Answers to questions I’ve been getting via emails, which I believe may interest many people reading this blog: application essays, how to choose recommenders, how to choose schools and more.

Feel free to ask questions – by mail or comments. I do promise to reply, but can’t promise a quick reply, especially after next week (going to Boston…)
So, here goes:

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After HBS (and other schools) have released their essay questions for this year (see my last post about the new HBS essays), some of you are probably starting to think about their essays.

Before starting to write any essays, it’s important to create a holistic strategy for the application in general and the essays in particular. The strategy will give you a bird’s eye view of the entire application and at the same time will provide you with content for individual essays.

What is “The Strategy”?

Basically the strategy will include a “list” of topics / stories / achievements / qualities you’d like to include or demonstrate in your application – your life’s “highlights”. By creating it before starting to write anything, and following it through while writing, you can make sure you don’t miss any important theme and that you manage to display a coherent and attractive picture of yourself.

How Do I Build The Strategy?

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HBS Essays for 2008

June 26th, 2007

HBS just released its essay questions for the 2008 application. It’s quite similar to last year’s (the one I submitted), but introduces more flexibility in selecting essays and new essay questions.

A while ago I posted my analysis of last year’s essays; Most of these essays appear in the new application: Essay 1 is last year’s #2 (accomplishments), optional essay 1 is last year’s #3 (leadership), optional essay 3 is last year’s #1, optional essay 4 is last year’s #5. They removed the ethics essay, a very understandable decision (in my analysis, I nicknamed this essay “the oddball”).

I won’t write an analysis for the new essays; after all, I don’t have to apply this year :) However, you’re more than welcome to use the parts of my analysis which apply to the current essays. I’ll just say a couple of words about the new essays and the new application structure:

- The last optional essay (“What else would you like the MBA Admissions Board to understand about you?”) is practically a gift; a “joker” that you can use to say whatever you’d like and didn’t manage to in the other essays.

- The two new optional essays both discuss globalization; which I really like as an admit – I’m glad HBS puts more emphasis on global issues. So I guess that application-wise, that’s good news to those of you with extensive international exposure – now you have plenty of space to ‘show it off’. And thanks to the flexibility of the new application, applicants without impressive international experience can simply choose other essays. Btw, the “culture shock” essay is practically a “copy paste” from the Insead application.

- The other new essay (“What have you learned from a mistake?”) is not an easy one; however it might be somewhat relieving to know that other schools also feature a variation of this question, so at least you’ll have some stories you’ll be able to share between applications.

Good luck! To be honest, I really don’t envy those of you now beginning the long process of applying and writing the essays… It’s hard, and at least for me wasn’t like anything I’ve done before. On the other hand, you’ll learn a lot during the process, and definitely will have moments of satisfaction and pride during (or probably after…) it.

For more information about the new essays, Accepted.com already published their own analysis of the new essays – good read. I’m sure ClearAdmit will follow with their own analysis.

I have another post coming up soon about preparing a general essays strategy – “stay tuned”… :)


Application Timeline

June 21st, 2007

If you’re going to apply to a business school in this application season (2007-8, class of 2010), now is a good time to start planning your schedule for the next few months. In a previous post I discussed applying Round One vs. Round Two (and my recommendation was Round One), and in this post I try to outline a recommended timeline for those who decide to apply in Round One, or at least apply to the majority of their schools in Round One.

My Timeline
Let me start with describing my own application timeline last year, which is an example of a very bad timeline. The reason for that was that I only decided I want to do an MBA abroad in July 2006! Thus, the entire schedule was condensed into only 3 (three) months.

So, here goes: Read the rest of this entry »


It’s already June and schools are starting to release their application deadlines for 2007/8 (class of 2010). Many applicants are starting to ask themselves – “When should I apply?”

Most business schools have three admission rounds – i.e. three different deadlines for submitting applications and, consequently, receiving interview invitations and final decisions. Exceptions to this rule are Columbia Business School and other schools with “Rolling Admissions” (a process without deadlines), schools that have four admission rounds or schools with two Intakes. There are also other, more esoteric, admission schemes.

