MBA Admissions: How to make a comeback in R2

Round 1 can be brutal. Most of you who applied to Harvard and Stanford were rejected. Recuperating from the injury to your self-esteem, many take a break. The week-long break becomes a period of sulking and self-defeating thoughts. Many call me in the first week of November when most results are published and ask ‘what should I do.’

What was the error in my strategy?

How should I approach the essays in R2?

Should I aim lower?

The number of GMAT test takers peak in December, just before the Christmas break. Then there is a mad rush to create new narratives and sometimes rephrase the ‘creative’ Harvard essay for other schools. Many assume that a turn of phrase praising their stint as a class monitor would offer a balanced perspective on their potential.

During the extensive profile evaluation and strategy session, the client and I often create narratives of their three weaknesses. Without recognizing where you lack exposure, need skill upgrade or the corrective actions you took when the weaknesses were brought to you notice, it is difficult to create a narrative for essays. Many pretend that they don’t have any or assume that hiding their weakness and nudging the consultant to develop imaginative spin is a better strategy. Many are a little too honest about their weakness and sub-consciously allow the honesty to diminish their self-esteem and eventually their ambition.

Some find the right balance of finding the confidence in their strengths and demonstrating readiness to address their weaknesses.

Before you rephrase every line in the essay used in R1, here are the winning elements that you should focus for Round 2.

1) GMAT Retake

Retaking the GMAT in one month is tough. If you have created a unique narrative in R1,  and your GPA is around the class median, the obvious connection to your rejection becomes the GMAT score. I have seen cases after cases, despite a great deal of persuasion, clients avoiding the painful process of opening the Official GMAT Guide again and reading about coral reefs. I know – GMAT sucks. It is boring, and you won’t care about the test, the moment you see a 730+ score.

Again, it is about your weakness. Was it Critical reasoning or reading comprehension? Or is it Sentence Correction?

Most clients have an excellent Quant score. It is the verbal that stands in their way.

One good signal that I noticed after 1-2 month of essay writing and editing is that applicants improve their Reading Comprehension and Sentence Correction skills. If you strategically approach the GMAT with an encyclopedic awareness of your weakness – by sub-topic, question type, and speed, improving the score by 30-40 points is achievable in 3 weeks. It is tough. But achievable.

2) Re-evaluating Recommenders and Letters

Recommenders are a critical piece of the puzzle while evaluating your candidacy. Broadly, there are two problems I noticed in recommendation letters. One when the client is not comfortable sharing the letter with consultants for editing and suggestions.

I don’t recommend editing and fine-tuning the letter too much, but suggestions on quantifying, covering multi-dimensional qualities or capturing an event from your professional life that the supervisor might have missed have become corrective steps that helped the client get admission to top MBA programs.

In other cases, the recommender is not enthusiastic about your MBA plan. This plays out more often than you could imagine. Some are passive-aggressive in that they don’t want your interference while filling the application form. The mismatch in the well-planned narrative and the rating on your leadership, communication and potential, becomes apparent when you are in waitlist or rejected.

Some delay the writing process until the last week and then offers a half-hearted attempt. Many contradict – purposely or unknowingly, the qualities that are highlighted in the essays. We had one client whose supervisor was just 2 years older than him. Without an MBA, the ‘boss’ became insecure that a Stanford MBA would propel the client to the top of the hierarchy in 3 years. So he entered the competition of underplaying the big achievement and unnecessarily quoting setbacks in the letter. After the 2nd draft, the client realized that the supervisor doesn’t care much about his future. He went back to the previous supervisor who was a Stanford MBA himself. The desire to see a colleague find a similar path as his triggered a mentor-mentee relationship that encouraged the Alumnus to share some of the winning strategies he used for admissions.

Another scenario, although not a common one, is when the client assume that he is a rookie despite consistently contributing towards the company’s exponential growth. The power-dynamics is so one-sided that the client feels intimidated to share his MBA plan and what he would like to do with the skill-upgrade. With numerous nudging, eventually, the applicant decides to talk. The boss is shocked that the applicant would even consider moving away from the company. The situation can turn sticky when the supervisors refuse to provide a recommendation letter and continue their hostility by overworking the applicant.

