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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.

December 16, 2009

MBA First Round Blues: Top Ten Things To Consider Now

Well, we are in the midst of first round results for top MBA programs, so I thought it would be a good time to discuss what to do if your R1 efforts don't seem to be working. Of course, sometimes, the issue might simply be that you are applying to reach schools in R1 and that you will have much better results in R2.  Still I think it is worth carefully evaluating what if anything you can do to get a better outcome in R2 (and maybe R3 and R4!).  I have written about this subject previously ("MBA First Round Blues: Learn from Failure"), but I thought it would be good to look at the issue again.  While I am also considering the whole issue of "failure," my remarks below are not limited to that.

Top Ten List of Things to Consider if R1 is Not Working For You

Whatever you have done so far is not working. It might be your essays, it might be your school selection, it might be your interview skills, it might be your test scores, it might be the way you fill out applications,  and/or the people you are getting admissions advice from,  but whatever you are doing now, it is not achieving the desired outcome.   If you are working with an admissions consultant, ask them for their perspective on this. 

Last year, one of my clients applied with a particular set of goals that I had initial concerns about, but the client was passionate about them.  While he/she was invited for an interview at a top school, he/she was ultimately dinged from the two places he/she applied in R1. I wrote a long memo suggesting a  different approach to my client's career goals that I had initially thought was more tenable.  The client changed his/her goals and subsequently received multiple offers of admission in R2.  The client also took interview practice more seriously in R2. Those changes were critical to achieving a better outcome.

I am not suggesting changing everything, but chances are pretty good that something needs to change if you are to generate better results with future applications.
Depending on the difficulty of admission and number of institutions you have applied to, look again at your school selection. Obviously if you were dinged from HBS, Haas, and Stanford in R1, you can certain of one thing: Anywhere else you apply is easier to get into.  The difference between schools with a 7%-12% chance of admission and those with a 15%-20% chance is really huge. Think about seriously about the admissions numbers (acceptance rate, yield, test scores averages and 80% ranges, average age of admitted applicants, number of years of work experience, and GPA)  for the schools you have applied to and consider deeply how you measure up.  Many people are naturally resistant to looking at these things objectively, but if your numbers and the numbers from  the schools that rejected you are consistently incompatible, you need to really consider applying to places where your numbers will not hurt you and/or help you. You might also consider sitting for the GMAT or TOEFL again if those numbers are not working for you.  I don't recommend applying to places where you will not be happy because of low RO1, but I mean finding additional schools where you are likely to have a better shot than the ones that rejected you.

For company-sponsored applicants or anyone else who must obtain admission for Fall 2010 or Winter 2011, I strongly recommend making sure that you have sufficient safety built into your school selection.  

Every year I start working with clients after they have received R1 (and also R2 and R3 and R4!) dings.  Sometimes the problem is that the applicant just has not been receiving the right kind of advice. Getting a second opinion from another admissions consultant, a trusted mentor, or someone else whose views you have not yet obtained, can really result in significant changes in outcome.   In my case, I offer both reapplication and second opinion counseling services for this purpose.   For more about obtaining advice form other people, please see this earlier post.

GMAC allows applicants to take the GMAT five times in any 12-month period.  Unless you have maxed yourself out, consider whether you need to take it again.  In general, if your score is 700 or over I don't generally advise it, but if your GPA is real low, you might want to.

I know some people think there is a problem taking the GMAT five times, but I am not one of those people.  I have had a number of clients admitted to HBS, Stanford, Wharton, Chicago, INSEAD, LBS, Haas, Kellogg, etc. who had to take the test five times (or more if over more than 12 months).  Given that schools often tell both those who are waitlisted and reapplicants to take these tests again,  I can see no problem with it.  Clearly it is pain to sit for a test again, but if you know that your scores are not getting you results, it is time to revisit this issue.  My blog's sole advertiser, Knewton, guarantees a 50 point GMAT score increase or a refund, so you might want to consider taking their course. 

With TOEFL, taking it multiple times is not a problem.  If you are having significant problems with a particular section and the test prep methods you have been using so far have not worked, consider changing them.   For those experiencing difficulty with the Speaking Section, my suggestion is to find a teacher who really knows how to teach speaking. From what I have been able to observe, test prep instructors without formal English teaching experience expertise are significantly less likely to be able to help you with the Speaking Section.  The best TOEFL Speaking teacher I know in Tokyo (A friend of mine who prefers that I not mention him here by name because he can't handle more students than he gets from word-of-mouth.) has graduate level training in phonology.

