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.

July 31, 2008

One year of blogging

I started blogging on graduate admissions in July of last year. Some told me that I should not use my own name as the blog name, but I told them that since I was presenting my own views and my consulting service, there seemed little value to coming up with the kind of clever brand name that many of my competitors use. Such brand names frequently obscure rather clarify the service that is being offered. And since I believe that I am my own brand, I have acted on that basis. So even with my slightly counterintuitive url, http://adam-markus.blogspot.com/, my readers have found me. No fancy tricks have been utilized to do so. My advanced method of "Search Engine Optimization" has simply involved having content that applicants want to read. I have also greatly benefited by links to my site from my fellow bloggers.

I would especially like to thank:
-Steve Green, my guest blogger and colleague
-ET, for valuable advice
-My wife, Akiko, for her support

I look forward to continuing to provide a unique perspective on admissions issues. By the way, I am sorry that I did not get my Kellogg post out this month, but it will be coming soon. I have had a busier off-season than I anticipated. Over the next week, I hope to get Kellogg, MIT, and INSEAD up. In addition, Duke, Tuck, Haas, Oxford, and Cambridge are also likely prospects for August.

-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス

July 30, 2008

Columbia Business School September Term 2009 Essays

You can find my comments on Columbia's interviews here.

You can find my post on who should apply for Early Decision here. I will not repeat that information below.

Before analyzing Columbia Business School’s September Term Essays for 2009, which are greatly changed from the September 2008 questions (see my earlier post) and even modified from the January 2009 questions, I would like to point out that
the DEAN IS GONE FROM THE QUESTIONS! NO MORE OVERLAP! Well Dean R. Glenn Hubbard is still the Dean of the Columbia Business School, but references to him and his ideas no longer are part of Essays 2 and 3. As my clients found, writing Columbia for September 2008 admission was particularly hard because of possible overlap between questions. Columbia has now provided a set of questions with no overlap.

I should also point out that Columbia has eliminated any questions that would likely involve writing about a non-professional topic. Specifically they eliminated Essay 4 on what are you most passionate about. Those applying for January 2009 will still have to write on that topic. I think applicants for September 2009 should refrain from feeling obligated to write on such personal topics because Columbia is clearly indicating that they don't care very much about them. That does not mean that you should not write on such topics if doing so will allow to write your most effective version of Essays 1, 2, and 3 below. Also, given the wording for Essay 4, don't feel obligated to write on this if you truly have no real concerns. I would not treat 4 as anything other than an optional essay.

Eliminating essay 4 also means that the recommended word count for Columbia is 1750 words. That is 50 words less than Stanford and HBS. All three schools have shortened the total word count for their applications. Given the high likelihood of a record number of applications because of a bad US economy, which will likely increase the number of domestic applications, and a cheap US dollar, which will likely increase the number of international applications, reducing the total word count is a sound survival strategy for these admissions offices. While the word counts for all three of Columbia's required questions are "recommended" and not required, I would suggest following those recommendations unless absolutely necessary to do otherwise. And always remember: If admissions did not ask about it (even indirectly), they don't care about it.

I have taken the September 2009 questions from the online application:

1. What are your short-term and long-term post-MBA goals? How will Columbia Business School help you achieve these goals? (Recommended 750 word limit)

Over the years, Columbia has been very consistent in the way they ask this question. At first glance, it does seem pretty straightforward and common, but if you have looked at other schools' essays, you will likely notice that something is missing from it. Compare it to Wharton and you will see that there is no reference to the past. While one must certainly address one's past when answering this question, there should be no extended analysis of your career progress to date and you need not emphasize how your past experience will contribute to your future goals. Instead focus this essay on showing how Columbia will help you achieve your goals. The resources available at CBS and Columbia University are vast, so figure out specifically what you want from the school. The program is flexible, so identify your needs from Columbia as specifically as possible. Also keep in mind that CBS recently changed its core curriculum. After all, you want to show them you love and need them (See my post on Early Decision for an analysis of Columbia's acceptances rate and yield in comparison to other top programs). For learning about what is hot at Columbia, I suggest taking a look at their blog: Public Offering. You may also want to write about taking a Master Class, so see the next question. Japanese applicants should most certainly visit http://columbiamba.jimdo.com/index.php.
Making a clear case why your goals are best achieved at CBS should be at the core of the essay. To make sure that they can see that, be very specific about what you need to learn at CBS to achieve your goals. I suggest reviewing some of the full course descriptions that you can find on their website.

If you are having problems clearly articulating your goals,
I suggest using my GAP, SWOT, AND ROI TABLE FOR FORMULATING GRADUATE DEGREE GOALS f (see below). I think Gap, SWOT, and ROI analysis are great ways for understanding what your goals are, why you want a degree, and how you will use it. (Click here for the Businessweek MBA ROI calculator. Click here for a GMAC report on MBA ROI. )

(To best view the following table, click on it. For a word version, please email me at adammarkus@gmail.com)

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?

, 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 graduate degree. 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, 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 than 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.

Making career goals exciting requires thinking about whether your goals are compelling. Admissions committees ask applicants to write about their goals after graduate school, but can applicants actually know what will be on the cutting-edge in two or three years? While many applicants will be able to successfully apply with relatively standard goals ("I want to be a consultant because..."), communicating aspirations requires going beyond the typical.

Be informed. 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 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. Some great general sources for learning what is hot: Harvard Working Knowledge, Harvard Business Review, University of Chicago GSB's Working Papers, The University of Chicago's Capital Ideas,
Stanford Social Innovation Review, Knowledge @ 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.

LinkedIn Answers: I would suggest that everyone join LinkedIn and make use of LinkedIn Answers. LinkedIn Answers is a great way to tap into cutting edge expertise (including my admissions advice!). Follow LinkedIn's rules and you will often be able to obtain excellent information.

