- Research is the first step there…..
When I applied to top business schools, I knew I had to do my research but I wasn’t really sure what that meant.
Did I have to research each business school? If so, what did I have to research?
And was research limited to just learning about what business schools would offer me and vice-versa?
What about my career goals? Did I have to tell a story with those, too?
If these are some of the questions going through your mind, then make yourself comfortable because we’re about take some time to answer them.
So……why is research important?
Joelle Du Lac from Cambridge Judge Business School says it best:
” We want to be certain that applicants have thought about their futures even if most don’t do what they say. It’s how you say what you intend to do, and how you structure your plan to move along to your goals, that matter. Those who take a structured view of the process end up doing better in the long term.”
Almost all applicants will rely on research for facts and information for writing their essays. Without it, you can expect to not get very far in the admission process.
Yes my friends, even the lazy folks, who have gotten high scores on the GMAT, and have high GPAs, will turn to research to fill in holes and answer essays questions.
For now, let’s consider this whole process as a craft. And in order to be good at it, you’re going to have to spend some time doing quite a bit of reading and searching around the internet.
Although I must admit, the internet is only ONE way to learn about the admission process. Believe me, all of this research will strengthen your writing and application and lead to more credible, better writing.
Remember, as you’re researching, think about how all of this is connected to you. In the end, you’re not just writing to list your accomplishments, you’re writing to tell a story.
How you tell that story AND why you’re telling that story is going to be one of the most important things you can do in your essays.
For starters, because the topic of researching business school is pretty comprehensive, I’m going to spend some time discussing how to research business schools in general. And in the next post, I’ll write about how to research your career goals.
Plain Ol’ Research – Business School Rankings
Just like when you wrote college essays, you knew you had to do a little research, whether it was online, or visiting the library, in order to write a good essay, you needed to back up the facts in your argument, right?
Business school admission essays follow a similar path. Before we dive in though, we need to research the surface of the MBA world. If you haven’t done your research yet, consider checking out business school rankings. I remember when I applied, I didn’t really know which universities offered MBA programs. Here are some places to check out:
I’d give you more but honestly, pick one site to get a general feel for what’s out there and move on. Start clicking on certain schools and look at the data that is relevant to you. That could be location, school size, diversity of student body, tuition, financial aid, average GMAT scores, GPA ranges, etc. These sites will tell you who’s the best and point out general stats to get you going.
As you’re going through the rankings, take notes and jot down 5-10 schools that really stick out and appeal to you. Remember, don’t spend too much time on these sites. You’d be surprised how much time is eaten up just looking at the endless list of schools.
Research Your List of Schools
If there’s anything in life I’ve learned, it’s to keep it simple. Don’t over think this part of the research process – you’re here to learn about business schools and the only way you’re going to do that is by learning little by little, even if you end up not applying to one of the schools on your list. Once you written down 5-10 schools that intrigue you, visit their websites.
Although websites will not tell you everything you need to know, they will provide information on the history and philosophy of the MBA program, methods of instruction, degrees offered, in-depth statistics, clubs, faculty and research happenings, and a lot more.
While you’re researching, be sure to check out what students did pre-MBA and where most of them got hired after graduation. Yes, see what MBA jobs are out there. I place a lot of emphasis here because you need to have solid career goals and be ready to explain them concretely and confidentially. To do this, you need to have a sense of what students are doing with their MBA.
I speak from experience; I think I fantasized about having an MBA more than really valuing what I could do with it in the long haul. Don’t look just at where MBA grads got hired, but also what positions and what tasks these positions involve.
While you are taking notes visiting websites, make sure you’re organizing this information appropriately. I remember keeping folders and referring back to my notes ALL THE TIME when I was writing my essays.
Even when I prepped for my interviews, I was looking back to make sure I memorized important key facts and words that would stand out on certain occasions.
E-mail or Pick Up the Phone
Bite the bullet and just do it.
I say I emailed about 5 different MBA students and alumni when I applied to business school. Most of these emails led up to actual conversations on the phone where I’d ask a few questions about their experience attending business school, what they did before their MBA, what their experience was like, and what they’re doing now.