In this post I discuss the majority – schools with the three rounds, with the following submission deadlines:

  • Round One – Mid October – Mid November
  • Round Two – January
  • Round Three – March

And you get a final decision (admit/reject) by:

  • Round One – late December – January
  • Round Two – March-April
  • Round Three – May

For Israeli candidates (or just Hebrew readers…), here’s a site that contains the deadlines and notification dates of the leading programs. (note that right now it’s still not updated to 2007/8)

So, in which round should you apply?
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Deirdre Leopold, HBS Director of MBA Admissions

BusinessWeek recently conducted an online chat with Deirdre Leopold, HBS Director of MBA Admissions (aka “the one who’s going to decide if you’re in or not”). They also posted the chat’s transcript.

The entire transcript is worth reading, as it includes interesting information for applicants – mainly changes in the structure of application essays and the introduction of an admissions blog.

However, there’s one specific point I’d like to talk about. Ms. Leopold was asked:

ramtelecom: What do you, compared to previous admissions directors, look for in new HBS candidates?

And that was her answer:

HBSDeirdre: I have been thinking a lot about leadership and how to both define and identify it. I think there’s a danger in thinking that there is just one model of a leader—someone who is larger than life and always out in front—who should be at HBS. I prefer to think in terms of an assortment of leaders, some of whom gravitate to traditional leadership roles in an established organization, some of whom like to start things and get them up and running, some of whom motivate small groups, “thought leaders” who provide the unexpected and provocative way of looking at a problem. One of the most exciting ways of thinking about diversity in the case method classroom is on the dimension of leadership styles—bringing together all these folks and hearing how they tackle the real life problems in a case.

This really resonates well with my own thinking, and the way I analyzed HBS leadership essay.

I said there that:

I was a team leader of 5 people, and also managed a couple of global ad-hoc projects, the largest of which included ~10 people. You see the numbers aren’t huge. However, throughout my entire life I believe I showed a lot of initiative, creativity and ability to come up with new ideas and follow them through to successful implementation. I was also a trainer and speaker and had opportunities to lecture and talk in front of large, senior audiences. All of this, in my opinion, is also part of leadership. I believe leadership consists of many implicit things: the ability to convince people in your ideas – your supervisors, your team members and your subordinates, the ability to make people follow you, to inspire your team members, to successfully delegate, to develop your people and keep them happy and motivated, and many other things that together constitute ‘good leadership’ and ‘good management’.

And that was one month before the chat took place :)

So my point here is the same one I made in the essay analysis – many applicants believe HBS only looks for larger than life superman leaders. I don’t think that’s the case, and you shouldn’t be afraid of applying if you don’t posses the supposedly-classic leadership achievements. (of course if you do, that’s great!)

For more, read the essay’s analysis, or my analysis to all HBS essays. HBS hasn’t posted the essays for the 2007 application year yet (they probably will at the beginning of July), but I imagine part of them will remain unchanged.

Here’s another insightful post about What Is Leadership, from the blog of fellow MBA admits.

By the way, during the HBS admit weekend in March Ms. Leopold was one of the speakers, and turned out to be smart, witty and engaging. You can read my admit weekend post here.


Recommended online and offline resources for MBA applicants in general and Israeli applicants in particular, arranged by the following categories:

Books | Web sites | Language Tools | For Israelis

Books

What do HBS Students Read? My post with the list of books given to us by HBS.

GMAT

I wouldn’t recommend on buying a whole plethora of books. Each one of them is usually so packed with material, exercises, online exams and so on that it’s better just to buy 1-2 and really stick with them, i.e. go over all of their theoretical material and complete all of their exercises. This is what I did with Kaplan.