Hoovers: For information about specific companies, Hoovers is just a great way to learn about key facts including competitors (a very useful way of knowing who else you might want to work for and to learn about an industry). While primarily focused on the US, Hoovers does have listings for companies worldwide.

Vault: For scope of coverage, this site is a must. Vault includes both career and admissions information. It includes both company specific and industry-wide information.

Other sources: Read magazines, websites, and books that relate to your intended field.

2. Master Classes are the epitome of bridging the gap between theory and practice at Columbia Business School. View link below. Please provide an example from your own life in which practical experience taught you more than theory alone. (Recommended 500 word limit)

Before doing anything, watch the Master Class video. If, at the end of the video, you are not highly motivated by what you have seen, don't apply to Columbia and reconsider whether you really want an MBA. From my perspective, the video does an excellent job of selling Columbia, of differentiating it from other top schools (see the HBS Case Study video for an interesting contrast), and of informing the viewer about exactly what practice is. The message is clear: Columbia will teach you how to do business, go elsewhere (HBS for case studies and Chicago GSB for lectures, perhaps) if you primarily want to learn business theory.

At first glance, some might find this essay question difficult, but actually it is rather simple:
1. Pick an experience in your own life where you learned more from practice than theory.
2. State what the theory was.
3. Show how practice was a better teacher.
4. Describe what you learned.
5. Describe the outcome. This is not stated, but the proof of practice is in the result.
6. Keep in mind that you do not need to talk about the video or the Master Classes when answering this question. It is, of course, worth mentioning the Master Classes in Essay 1. You can view the Master Class Course Descriptions on the Columbia website.

Given that essay three is about team failure, I suggest you select an accomplishment for essay two and not a team story. It might be personal or professional. Obviously it should only be academic if the point is to show how you had to go beyond theory. Many applicants will probably write on a professional accomplishment story where they had to think and act outside of the box. This is quite a reasonable choice. Some applicants might write on something personal and it is possible for this topic to work but if that is the case, then you should be sure that what you learned and what the story reveals about you are both very significant.

3. Please provide an example of a team failure of which you've been a part. If given a second chance, what would you do differently? (Recommended 500 word limit)

This question combines two common topics- failure and teams.

I think the reason that business schools ask about failure is because they want to see that you have the ability to learn from errors and/or problems.
Some readers will find reviewing my analysis of Wharton's failure question helpful.

Clearly, teams play an important role both in most professionals lives and at most business schools. Assessing your potential as a team leader and a team player is an important way for admissions to determine whether you will fit in their program and have the kind of predisposition to succeed professionally afterwards. It is quite a change for Columbia to be asking about teamwork ability per se, but as you look at Columbia's curriculum you will see that teamwork plays an important part in the classroom.

I think it is important that we read what is written here very closely as it will help you see that there are multiple correct ways to answer this question.

First, keep in mind that you may not necessarily have been the cause of the failure because it just simply says you are a part of a team that failed. Therefore the team will be one where you are the team leader or a team member.

Second, given that they are asking specifically about a team failure, your failure should be one where the team itself was at fault. This might seem like an obvious point, but many weak answers to this question will focus on a failure and then focus on the team as at best a secondary consideration. Make sure that your essay is one where the team aspect of the story is strong.

Third, the team could be a failure in one of two ways. One option is that the team could simply have failed to complete its external objectives due to a problem or problems relating to the composition, actions, and/or dynamics of the team itself. For example, a team fails to create a new business model due to the fact that the team leader cannot effectively manage the diverse perspectives of her team members. Another is that the team could have succeeded at its external objectives, but you might perceive it as failure due to a problem with the team. For instance, you successfully led a team to complete a project, but by the end of the project, the team members complain that you did not effectively share project responsibilities. In either case, the basic structure for this essay would most likely be:

1. Clearly state what kind of team you were on.
2. Clearly state your role on the team.
3. Explain how the team failed.
4. Explain what you learned from the failure.
5. Explain what you would do differently if you were in the same situation.

Fourth, when you think about what you learned and what you would do differently think deeply about it because you will be revealing the depth of your thinking (perhaps your EQ) about teams. Assume that the reason Columbia is asking this question is because they are looking for more students who will be effective team leaders and team players.

4. (Optional) Is there any further information that you wish to provide to the Admissions Committee? (Please use this space to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history.)

As with other school's optional questions, do not put an obvious essay for another school here. If you have negative issues of concern, see my post on the Chicago's optional essay. 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, but my suggestion is to keep it brief so as to be consistent with the length for the other essays, ideally around 100-500 words.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to.

-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス

MBA留学 ビジネススクール カウンセリング コンサルティング コロンビア・ビジネス・スクール エッセイ

July 29, 2008

Admissions Officer Q&A: Indian School of Business

While my blog is basically focused on American and European schools, I am pleased to offer my first post on one of Asia's rising stars, the Indian School of Business (ISB) in Hyderabad. Given the long-term growth potential of India and the incredible talent of its entrepreneurs, I expect that interest in studying at ISB on the part of both the world's best Indian and non-Indian applicants will only increase with time.

The ISB's Ch. Hima Bindu, Assistant Director - Admissions and Financial Aid, was kind enough to answer my questions regarding the Post Graduate Program in Management (PGPM). The PGPM, equivalent to and recognized as an MBA is an intensive one-year program that begins in April. In addition to the interview below, those interested in learning more about the PGPM should visit the program's very informative website.
ADAM: To be honest, I first became aware of ISB when one of my former clients, a Kellogg student, told me that he had an amazing time as an exchange student at ISB. Earlier this year, when I started looking at MBA starting salaries provided by FT, I realized that ISB had one of the best ROI's of any program worldwide. How has ISB become so good at placing its students in such a short time?

