Tips for Getting In from a Wharton Grad

I saw this FANTASTIC blog post from a Wharton Grad… VERY COMPREHENSIVE on how to get into a top business school. (Side note, I should have an interesting update on my own journey in the next few days).

Make sure to visit her blog post: http://www.careerchica.com/2015/02/my-best-tips-for-getting-into-a-top-business-school/


 

“The day the stock market tanked in 2008, every eyeball in our company was glued to the charts on TV, all of which plummeted down and to the right into a dark, never-ending abyss.

In that moment, my confidence in the economy and my career toppled along with the stock market. Life was short and I had barely started a career in an industry I had negative passion for. So I decided to make a drastic career-180 and gun it for business school.

Over the years people have asked me how to get into b-school. There are no secrets – just blood, sweat, and tears… and more sweat. Today I’m sharing with you the tips I wish I knew before I applied so you can avoid my mistakes and get to your vocational destination more quickly and purposefully. I got into 2 of the 3 top 10 schools I applied to, and now have an amazing career at LinkedIn, so I hope a lot of this advice works for you too! If it does, I would love to hear about it.

First, know why you want an MBA

Not everyone needs an MBA to be a successful business person or entrepeneur. Case in point: Elon Musk, Jeff Weiner, and Mark Zuckerberg, who doesn’t even have a college degree. On the flip side, not all of us have the inborn knack or do-it-yourself discipline to launch or run a company. Some of us need the extra networks, knowledge, and brand halo effect of an MBA to turbocharge our careers.

Admittedly, I probably spent too much time thinking about HOW to get into school and not enough time defining my career goals and WHY an MBA would help me achieve my goals. If I could do it over again I would spend more time researching and writing down my answers to big picture questions like the ones listed below.

Ask yourself these “why” questions:

  1. Vision & Goals: When I look back on my career when I retire, what do I want to feel proud of accomplishing? What am I good at, passionate about, and what are the supply & demand dynamics for those skills? What are my short and long-term career goals to help me get there? Will an MBA help me reach them and if so, how?
  2. Alternatives: Why do I want an MBA vs another degree? Why can’t I get there without an MBA or those other degrees?
  3. Relationships: How will I maintain (or not maintain) my significant other relationships before, during, and after school?
  4. ROI & Finances: Will I get enough career ROI from spending ~$200K on an MBA?
  5. Timing: Why do I want an MBA at this point in my career – why not earlier or later or not at all?
  6. Location: Where do I want to live and build my network for the short and long term? How do family and relationships play into that?

It helps to talk to people who did and didn’t get their MBA to get their perspectives on these very important questions. For me, not one of my college friends had gone to business school. I went to a 2400-person Christian liberal arts college where most alumni became missionaries and pastors. Like me, maybe you don’t have much of a network to rely on. Maybe you didn’t go to a college with lots of career services resources, b-school-bound classmates, or MBA alumni. Maybe you didn’t work at a management consulting firm or investment bank where most of your colleagues had MBAs, and b-schools flocked to your firm to court you.

I certainly didn’t, so I hustled to level the playing field for myself. I joined a local Asian professionals networking group to meet people who were willing share even a tiny morsel of advice with me, because I was starving for it. I used LinkedIn to reconnect with old high school friends who could share their b-school advice. If you’re in a similar situation, I recommend finding professional associations or employee resource groups to join so you can meet and gather as much information as you possibly can. Don’t forget to use LinkedIn to find 1st and 2nd degree connections for informational interviews. You’ll be surprised how willing friends of friends, and colleagues of colleagues are to share advice. Worst case scenario, they won’t respond.

Second, strategize how you’ll get an MBA

Once you answer the big questions, you can start planning and acting on the grueling yet simultaneously self-enlightening b-school application process.

Ask yourself these planning & action questions:

  1. School choice: Which schools will best help you achieve your career goals? What’s your strategy for applying to your top choice schools for round 1 vs 2 vs 3? Forget about the videos and marketing brochures, where talking heads are carefully selected to tell a specific story. Go straight to the career services website and look at the list of companies that recruit there, the breakdown of industries and functions that recent grads and alumni go into, the breakdown of locations they live in, etc. 2 years is extremely short. If your goal is to switch careers, prioritize career results over other factors like culture, classes, and even extra curricular activities. Visit the school and talk to students to get the real deal on important recruiting and career-related questions.
  2. GMAT: How will you study for the GMAT? How much time can you study on a daily and weekly basis? Be honest with yourself if you’re not a great test taker. I wasn’t one, and gave myself plenty of time to ramp back up into test taking mode.
  3. Recommendations: Who should you ask for recommendations? How will you work with them to write them? In many cases, your recommenders will appreciate some bullets or an outline, in addition to your resume + a sample essay on your career goals, to walk them down memory lane and get their writing juices flowing. Help them by quoting things from what they wrote in your performance reviews, and summarizing your impact on the projects you did.
  4. Essays: What traits do you want to showcase about yourself through your essays? What will your writing process be? Think of each school’s essay like a portfolio that will showcase different sides of yourself. Write a full set of essays for one school in the same time period (i.e. one school’s full set of essays per month), so you can share diverse stories that paint a vivid picture of who you are.
  5. Interviews: When and how will you prepare for interviews? Who can mock interview you and provide helpful feedback? Different schools have very different formats for interviews ranging from group interviews to behavioral only interviews to alumni interviews (which can be all over the map). Do your research, know what to expect, and practice practice practice!