  • Kaplan GMAT 2007 – This is the only book I used to prepare for the GMAT (an older version, of course). The book itself is great for learning and reviewing the theoretical rules for all sections (essays, verbal and quantitative), and for initial paper practice of each subject. It’s complemented by a personal website and a CD allowing online practice and exam-taking in the format of the real test. For me this combination has proved itself to be very helpful and successful. Highly recommended, and quite a bargain for 25$!
    For Israeli applicants – this book is also available in bookstores in Israel (Dyonon for example).
  • The Official Guide for GMAT Review, 11th Edition – from GMAC, the official body administrating the GMAT (and the one that writes the real questions…). I haven’t used this one, but I do recommend it. As I did online exams from Kaplan, Princeton and other sources, I noticed that none of them completely resembled the style, ‘character’ and level of difficulty of the actual tests from the GMAC (available online for free – click the link to download them). Had I known it earlier, I might have bought this book in addition to the Kaplan one, as it contains ‘the real’ practice exercises. Kaplan however is much better in explaining and reviewing the material. In addition to this general book, two other ones are also available from GMAC: The Official Guide for GMAT Verbal Review and The Official Guide for GMAT Quantitative Review.
Disclaimer: I got a 700+ score.

MBA – General

There are many books dealing with various aspects of the MBA experience: researching schools, applying, interviewing, matriculating and life during the MBA itself. From my personal experience, I found myself drawn to them in two different phases of the application process:

  • In the very beginning, when I started to seriously think about the idea of an MBA and knew practically nothing about the different schools, the costs and the application process. I had only basic, general questions, not anything particular or specific to one school. During this phase, these books can help by generally describing the degree itself, the application requirements, and of course the schools. Eventually I ended up not buying any particular book, but it was mainly due to lack of time – I started the entire process very late (July, and applied in October), and preferred studying for the GMAT instead of reading books. Had I started the process earlier, I would have definitely bought a book or two for the research process.
  • Right now, after the application process is over, I have matriculated with HBS and about to start school in a few months. Why now? Well, because I have relatively more time on my hands, and find myself curious again about life in school and post-MBA career possibilities. During my last visit to the US I spent a few hours in a bookstore and read a few MBA guides.

So here are the books I recommend for both phases:

Books | Web sites | Language Tools | For Israelis

Web sites

  • Schools websites – in addition to browsing the schools websites, almost each school allows you to register through their website in order to get newsletters, brochures and information about events in places near you (for Israelis, this means schools receptions being held in Israel). HBS allows you to create a profile with your contact information and interests.
  • Clear Admit – MBA admission consultants that offer a very useful blog – with essay analysis and tons of MBA news and info. Every Friday the blog features “Fridays from the Frontline”, where they refer to posts of various MBA-related bloggers (applicants and students). Their MBA wiki contains a lot of information about schools, MBA programs and the application process, contributed by the applicants themselves.
  • Accepted.com – another resourceful site of MBA admission consultants. Especially helpful are their MBA chat transcripts – every year they conduct online chats with MBA admission officers and students of different schools, and keep the chats transcripts. Another extremely useful resource is the MBA interview database, a searchable database with thousands of interview reports written by applicants themselves. A must before going to an interview…
  • mba Mission – another admission consultant with a nice blog, including good essay writing tips. In addition, this company has quite a few Israeli customers and its founder Jeremy Shinewald visits Israel several times a year. I attended such a visit, where Jeremy gave a good presentation about the application process and was available for personal, free of charge 30 minutes meetings. In my meeting he read my resume and gave me some useful feedback and profile assessment (more info is available from him or from Fulbright, see below). In an interesting interview with him he talks about GMAT, essays and other things that may interest an applicant beginning the process.
  • My own HBS essay analysis, for 2006 (when I applied, and was admitted…)

Forums

  • BusinessWeek MBA forums – get ready for hours of joy in the infamous BW forums. Discussions range from pretty informative “who has already received an interview invitation and where” to “which MBA program has the best looking students” (really). Especially recommended is the “Ask Sandy” thread, where a blunt admission consultant gives ALL UPPERCASE ADVICE ABOUT HOW MUCH YOUR PROFILE SUCKS to fearful applicants. Warning: bw forums might be addictive!
  • Wharton Student2Student – administered by the Wharton itself, this forum mainly contains Wharton related discussions, but really *everything* about Wharton. Adcom members and current students also participate, and may be good sources of information.

