Go to a better blog!

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.

March 08, 2012


As part of a series of general posts on MBA admissions strategy, I present the following extreme position.  Those looking for a sweet and friendly view of the business school admissions process that emphasizes collaboration will surely be disappointed. Here, I will offer a view of the MBA admissions process that is cynical, aggressive, and, I think, realistic.

Blogs, online communities, MBA admissions sites, MBA Tours, your GMAT class, and even your fellow applicants may create the illusion that you are part of a community when you apply. This is a lie. Ultimately you are either admitted or rejected. Every other applicant to a program you are applying to is in competition with you because they all have the possibility to take your potential seat.  There are only winners or losers in this process. Just as with a lifeboat, you either live because you have a seat or you drown. There is no middle ground. At the end of the day, even a waitlist that does not convert into an admit is a loss.  One can't get half admitted. I think keeping this fundamental fact in mind is important, especially when it comes to such issues as time allocation, information gathering, and information sharing.

Beware of "The Noise"
"The Noise" takes many forms.  Sites like GMAT Club, which often contain good information, are also filled with crap: Rumor, the pathetic wailing of losers who submitted bad applications,  shallow articles in newspapers and magazines, unethical and unprofessional applicant profile analysis by admissions consultants having the most scant information about the applicant, and other garbage found online.  The problem with The Noise is that it can become a time suck. Instead of preparing essays, practicing interviews, and/or networking with alumni and students, some applicants get sucked into The Noise.  Another problem with The Noise is that can actually misinform applicants by providing misleading information.  My suggestion is to certainly look at sites like GMAT Club, but be aware of the limitations of such information.

Taking advice from other applicants?
There are many good reasons to take advice from alumni and current students.  They have gone through the admissions process and succeeded.  Whatever they did worked for them, though of course, whether it will work for you is not so obvious. Still, they are not your competitors and probably are acting in good faith in terms of providing you with their best advice.  On the other hand, taking advice from other applicants, whether in the form of taking seriously what some guy has written in an online forum, having your essays reviewed by another applicant, or basing your application related decisions on second-hand information, is potentially a very high risk. Aside from the fact that what might apply to one applicant might not apply to you, I think it would be a mistake to assume that such advice is without vested interest (whether conscious or not).  In other words, other applicants might not really have your best interests at the top of their own agenda.  Be as cooperative as you like with other applicants, but focus on your own interests because this is a process that rewards individuals, not groups.

Other applicants are competitors but not ones you can directly defeat
Unlike most zero sum games where you are directly competing against others, the admissions process is an indirect zero sum game.  You are competing against other applicants, but you can't directly defeat enough of them to guarantee that you are offered admission.  Therefore there is no reason to think about them very specifically.  You can't impact other applicants essays, GMAT scores, backgrounds, interview performance, so there is no point in dwelling on them.  All you can do is submit the best application you can and prepare for an interview as effectively as possible. Some applicants worry about their competition instead of focusing on themselves.  Some even make extremely foolish direct comparisons between themselves and other applicants from their country or industry: "I'm one of the few Japanese applicants who really understands American culture!"  or  "Unlike most financial professionals, I am highly ethical and cooperative." Since you can't really know who your competition is, such comments make the applicant look rude, ignorant, overly agressive, and/or egotistical.  Every year since 2001, I have stopped applicants from making such comments in their essays and during interview preparation.

Share information only if it can't be used against you
I love the admissions reports I can get from Clear Admit, Accepted, and GMAT Club, but I would never advise anyone to submit such a report until after they have been admitted or rejected because it is not in their interest to do so.  I am happy that there are so many kind and generous people who think there is no consequence to providing such information to their competitors, but at least very indirectly there is. And I am not just discussing online reports, but also providing information to your friends who are applying at the same time as you are. Just get into a waitlist situation and you will quickly see that helping one other applicant with her interview is impacting your chance for admission. She may have been your sorority sister and your study partner in economics classes, but now she is a barrier to your admission. I often get interview reports from my clients, but I don't use them until after my clients' admissions results are in. It would unethical to do otherwise. When I do a mock interview, the questions I ask are based on reports that my own clients sent me from prior admissions cycles and the lovely content that naive applicants put up on the internet.  If you are not already familiar with the concept of being a free rider, I suggest you become one until your admissions results are in.  Once you are admitted, feel free to put up all the anonymous interview reports you want and share your experience with applicants.  Winners have earned bragging rights.

-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.
Real Time Web Analytics