I thought it was appropriate to start my blog with a bit of a reality check. After all, I did get dinged by five top US business schools last season. And I definitely felt like a loser waiting to hear back from two of those schools on decision day – and not getting the call!
While it doesn’t pay to beat myself about it, the reality is that something (or, more likely, lots of things!) must have sucked about my application for it to have been rejected five times. To just go ahead and reapply without a major self-analysis to figure out what was wrong would be pretty dumb.
I recently took part in the Admissionado and GMAT Club webinar ‘Dealing with a Ding‘ hosted by Jon Frank of Admissionado. NB: I have never worked with Admissionado (but I did surf GMAT Club a lot during the past 12 months), however I’ll refer to some good, and usually free, resources from consultants from time to time.
One fact stuck in my head: on average 77% or more of all applicants to top 25 programmes are dinged. Such a high ding rate has driven a lot of people to compare the MBA application process to a crapshoot. While I do agree there is an element of luck involved, I also think that a well crafted and perfected application will always get the attention it deserves.
With that in mind, I have tried to identify three things I should have done better:
1. Not leaving it too late to write my essays. This is just dumb, pure and simple. I spent a lot of last summer researching schools, figuring out my profile etc. I also went to Boston in April (to visit HBS and MIT Sloan) but then I wrote my first draft essay to either school in mid August. Why? Because I kept finding a reason to delay it (there will always be one: looking for inspiration; testing ideas; getting input from students and alums etc.). Even worse, having applied to those two schools in round one and been lucky enough to get interviewed by MIT Sloan, I didn’t write my first draft essay for round two until I got the ding from MIT Sloan in December!
I could write some great excuses here, like the birth of my beautiful twins in September last year (the night before I submitted my MIT application!), how the joy of fatherhood and sleepless nights killed my desire to write. The truth is I should have been writing something every day to get my story perfect by the time I submitted.
2. Not allowing myself to stray off the point. I spent a long time editing my essays, but what I mean here is talking about my career goal (switching from commercial banking – using my strong social enterprise background – to micro-finance. More about this another time) and not talking enough about what I actually do. As Jon Frank says, “And never forget, this is BUSINESS school. Not meaning of life school.” An important lesson learned. Period.
3. Not keeping on top of my recommenders. I seriously underestimated the amount of work involved here. I had two great recommenders lined up – a current and a former boss who would write anything I wanted – but they are both Europeans who didn’t know a damn thing about what US business schools care about. I literally had to educate my recommenders about the whole process, what competition I was up against, and what other recommendations would look like. And then I had to educate them about my profile, what I wanted to be the key messages in their recommendations, examples they could use etc.
Getting my recommenders to write my recommendations (on time!) was nearly as much work as writing my own essays. Do not underestimate this!
Of course, there are many other things that could have gone better, but these are three basic items that stick out for me. The next step is to get some more detailed analysis of my application(s) and use that feedback to improve my reapplications.