HIMA: We can attribute our success to three factors:

- The quality of education and highly skilled students at the ISB. The students at ISB are high achieving professionals with high caliber academic backgrounds and work experience that, recruiters vie to hire them after a year at the ISB.

- The extensive corporate network we have through our Board.
- A dedicated placement team which works all year round. From getting the best companies on campus to helping a student in resume-writing and presentation skills. Also, this department looks into any specific requirement that a students may have. This year, we have a separate cell to place students with high work experience.

ADAM: ISB'S Post Graduate Program in Management (PGM) is presently ranked 20th in FT's ranking of MBA Program's Worldwide. Considering that the PGPM only started in 2001, what do you think explains ISB's ranking?

HIMA: There are quite a few factors which collectively contributed to this some of which are
- Career progression of alumni
- The quality of ISB faculty
- Research credentials of ISB
- Strong industry and institute interaction
-The strong class profile over the years strong not only on academic achievements but also on diversity

ADAM: For many readers of this blog, who are mostly thinking about attending schools in Europe and the US, their most likely point of contact with ISB will be either on exchange programs to ISB or by meeting ISB exchange students at their schools. Could you explain a little bit about how ISB exchange programs work? More specifically: (1) Why would someone want to do an exchange program at ISB? (2) How important is the exchange program for students at ISB?

HIMA: Students from foreign countries and universities who come to ISB for an exchange programme, get to have a first-hand knowledge of the Indian business scenario. They can apply the management principles that they learn in class to the Indian context. The Indian economy is gradually becoming strong and buoyant and any corporation worth its salt is clamouring for a slice of the Indian market. So, this is just the right time for a neophyte in business practices to hone his skills right here in India.

ADAM: A number of my readers are from India, but generally find me because they are applying to American and/or European schools. Why would you encourage them to consider ISB?

HIMA: Again, the answer to this Q. is pretty much the same as above. For precisely the same reason that India is gradually becoming the hub of the global economies and there's is nothing like learning
the ropes of the trade in India itself. A happening economy with a potential for large markets of the future. The ISB offers global faculty from Wharton, Kellogg and London Business School. They should consider ISB for a chance to learn from faculty which is world class and curriculum which is contemporary.

ADAM: While I understand why ISB has to issue a PGPM instead of an MBA, for readers not familiar with the way the Indian government regulates educational institutions, can you explain it?

HIMA: Government regulations ISB believes merit is the only criteria on which students should be selected. ISB has always emphasized on selecting the highest quality of students irrespective of gender, caste or economic background and wishes to maintain this independence in selection. In India you need to be a university or deemed university to issue a masters degree but this will involve coming under the purview of Government regulations.

ADAM: How important are the application essays in determining who to admit?

HIMA: Application essays give us an insight into a students, leadership potential, maturity of thinking, analytical ability, diversity to the class, etc,. They help us in gaining a holistic perspective of the student, so are very crucial. Many times good essays, validated by interview have been responsible for admission keeping aside other scores.

ADAM: How important are recommendations? What constitutes a great recommendation?

HIMA: Very important. A potential students quality of work, career progression, initiative, crisis management skills are garnered from his Recommendations. Recommendations need to be honest, straight forward information on a student not glorified endorsements. A recommendation which gives a balanced view of the student strengths and weaknesses, throws light on his achievements and failures, shows his skill set is good.

ADAM: How important is the interview?

HIMA: Again very important and the deciding factor as only 40% of students get the offer after an interview.

ADAM: How important are campus visits? Do you keep track of who visits? Does it impact their chances for admission?

HIMA: Campus visits help a prospective applicant to see the institute and make up his mind. We do keep track of who visits but our decisions are not influenced by these visits.

ADAM: Can you provide my readers with some idea of how difficult it is to get into ISB?

HIMA: The competition varies from year to year. So, it is very difficult to give any concrete answer to this question. But a guesstimate would be 1:10.

ADAM: What changes to do you expect to see at ISB in the coming years?

HIMA: There are quite a few things on the anvil, in the near future we hope to
- Establish the next Research Centre of Excellence in Strategic Marketing
- Begin a new campus at Mohali in the northern part of India
- Start a pre-doctoral and Ph.D. programmes

ADAM: Can applicants get in touch with alums and current students? How?

HIMA: Yes. The applicant just needs to send an e-mail to the admissions office at pgpadmissions@isb.edu and they will put him in touch with a current student or alum.

ADAM: Can applicants get in touch with faculty members who they have a strong desire to work with?

HIMA: This can be handled on a case by case basis, where students request to meet with faculty prior to admission can be forwarded to faculty for their permission.

ADAM: Is there anything else you would like us to know about ISB?

HIMA: ISB is a young not for profit organization set up to develop research for India and the emerging economies the Post Graduate Programme at ISB is just the flagship programme. We are the largest in Asia in Executive Education and we have six centres of excellence focused on generating research for the new economies. The research centres are excellent exposure for students to gain a glimpse into the latest concepts in emerging markets – The Bottom of the Pyramid laboratory on campus is an example.

I want to thank Hima for taking the time to answer my questions.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to.
-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス

ビジネススクール, MBA留学

July 26, 2008


I would recommend that Japanese interested in attending MIT Sloan attend the event below. (CLICK HERE FOR FALL 2009 MIT SLOAN CLASS OF 2011 ESSAY QUESTION ANALYSIS.)

時間:15:00 (14:30受付開始)
場所:ドイツ銀行 山王パークタワー19階ROOM1

July 25, 2008


For Japanese interested in attending the Johnson School, I strongly recommend attending the event below.


