This is a guest post from my graduating finance intern Alex Marrucho. Alex has been my star intern for the past year and continues his journey to Vanderbilt University in their Master's of Finance Program. Good luck Alex!
This post is a follow-up to the one entitled: “Preparing For, Taking and Passing the GMAT Exam”. First I would like to mention that there is no such thing as failing the exam. The term “Passing the GMAT Exam” was aimed at achieving or overcoming your previously set goal. Many may think that whenever schools state something along the lines of “We thoroughly consider applicants; a weak GMAT score may be balanced by strong credentials in other areas”, they mean that everyone has a shot. However, this may not be true. While this can be true, this is also a very good marketing strategy. Why would a business school want to attract fewer applicants, given that they receive a fee from each applicant? Let’s take Harvard for example; they had 9,093 applicants for the MBA Class of 2011. The fee for application for Class of 2012 was U$250. With applications only, Harvard could raise U$2,273,250. While this may not be that much money for an institution with a $25.62 billion endowment, it is still money. It can probably pay the salaries of 3-5 professors for the whole year. If Harvard stated that the “cut-off” for the GMAT was at 700, how much money would they “lose”?
Let’s remember that even though we are talking about an educational institution, it is still a business. If you go and look at the statistics of admitted students, you will see that the range for the GMAT score for the Class of 2011 was 490 – 800. The middle 50% of admitted applicants scored between 700 and 760. Yes, we had someone (or even more) with a relatively low score (490) get into the program and probably Harvard had a VERY GOOD reason to admit him/her. In my opinion, unless you did something extraordinary before applying to business school, you should aim for a 700+ score to have a shot at Harvard and the really top schools. There are exceptions to needing such a good score, but you (and the rest of your credentials) truly need to be extraordinary.
Choosing the Right School
Choosing the schools to apply to might not be as easy as it may sound. If you want to make a really informed decision, the best is to research about 15-20 schools that you are interested in (taking into account your future career plans) and try to get in touch with current students and alumni. Don’t forget to use these meetings and phone calls as a chance to network with current and former students. You never know how much these people could help you through the application and admission process. Something you should look for when applying to the schools are the profiles of each class. You should try to match your profile with the profiles of past classes for that specific school. As mentioned before, if you see that the average GMAT for a school is 700, it is very unlikely that a score of 500 will pass the screening process. While we did have an example where a score 490 got into Harvard’s MBA class, these are rare and you should not place all your bets in such an unfavorable condition.
Most likely, the application process is divided into rounds where applications are reviewed in packets. I would recommend applying to the school as soon as possible, because
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- There will be more open spots and
- It allows you more time to execute your plan B if you don’t get accepted.
It is of extreme importance to give yourself enough time to complete the application. You will likely have to provide personal information and submit a set of essays. I have experienced two types of applications regarding essays, one where the school asks you to write a personal statement and another where the school asks you to write 2-3 essays responding to questions pertaining to specific topics. Most likely the information in one essay is transferable to the other essays. With this I mean that if the first school you applied to asks you to write a personal statement, it is very likely that you will be able to use the ideas you presented in your personal statement when responding to the questions asked by another school. So give yourself enough time to build your personal statement, it is vital for the school to know you on a more personal level and assess whether you are a good fit for their program and community.
After submitting the application, you should hear back before that round’s deadline. If you pass the first screening test, they will, most likely, contact you to schedule an interview (another screening process). The longer you go without hearing from the school, the greater are the odds that you did not pass the initial screening test. Obviously, if you don’t hear by the deadline (of receiving a response) the school gave you, you didn’t make it.
If you pass the first screening process, it is very likely that you will be invited for an interview. Most likely the interview is NOT optional; you will have to go through the process. The interviews shouldn’t be too hard, but again, you have to be prepared. Go over a list of behavioral questions and write down answers to them. Have in mind 3-4 “stories” that you can twist around and answer basically any behavioral question. This is one of the times where your involvement in the community will pay off. If during your undergraduate degree you were part of the athletic team or a student organization, be sure to talk about these experiences. Many times schools will ask you for “leadership” situations, so again, if you held a leadership position while at undergraduate school, be sure to mention that. If you have been in the work force for quite some time, be sure to mention the times where you had to step up as a leader and lead the team. Another question that I got, which I felt was really important, was:
“How do you define yourself as a leader?”.
Be sure to have an answer for that. Do some research on “Leadership styles” and see which one (or more than one) describes your leadership style. One of the questions that I thought I would be asked but wasn’t, is the famous
“Tell me about your weaknesses/strengths”.
Even though I wasn’t asked, be sure to have an answer ready for this question; it will also help you answer other questions. Every time you answer a question, be sure to throw in a couple of your strengths; this will fortify your answer and will give the interviewer more information about you. I think the most important advice that I could give is: connect with your interviewer, be sociable. I have heard of numerous stories where candidates had excellent GMAT scores and GPAs, but during the interview they were too shy or seemed “unsociable” and were not offered admission. In the business world you will be dealing with people and the most important skill you can have is the cultivation of relationships. Business schools want a well-rounded individual, not a math genius who lacks social skills.
Making the Right Decision
You are the only one who can make the right decision. While it is very important to listen to what other people have to say about their experiences at a certain school, you are the only one who knows whether a certain school will be the best fit for you. Some schools offer a “Welcome Weekend” event, where you have the opportunity to travel to campus and interact with various current students and faculty. If the school you have been accepted to offers this event, I strongly recommend attending. Of course the event is one way for the school to sell itself, but it is definitely worth going to meet current and prospective students and the faculty. The event demonstrates what kind of environment you will be entering and will allow you to make a more informed decision.
This is all; I wish you luck on your decision.
This a guest post from Alex Marrucho, my intern from SIU-Carbondale majoring in Finance. He can connect with him on his Linked In Profile. Alex is not endorsed or affiliated with LPL Financial.