If you’re not sure what to write in the email, be yourself and explain who you are, what you do, and why you’re emailing. Here’s the start to an email I wrote to a professor at Stanford GSB:
“Good morning Professor:
My name is Oscar Pedroso. I am a prospective student interested in the social innovation program at Stanford. I came across your profile in one of the packets I received during the ‘Many Voices’ event during the fall of 2007 and wanted to reach out to you in hope to find out a little more about the the CSI and how that might be incorporated into the full time MBA program. At the moment, I am in Rochester NY managing a Diabetes Grant for a hospital and also coordinate outreach activities for the underserved populations here…..”
Again, be genuine and sincere. You’d be surprise to see how warm and friendly these folks are. Some even go out of their way to help you. I had a couple of MBA students look over two of my essays when I applied to Tuck and Harvard. The great thing is that I didn’t even have to ask, they offered. The more you talk to current students and faculty, you’ll see how much information you’re absorbing over time.
This really helps to build your case while you’re trying to explain your reasons for going to business school. In some of my essays, I even mention that I spoke to particular students and went into detail.
Admission officers love this because it shows you are putting in the energy to learn all about them. You’re making the PERSONAL investment and that’s worth a ton!
Visit Schools and/or Attend an Information Session
I know you all lead busy lives but if you’re thinking about an MBA, you’re going to have to put in some time learning about schools. That means research that doesn’t involve the internet.
Finding information online is only half the battle.
The other half requires you to get up and visit the school in person and see what it’s like. There’s something about experiencing the school for yourself that elicits new feelings and emotions that you wouldn’t get from reading similar content online. Talking to students via email and phone is one way but the next step is to spend a day or so at some of the schools you’re looking to apply to.
When I applied to Stanford GSB, I attended Many Voices. When I applied to Harvard, I attended one of their LGBT MBA info sessions. At Columbia, I attended an MBA diversity event.
Looking back, I could have visited a ton of events but I wasn’t aware of everything going on. Here are some things to look out for:
MBA Tour - These guys really facilitate the interaction between prospective business school students and business school admission officers. They hold tours all around the globe and attract tons of business schools. You have to register in order to attend an event but most of these events take place in major cities like New York City, Washington D.C, Tokyo, Paris, Milan, etc. If a tour is going on around you, make sure you attend one of these. I guarantee you’ll learn something new that you can use towards your essays. Hey, you never know, maybe you’ll leave with someone’s business card.
MBA Podcaster – If you really can’t get away, MBA Podcaster does a great job of capturing great videos interviewing admission officers, current MBA students, alumni, faculty, etc to really give you a sense of what business school is all about. I encourage you to visit schools in person but if you’re way “too busy” to visit a school, check out MBA Podcaster.
Economist Online Fair - For those of you going for the online MBA, you might like to check out this site. It is a virtual online fair with great online and general MBA programs such an UNC Chapel Hill, MIT Sloan, Cornell Johnson, etc. I know it sounds sort of weird to attend a virtual online MBA fair but given the way it’s set up, it’s almost as if you were there. You have to check it out for yourself but there a ton of resources available and admission officers are very proactive about interacting with prospective students. You also have to register for the online fair. Don’t just sit there, do it!
Talk to Other Prospective MBA Students
Yes, there’s a community online and it’s a big one. You’ll find MBA applicants all over the board; from studying for the GMAT, ranting about the essay process, interviewing, getting accepted and receiving dings (rejections).
Although talking to other applicants can be time consuming, they can also be a huge support system. I remember talking to other applicants made me feel like I wasn’t the only one out there who felt lost and discouraged at times.
I also made a few friends when I visited information sessions at some schools. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other applicants, everyone’s technically competition but don’t look at this way. Look at it as an opportunity to learn more about others and helping each other get in to schools. No one wants to be all alone while they’re applying. Does anyone?
Here are some places to meet students. I caution you though, set a time limit and stick by it. I must have spent hours on these sites, especially when I submitted applications to various schools.
I lived on these sites and forums looking for the first interview invites going out. Sometimes you can’t help but at least I am warning you about it.
The GMAT Club - The best for connecting with other applicants and current students.
Manhattan GMAT - You have to register but it’s free and you’ll see various forums on the GMAT and applying.
Business Week - Great if you’re looking for hot topic discussions on any part of the application process.
Credibility Does Matter
It’s important for applicants to do the research. If you’re applying to business school, you need to get your facts straight. There’s no way around it. There have been stories about applicants fabricating information and changing the details of their own experiences in an effort to make their material more enticing. Admission officers can see right through that as they’ve been doing this for years. It’s not going to help your case at all.
I know I’ve thrown a lot at you but share your thoughts by leaving a comment and let’s discuss!