コーネル大学ジョンソンスクールでは、学校説明会を以下の要綱にて開催いたします。当日は在校生に加え、様々な業界で活躍中の卒業生も参加し、フレンドリースクールで知られる本校の特長・魅力をご紹介するとともに、MBA全般や受験に関することなども含め、皆様の疑問にざっくばらんにお答えします。また当日は懇親会(Coffee Hour)にて、皆様と個別にお話しさせていただく機会も設けさせていただきます。


日時: 89日(土)13:3016:3013:00受付開始]
 懇親会(Coffee Hour

場所: ホテルニューオータニ東京 1階 edo ROOM

     102-8578 東京都千代田区紀尾井町4-1
     電話番号: 03-3265-1111(ホテル代表番号)




定員: 100名 (定員になり次第お申込を締め切らせていただきます。)


  • 本校のアドミッションスタッフは出席いたしません。また当説明会は在校生・卒業生がボランティアで行っており、アドミッションプロセスとは一切関係ありませんので、あらかじめご了承ください。

  • 当日はカジュアルな服装でお越しください。 



Why I don't analyze profiles without consulting with the applicant

Dear Adam,
I wonder if you could tell me what my chances to get to get admitted to HBS, Stanford, Wharton, Haas, Tuck, and MIT are. My scores are... My GPA is... I have worked for...

I receive requests like the above via email to analyze someone's profile to determine their chances for admission. Of course, I have a FAQ that states that I consider it unethical to provide such information and that I only provide individual advice to my clients, but I don't think that many people read my FAQ. And those who make such requests want free information. I don't blame them from trying to get what they can, especially because there are other admissions consultants who will provide such "advice."

Frankly, I consider such "advice" to be both unethical and unprofessional because the information that is provided by the applicant is usually far too limited to really be the basis for a useful assessment. I only provide such an initial assessment when a talk with a potential client. Even then, much really depends on their application, their interview, and the admissions process.

While I can certainly tell someone that their chances for admission are probably below the acceptance rate if they are outside of the 80% for a program's age, GMAT, TOEFL, and/or GPA requirements, the person should, if they are not too lazy to look up the most basic facts about a school, be aware of that already. Usually, of course, the issue comes down to those who are in the 80% range (or perhaps outside it in one category) and it is especially at that point that I simply think it is wrong to provide such an assessment. There are two main reasons why I think this:

1. Since 2001, I have worked with or known of applicants who, if judged by their profile might not look like ideal candidates, but who were admitted to top programs. If they had followed the advice of someone who simply focused on their profile, they would not have achieved their impressive result(s). I am thinking of those admitted to HBS and Stanford with GMAT scores significantly below 700. I am thinking of a couple of applicants with secretarial level experience who were admitted to multiple "Top 10" MBA Programs. I am thinking of a client who was recently admitted to a top program with a relatively low TOEFL score. I am thinking of one of my blog readers who was admitted to a top program this year with a GMAT score significantly below the 80% range. I am thinking of a client admitted to Haas with a GPA below 3.0. I am thinking of the guy from a couple of years ago who I never thought would have a chance to get admitted to HBS (I did not tell him that!), but was. I am thinking of all these people and then I think of those whose experiences were similar whom I never had the opportunity of knowing and I become humble.

I become humble because I know the admissions process is one that rewards individual effort and often punishes those that lack it. I know of applicants with great profiles and weak applications (I do reapplication counseling) who wonder why they were dinged. I know why they were. But the thing is, when someone sends me an email with a bit of information about them, I can't say whether they have any chance at all because I don't know them. I don't know their passion, the real nature of their experience, their ability to handle an interview, or any of the other things that I learn about an applicant through talking with them. Maybe somebody thinks applicant assessment is a science, but I tell you it is an art.

2. Top MBA programs do judge applicants based on applications and interviews, therefore I consider it wrong to judge an applicant based on anything else. (Please don't send me your applications because I will not read them. That is what my clients pay me for.) Assuming an applicant is in, or is close to the 80% range in terms of core numbers (test scores, GPA, age, years of work experience), to me it is utterly pointless to judge an applicant's overall chances based on anything other than the application.

I know when an application is competitive, but given that I don't know the rest of the applicant pool and don't know who specifically is going to be reading the application, I can never be absolutely certain of the outcome.
Once we add in the interview element, the level of uncertainly only increases. It is my business to know what admissions committees are looking for, but that is different from knowing the person initially screening an application or the person interviewing an applicant. Given the turnover among admissions staff and changing criteria when a new admissions director takes over, even an admissions consultant who worked in a specific admissions office will within a relatively short amount of time be making their judgments based on old information. For example, admissions at Stanford GSB under Derrick Bolton and Chicago GSB under Rose Martinelli have dramatically changed, so that anyone providing advice based on working in admissions at those offices previously is providing either out of date "inside" information or new information that they (like you or me) obtained externally.

Schools make very different judgments about applicants. For example, every year I have had clients who were admitted to their top choice school and dinged at one that was lower ranked.
Sometimes the explanation can be found in the differences between admissions rates, but sometimes it simply defies an explanation. We might attribute it to "fit" but sometimes it simply is not subject to an obvious explanation. Some will be unhappy to read this, but admissions is a human process subject to chance. My job is to try and help someone mitigate that risk, but I can't eliminate it. No admissions consultant can. And if an admissions consultant can't know whether you will be admitted or dinged when they read your application, they certainly can't when they don't read it.

My approach to admissions consulting is client focused. That is to say, I need to know my client first before making any ultimate assessment about their application. It is only by knowing the person that I can effectively determine whether the application represents them at their best. I am confident enough about my own abilities to know that I add the most value to my clients by utilizing this method.