Some recommenders are first-timers with little experience of intermixing praise with numbers. They go the extreme way – either choosing ‘flowery’ phrases or turning into a statistician. Consultants or an independent eye with experience in editing would catch the clichés and remind applicants on points that would concur their leadership, maturity and cross-functional communication skills.

3) Just-In-Time Courses

Five years ago, applicants didn’t have global certification courses recognized by Business Schools and MBA programs. Most of the available courses in Management and Entrepreneurship were offered in an unstructured manner at MIT Open Courseware, Stanford eCorner, Darden YouTube videos, and Coursera. None of the ‘open source’ videos gave the ‘certificate of completion’ with the option to publish your grades.

With Harvard gaining traction with their online brand – HBX, applicants began noticing that taking courses led by top 30 MBA programs is a feasible correction to their below optimum performance in quant courses.

Since most courses are 4-weeks in duration, start the course between Nov 15th and Nov 21st, as you would get just over 10 days to fine tune the strategy in case the courses don’t pan out as you had imagined by last week of December.

As a strategy to mitigate risk, simultaneously take 2-3 courses as an upset in grade for one course can be compensated with others.

Target A and A+ or 90% and above.

The common courses I have seen clients take are:

1) Leading with Finance – HBX

2) Accounting Essentials for MBA Success (EdX) (Imperial College Business School)
3) Maths Essentials for MBA Success (EdX) (Imperial College Business School)
4) Data Analysis Essentials for MBA Success (EdX) (Imperial College Business School)
5) Introduction to Corporate Finance (Coursera) (Wharton)
6) Introduction to Financial Accounting (Coursera) (Wharton)
7) Introduction to Marketing (Coursera) (Wharton)
8) Introduction to Operations Management (Coursera) (Wharton)
9) Market Research and Consumer Behavior (Coursera)(IE Business School)
10) Foundations of marketing analytics (Coursera) (Essec Business School)
11) Design Thinking for Innovation (Coursera) (University of Virginia)
12) Leadership Through Marketing (Coursera) (Northwestern University)
13) Influencing People (Coursera)(University of Michigan)
14) Introduction to Negotiation: A Strategic Playbook for Becoming a Principled and Persuasive Negotiator (Coursera)(Yale University)
15) Linear Regression for Business Statistics  (Coursera)(Rice University)

The course is a way to show that you are capable of excelling in rigorous courses designed by top Business Schools despite underperforming as an undergraduate. Any score that is below 80% or B or 3.4 GPA is underperformance for top MBA programs.

If you were genuinely involved in extra-curricular, sports and entrepreneurship, allocating a couple of sentences for the lack of performance is ideal. Otherwise, the school would perceive your explanation as an excuse. Despite an average overall GPA score, if the performance in quant heavy courses and Statistics were above the class median (traditionally: B+ and above or 85% and above), choose to highlight them.

4) Volunteering

For American applicants, volunteering is part of the culture whereas for international students that is not the case. The one-dimensional pursuit of academics and career goals is one of the most common reasons for rejection in R1, third in priority to GMAT and GPA. Unfortunately, there are no one month quick fixes. You have to show initiative, network and find the right non-profit partner to volunteer or play even a more pivotal role in operations, marketing or fund-raising.

Just-in-time volunteering is easy to spot. Most volunteering activities happen a year before the application. But if on the professional side, the experiences are functional with little cross-functional exposure, take the risk of volunteering even if you are pursuing the activity to improve your profile.

Since Volunteering and Charity are ingrained in American culture, targeting non-US schools in R2 would be a better strategy and flex your re-positioning skills for a different country and school culture.

Confidence is a big part of the momentum. I have seen many clients not accepting admission offers from 15 to 30 ranked schools in the US. They are seeking cross-functional exposure and shadowing projects in their target function and making real change in the society through volunteering.

