Accepted.com has been at the forefront of MBA Admissions consulting since the early 1990s. Linda Abraham, founder of Accepted.com, shares her knowledge and experience with MCB readers on a range of topics: choosing the right schools (using rankings, two year versus one year programs, brand vs scholarships), top-5 mistakes to avoid in an MBA interview, top-10 do’s and don’ts for MBA essay writing, what you should be doing 6-9 months before you apply and much more.
MBA Crystal Ball (MCB): How much importance should an applicant give to the numerous MBA rankings that get published annually?
Linda: The rankings, specifically the specialty rankings, are a reasonable place to start one’s school research and a terrible place to end it. The rankings are really massive stores of data. To the extent they “rank” programs, each publication has different criteria because everyone has a different measure of educational quality.
It is up to applicants to determine what is important to them and the use the data in the rankings as a convenient starting place for their research. They should supplement that data with information from the schools’ web sites. Once they have narrowed their choices a little, they should more thoroughly review the school’s web sites and online information to do in depth research. They should also talk to students and recent alumni, read student blogs, and if possible, conduct informational interviews with people a few years ahead of them in their desired career.
MCB: What are the key differentiators between a 2-year and a 1-year program? Are there specific considerations that should tilt the decision either ways?
Linda: In general the two-year program is better for career changers because it provides the opportunity for an internship – really a 3 month interview – that can ease the way towards that new career. It also gives more opportunity for networking and developing deeper relationships with fellow students. A one-year program usually works well if one is moving up at one’s previous employer or at one’s own company. Sometimes it also works well if the student is interested in changing employers, but has lots of contacts and is staying in the same field.
MCB: What are the top-5 mistakes to avoid in an MBA interview?
Linda: I think the top 5 mistakes would be:
1. Not answering the question.
2. Answering with platitudes, generalities and clichés. Answer with specific examples and stories and provide the information you want them to know.
3. Behaving in an unprofessional manner either in terms of attire, casualness, speech, or behaviour (and that includes how you address the receptionist and administrative assistant.)
4. Trying to control the interview.
5. Demonstrating poor communications skills – not making eye contact, fidgeting, talking too long, and lots of “like,” “you know,” and “uhs.”
MCB: Many candidates are surprised when they think they’ve done very well on the interview and then they get a rejection note from the school. What could have possibly gone wrong in such situations?
Linda: There are two possibilities if you are rejected after a good interview.
1. You didn’t interview as well as you thought. It is difficult to assess how you did, for both good and bad.
2. For most schools, the interview is a data point. It is not a case of pass and you’re in; fail and you’re out. After the interview – even a good interview – your entire file is reviewed in the context of the class the adcom is trying to create and your competition. Even people who had a good interview can get rejected since the interview is not necessarily determinative.
MCB:Considering that the essay topics are pretty subjective with no absolute right or wrong answers, what are the top-10 things that applicants can keep in mind while working on their essays?
Linda: Here’s my list:
1. Answer the questions.
2. Ensure that the essays complement each other and that each one adds value to your application.
3. Use specifics and details, anecdotes and stories to support your main points, distinguish yourself from your competition, and add interest to your essays.
4. Balance the stories and the details with insightful analysis.
5. Make sure each essay has a point, a core idea that you are communicating.
6. Write your essays for the school you are applying to now, not the one you applied to three weeks ago.
7. Don’t write what you think they want to know; write what you want them to know.
8. Quantify when possible to show impact.
9. Make a compelling case for why their program will help you achieve your goals and how you will contribute to your class and ultimately the school’s reputation.
10. Proof read your essays for style, spelling, grammar. Make sure you have the right school’s name in the essays. Avoid jargon.
MCB Other programs such as the MS or PhD degrees have a lot of free money to dole out to students who are accepted into their fold. However MBA programs tend to be tight-fisted when it comes to helping out their students, though the tuition fees are generally higher. Why is that so?
Linda: I’m not sure, but I suspect it’s because MBA’s tend to make more money.
MCB: If an applicant has a choice to go to a higher ranked school with no scholarships or a lower ranked one with some free money, which one would you recommend?
Linda: That would depend on many factors including the applicant’s goals, the degree to which both programs supported those goals, and the amount of money being offered. The ranking is the last thing I would consider at this point.
MCB: What should applicants be doing 6-9 months and more before they apply?
1. Hone your goal.
2. Evaluate your qualifications.
3. Research the schools.
4. Improve those areas of your profile that need improving to be competitive at your target programs.
5. Jot down notes and ideas for essays.
6. Work on your resume.
7. Decide on and ask recommenders.
MCB: Thanks, Linda. We really appreciate your time and your views.
Linda: Thanks for the opportunity.