The GPA and GMAT are important in the admission decision, but are not its sole determinants. Other factors – interviews, work experience, avocations, recommendations, plus you, your story, and commitment- all come together to create an application profile. The final application should be a finished product reflection of all the applicant stands for and wishes to become.
Applications and College Seniors
For years, graduate schools of business were mainly interested in applicants who had full-time work experience, but a few are now beginning to recruit college seniors. Students interested in applying as seniors should first learn if the school is open to applications from college seniors before making an application. College seniors who have had work experience in the summers and who have outstanding undergraduate records are of particular interest.
For years, a common question has asked about the value of preparation programs and courses for the GMAT. Increasingly, an extension of the question is being asked: are there benefits to using an application coaching service? A growing phenomenon, these services provide assistance to applicants on several phases of the application process, including the GMAT, essays, interviews and school selection. Applicants should be aware of these services and should study the pro’s and con’s of using one. Note that the costs may be prohibitive.
Business schools do not have a list of required courses for admission. If a required course is ever mentioned, it is often calculus. In general, the transcript should contain some evidence of quantitative work because the application will have to demonstrate quantitative proficiency. It is best to have a course to indicate such proficiency rather than trying to prove it otherwise. Thus, calculus is the course of choice. If it is not taken during the undergraduate career, then it can be taken after graduation and preferably prior to applying. Though not required, courses in statistics, accounting, and economics provide a foundation for the study of business.
The Disciplinary Question. Applicants may be asked about disciplinary or legal actions for which they are responsible and must respond truthfully and directly. Admission officers will be interested in knowing about the incident and lessons learned from it. Though there are risks, a disciplinary problem does not automatically mean a rejection if it is handled properly.
A Transcript Problem. The best advice for a transcript problem is to be open about it. Being candid without being defensive is always best. There is usually an essay question providing an opportunity for explanations or statements concerning academic weaknesses.
A Questionable Supervisor. Applicants may be unable or unwilling to approach a supervisor for a recommendation for various reasons. In such cases, an alternate who can provide similar information may be asked to substitute. A note of explanation on the application can be helpful.
Job Changes. Future applicants to business school may be concerned about job changes and what they might reveal. Applicants should be careful to explain the reason for the changes. Changes do not necessarily raise a red flag, but they might if they seem excessive or without direction. It is incumbent upon the applicant to provide the story behind the changes.
Electronic applications are fine and are welcomed by many institutions. Some use an electronic service such as Embark. Be sure to follow your desired school's instructions for submitting application materials.
There is no denying that essays are important and carry weight in the admission decision. Time must be spent writing and polishing them so they can be the best expressions of the applicant’s personal portrait, experiences, and goals. Essay questions usually focus on professional experience, reasons for the MBA, personal descriptions, responses to management situations, explanations of problems.
More than one essay is usually required. To some readers, they can be the most revealing part of the application. Essays should not be done overnight or in a day and should not be taken for granted. One’s intentions about business school are made clear when writing the essays. Without such clarity, the application suffers. Some students have changed their minds about applying for lack of substance.
A word of caution: please do not try to submit the essays for one school to other schools. Admission directors know their questions and can spot without trouble answers prepared for another application.
Full-time vs. Part-time Programs
The decision to pursue a full-time or part-time program rests individual circumstances. Full-time programs tend to attrack students who can commit the majority of their time to school. Part-time programs are varied--weekend, execute, night. Regardless, all take longer the full-time ones and are aimed at students who have other commitments such as full-time employment and family responsibilites.
Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)
The GMAT is essential and should be taken only after concentrated study. Questions about the GMAT are of two varieties, involving when the test should be taken and whether or not a preparation course is recommended. The blunt answer to the first one is whenever you are ready, but that of course generates questions. Those planning to apply as college seniors should take the test at the end of the junior year or early in the senior year. Those planning to apply after working can take more time or can take it while in school if they can commit to the test. Very often early test takers do not spend the study time necessary or have the commitment required to do well on the test, and thus have scores that are less than suitable to them and eventually find themselves in a retesting situation. Only if the commitment is there during college will you serve yourself well to take the test before leaving. Good, quality study time is recommended for the test. Because the format of the test is different from others and test items are ones you probably have not encountered previously, you should not enter the test situation without preparation. Test-preparation courses offer structure to the study effort and are popular among test-takers. Others choose to develop their own study plan. The goal is to study and study hard.