Even before a client pays me, I make an initial assessment based on talking with them. Two things are happening when I initially consult with someone to determine whether we should work together. First, the potential client is determining whether they want to work with me. Second, I am determining whether I want to work with the client. Fortunately I am in a position where I can afford to reject those I don't want to work with. It is my assessment of the person that determines whether I want to work with them.

I typically reject working with applicants who demonstrate a lack of commitment to the admissions process, a clear lack of maturity, and/or simply because I don't get a good feeling about them. I don't reject working with someone because of where they are applying to or because their chances for admission maybe low because of test scores or some other factor. I work with my clients to help them determine how much risk they want to take. For some, a high-risk strategy is reasonable because the ROI on going to a lower ranked program makes no sense. For others, their need to get admitted means we need to determine the right mix of schools to maximize their chances of admission to get into the best program they can. In either case, as long as someone is realistic, that is what matters to me.

I know my approach to applicants and applications is not for everyone, nor can everyone afford to use services like mine. One of the reasons I write this blog is to help those I can't advise personally. I know it is no substitute for working with an admissions consulting professional, but I do hope it helps.

Finally, feel free to get the "advice" of those who will do a free profile assessment, but do keep in mind that you get what you pay for. And also don't be surprised if the "advice" you receive is consistently hedging. After all, it is easy to tell someone their chances for admission might be a bit low, especially if they are applying to programs with low rates of acceptance. Also, if someone tells you that your scores are a little low or that you might be a bit too old, just do a bit of research to confirm what you are being told. Unless it is a very clear-cut case, it never hurts to check with admissions first. If admissions tells you that your chances are low or non-existent than I would suggest you consider other options. On the other hand, if you get no specific advice from admissions, but really want to go to the school, I suggest you apply. Just think about the overall portfolio of programs you are applying to and determine how much risk you want to take. Everyone wants a sure thing. That is human nature. If you want to attend a top MBA program, I suggest embracing risk. Life is too short to play it safe.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to.
-Adam Markus
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ビジネススクール, MBA留学

July 23, 2008

Chicago GSB Fall 2009 Optional Essay & an Overall Plan

11/9/08 Note: "The Chicago GSB" is now called "The University of Chicago Booth School of Business."

This is the fourth post in a four part series. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

Before discussing an overall plan for addressing the Fall 2009 University of Chicago GSB's MBA application questions, we need to look at the optional essay.

The University of Chicago GSB's MBA application for the Class of 2011 also includes space for an optional essay. I have taken the tip below from the online application. The question and the tip read as follows:

Optional Essay If there is any important information that is relevant for your candidacy that you were unable to address elsewhere in the application, please share that information here.

Optional Essay Tip
The optional essay is provided to give you an opportunity to explain any potential anomalies or ambiguity in your application. For example, you can explain why you did not use your current employer to write your recommendation, you might provide some clarity as to why there are significant gaps in your resume, or you may help us to understand why your grades declined in your junior year.
Please note this question is very functional in its design, it is to provide clarity on aspects of the application, not to give you an opportunity to write another creative essay.

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. DO NOT USE IT FOR ANY OTHER PURPOSE. Yes, you may have written a great essay for Tuck, Wharton, Harvard, Stanford, NYU, MIT, INSEAD, Columbia, or London Business School, but unless your objective is to tell that to Chicago GSB don't include it here. GSB gives you two essays and a slide presentation to write about all the good stuff. YOU ONLY NEED TO WRITE THIS IF YOU HAVE SOMETHING POTENTIALLY NEGATIVE TO EXPLAIN.

Finally, 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.

Now that we have dispensed with the Optional Essay, let's consider a overall plan for handling this essay set.

Start with Question One

You need to effectively segment your content. Question 1 has a clear focus, so it is best to start there. In general, for any application, starting with the goals essay always makes sense because what you say in it will impact what you say elsewhere. After all you want to show how other aspects of who you are will support your goals.

This is really up to you. Some applicants will find it easier to start with Essay 2 and others will find it easier to start with the Slide presentation. I think given the fact that Essay 2 is partially focused on why Chicago GSB, many applicants will find it easier to write Essay 2 in tandem with Essay 1.

Write the Optional Essay if you need to. Just remember what I wrote before about it.

After you have written everything, make sure it works as part of your entire application strategy. Review your entire application and think about whether you have presented all aspects of yourself as clearly as possible. Specifically think about your application meets Chicago GSB's three central evaluation criteria: curriculum, community, and career.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to.
-Adam Markus
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シカゴ、ビジネススクール, MBA留学

Chicago GSB Fall 2009 Slide Presentation

This is the third post in a four part series. Part 1. Part 2. Part 4.

This is the second year that the University of Chicago GSB has required a slide presentation. Based on working with a client who was admitted there as well as with a couple of clients whose applications resulted in interview invitations, I am confident that the advice I offer below is effective. Actually, my Chicago GSB results for Fall 2008 admission were one admit, one post-interview waitlist, and one post-interview ding. None of my clients were dinged without interview, which indicates that their applications were strong.

It is not often that a school’s essay question gets the attention of the press, but the University of Chicago GSB’s Question Three
did that last year. While the mandatory use of PowerPoint is novel, is this question so odd? See below!

After I analyze GSB's PowerPoint question, I conclude with some specific suggestions for how to brainstorm for your answer.

While Chicago GSB has proven itself to have an absolutely brilliant PR strategy by issuing
press releases and otherwise making it appear that this is totally new, I think this is only partially the case, as I will discuss below. Chicago is the first school to require a PowerPoint as a part of the application, but it is not the first to allow the use of one as part of the process.