Blogs – see my blogroll.
Books | Web sites | Language Tools | For Israelis

Language Tools / Writing Aids: (useful for essay writing)

  • FreeDictionary – dictionary, Thesaurus, phrases, terms and much more, all rolled into one.
  • Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary: another robust dictionary / thesaurus.
  • Answers.com – one stop shop for Wikipedia, Dictionary, proverbs and more.
  • Babylon - the homepage of the excellent Babylon software, a lightweight utility that translates a word or a phrase on the screen with a single mouse click. Wikipedia, Britannica, bi-directional translation with English and most popular languages, professional dictionaries (finance, business, technology and many other topics, including user-defined dictionaries) and other nifty features make this software a must.

Books | Web sites | Language Tools | For Israelis

In Hebrew / For Israelis:

  • Kidum GMAT itself contains a lot of interest material about MBA abroad in general and the GMAT in particular.

Feel free to post comments and contact me with any questions or comments you may have!


5. What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you? (400-word limit)

As opposed to other schools’ essays about this topic, this one’s pretty vague and open-ended, and does not include the infamous ‘Why HBS’. It actually been claimed by some that HBS are so sure you want to go there, they don’t bother asking why. Which is kind of nice, I guess – I mean, being a self confident person, if someone wants to date me, I don’t ask ‘Why Me? Why Date? Why Now?’

So I don’t recommend on writing “Why HBS”. As I described in my analysis of Essay 4 (Ethics), I indirectly discussed my deep interest in HBS there, but if they don’t explicitly ask “Why Us”, save yourself the effort. They know why them – ’cause they’re HBS, duh!’ (kidding, right)

Also, in contrast to other schools that ask for a short-term, mid-term and long-term career goals, HBS is much more vague. I did structure my essay in the form of four sections: the past, post-MBA goal, long-term goal and a slightly longer “why is it meaningful to me” section.

A few words about the entire topic of future plans: most people know this is somewhat a “game” between the school and the applicant. The minute you’re in, and it’s no secret, the school tells you that they know you didn’t necessarily mean what you said in that essay. And it’s OK. And they’ll help you decide. And hold your hand. Of course there are also the people who really know and mean each and every word they write in this essay, and indeed execute in the short, mid and long term. But I don’t think they’re the majority, to put it mildly.

So why the game? Tell you the truth, I’m not completely sure. Maybe the next couple of years will give me a better understanding. I guess the school wants to know you’re possible of future planning and clear thinking, but still, they also know you might not really mean the amazing strategy you outlined in the essay… Anyways, right now that’s the game and you need to play along.

My opinion is that you do need to think about what you want to do after the MBA – and why are you doing the MBA for. Hey, I certainly hope you gave that a lot of thought regardless of this essay!

But in the essay, you need to clearly outline your goals, and also demonstrate how you’re going to get there. Preferably it should be obvious that with your previous experience, including your undergraduate degree, and the MBA, your future goals are just a natural continuation.

Don’t forget “and why is this choice meaningful to you?” – again, to showcase how the career vision connects to your qualities and what has been important for you so far.

Summary

Though the question is a bit fluffy, make sure your answer is structured and to the point. Your career vision should make sense by being connected to your past, and not come ‘out of the blue’.


