind of life do you want to lead?  What will your future look like?
Keep in mind that is an achievement question. Just one focused on your future achievements. 
THIS IS ABOUT THE FUTURE! You must project yourself into that future. This is science fiction. If they wanted to know about what you had done so far they would have asked about it. Instead, they are asking you to imagine the next 40-50+ years of your life.  Image what that future will look like.  This is a test of your ability to think of your future, your ambition, and the impact you want to have on the world.
Think about what skill(s), value(s), or unique experience are being showcased: Your achievements need to reveal valuable thing(s) about you. Some will call these selling points, but more specifically they consist of skills, values, or unique experiences. One might use a specific achievement to emphasize one’s leadership skills,  one’s ethical values, and to explain a significant barrier that was overcome. If you breakdown the meaning of an achievement it might easily reveal multiple important things about you.
Think about what potential for success in the MBA program or afterward is being demonstrated by your future achievement: You may or may not be directly stating this in the essay, but you should think about what how your achievement reveals in terms of your potential. IMD will most certainly be considering how your achievement demonstrates your potential to succeed in their program and afterward, so you should as well.
Think about how your achievement could become a contribution to others in the MBA program: Think about whether your achievement demonstrates your ability to add value to other students at IMD.  IMD is very focused on understanding your ability to function as part of a group of 90 people. This is very much at the center of the education they offer and how they differentiate their program. What you write about your future potential long-term also reflects on your potential to contribute at IMD.
Finally, this is also a test of your ability to see things from someone else’s perspective.  After all, if IMD simply wanted to know about what you think you will accomplish by the end of your life, they could have asked the question in a much more direct way. Instead you have to imagine yourself from the perspective of the person who is speaking about you.
Two Short Questions in the Employment Section You have  500  characters each (NOT 500 WORDS!) to answer the following:
1. What is your career goal : right after IMD / in 5 years / in 10 years ?
2. In order to reach your goals, what do you foresee as your top 3 challenges?
While this might seem excessive, if you are not clear on the answers to the above questions,  you can use my GAP, SWOT, AND ROI TABLE FOR FORMULATING GRADUATE DEGREE GOALS for this purpose (see below). I think GapSWOT, and ROI analysis are great ways for understanding what your goals are, why you want a degree, and how you will use it.
While my table is focused on short-term (right after MBA) and long-term, for purposes of answering IMD’s question, you need to distinguish between  right after IMD, 5 years, and 10 years, so alter my table as needed for that purpose.
The GAP and SWOT analysis should help you identify the challenges to your goals in order to answer the second question.

The following image may not work for all browsers. If so, see here. Click to enlarge it.
How to use this table:

Step 1. Begin by analyzing your ”Present Situation.” What job(s) have you held? What was/is your functional role(s)? What was/are your responsibilities?     Next, analyze your present strengths and weaknesses for succeeding in your present career. REMEMBER:WHEN YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESS DON’T ONLY THINK ABOUT WORK, THINK ABOUT OTHER ASPECTS OF YOUR LIFE. In particular, some of your greatest strengths may have been demonstrated outside of work, so make sure you are accounting for them. Strengths: What are you good at? Where do you add value? What are you praised for? What are you proud of? Weakness:What are you bad at? What are you criticized for? What do you try to avoid due to your own limitations? What do you fear? Next, analyze the environment you work in right now. What opportunities exist for your growth and success? What threats could limit your career growth?

Step 2. Now, do the same thing in Step 1 for your ”Post-Degree” future after you have earned your MBA. IF YOU CANNOT COMPLETE STEP 2, YOU HAVE NOT SUFFICIENTLY PLANNED FOR YOUR FUTURE and therefore you need to do more research and need to think more about it.

Step 3. If you could complete step 2, then you should see the ”Gap” between your present and your future. What skills, knowledge, and other resources do you need to close the gap between your present and future responsibilities, strengths, and opportunities?

Step 4. After completing Step 3, you need to determine how an MBA will add value to you. It is possible that an increased salary as a result of job change will be sufficient ”ROI” for the degree to justify itself, but you should show how a degree will allow you to reach your career goals. How will the degree enhance your skills and opportunities and help you overcome your weaknesses and external threats? If you can complete Step 4 then you should be ready to explain what your goals are, why you want a degree, and the relationship between your past and future career, as well as your strengths and weaknesses.

The above table will also help you answer such common interview questions as: Where do you want to work after you finish your degree? Why do you want an MBA (or other degree)? What are you strengths? What are your weaknesses? What are your goals? Thinking about these issues now will help you to develop a fully worked-out strategy for how you will best present yourself both in the application and in an interview. After going through this formal process, review what you know about IMD again. In your answer to the question, please focus on showing how IMD will help make your post-MBA future objectives a reality.  BOTTOM LINE: Conceptualize this as a business plan with IMD as a partner who will help enable that plan.

ADDITIONAL QUESTION
Is there any additional information that is critical for the Admissions Committee to know which has not been covered elsewhere in this application?
If you would like to comment on career gaps, education, GMAT/GRE, a disability or illness, please use this space. (Optional)


While I suppose it is possible to answer this question with “No,” in most cases I would not recommend doing so.  I always tell my clients to write at least one positive thing in this essay even if they must deal with a negative subject as well.     For some applicants who have to discuss something negative such as a low GPA, the topic for this essay will be clear enough. Just make sure your answer is a clear and believable explanation and not an excuse.In terns of writing something positive, think about one or two topics that you believe would help admissions to understand you and support your admission. Be careful that you do not pick a trivial topic or one that really has been handled in another essay.  Whatever you do, make sure what you put here does not look like it came from another school.

ADMINISTRATIVE QUESTIONS
Your responses to these questions will not be taken into consideration in the admissions process.”
I never trust such statements. As the late great, Andrew Groove of Intel said, “Only the Paranoid Survive.” After all INSEAD is a school that invites applicants for a full day of interviewing and monitors their performance at lunch so really if you want to trust such an administrative claim, feel free but I would suggest giving careful responses to these two questions:
1. How do you intend to finance your MBA at IMD? What would your budget be? 
I suggest you provide and a direct and realistic answer to this question. It need not be so long.
2. What other programs are you considering? Of the programs you are considering, what can IMD bring to you as a differentiator? 
It is so odd to treat this as an administrative question. Is it really only for marketing? This is what I was quoted as saying about it in Poets and Quants when the question came out in 2014:
Markus then finds fault with an IMD application question. He notes, for example, that IMD states, Your responses to these questions will not be taken into consideration in the admissions process. And then asks, Why are you applying to IMD? What other programs have you considered / are you considering?

“How can any applicant believe that this is merely information being gathered for marketing purposes?,” asks Markus. “If someone is reading the applicant’s file and it includes such information what actually guarantees that it will not be taken into account? Sorry, but if IMD or any school wants this sort of information for marketing purposes, they should collect it anonymously. Does IMD think they are getting honest unfiltered marketing information here? I always read what my clients write for this answer and they always take great care in making sure that it shows big IMD love and refrains from mentioning anything that could, even at the margins, jeopardize their chances of getting an interview invite and subsequent offer of admission.”

My opinion on this issue has not changed.


Finally, best of luck with your IMD application.



-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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