Tuesday, April 7, 2009

MBA Application resources

I wanted to write a blog giving advice on the MBA admissions process but soon realized the enormity of such a project. I decided it would be far more useful is to list the resources I used instead. While applying, it unfortunately felt like I was randomly finding resources as I stumbled along blindly applying. Hopefully some of the following ideas will help consolidate your knowledge base as you go through your applications. Please note that these resources will help you no matter where you are in the process; some of the books I found just before my interviews and they were still of great benefit.

1. Books

The bible of MBA applications is "How to get into the top MBA programs" by Richard Montauk. I didn't discover this book until after I submitted my applications but I still used it for interview prep and it will also help in pre-matriculation. It is really the start-to-finish authority on the MBA application process. There is a lot of advice and wisdom I could pass on in this blog about the process, but it's nearly all captured in this book. I recommend this book no matter where you are in the process.

The Best Book on HBS Admissions is the best guide I've seen specifically for Harvard Business School. The book was written by a recent graduate and I highly recommend it. It's full of insightful information  and can serve as an A-to-Z expert guide for all things to do with HBS admissions. It covers everything from the application approach and strategy, to tactical advice on the essays and resume, to life on campus, post-MBA career opportunities, and even  how to fund your HBS education. This is a real must-have for serious HBS applicants.

A secondary book is "The Best Business Schools' Admissions Secrets" by Chioma Isiadinso. I didn't find this book to actually reveal any "secrets," but it is good for somebody who wants to be exposed to as much detail as possible about every step of the process. If you read Montauk's book first, as you should, this book might fill in a few gaps and give you more to do if you like to obsess over every little detail. But definitely not a requirement.

Another useful book, cleverly titled "65 Successful Harvard Business School Application Essays" may also help. One might say that these are not 65 spectacular applications essays, but rather 65 mediocre essays written by 65 applicants. Nonetheless, they are a great starting point to tackle the most comprehensive part of the MBA application, the essays.

2. Alumni and current students

After (and during) reading through the above books, the best source to bounce ideas off and to make sure you are on the right track is the alumni and current students of your target school. Ideally, they will be able to give you feedback on your essays or at least discuss how well your background and post-MBA plans fit with their program, which in turn, will also help you complete your application and make sure you are applying to the best programs for you. As a non-traditional candidate, I started not knowing a single MBA student or alumni. After several weeks of networking, I was able to find over a dozen MBA students scattered throughout my target schools. First, speak to co-workers, family, and friends to see who they know at your schools of choice. Second, reach out to various student clubs and introduce yourself. I suggest reaching out to non-professional clubs. Begin with social and "interest" clubs such as the Veterans Club, Wine Club, Athletic Clubs, or perhaps clubs aligned with your areas of geographic interest. It will be a lot easier to relate to them and it might be easier for you to establish fresh connections.

3. Online resources

There are hundreds of web sites centered around MBA admissions and applications. However, here are a few of the ones I found most useful:

  • GMAT Club - This is a fairly complete web site for people in all stages of the process, from GMAT studying to pre-matriculation. Most of the members are very collaborative and supportive, and this community has a very positive vibe.
  • Business Week Forums - By far the most active and addictive MBA related discussion forum. It's far more active than GMAT club, but don't expect a very collaborative environment. It's very rude, crude, and full of arrogant posters who make you doubt if you should still go to business school. But fear not, as the trolls on this forum will not be your classmates. So why am I mentioning this site? Because it is the most high volume discussion forum, and therefore even if only 10% of the posters are informative and helpful, it is still more than any other web site. If you want to compare programs or ask direct questions about school, this is one possible outlet; just take the responses with a grain of salt. This is also the best place to go if you want to obsess over when interview invitations, acceptance letters, and rejections are sent out; down to the minute, by city, and by applicant background. Luckily I didn't find this web site until AFTER I finished my applications because it becomes quite addictive and doesn't help your essays... but it can be good place to help the time go by as you wait for decisions.
  • ClearAdmitWiki - This is the best place to read about people's interview experiences and school visits.
  • Admissions411- A great source of data to help remove the veil of mystery behind business school acceptance rates and applicant profiles.
  • Finally, other business school and MBA application blogs. It's always great to read about somebody else going through the same things as you, and there is a lot to learn in the process.

4. Admission consultants

I didn't know that consulting others on how to get into business school would be such a thriving industry. There are many businesses which attempt to help MBA applicants get into business schools. Their services range from complete start-to-finish ethically questionable application-in-a-box solution to a la carte services such as resume polishing or interview prep. I can't recommend this kind of service nor can I recommend against it. I've read of people who paid over $15,000 for service and didn't get into a single school. Then again, there are many people who feel indebted to the service they received. This is a very personal decision that you should make. I would caution though not to ever let anybody else write you essays or application for you, put words in your mouth, or otherwise misrepresent you. Do some thorough research on the background of these consultants and make sure they will be able to properly represent your interests and understand the experience you bring to the table.