  1. The content is completely up to you. There is no right or wrong approach this essay. Feel free to use the software you are most comfortable with. Acceptable formats for upload in the online application system are PowerPoint or PDF.
  2. There is a strict maximum of 4 slides, though you can provide fewer than 4 if you choose.
  3. Slides will be printed and added to your file for review, therefore, flash, hyperlinks, embedded videos, music, etc. will not be viewed by the committee. You are limited to text and static images to convey your points. Color may be used.
  4. Slides will be evaluated on the quality of content and ability to convey your ideas, not on technical expertise or presentation.
  5. You are welcome to attach a document containing notes if you feel a deeper explanation of your slides is necessary. However the hope is the slide is able to stand alone and convey your ideas clearly. You will not be penalized for adding notes but you should not construct a slide with the intention of using the notes section as a consistent means of explanation. (200 words maximum, see online application).
Two Prior Uses of PowerPoint in the MBA Application Process:
I think it is important to realize that Chicago GSB is not the first school to allow for the use of PowerPoint or other presentation slide content as part of the application process.
The use of slide presentations has long been a possibility for both NYU Stern and HEC.

First, it has been possible to create a short PowerPoint presentation as part of the NYU Stern process for years. The Stern question reads:
Please describe yourself to your MBA classmates. You may use almost any method to convey your message (e.g. words, illustrations). Feel free to be creative.
One such method for doing so is an actual presentation. Whether made with PowerPoint or other tools, applicants have been doing this, both successfully and unsuccessfully, for years.

HEC (Ranked Number 1 in Europe by the
Financial Time, see full rankings here) requires presentations as part of its interview process. The relevant part of the instructions are as follows:
The interview starts with a 10-minute presentation made by the candidate on the subject of his/her choice. The main objective of this presentation is to judge the candidate's communication and presentation skills, the capability to synthesize a subject in 10 minutes while keeping the interest of the audience. The candidate may use any presentation method he or she wishes, such as transparencies, notes, slides, etc.

The presentation is then followed by 30 to 40 minutes of questions and answers, first on the presentation, then on the candidate's motivation and other elements mentioned in his/her application.
Actually, HEC candidates have to make this presentation twice to different interviewers. Now, while it is possible to not use PowerPoint to make one’s HEC presentation, I have never worked with anyone who did that.

I point out the above two examples out merely to show that while GSB's use of PowerPoint is certainly novel, it is not without precedent.


Consider some of the standard parts of the application and how they reflect on the applicant's abilities:

RESUME: Ability to effectively convey one's core professional, academic, and personal experience for the purposes of getting selected for an interview.

GOALS ESSAYS: Ability to clearly articulate a plan.

INTERVIEW: Ability to effectively convince an interviewer that you are good fit for the organization (in this case as a student in B-School).

RECOMMENDATIONS: Ability to obtain powerful endorsements designed to help convince a selection committee.

Looked at from this perspective,
PowerPoint is a fundamental business skill. Like MIT Sloan's cover letter and every school's resume, at some level, Chicago 3 is testing the applicant's basic business skills. Why not test for it?

Anyone who has been or wants to be a businessperson will have spent countless hours preparing and delivering presentations. If you want to go do IPO Roadshows, sell a room of people your services, convince a Board of Directors, etc, you will need slides and those slides will be made with PowerPoint. It seems totally reasonable to me to ask anyone to use it because they will have to anyway.

Especially if you don't know how to use PowerPoint, my suggestion is NOT to focus on style, but on your content. That actually is true for anyone (even those who are PowerPoint Gurus) and is clearly the message that GSB is delivering: This question is not designed to evaluate the applicants’ PowerPoint expertise, but rather to reveal how people think and communicate their ideas. This question, like the rest of the essay questions, is designed to provoke critical thought and self-reflection, not just their creativity. It is the message within the slides that is important, not the presentation.

Rose Martinelli's comments above clearly indicate that the focus is on the message, not the overall aesthetics of the presentation.

NO. I think it is a test of your ability to prepare a very simple presentation about yourself.
Remember that you are preparing slides for a presentation that will only be delivered on paper and unlike a presentation that you would deliver, you are not able to take advantage of what PowerPoint can do:
Slides will be printed and added to your file for review, therefore, flash, hyperlinks, embedded videos, music, etc. will not be viewed by the committee. You are limited to text and static images to convey your points. Color may be used.

In fact, for anyone who has actually is good at PowerPoint, they may find it necessary to compromise on their aesthetics and technical skills in order to most effectively answer the question. Especially those who believe in providing a minimal amount of content per slide might find it necessary to increase the amount of content they include.

As someone who spent the last four years making the transition from text heavy slides to minimalist ones when delivering sales and marketing presentations, I know that if I had to answer this question, I would have to compromise on what I consider to be my own best practices for making PowerPoint slides.

Always remember that you are being tested on your ability to prepare a presentation, not to deliver one. Hence, you should always first think of this as a text that will be read, not one that will be spoken.

If you still think you need to learn more about PowerPoint, I suggest reading Presenting to Win by Jerry Weissman, the Silicon Valley PowerPoint Guru. When I first read Chicago's question, I looked for a book focused on the story telling aspect of PowerPoint and I think this is it. You can read my mini-review and buy the book here. Visit Weissman's site here.

Given GSB's very specific instructions about the Notes, you should think about them as an opportunity to explain something in the slide in greater depth, but not as a speech for the slides:
You are welcome to attach a document containing notes if you feel a deeper explanation of your slides is necessary. However the hope is the slide is able to stand alone and convey your ideas clearly. You will not be penalized for adding notes but you should not construct a slide with the intention of using the notes section as a consistent means of explanation.