Whether you need to take another  GMAT  or TOEFL test prep course or just study intensively on your own, if whatever test prep. methods you have been so far are not generating the results you need, consider making a change.  After working with hundreds of applicants over the years, the only thing I am certain of is that people learn in different ways.  See a much earlier post on this issue.
Frankly, my worst experiences as a admissions consultant all involve clients trying to apply with hastily written weak content.  While performing emergency room surgery is one part of my job, I know that there is a real difference between what is acceptable at the last minute and what is acceptable a week (or a month)  before the deadline.  If you are constantly submitting at the last possible minute and are continuously in crisis mode, your application content may display a high level of energy, but also possibly lots of errors and lack of clear thinking.  Part of an effective writing process is taking the time to reflect on what you have.  Such moments of careful deliberation can really result in significant improvements in overall application content.  More practically, rush jobs are inherently error prone.  If you think you are setting yourself up for more of the same in R2, consider applying to a small number of schools.  R3 is often viable, so don't rule it out if it will give you breathing room to focus more on the schools you really want to go to.

If R1 is not working out,  clearly you need to focus on making sure that your essays and resume are doing what they need to do. In addition to #3 above,  see my earlier post on reapplication.

Application forms are important.  Take them seriously.  The schools don't ask all these questions so that you can write some hastily composed answer.  For more about the application form, see my only post on the subject.  I know filling out forms is boring, but it is necessary.  This is is one of the easiest things to improve upon.  There is such a huge variation in the amount of information that applications ask for, that you really need to be aware of the differences.  Some applications, like HBS, don't give very much space to write anything (That is why a two-page resume at HBS is often a very good idea.), so making best possible use of the space you do have is critical.  Other applications, like Wharton's, give a significant of space to provide detailed answers. Take advantage of that space.  

Dinged after an invitation-only interview?  Chances are pretty good that you need to be focusing on improving your interview skills.  For more about how to proceed, see here. Practice with significant feedback can make a significant difference in the ultimate outcome. 

Recommendations really are a critical part of the application process. If you are not getting good R1 results, you might want to closely revisit this issue.   If you have not done so, try to review the content of your recommendations. If possible, show the recommendations to your admissions consultant or whoever else can give you a second opinion. Consider changing one or more of your recommenders. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
-Do my recommenders really know me well enough to tell convincing stories about me?
-Are my recommenders providing detailed examples or just mere generalities in their recommendations?  You want the former.
- Is there total content overlap between what my recommenders are writing about because they both have had similiar experiences with me?
-If you had to write your own recommendations, ask yourself whether admissions could easily see that was the case.  If so, you have a problem that needs to be addressed.  If you have to forge a recommendation, be a good forger. I am not suggesting that one forge recommendations, but I also know that such situations are far too common.
-Did you select the kind of recommenders that a particular school is looking for.  There are some differences to be aware of. While all schools want a supervisor, the requirements for additional recommenders really varies from school to school. For instance, Stanford wants a peer recomendation, while HBS does not.   Make sure you are selecting recommenders that fit each school you apply to.
-If you could not get an immediate supervisor, did you provide an explanation in the application?  All applications have an optional essay or additional information section for explaining this, so do so.

If R1 is not working for you, consider when you should make future applications.  For many, this will be second round, but for some, it might be better to wait for R3 or R4 or until R1 next year.  My suggestion is to do some scenario planning in order to closely consider your timing for entry into school.  I have worked with a number of clients who realized that they really needed another year to apply because they were not ready.  Negative R1 results can be an indicator that you are really rushing things.  If you control your application timing, apply when it is to your maximum advantage.

 I hope the above is helpful.  Best of luck with your future results!

Questions? Write comments, but do not send me emails asking me to advise you on your application strategy unless you are interested in my consulting services. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to.

For information about my admissions consulting services, please see http://adammarkus.com/

Before emailing me questions about your chances for admission or personal profile, please see my post on "Why I don't analyze profiles without consulting with the applicant."
-Adam Markus
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