How to ask current students and alumni of top universities for help

Stanford GSB MBA international student

Stanford MBA student, Mahak Garg, wrote two popular articles on MBA Crystal Ball

The avalanche of questions from prospective Stanford MBA aspirants that followed prompted her to write this article.
 


Seeking help from current students and university alumni?

Here is how to improve your response rate

by Mahak Garg

 
Stanford MBA student from IndiaSince my guest posts at MBA Crystal Ball, I have seen a massive spike in LinkedIn requests. Many of them start with, “Hey Mahak, I read your post on MCB. Congratulations on your admission. I am considering doing an MBA too. Is there a way for us to speak?

I had been in the same boat as you months back – Cold emailing people and hoping at least some of those who have been admitted to my dream schools will get back to me. And I was by no means an expert at seeking guidance and mentorship in an appropriate manner.

Hence, I am writing this post to list down some best practises around such cold emails to help you receive high response rate. The post is split into 3 major sessions

  1. Different types of requests I get and how I choose who to help
  2. Best practises around seeking help from students and alumni
  3. Answers to some FAQs that I have received

 

Part 1: Different types of requests I get and how I choose who to help

Receiving many incoming requests, I started seeing a pattern – A pattern on how people would seek request and how that would impact my willingness to help them. I would often put my own judgement aside and try to help as many individuals as possible. I remember how even 10-15 minutes of an admitted student’s time would be incredibly helpful to improve my chances of admission. Below are the most frequent categories of messages I receive –

  • Sincere individuals who have done their homework and have specific questions that they couldn’t find elsewhere. These people are mindful of my time and would be thoughtful in their introductory LinkedIn request. Their effort is visible even in that initial message.
  • Help me on everything individuals who want to be spoon fed. These people have maybe just thought about doing an MBA and now want to know everything from you.
  • Racing against time individualswho would send you panic emails (My deadline is next week. Please review my essay. Or I would like to hear back from you SOON).

Needless to say, category one is my favourite. Anyways,as I mentioned earlier, I would try my best not to be biased by the initial message and give everyone a fair chance. However, after helping a couple of people, I realised that this is not sustainable for two reasons –

  1. Most individuals were not fully prepared for the call and would ask questions that are either not relevant at this stage or are the answers to which are easily available online.
  2. While I wanted to be fair and not choose between people, there was only a fixed amount of time I could dedicate to this cause.

I had to find out a way to filter these requests. After some thinking, I found a simple solution. Whosoever would message me over LinkedIn, I would write exactly the same response

Hi X, Thank you for reaching out. Please email your specific questions to me on …

This was magical. Less than 30% of all people who would reach out on LinkedIn would follow up on email with their questions. This instantly solved both my problems.

People who would email me had thought well through their questions and second now there were much fewer people who I had to guide. I would make sure to set up a call with each of these people who would email methere questions.
 

Part 2: Best practises around seeking help from students and alumni

Moving on to some things I have seen critical when seeking help. I try to implement these when I seek mentorship for myself too –

  1. Write a powerful first message. Put sincere thought into it. Be sure to communicate your genuinely and mindfulness of the other person’s time. Better still, if you could mention upfront something like “I would like to ask you some specific questions around your admission. What is the best way to reach out to you”.
  2. If you are communicating over the email, include those specific questions. Mention in the email, “I am happy to jump on a call if that may be more feasible for you”. Leave the decision in the other person’s hand as to whether they would like to respond via email or call
  3. Whenever possible, accept the time the mentor is proposing. I have had people who would ask me to reschedule because it is too early for them (Even when it is 8am IST sometimes). Well too bad because I would talk to you only when my calendar permits and you must decide how important my advice is for you. Again, if there is a genuine reason why you are requesting to reschedule, I would understand. But there really should be genuine reason.
  4. Do your own homework. Ask only those questions for which you cannot seek answers elsewhere. Don’t write a lengthy giving the entire history of your career. You need to make it simple for the mentor to help you. He/she would seldom want to read 1000 words email with many questions and detailed life description.
  5. Please don’t send panic emails. Look to have complete control even if that is not the case. People are battling their own struggles and panic emails are a major turn off. I have learnt this by own experiences of lowest response rate when I send panic emails.
  6. Follow up in 2-3 days if you don’t hear back from the other person. There are times that I sincerely want to help you and your email might have just gotten lost in my mail box. Sending a gentle reminder usually works great.
  7. Offer to be of help in return. Even though the other person would seldom ask you for anything in return, show that you would be willing to help if there is a way.
  8. Be smart with the logistics. For example, send a gentle reminder message 5 minutes before the call saying “I am excited for the call/ I am ready for our call whenever you are”. Also, a good habit to send a calendar invite for the call to keep it on top of the other person’s mind.

 

Part 3: Answers to some FAQs that I received so far

 

“How did you choose which schools to apply to?”

I was sure I want to only complete my higher education in US. I had experienced the country first hand through various visits to my brother who was in States for 6 years. Within US, some criteria I used –

  • Ranking
  • Fit with the school (entrepreneurship)

Frankly, I did not put in a lot of thought as I was quite rushed myself when applying.
 

“This is my profile. Do you think I should apply to … these colleges. What are my chances?”

Million dollar question! Unfortunately, I haven’t had the pleasure of working at the ad coms and hence the admissions process is as much of a black box to me as it is to you. I really do not know what part of my application got me here and I would hate to misguide anyone based on my assumptions alone.
 

Can I finance 100% of my MBA through loans? Should I do an MBA only if I have enough savings?

For several good colleges, companies such as Prodigy finance offer 100% loans, without any collateral and without any co-signers. For the second question, it is up to your individual risk-taking appetite. In my opinion, an MBA is a life long investment whose benefits are many.
 

Questions related to my experience at Stanford

There are too many to cover here – life on campus, academics, culture, social scene, internship, jobs. I’ll cover this in a separate article.

Wishing you all luck! The journey may seem long and gruelling. But it is worth it!!
 


Related articles:
Harvard MBA vs Stanford GSB vs Wharton MBA: Which one is right for you?
Indian student gets into Stanford MBA with full scholarship
Wharton MBA admit in Round 2 for Indian student with low GMAT score
What Stanford GSB looks for in MBA applicants
How to get into Stanford University for undergrad


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Sameer Kamat //
Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Connect with me on Google+ | Twitter | Facebook | Linkedin

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