5 must-read books to guide you through the process:

  1. How to Get Into the Top MBA Programs 
  2. Best Business School Admissions Secrets 
  3. Your MBA Game Plan Strategies
  4. Successful Harvard Business School Application Essays – Now you can also get 50+ Successful Wharton Business School Essays 
  5. Great Application Essays for Business School

Stay ahead of breaking b-school news

Things are constantly changing so stay ahead of breaking b-school news. Schools continually revamp their essay questions, interview formats, and even their brand and the ideal candidates they’re looking for. These were my favorite 3 sites for staying on top of things:

  1. www.poetsandquants.com – Founded by John Byrne, former Editor in Chief at Bloomberg Business Week and former writer/editor at Forbes, this site provides honest insider information on the admissions process, breaking news about schools, and its own rankings. This was by far my most helpful go-to site.
  2. http://www.clearadmit.com/wiki/index.php?title=WhartonInterview – One of the best online resources for admissions interview prep.
  3. http://forums.businessweek.com/bw-bschools/start/ – Also great for interview prep.

Break 700 by prepping hard for the GMAT

The GMAT is one of the most daunting parts of the business school application process, unless you’re one of those rare purple peacocks who’s a great test taker. I found the prep process long and grueling, yet ultimately rewarding. To get into a top 25 school, aim to break 700. Here’s my super detailed process on how to do just that:

Background:

  • Native English Speaker
  • Math and Sociology undergraduate major
  • Took the GMAT 1.5 years post college before my test taking skills vanished

Prep start date: 1/2/2008

Exam date: 4/26/2008 (~4 months of studying)

Study timeline:

  • 4-5 hours during work week
  • 6-8 hours per day over the weekend over the course of four months (with many exceptions at first and occasional exceptions toward the end)
  • Took 1 week off from work prior to exam to study

Practice exam timeline:

  • 1 practice exam per week for the last month before test
  • 1 per day for last week before test

Top 3 Resources Used: 

  • The Official Guide (Get the latest edition, which will have practice questions from the last GMAT)
  • Manhattan Review Crash Course (one weekend of classes 2 weeks prior to exam)
  • Manhattan Review’s Turbo Charge series

Online Resources:

My GMAT Practice Test Log (in order of tests taken):

  1. Kaplan Diagnostic 660
  2. Kaplan CAT 1 540
  3. Kaplan CAT 2 590 (At this point I gave up on Kaplan and started over w/ MR practice tests, 1 week prior to the GMAT)
  4. Manhattan CAT 1 670
  5. Manhattan CAT 2 610
  6. GMAC Practice Test 1 710
  7. GMAC Practice Test 2 740

Other tips on preparing for the GMAT:

  • Keep a daily and weekly journal of what scores you are getting and test tips and reminders to yourself. This is especially helpful in progressing quickly to correct prior errors. I started logging a week before my exam after reading someone’s posting on a blog, but I would recommend doing this from the beginning.
  • The Official Guide and Manhattan Review’s books/practice tests are all you really need. Other resources don’t provide representative practice questions or exams. If I could do it over, I would nix all my Kaplan, REA, and Barron’s preparation in favor of studying only The Official Guide and Manhattan Review books more thoroughly for a shorter period (2-3 months). The Official Guide offers the best preparation by far. The questions in the back of each section of the OG are especially representative of questions you might see when you’re scoring in the high 600 to 700+ range.
  • Manhattan Review’s sentence correction section in the Verbal Study Guide of the Turbo Charge series is especially helpful and representative of real GMAT questions
  • Review Practice Tests with attention to detail. Redo wrong questions until you understand how to get them right. Again, crucial for avoiding mistakes and gaining speed.
  • Although many underestimate its importance, time management is one of the critical things that the GMAT tests. As soon as I started abiding by my time limit rules, my practice test score shot up from 710 to 740.
  • My personal time limit rules:
    • Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency: 2 minutes per question MAX. If you can’t solve the problem in 2 minutes, eliminate answer choices and guess so that you have time to solve later questions that you can get right.
    • Sentence Correction: 1 minute per question.
    • Reading Comprehension: 3 minutes MAX to read and take notes on the passage, 1.5 minutes per question.
    • Critical Reasoning: 1.5 minutes per question.
  • Ideally, try to take a week or so off from work before the exam to intensify studying and get adequate sleep (and exercise if you can)! If you can’t do that, take a day off before the exam to gather yourself and intensify your review of last minute tips/tricks.
  • Tell your close friends what your GMAT date is so they can cheer you on when you’re feeling down about putting your social life on hold for the test. Trust me, this helps!

Epilogue

In hindsight, I’m grateful the 2008 financial crisis happened. It forced me to reevaluate what I wanted my life’s legacy to be and emboldened me to make drastic career changes like applying to business school, one of the greatest adventures in my life (aside from marrying my husband!).

Good luck and God speed on your b-school adventures. If I can do it, anyone can.”


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