In an interview with MBA Crystal Ball, MBA admissions consultant Paul Bodine shares some tips on how to tackle MBA applications and get into the top business schools.
Paul is also the author of several popular books: The Perfect Phrases series (Perfect Phrases for business school, law school and medical school acceptance), Great Applications for Business Schools.
MBA Crystal Ball
What can Indian applicants – specially those who fall in the Indian / IT / Male (IIM) MBA applicant pool – do to avoid getting lost in the crowd?
The biggest challenge is that business schools, while not employing quotas, simply cannot admit a disproportionate percentage of applicants from any one group, no matter how impressive their ‘number’ (GMAT, GPA etc.) and resumes.
Since India is one of the world’s great ‘MBA-motivated’ nations — in terms of valuing the degree and producing candidates who qualify for it — this fact means only the (a) strongest and (b) most distinctive “IIMs” can have an optimistic chance at the top schools. By “strongest” I mean a GMAT score north of the top schools’ averages, evidence of a faster-than-typical career pace, and real leadership experience (e.g., a managerial title trumps an informal ‘team lead’ role) at and outside of work.
The problem is that many, many “IIMs” will meet these criteria. That’s where the ‘most distinctive’ aspect comes into play. The fact is that many Indian applicants have succeeded in similar way–academically, professionally, and even in terms of extracurricular interests.
Thus, applicants who can show they have really blazed their own trails–even (and especially) outside of their careers–can really help themselves. What do I mean by ‘blaze their own trails’? Well, I don’t mean being captain of a cricket team, head organizer of a university festival, a CFA level 1 or 2, or a supporter of microfinancing initiatives in India. These are all impressive accomplishments, but will not help you stand out at all.
Think outside the box–for example, seek leadership opportunities in off-the-beaten path interests (that are, of course, genuine interests of yours) such as the arts (how many IIMs, for example, have published a book or directed a film?), politics (provided it’s not too controversial and there was leadership involved), unusual community involvements (like, say, a religious group, a foundation focused on an unusual medical condition, or an NGO serving a distinctive constituency or cause–e.g., Save The Wildebeest), or even unusual sports (ice hockey, lawn bowling, curling). These are just examples.
The point is to not to follow your peers–forge your own path and do it by showing some leadership and you will set yourself apart from other ‘IIMs’. I realize this is easier said than done, but that’s why so many ‘IIMs’ have such similar profiles — differentiating yourself is hard and you need to start doing as soon as possible (i.e., ideally while still at university) so you give yourself time to show a long-term commitment and evidence of success in your unique, differentiating path.
Another differentiating path I am seeing more of is distinctive international experience, that is, international experience outside of the U.S. Indian applicants who have established careers for themselves in MENA countries, for example, or, say, Oceania–even if, professionally, they are still ‘IIMs’ or technologists–will be ahead of the game.
Finally, if an IIM really wants to differentiate himself from peers he could consider changing careers out of technology. Yes, this is radical surgery, but you can’t change your country of origin or your gender (very easily, anyway), so IIM applicants who really want to stand out and get into a top 10 school could consider changing careers, especially if they (a) choose a distinctive new career (consulting and finance would not be distinctive new careers) and (b) do it at a leadership level.
The fact is that business schools love evidence of leadership and impact much more than they do high GMAT scores. So if you establish a good track record of leadership no matter what you do (both in and outside of your career) you will be helping yourself stand out.
MBA Crystal Ball
Do Indian applicants with different (i.e non-IT) profiles have it easier than their counterparts? Are the entry barriers lower for them?
Alas, in my opinion, Indian applicants, male ones anyway, aiming for top schools cannot ‘get away with’ anything–they should target GMAT scores higher than the top school’s average and build a track record of leadership and impact no matter how unconventional they are. They need to show the schools that they are interesting applicants (i.e. potential contributors of a unique perspective to their B-school class) but also strong applicants (i.e. can do the quantitative heavy lifting).
Applicants from countries that send very few students to top schools can afford to have ‘relatively weaker profiles’ or numbers (though not by much). Indians (and Americans and Chinese etc.) cannot. Note that I am talking about Indian males here. Indian women face a different, less daunting admissions equation.
MBA Crystal Ball
Financing the MBA is a big challenge for Indian MBA applicants. Should applicants aim for the top-ranked school (where there’d be no financial assistance) or lower ranked bschools that might offer significant MBA scholarships?
Given the costs (opportunity and otherwise) of business school, I would go to the higher ranked school because they are sustaining the value of the degree because of their recognizable brands, great networks etc.
I would make exceptions for applicants for whom a higher ranked school without a scholarship would simply be too harsh a burden financially. I would also make an exception for applicants who know they want to work in a particular region of the world or of the U.S. and thus do not need the global brand of a Wharton or an MIT.
That is, some lower ranked schools are very strong in their regions, so if you know you want to work in Texas or Seattle than UT McCombs and Washington Foster (respectively) would be good choices especially if they are offering your scholarship money.
MBA Crystal Ball
When should applicants start thinking about their MBA applications – 3/6/12 months before the MBA admissions deadlines? Is it too early to get started now?
Most definitely not. As my comments above indicate, you should really start strategizing your MBA plans as early as possible–including right out of university. If you considering applying this fall, you should really do a reality check now to ensure that your thoughts about the MBA (target schools etc.) are credible.
There is still time now to make some important adjustments that could substantially improve your admissions odds this fall. I’d be glad to speak with you.
You can find out more about Paul Bodine on his website: http://www.paulsbodine.com/