How to get into the top international MBA programs
An overwhelming number of international MBA aspirants have queries related to the admissions process for international business schools. The levels of awareness vary considerably, depending on where they are in this race. There are those who've done a little bit of research - in the areas of schools, entrance tests, essays, recos - but not enough to provide a complete picture. Then there are those who are somewhere midway in the process ('I've got a GMAT score. Now what?'). There's also a section that wants a confirmation of whether they are heading in the right direction.
Based on our several years of experience in this field, we've tried to create a generic list of steps that a new candidate could consider. This is not a perfect list (it'll be impractical to even aim for something like a 'perfect list'), but we are hoping many candidates would be able to use it as a starting point and customise it based on their current status and career objectives.
'Is the MBA investment worth it?
This simple question could be the most difficult to answer. Some aspects that'll help you address it. Look at your current situation and evaluate in objective terms what is good and what is missing. Is it money, job satisfaction, growth prospects, unmanageable workload, stress, international prospects...? Expand this list based on your personal situation.
- Now for each of these areas, see if an international MBA will make a considerable difference to your status. Also think about alternative options that'll help you reach your goals. Think about the risks involved and how you'd be able to tackle them.
Some good tools to help you in the process:
- 'Managers Not MBAs' Prof Mintzberg's book that takes a critical look at the degree
- 'What Color Is Your Parachute?' A book that addresses many questions for Job hunters and career changers
- 'Beyond The MBA Hype' A funny, audacious and revealing look at the MBA industry. Goes beyond the glossy brochures and websites to provide the inside dope.
- MBA discussion forums: You'll find a lot of queries related to this phase with helpful responses.
- Find a good mentor: It could be a relative, a friend, a colleague or a consultant who is aware of the process and can give you solid advice. In a stormy environment, they can be the proverbial candle in the wind.
We are talking about the ever-popular queries on discussion forums - 'What are my chances?' or the re-phrased 'Which schools will take my application seriously?'
- Identify your strengths and weakness in the academic (undergrad grades, awards, achievements), professional (quality of work-ex, career growth so far) and personal dimensions (personality, soft-skills, general knowledge):
- Look at the top b-school rankings: Rankings published by Financial Times, Business Week, Economist Intelligence Unit are good starting points
- Study the websites of a few schools listed in these rankings. Choose a mix of schools in the top-10, top-20, top-50 and top-100 categories. See if you can identify a pattern.
- For these schools, look at the web-page that says 'Current Class Profile'. This should give you a fairly good idea of the entry barriers there.
Tools: B-school rankings, School websites and of course the ever-popular 'MBA Crystal Ball' applicant profiling report.
'What's a good GMAT score target for me?'
- If you've managed the previous topic well, by now you'll have a fairly good idea of the kind of GMAT to aim for. General rule of thumb - the higher the better. But let's face it, all of us can't (and don't need to) reach 780. If you have a decent score, you could then get this out of the way and focus on the other aspects of the application as mentioned below.
- Tools that'll help:
- Self-study: The Official Guide for GMAT, Kaplan, Princeton Review. Make sure you pick up the latest edition. Apart from the textbooks, there are several websites that'll help you brush up on your verbal/quant concepts. Solve as many mock-tests as possible, to get a feel for the real deal.
- Coaching classes: Comparatively a more expensive option. But it might help in adding structure and discipline to the process. Find out about the experiences of people who've attended these courses to find out more.
- Online GMAT coaching: A growing trend considering it offers flexibility and access to some of the best material out there.
'How do I tackle so many essays (e.g. approx 5 schools X 3-4 essays/school)?'
- Each school that you apply to will have their own set of essays. But you'll see overlaps across many schools as the essays tend to be around similar themes (motivation for applying to b-schools, identification of strengths/weaknesses).
- The first school that you work on would require the maximum effort. For subsequent schools you may be able to pick content and ideas from the first school and customise them.
'Do I really need to spend so much on consultants for essay editing, interview prep etc?'
MBA essay editing services, just like GMAT coaching, can be damn expensive. The same reasoning that you applied before enrolling for a GMAT coaching program would apply here.
- If you think you've understood the requirements of the schools you are applying to, have a good story to narrate and have a compelling style of presenting it, then you could do it on your own.
- If you are looking for an external perspective from experts who've seen many profiles and applications similar to yours, then the investment may make that small yet critical difference between a good application and a successful application.
In the end, it's a personal call. But considering the fly-by-night 'axe-perts' out there hoping to make a quick buck, do your research really well before signing up. Find out about their MBA consultants' profiles specifically their educational and professional backgrounds. You are going to engage the consultant for one of the most critical decisions in your life. Read more about how to choose an MBA admission consultant in India.
'Whom should I approach?'
Usually schools ask for two recos - from people who know your capabilities and can vouch for you. It could be a manager that you worked with recently, or some other professional colleague. people generally assume, the higher the designation of the recommender, the better. Not true. If the MD of your company writes a superficial reco, it can actually put you at a disadvantage.
'What should I ask them to write?'
Two approaches to this.
1. Try to cover aspects that aren't already covered in the rest of your application.
2. Re-affirm some qualities that you've talked about in your essays e.g. commitment, vision, innovativeness, leadership etc.
'What will they ask me?'
Some schools, specially the bigger, older ones with a huge MBA alumni network, ask their 'alums' to interview shortlisted candidates. Others, for the sake of maintaining consistency, insist that someone from the Admissions committee be involved in the process.
'How can I prepare?'
Study your application content thoroughly. Think about what you've written in your essays, in your resume. Are there any leading questions that you can predict? Work on those responses so you aren't taken by surprise. Ask someone else (friend, colleague, a neutral party) to review your application and ask you questions.
Sometimes it gets technical. There may be case studies, general knowledge topics and even puzzles.
A full-fledged mock MBA interview would help you do a dry run beforehand, rather than experiment in front of the Adcom.
'I've got multiple offers. Now what?'
Lucky you! Congrats. But having multiple offers can also pose a dilemma. Go back to your original list of reasons why you are pursuing an MBA. See which of the mulitple schools go beyond the others. Talk to alumni of these schools and get their perspective. If you've done your homework well in the initial phases (shortlisting etc), it's a win-win situation for you anyway. So don't stress out too much.
'What do I do next?'
You still have to think about finances (loan), visa, travel formalities. But with the big challenge of securing a good seat, you can now focus on the logistics.
'The 10-Day MBA' by Silbiger or any of the MBA-in-a-book adaptations are a good way to kickstart your preparation process. It won't make you an expert. But at least you'll be aware of the basic fundamentals across finance, marketing, organizational behaviour, operations etc before you step into the classroom.
'Despite my best shot, I've no offers. What do I do?'
Back to self-analysis. Some schools may offer feedback in terms of what they felt was lacking in your application. You could also consider a rejection analysis done. Was it your GMAT score, your work experience, absence of international experience, your acads? Take the feedback seriously. See how much of it can be addressed before taking a second shot. Also think if you need to alter your shortlist of schools.
Let us know if you have any suggestions to improve this list and make it better. Based on your suggestions, we'll try to keep the article updated.
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