Let's Think About Length
You will have four slides plus 200 words for the notes to communicate your message.
Regarding the notes, Rose Martinelli has further stated that the notes document "should not exceed one paragraph per slide." Depending on your perspective, this might seem like a great deal of text or not very much. Given that the notes give you about 50 words to further clarify each slide, the actual total amount of content is really likely to be in the 300-600 word range depending on what you do with the slides.

Rose Martinelli says:
In many respects we are looking for similar things in the slides as we would in the essays. We are looking for organized thoughts, strong communication skills, and the ability to convey ideas clearly. We will also be looking at an applicant's ability to be insightful and their willingness to express themselves in a new medium. In some respects, this question adds an element of risk to the application that has not been there before.
I think it is helpful to conceive of as have exactly the same function as an essay, but you should consider...
including visual imagery AND/OR
using bullet points AND/OR
using metaphors AND/OR
being non-linear AND/OR
minimizing or eliminating introductions and conclusions.
Rose Martinelli states:
Well, as you know, the Chicago GSB has a reputation for challenging norms. In some respects that is what the PowerPoint is doing. Traditional essays, although helpful in the application process, tend to be confining. Essay questions do not allow applicants to fully stretch beyond the question and communicate their strengths, weaknesses, passions etc. The PowerPoint slide is our way of giving applicants a blank slate on which to communicate with us. There aren't many restrictions for an applicant, and they have free reign to communicate to the committee whatever they feel is valuable for us to know. An applicant can expand upon their application or they can go beyond it and reveal something completely new. This is their opportunity to express themselves without guidance or restriction.
Thus you would best advised to not simply take an essay and divide it among the four slides. Instead, show creativity. One effective way to organize your slides is to have each slide make one key point or communicate one key idea about you. And in a real sense, this is no different from what a good paragraph should do.

Now that we have looked at the overall context for this question, let’s think about what is actually being asked.

What was the question again?
you would like your future classmates to know about you" is very simple. I could restate it as "please help your future classmates understand who you are and why they would want you to be their classmate."

1. As the beginning of the question states, Chicago GSB has already asked for "a great deal of information throughout this application." This is stated in contrast to what they want you to tell them. Therefore don't focus on facts that they can find elsewhere in the application.
2. In Essay 1, you have already discussed your goals and why you want an MBA from Chicago, so don't discuss goals and why MBA here.

Some Questions to get you brainstorming:
1. What do you want Chicago GSB to know about you that would positively impact your chances for admission?
2. What major positive aspects of your life have not been effectively INTERPRETED to the admissions committee in other parts of the application?
3. If you were going to tell admissions four things about you that would not be obvious from rest of the application, what would they be? Why should GSB care?
4. If there was one story about yourself that you think would really help admissions understand you and want to admit you, what is it?
5. Do you have a personal interest (painting and poetry for example) that would work effectively in a PowerPoint?
6. If you have a sense of humor and/or creativity, how can you express it here? I suggest doing so if you can.

As you can see, these questions would lead to very different kinds of responses. There is no one way to answer this question, but I believe there are right ways for every applicant to do so.

Last year, one of my readers asked three very good questions about the Slide Presentation. I am reprinting them in slightly altered form below.

1) In your opinion, should one use a minimalistic approach involving images to convey one's ideas?

I think this will really depend on you. The important thing is to effectively convey something important about who you are to the admissions committee. If that can be done effectively with more images that is great, if it can be done effectively with minimal or no images that is also great. The important thing is that your reader understands the significance of any images you use. Luckily, you have the notes for that purpose. Just as in "real" PowerPoints, images or any graphic element can be used effectively or badly. Always ask yourself, "Why am I using this image? Does it really help them understand me?" If it does, keep it. If it is mere decoration, think about eliminating it or replacing it with something that will have a positive impact on Chicago GSB's ability to understand who you are.

2) Would a little bit of humor do good e.g. a cartoon?
Keeping in mind what I just wrote above, I think humor can be used effectively. You must practice extremely good judgment when using humor for any application. Don't make a joke simply to make one. Use humor if it is effective in conveying something that will compel Rose and her colleagues to want to interview you. That said, I have had a number of clients who successfully used humor in their applications for Chicago GSB.

3) Is GSB looking for an analytical assessment of one's personality in these slides?

I think they are looking for a meaningful assessment of your personality. I will not say "analytical" because that is just one possibility. If by "analytical" you mean a detailed explanation for your character making use of standard forms of argument, it is fine to do it that way, but not the only way. I use the word "meaningful" because it does not necessarily require logic or analysis to do so. For example, an image with some kind of description may provide Chicago GSB with great insight into who you are. Since Chicago is specifically being "non-traditional," you certainly can be also so long as you answer the question.

Finally, think big and be creative. To answer this one effectively will take time, but if you want to get into Chicago GSB, put in the time.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to.
-Adam Markus
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Chicago GSB Fall 2009 Essay 2

This is the second post in a four part series. Part 1. Part 3. Part 4.

The biggest change to the University of Chicago GSB's application for Fall 2009 admission is Essay 2:

Please select one of the following two questions to answer. (1000 word maximum)

Before analyzing each option separately, I think it is useful to analyze what they have in common. Both options relate directly to Chicago GSB's only required course, Leadership Effectiveness and Development (LEAD) Program. According to the LEAD Program website:

Leadership depends on your ability to:
If you think about the topics for both of these questions, they very much involve these three elements of leadership. More specifically Part a) relates to influencing outcomes and Part b) relates to building relationships and/or influencing people.

Both options specifically relate to decision-making, a subject Chicago GSB takes quite seriously. Chicago GSB has a Center for Decision Research:
The Center for Decision Research is devoted to the study of how individuals form judgments and make decisions. Researchers at the Center examine the processes by which intuition, reasoning, and social interaction produce beliefs, judgments, and choices. Understanding how and why people make decisions has important applications in a range of contexts, including management, marketing, finance, and public policy.