They disappear from the radar and come back 6 months later with a lifetime of stories and experiences to share. That becomes the ‘edge’ for the year’s essay narrative.

Most of you won’t have the patience or persistence to improve the profile as alternative paths in career and personal life are plenty.

Motivation is the key.

Signaling Desperation = New Opportunities

Although this is not a common trend, the motivation to accelerate your career rarely goes unnoticed by the management. Soon after R1, I have seen clients receiving opportunities to take on an additional role, switch to an interesting project or receive a promotion with responsibilities to lead an international team.

Even the act of articulating goals in a structured manner for top schools’ trigger ideas and career paths that you might not have thought before the admissions season.

Take advantage of them.

Immerse yourself, learn, take the risk, lead and offer real change.

Next year, you would be in a much better position to target the top 10 MBA program.

If you want to test the water and see how tier-2 schools (Top 15 to 30) perceive you, or you have waited till R2 for targeting the dream schools (top 10), start the initial consulting here.

As I can’t help all of you, my insights, strategies, school analysis, essay tips, storytelling techniques, and Sample Essays are shared in Winning MBA Essay Guide. Read, find inspiration, write, re-write and capture your unique voice.

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Winning MBA Essay Guide

Sample Essays + Essay Writing, Review & Editing Tips + 15 School-Specific Tips = Winning MBA Essay Guide

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Only 1 in 900 gains admission to Harvard MBA program. If you write your essay focused only on your achievements, post-MBA goals, and your pre-MBA experience, you will be among the 899 rejected applicants.

ATTENTION is the secret ingredient. How will you get the attention of the essay reviewer?

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Pages: 666

Winning MBA Essay Guide Includes
+Harvard MBA Essay Tips (2020 Entering Class) (NEW)
   Sample Harvard MBA Essay – Gratitude & Giving Back (318 Words)
   Sample Harvard MBA Essay – Entrepreneurship (Influence of Childhood) (667 Words)
   Sample Harvard MBA Essay - Volunteering (Mental Health Awareness)  (776 Words)
MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Sample Why Stanford MBA Essay (Consulting)(399 words)  
    Sample Why Stanford MBA Essay (Tech Entrepreneur) (390 words)  

    Sample Why Stanford MBA: Career Switch(Finance to Green Energy Consulting)(394 Words)
    Sample Essay A: What matters most to you, and why? (740 Words)
+ Chicago Booth MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Sample Booth MBA Essay #1: Oil & Gas to Consulting (475 Words)
     Sample Booth MBA Essay #1: Social IMPACT to Marketing (478 Words)   
     Sample Booth MBA Essay #2: Leadership experience (Father’s Restaurant Business)(493 Words)   
     Sample Booth MBA Essay #2: Leadership experience (Teach for America)(640 Words)

+ Columbia MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
   Sample Columbia MBA Essay 1: Enterprise to Consumer Marketing (495 Words)  

    Sample Columbia MBA Essay 2:  New York for Marketing Professionals (244 Words)  
    Sample Columbia MBA Essay #3 - Team Failure (Marketing Lead) (242 Words)  
    Sample Columbia MBA Essay #3 - Team Failure (Technology) (248 Words)  
    Sample Columbia MBA Essay #3 - Team Failure (Pharma) (244 Words)  

+ MIT Sloan MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
     Personality Type (Accepted MIT Sloan Students)   
     Cover Letter Checklist   

     Sample Cover Letter – Technology Consulting (286 Words)
     Sample Cover Letter – Healthcare Entrepreneurship (296 Words)
+ Kellogg MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Sample Essay 1: Demonstrated Leadership (Marketing) (449 Words)
     Sample Essay 2: Demonstrated Leadership (Technology) (449 Words)   
     Sample Essay 3: MBA as a Catalyst for Growth (Technology) (438 Words)
     Sample Essay 4: MBA as a Catalyst for Growth (Non-Profit to Consulting) (442 Words)
+ INSEAD MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
   Sample Essay 1: Candid Description, Strengths & Weaknesses
    Sample Essay 2: Achievements and Failures