4. In your career, you will have to deal with many ethical issues. What are likely to be the most challenging and what is your plan for developing the competencies you will need to handle these issues effectively? (400-word limit)

That’s an interesting one. In my opinion, it’s quite different from the rest, because even if you come up with a really ‘good’, polished answer, it doesn’t really help you highlight anything significant about you, your strong qualities, achievements and the other goodies you managed to promote in the other essays. The best it can show is that you know how to come up with good answers about ethics questions…

In fact, after thinking about it I came up with a subversive (!) idea – HBS already managed to collect lots of information about you in the other essays and the application itself; therefore, it just uses this essay to signal and ‘show off’ its strong emphasis on ethics. Something like – “look, out of only five essays, we actually dedicate one entire essay solely to ethics! Must be really important for us!”. Tongue in cheek, but I assume next year will undoubtedly convince me that HBS really takes ethics seriously.

According to this – admittedly bizarre – logic, it doesn’t really matter what you write here, as long as it’s plausible and somewhat original. One possibly good advice I’d received is to tailor the ethical issues to your future industry – for example, if you’re going to do agriculture then discuss ethical issues related to that, like using cheap fertilizers vs. environmentally-friendly ones.

As the weird guy on the block, this essay was also the one I used to talk about my knowledge of HBS. Since HBS doesn’t have the infamous “Why HBS” question, I wrote here about my HBS visit experience, and a class I attended which happened to discuss a supposedly trivial ethical issue in a truly eye-opening way.

As for the plan for tackling these issues, in addition to mentioning all the great stuff I shall learn at HBS, I also used this place to mention specific books I read that related to the topic.

Summary

This is an oddball – try to make the best out of it by answering the question, of course, but also throwing in other bits and bites you didn’t manage to write anywhere else…


3. Discuss a defining experience in your leadership development. How did this experience highlight your strengths and weaknesses as a leader? (400-word limit)

Everybody knows that HBS is just crazy about leadership. <Irony> You don’t stand a chance if you didn’t start your own company, managed at least 50 subordinates or at least led a fund-raising of a sum greater than 500,000 Italian Lira. </Irony>

Well, similar to my analysis of Essay 2, also here I can at least use my example: I was a team leader of 5 people, and also managed a couple of global ad-hoc projects, the largest of which included ~10 people.

You see the numbers aren’t huge. However, throughout my entire life I believe I showed a lot of initiative, creativity and ability to come up with new ideas and follow them through to successful implementation. I was also a trainer and speaker and had opportunities to lecture and talk in front of large, senior audiences. All of this, in my opinion, is also part of leadership. In fact, I believe leadership consists of many implicit things: the ability to convince people in your ideas – your supervisors, your team members and your subordinates, the ability to make people follow you, to inspire your team members, to successfully delegate, to develop your people and keep them happy and motivated, and many other things that together constitute ‘good leadership’ and ‘good management’.

I’m sure you can come up with great examples demonstrating you abilities in these areas, even if you were not a team leader or in another explicit leadership position.

A few technical comments:

  • This essay naturally calls for one good story that you’ll develop, with a few representative anecdotes. Don’t include more than one story, as the question specifically asks for one example, and there’s not much space anyway.
  • Don’t forget the “strengths and weaknesses” part, and supply short – but descriptive – anecdotes for each one, or at least for the strengths. Don’t just write “I successfully delegated tasks” but give a concise example.
  • You’d want to write twice as much about the strengths, of course. However, don’t write about ‘pseudo-weaknesses’ or weaknesses that are really strengths-in-disguise. For example, in my first draft of this essay I wrote that the project I was leading put me in a lot of stress and made me drink too much coffee and dream about it at night. Well, nice, but it’s not that much of a weakness… After getting feedback along these lines I added a more ‘real’ weakness – the stress caused me to demand too much of my people, including asking them to stay too long at the office and overreact in general.

Summary

Another place to impress – but this time about leadership. Remember that leadership isn’t always the obvious ‘I managed 75 people’ (although if you did that, great, and definitely talk about it as this is an uncommon leadership achievement) – in fact, it might be even more unique and conspicuous to discuss leadership from a different angle.

Make sure this essay doesn’t unintentionally overlap with the accomplishments essay – no need to waste ‘airtime’ repeating things that have already been said; best to highlight additional points.