The musings of a former London PE guy turned Silicon Valley technophile
I recently graduated from business school and the most common questions I receive are:
The answers to those questions are:
When I applied to business school, I had no less than 30 people help me. From good friends, colleagues, friends of friends, and anyone that went through the experience. I would take as much help as I could. This advice was key in helping me achieve my goal of going to business school and I appreciated people giving up their time to help. So when asked to have a coffee meeting, conference call, email, or whatever to help someone out with the process, I always say yes.
I decided to write this blog post to help as many as I can and also not forget anything while giving any advice.
The thoughts below are my own and are based on my experience.
3 quick points on applying to business school:
I think the first thing one needs to do is really ask if you want to go to business school. It’s a big commitment. It’s 2-years at a growth time in your life, costs about $200K, and will be completely consuming.
You have to ask, will business school help me in the future? It’s definitely not for everyone so you should have as many conversations as possible to see if it’s right for you.
That being said, the one big piece of advice I would give is that you have to view your ENTIRE application as a puzzle – a complicated puzzle. You want every piece of the application to review something new about you and that if a reviewer looks at your application they can start to put the picture together. You want to be the 1,000-piece puzzle that has taken time to put together rather than the 4-piece obvious puzzle.
Every piece of your application should link together to who you are – and successful applications will link to who you will be.
There are a lot of moving pieces in your application and it will be hard to focus in on your efforts. Well, from my own experience I can tell you it all comes down to one thing: your essays. Everything else is necessary but not sufficient. It’s the essays that will separate you from the crowd.
I would spend 60% of your time on the essays…that’s right, 60% of your total business school application process should be spent on these. I think this is the key.
I can personally speak that for Stanford GSB, the most important essay is “What matters to you most and why?” It’s something so obscure that people write about anything from family to riding the subway in NYC. Ask any GSB alumni and they will light up and would probably agree that this question really defines your application.
There are 3 pieces of advice that I received while writing this essay that I wanted to share. Now, this is my opinion based on many conversations and they are my own.
There are suggestions from the admissions director, but I’ve cut to the chase with my points.
The other thing I found helpful was that I had over 20 people read my essays. They came from all different backgrounds, age groups, etc. You never know who’s reading your essay so make sure you have as many people you’re comfortable with reading it.
It varies, but some of my classmates took anywhere from one weekend to two-years to put their application together. It took me about a year form the day I cracked the books to take the GMAT to the day that I turned in my application.
I think if you are serious about business school – it’s really a part-time job. From herding the recommenders, working on your essays, completing the application, doing your research, taking the GMAT – it’s s a lot of work.
My general advice is to make sure you give yourself enough time to take the application seriously. You’re going to have to give up weekends to study or write your essays so make it a priority. I would suggest to start at least 6 months from the round that you want apply in (see below).
There are 3 rounds that you can apply to business school:
Above all else, you have to apply when you are ready. It doesn’t matter what round you apply, what year you apply – what does matter is that if you’re ready. You feel that you have left nothing on the table.
There are different thoughts on which round to apply, but my opinion is:
Types of Applicants
Probability on Rounds
I don’t know the exact numbers on how many applied for each round and how many got in, but I’ll give my best estimate based on my class (disclaimer: these could be completely off and there are no public numbers for this!)
Based on my class of 7,500 applicants, 385 admitted, my guess would be:
|Applicants||Admitted||Admission %||% of total App||% of Total Admits|
Most schools give their median score. For Stanford GSB it’s 730! That number still sounds insanely high to me.
You shouldn’t put too much pressure to hit a particular number. I know classmates that have scored much higher and lower than 730 and there’s a common denominator between them and this is exemplified through the essays (see above).
Also a quick note of taking the test more than once…it’s OK! I personally took it 4 times and realized that I actually wasted a bunch of time studying for the test to score 10 points higher. Not worth it. Make sure the rest of your application is tight.
Remember the puzzle? Well this is the perfect opportunity to tie everything in.
I think this is the other area that people screw up. They don’t take an active approach to the recommendations. They send an email and ask someone to fill out a form. Such a wasted opportunity.
The most important thing about recommenders is that they all speak to different things about you. You don’t want all your recommenders to say the same thing “Don is a great leader and works hard.” You want them to be specific about projects, moments of challenge, moments of wins that you have experienced with them.
As you find folks to give you letters of reference – ask yourself: does this person know me? Can this person fill in some of the gaps and also bolster my story?
With the puzzle piece, the recommenders should be adding something new, but also something that is related to the whole picture.
People ask is alumni would be great as recommenders…absolutely because they know the culture of the school. But I would not just ask someone who went to a school over someone that knows you really well. A heart-felt recommendation letter is much more powerful than someone you may just know.
This is also true about “celebrity” or senior letters of recommendations. Trust me, people in the pool are super hooked up. You want to get someone who can give you the best recommendation regardless of affiliation or “status” but every bit helps if you can get it.
Some schools take this more seriously than others. I can definitely say that the best advice is to be yourself (that’s obvious).
But If you know your story, why you want to go to that school, and your priorities, you should be OK.
I have heard by the time you hit the interviews it’s 70/30. They already know who they are letting in but this is a final check.
This is all self-explanatory but be consistent with you history and what you choose to show.
One quick advice on this: don’t stretch yourself to do some non-profit work to put on your application. Do so if you have been doing it and it’s authentic to you otherwise they will just pick this up and will be a knock against you.
So that’s my general advice about applying to business school. I encourage you to talk to as many people as you can.
3 quick points on applying to business school:
Good luck and hope this helps!