    Sample Essay 3: Extra-Curricular and How enriched you are
MBA Essay Tips (2018 Entering Class)
     Sample MBA Essay: Non-Profit   
     Sample MBA Essay: Technology   
     Sample MBA Essay: Marketing   
     Sample MBA Essay: Getting Fired   
     Sample MBA Essay: Diverse and Inclusive Culture   
     Sample MBA Essay: Leadership   
     Sample MBA Essay: Post-MBA Goal & How Pre-MBA Experience will help  
+ Yale SOM MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Business Development (Mobile Start-Up)(486 Words)
     Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Investment Banking (IB)(404 Words)
     Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Consulting (442 Words)   
     Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Technology (452 Words)   
     Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Marketing (492 Words)
     Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Entrepreneurship (497 Words)
+ Ross MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Sample MBA Essay: Finance Professional who was a former member of a rock band (96 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Marketing Professional with a hidden talent to do Impression (100 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Life Philosophy through the prism of an Entrepreneurial failure (94 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Consulting for a Pharma Giant (Made a Difference) (91 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Three-Level Sanitation Campaign (100 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Water Conservation Kit (99 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Losing client (100 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Misreading Market Conditions (93 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Strategic Planning vs. Tactical Dominance in Chess (97 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Out of my comfort zone(extra-curricular) (93 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Out of my comfort zone (Daily Science Show) (99 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Simplifying Operations for Manufacturing (extra-curricular) (90 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I am aware that I am different (Leadership and Culture) (98 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I am aware that I am different (Technology Project and Last-minute change) (98 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I am aware that I am different (Making Business metrics relevant to a Creative team) (91 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I find it Challenging when People (Timidity)(98 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I find it Challenging when People (Laziness)(100 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I find it Challenging when People (Pessimism) (96 Words)   
   Sample Essay – Short-term Goals and why the goal is the right choice for you (Technology to Marketing)(299 Words)   
+ London Business School MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    London as the Financial Hub   
    London as the Technology Hub   
    London as the Consulting Hub   

    How to Cite the Curriculum (Example)
    Sample LBS MBA Essay (A Career Switcher from Technology to Consulting for FinTech) (489 Words)
    Sample LBS MBA Essay (A Career Switcher from Hospitality to Consulting) (499 Words)
+ Duke Fuqua MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Framework for Answering the Duke Fuqua Short-Answer Essay Questions   
    Sample Short-term Goals Essay – Technology to Consulting (100 Words)   
    Sample Long-term Goals Essay – Consulting for Government (100 Words)   
    Sample Long-term Goals Essay – Plan B (89 Words)   
    Framework for Answering the Duke Fuqua 25 Random Things   
    Sample Duke Fuqua Essay: The Fuqua community and you (Max 2 Pages)  
+ NYU Stern MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
     Sample NYU Stern Essay 1: Goals (498 Words) (Finance)
     Sample NYU Stern Essay 1: Goals (494 Words) (Consulting)
     Essay 3:  Personal Expression (a.k.a. "Pick Six")    
     5 Examples with Images

+ Darden MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Sample Darden MBA Essay – About yourself (100 Words) (Near Death Experience)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – About yourself (100 Words) (Networking and Job Offer at an Unlikely place)   
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – About yourself (100 Words) (Mountaineering)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – Where you want to go with Darden (47 Words)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – Evolving Leadership Style (198 Words)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – Meaningful IMPACT (200 Words)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay: Short-term Post-MBA career goal (149 words)
+ Wharton MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    7 Professional Gains
    Sample Wharton MBA Essay 1: Gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? (473 words)   
    Sample Wharton MBA Essay #2: Math Tutoring and Experimental music’s value (388 Words)

+ Sample Essays

+ The Art of Storytelling 
+ Leadership Narratives
+ Review Tips
+ Persuasion Strategies
+ The Secret to "unleashing" your unique voice
+ How to write about your Strengths
+ How to write about your Weaknesses

Download Winning MBA Essay Guide (2020 Entering Class)

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