Decision making at GSB is not an abstraction, but something that is subject to intensive scholarly research. You might want to consider how you could take advantage of such an academic approach to decision making when considering Part c).

I think it is important to see that the question on the one hand is a leadership question and on the other is your self-assessment about how a University of Chicago GSB MBA would enhance your own abilities.

Both options for this question have a Part b) focused on how you related to other people. I would treat this as formal constraint on the kind of story you tell. Chicago wants insight into how other people play a role in your decisions, so make sure that you effectively explain the role of others in the story you write about.

As I mentioned in my analysis of Essay 1, it is helpful to think about the gap between your current abilities and those required for your intended future. My GSR table will actually help you do this.
Given that you will need to tell a story in Parts a) & b) of the question that will lead to you being able to talk about what you want to learn at GSB, I suggest you do a self-assessment before selecting a specific topic. Of course, some will find it easier to begin with Part a) but from my perspective, thinking about Part c) first can actually help you determine which story will work best here.

That will really depend on your experience. My suggestion is that if you have a great story that fits this question, regardless of whether it is professional or not, use it. As mentioned above, I think a more important consideration is that you have a story that fits Part c) of the question

The University of Chicago is one of the most intellectually vibrant places on the planet. Anyone who wants to go there had better figure out how to make full use of the vast financial, economic, and management scholarly resources that it offers. I think Essay 2 is an excellent way for admissions to determine the extent to which you are compatible with the core mission of the GSB:

We are the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. Since 1898, we have produced ideas and leaders that shape the world of business. Our rigorous, discipline-based approach to business education transforms our students into confident, effective, respected business leaders prepared to face the toughest challenges. At Chicago GSB, we constantly question, test ideas, and seek proof. This extraordinarily effective approach to business leads to new ideas and innovative solutions.

Therefore when you are thinking about Essay 2, think about how the story you tell will demonstrate to the admissions committee your potential for being the kind of business leader that the University of Chicago is committed to cultivating.

Given that you have 1000 words to answer this question, I would suggest you reserve at least 30% of them for answering Part c). This really is the "Why Chicago?" portion of the essay set. Therefore, give multiple reasons for why what you would learn at Chicago GSB would have improved your decision making. I suggest you specifically discuss those aspects of the GSB that make you want to apply there.

Option 1
a) Please provide an example of a time when you had to make a choice between two equally important obligations. How did you decide which obligation deserved your attention? b) Did you try and predict other people's reactions to your decision? If so, how accurate were you? Why do you think you were or were not accurate in your prediction? c) Reflecting on this experience, how do you think an MBA from Chicago GSB might have aided in your decision making process?


Without calling this an ethical dilemma, it is one. Many applicants will find that if they write on this topic, they will be in a good position to reuse this essay for any ethical dilemma topics they encounter with another school's essays. Additionally the story will be useful for interviews. Here is how I suggest you structure Part a) of this essay:
1) Briefly explain the context for your decision.
2) State clearly why each obligation was of importance and be convincing about why they were of equal importance.
3) Describe your decision-making process.
4) Describe the outcome.

In this section, you need to consider the role of others in your decision-making process. By asking about whether you tried to predict how others reacted, I think admissions is specifically trying to measure your intuition and social imagination or, in other words, your emotional intelligence. If you failed to consider how others would react or did not fully predict their reaction, you will find that Part b) will help you write Part c).
For part b), even if you did not try to predict other people's reactions, explain why you did not. Actually doing so should help you discover an area of improvement you can write about in part c).

If you did try to predict other people's reactions and were inaccurate or were only partially accurate you have a good topic of Part c) of this essay.

If you successfully predicted how other people would react, you will not find your answer to Part c) in Part b). That is fine. Just focus on some other aspect(s) of the situation to get your answer to Part c).

My general comments above regarding Part c) apply here. Basically, I think it is important that connect what would have enhanced your ability to make a decision to why you want to attend the GSB.

Option 2
a) Have you ever made a decision that caused you to go against popular opinion? Please describe that situation and your rationale for you decision. b) Did you feel at any point that people misperceived your motives? Explain. c) In retrospect, how do you think an MBA from Chicago GSB would have affected your decision?

Questioning popular assumptions is a core part of the University of Chicago's culture. That is one reason why there are so many Nobel Prize winners among Chicago's past past and present faculty. This option gives you the opportunity to show how you too have questioned such an assumption. But that is only one aspect of the question, as this is also about your ability to make a decision. It takes courage to go against the tide of popular opinion, but great leaders have to be able to do that. Show how you have the potential to be such a leader. I suggest structuring Part a) as follows:
1. Describe the situation and state clearly what the popular opinion was.
2. State your reasons for going against popular opinion.
3. Describe the outcome.
Being aware about how others perceive you is a core part of being organizationally effective. Actually understanding how others perceive you is very much an integral part of LEAD. Especially in a situation where you are likely to be in conflict with other people, how did you handle their reactions? The likelihood of being misperceived when you disagree with others is high, so if you managed to avoid this, how did you do so? If you were misperceived, what did you learn from that experience and what could you learn at GSB?

My general comments above regarding Part c) apply here. You should explain how a Chicago MBA would have helped you make a better decision. Link what you want to learn at Chicago directly to this situation.

A 1000-word essay should give you plenty of space to provide a thorough answer to Essay 2. One of the nice things about both options is that you are likely to find that the topic you write about will be useful when writing essays for another school. That said, an effective answer here requires you to have a detailed understanding of why the Chicago GSB is right for you.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to.
-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス

シカゴ、ビジネススクール, MBA留学
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