By Neil Courtis
Prospective MBA students become used to lectures from alumni on the origours of MBA study. However, neither alumni nor the schools themselves prepared me for the extraordinary rigmarole involved in applying to business school. Before crossing the threshold, business school aspirants should expect a year of lost evenings and weekends sweating over their applications.
If you want to study next autumn, you should have started your research already. Harvard and London business schools have already closed their first round of applications for 2007 study. Leading US schools will be finalising classes by the end of March.
Having spent 2006 scrambling to meet deadlines, I now see the MBA application process as a particularly tricky case study involving practical, logistical and strategic challenges.
The three core practical hurdles are transcripts, the Graduate Management Admission Test and references. My transcript – the official record of your university degree – took almost six weeks to arrive from Manchester University in the UK and only after I had submitted my applications did I realise that the registry had awarded me a degree in German and modern languages rather than the politics and philosophy I had, in fact, studied.
Next comes the GMAT, a four-hour computer-administered test of verbal and numerical skills. This requires rote learning of life-enhancing disciplines such as basic number theory, the properties of triangles and times tables up to 15. Time-poor worker bees such as myself can take a refresher course with tutors such as Manhattan Review or Kaplan, but these classes are intermittent and add weeks or even months to the application process. After my weekend of cramming, we were advised to undertake a month more practice and sit two three-hour sample tests.—————————————–
Maximise your chances of application success
■Find referees who actually know you. A common mistake, accrding to Sharyn Roberts, award programmes director at the Australian Graduate School of Management, is to choose referees simply on the basis of seniority. “It is very hard to persuade applicants that we really will not be impressed by a reference from a company CEO if they have no idea what the applicant is like or how they work.”
■Be nice to the people you meet. The same people who market a school often sit on, or have influence over, admissions committees.
■Do not underestimate bureaucratic hurdles. Students who are studying abroad may require visas and these can be time-consuming to acquire. A replacement birth certificate alone can take 6-8 weeks to arrive. Plan conservatively.
■Do not underestimate how long you will need to settle in. If moving abroad, don’t expect to show up the day before classes begin.
■Be careful about help with essays. Over-studied applications can read impressively but reveal little about the applicant. Don’t over-use buzzwords.
■Include everything in your application. Business schools do not see it as their job to chase up missing elements of an application.
■Come clean about career problems. Few careers are without blemish. If you have a CV “problem” (for instance, redundancy) show how you have learned from and overcome it. Admissions staff home in on evasion.
■Visit a class. Most business schools will be happy to allow a candidate to sit in on a lecture. There is no better way of getting a flavour of the place.
■Aim high. Do not assume you will not get into a top school. Most schools like diversity and different experiences.
■Remember scholarships. More scholarships are available than you may realise (23 per cent of students at LBS now have some kind of award). Some are awarded to very distinct groups, meaning you may be one of a handful of candidates who qualify.