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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.

April 12, 2009

The Fall 2009 Admisisons Season: Results and Trends

Sorry for the long delay in my return to regular posting, but clients from around the world have been keeping me busy. In this post, I discuss my clients' results, some trends I have noticed for Fall 2009 (mostly MBA) admissions, and some suggestions for Fall 2010 admission strategy related to goals, school selection, and an issue specific to Japan candidates (日本のみなさん、下を見てください). My analysis of trends is subject to change as more data becomes available.

Working with applicants for Fall 2009 admission has kept me rather busy, but my clients’ results have been great. I have redone my client results and testimonials page to be both more comprehensive and more readable (I hope). You can find that page here. I am certain that more great results will be coming in. I work with a small group of clients every year, mostly MBA applicants, a few LL.M. applicants (two out of three were admitted to Harvard Law School), and small group of applicants applying to other types of programs.

Given that I only work with a small group of clients, my perspective on trends is anecdotal, but I clearly think this was a highly competitive year for applicants. It seems to me that highly qualified applicants are still getting in, but I think there has been a net increase in the amount of waitlisting and a decrease in the number of offers per client. Again, this is not based on real data, but a sense of what I am seeing with both my Japanese and non-Japanese (US, South Korea, India, China, Turkey, Europe, Middle East) client base. Beyond my own client base, I am hearing stories that are consistent with this view. While I have clients who were admitted to top schools who only applied to two or three MBA programs, most clients applied to five or more schools. For Fall 2010, I would highly recommend that highly qualified applicants plan on applying five to ten top schools to maximize their chances. Especially for those who have obvious weaknesses (low GPA, low test scores, spotty work record), to maximize the chance for admission to a top program, I think application to seven to twelve "top" schools is likely to be necessary to maximize admission results. If I an applicant is applying to safety schools, I am not necessarily convinced there is any to initially apply to more than one or two of those. The good thing about safety schools is that since there yields are likely to be low, they are generally easy to enter in late rounds.

Both the anecdotal job and internship placement news I have heard from MBA students and that presented in the mass media has been basically bleak. I assume all the readers of this blog are familiar with the sorry state of the worldwide job market. It would seem to me that those planning on attending MBA programs over the next couple of years have be prepared for a bleak job market and limited internship options. The reasonable expectation of a well-paid internship and multiple job offers for those attending top MBA programs is likely to be something that ended with the graduating class of 2007. Things started to become hard in Spring/Summer 2008, but that will be nothing compared to the situation this year. One could optimistically hope for a recovery that would make 2010 more promising, but I remain pessimistic about the chances for a quick recovery. For Fall 2010, applicants will really need to think extremely carefully about showing both the viability and flexibility of their short-term goals. Hedging short-term goals (HAVE A PLAN B!) would be quite reasonable. Long-term career vision, ones overall aspirations, are likely to be increasingly more important to focus on because of the lack of short-term certainty.

For Fall 2009 admission, applicants with professional backgrounds in finance could obtain admission at top programs based on post-MBA finance goals. However, those who stated their intention of moving into finance careers may have encountered significant obstacles. Especially for those who are not in the finance industry, post-MBA finance career goals seem increasingly untenable. Here in Japan, the situation is somewhat different because the banks are significantly healthier than elsewhere. Still, unless you have significant finance industry experience, I can’t recommend having goals that involve getting into the finance industry. MBA career services offices are increasingly telling their job hunting students who had plans to go into finance to look for finance related jobs within companies because of the lack of employment opportunities within the industry. If you are without finance industry experience, unless you are simply incapable of coming up with a clear alternative to a career in finance, I can see no good reason for making your MBA essay goals centered on such a career.

Many of the former consultants who were going to go into finance post-MBA are no doubt working hard to get back into consulting. Still, stating an intention to go into management consulting post-MBA remained effective for application purposes for those without prior management consulting experience. I hope that it continues to be the case because with finance sector jobs becoming increasingly hard to find, management consulting is now without rival in terms of its importance for post-MBA employment. Clearly certain areas of consulting (management or otherwise) will grow in the present economy: Turnaround, outplacement, compliance-related, and regulatory-related consulting are likely to grow over the coming years in the US and Europe.

I have found that those who have post-MBA entrepreneurial goals are doing just fine. I assume that this trend will continue and likely expand. Downturns are traditionally considered good for entrepreneurship (Cheap talent is in large supply, the opportunity cost involved in taking a smaller salary and greater risk are proportionally smaller, and investors are looking for something to put their money into) and so this is a great time for those with entrepreneurial aspirations. So for Fall 2010, as long as you can sound like you know what you are talking about (If you can’t them believe in an MBA application essay, you probably lack the necessary potential to convince a VC!), entrepreneurial goals will work well. It will be completely in-line with most school’s admissions messages anyway. My guess is that MBA programs will be putting more resources into entrepreneurship because it dovetails well with the present economy and is directly associated with other “sexy” areas like social entrepreneurship, green business, and small scale enterprise.

More and more MBAs (and lawyers and accountants) will find themselves looking for secure government jobs. The compensation might not be as (hypothetically) great as what would be available in the private sector, but many will find the option increasingly attractive. MBA programs with a strong public sector focus like Yale will likely benefit from this trend in the coming years. Look for both increased competition and cooperation between MBA and public policy programs.

As always those who can identify and make a strong case for defending a very specific niche are likely to find themselves in a very happy position. As in past years, some of my clients articulated goals that were totally unique to themselves. This is not an easy thing to do or do well, but if you can, the admission results can be great.

As regular readers of this blog know, I initially approach the whole issue of obtaining an MBA and school selection from the viewpoint of economic rationality (See here as well as my posts on school selection). That is to say, I assume the market value of MBA (Increased salary and increased labor mobility) is the primary reason for pursuing this degree. This is not the only reason why someone would get an MBA, but it is certainly a primary one. Given, a declining job market, it is natural to assume downward pressure on salaries. I would not be surprised to see post-MBA starting salaries declining significantly at programs across the board. Thus the opportunity cost involved in attending an MBA program (lost income, employment risk, increased debt load) will increase as the benefits (increased salary and better job opportunities) for attending decline. In times like these, I think it is especially important that applicants think about the long-term value of the degree and work very hard to obtain admission to top ranking programs in order to mitigate these opportunity costs. I remain passionate about helping such applicants obtain admission to the world’s top MBA programs.

The number of Japanese admitted to HBS and Stanford in the first round for Fall 2009 significantly increased from Fall 2008. For purposes of Fall 2010 admission, I would urge those who will be ready for the first round to get their Stanford applications in at that time. The second round might very well prove to be less promising. Given the much larger class size at HBS, the issue is not quite as urgent, but still I am certainly advising those who are ready to apply first round if possible. HBS significantly increased the number of Japanese who were offered interviews this year, but Stanford appears not to have done so. I hope that this HBS trend continues for Fall 2010. For other top schools, I detect no particular difference between first and second round for Japanese applicants.

If you are looking for a highly experienced admissions consultant who is passionate about helping his clients succeed, please feel free to contact me at adammarkus@gmail.com to arrange an initial consultation. Initial consultations are conducted by Skype or telephone. For clients in Tokyo, a free face-to-face consultation is possible after an initial Skype or telephone consultation. I only work with a limited number of clients per year and believe that an initial consultation is the best way to determine whether there is a good fit. Whether you use my service or another, I suggest making certain that the fit feels right to you.

-Adam Markus
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