Interviews and Visits
The trend toward interviews continues. Interviews are appreciated by most applicants since they believe they can be quite effective in an interview situation. They occur in several ways: required, requested by the applicant, invited to by the institution, on campus, off campus, with an admission officer, with a current student, with alumni, with a committee. Because interview practices vary from school to school, it is important to ask about them at each school. There is no way to determine the influence of one interviewer or interview over the other. The goal is to be good whatever the setting. The best preparation for the interview is the application itself. The applicant should be very informed about the program and have questions prepared. Do not forgo the chance to interview, for it is sometimes the case that all applicants admitted to a program have interviewed.
The on-campus interview serves a two-fold purpose. While allowing for the interview, it also is an occasion for applicants to visit the school. It is always recommended that a school visit be made. Most programs have structured visitation opportunities which include class visits, tour of facilities, and admissions information.
While networking is traditionally thought of as a post-degree experience, it can also be valuable during the application process, and interviews and school visits contribute to building networking relationships. Recruitment strategies of business schools lend themselves to networking possibilities where applicants have a chance to meet faculty, admission officers, current and prospective students. Events are held on campus or off campus in locations around the country and around the world. Modern-day applications are not isolates; they are firmly connected to sources that will help in information gathering.
Number of Applications
Usually applicants apply to 4-6 schools. The worst thing to do is to apply to only one. A related question involves applying to a “safety.” Rather than honing in on a safety, it may be better to apply broadly within the category of desired schools for which the applicant may be competitive. While there is no way to predict admission success at a particular school, applying to several increases probabilities.
A common expectation is that an academic recommendation will be required. To the surprise of many, it is often not the case. Most schools will want to see first recommendations from the work setting and next from others who can speak to leadership potential. An academic recommendation can certainly be submitted, but must be accompanied by others from the professional world. The prebusiness advisor writes for students in cases where a third recommendation is required. The cardinal rule about a recommender is that the person must know you and know something about you. A vacuous recommendation is easily spotted and serves no one. When approaching a prospective recommender, review your plans with them prior to asking them to serve as recommenders. If they agree to do so, give them the recommendation form or information on how to access a Web-based form and then sign the release of information section. Generally, recommenders do not object to completing multiple forms and may write one letter for all but provide as much information on specific forms, such as ratings, as possible. In any case though, they should provide as much specific information as possible. Ask about the Appraisal/Recommendation Service offered by the Graduate Business School Advisor, especially in cases where professors may be retiring or leaving Duke for elsewhere.
Submission of Applications
The general assumption that applications should be submitted early is true. If asked, an admission officer will undoubted reply that applying early is recommended. If the school admits on a rolling basis, then applying during the fall or in January will be advantageous. If there are application rounds, then applying to one of the first two, with deadlines generally between late October and January, is best. The best time, though, to submit an application is when you are most satisfied with it.
The “work experience” issue raises several questions with two of the most frequent being “how much” and “what kind.” Basically, four-five years are the average at most places, but remember these numbers are averages. There are those who enter with fewer and those who enter with more. One year is not sufficient and the applicant generally realizes that on his/her own. Women applicants may present their case for fewer years. It is safe to say that most who enter graduate business schools have experience in the business world, but there are plenty who enter after having experience in other sectors. Many schools make special note of those who are admitted after time spent in education, engineering, the military, government, a health profession, athletics - or any number of occupations. The key if entering from another field or from a seemingly unrelated field is to make the connection to graduate business study. What led to it? What are your intended goals? What in your development is related to business management functions? Make the trajectory known; tell the story. Business school is about the management and leadership, regardless of where it occurs.