How to Write a Recommendation for MBA Candidates

Today’s post comes from Ivy MBA Consulting. Ivy MBA Consulting is a leading admissions consulting firm that offers comprehensive, personalized, strategic consulting services, focused on getting clients accepted into the leading MBA programs in the world. Ivy was established by graduates of some of the world’s top MBA programs – people who were in your shoes not long ago. Ivy MBA Consulting is currently the only MBA consulting company in the world whose success rate is examined by Deloitte.

This article is for those who have been asked to write a letter of recommendation for their candidate. If you’re a candidate stumbling across this post (let’s face it, that is most likely the case), consider forwarding this on – we promise to keep it on point, as we know your recommenders are busy people.

MBA programs are interested in action over accolades. Most recommenders are tempted to write lists of superlatives, in an effort to wholeheartedly stand behind the candidates about whom they are writing. But imagine the reader of this letter – all they will see are things like “Angela is staggeringly creative” or “Angela is the most qualified individual I know to lead a team.” These statements, on their own, are completely empty. The admissions committee will read them, and forget what was said before they reach the next sentence.

So how do we write memorable letters? By anchoring every strength statement with a demonstrative anecdote. That means that each paragraph of the letter should start with a statement of one or two strengths (like in our example, creativity and the ability to lead) – and then an anecdote that shows a time in which the candidate demonstrated creativity and leadership in a unique way.

One of the most important things to remember is to pick anecdotes that don’t seem obvious. Writing that someone is creative and then describing a mediocre example renders the anecdote meaningless. We want to make sure that the anecdote seems admirable enough to warrant a strength statement in the first place. Another way to think about this is: “am I showing a strength that is above and beyond what is expected of the average employee in this position, or am I simply showing that the candidate was doing their job.” If your example demonstrates the former – great! If the example demonstrates the latter – try to restructure the anecdote in a way that sounds more impressive, or choose a different one all together.

Another thing that you want to consider is the variety of strengths you highlight. First of all, you want to make sure that not all strengths are analytical. Or execution based. Or social. In other words, try to show a wide variety of strengths from each facet of the applicant’s work, work style, and character. Maybe show a couple strengths that highlight the candidate’s professional skills and how they get the job done, whether it is their analytical skills, their creativity, their stamina, or their sharp strategic eye. Another genre of strengths can be interpersonal – how does the candidate deal with people. Remember, it’s not enough to say “they are great with people” or “they have a lovely sense of humor.” Describe a time that illustrates these qualities so that the admissions committee can see for themselves what is so lovely or humoristic about the candidate’s approach to difficult situations.

It’s also important to note that these programs are team-based, and the interpersonal approach of a candidate means a lot. So make sure that you describe the candidate, how they interact with people, and what they do for their fellow teammates that that others wouldn’t necessarily do.

As for the much-debated “weakness” or “feedback” question – you don’t have to try to backdoor brag on this one. In other words “so and so is a perfectionist!” is not considered a weakness until it is anchored in an anecdote that shows how this affects their work. Keep in mind though that it is important to pick pieces of feedback that are approach or method based, rather than character based. For example, being stubborn is not easily changed or improved, whereas being scattered or too friendly in negotiations are approach related and can be worked on. In these sections, make sure you don’t only describe the piece of feedback that you gave and the context, but that you also mention how the candidate received the feedback, and – most importantly – how they went about improving their approach.

What to Do When You’re Waitlisted by Your Dream School

What should you do while you’re hovering in that space between rejection and acceptance, holding the notoriously nerve-wracking waitlist letter from your dream b-school? First of all, see the silver lining in this situation! You’re still under consideration and may still pursue study at your top choice program. Of course, that doesn’t help quell the restlessness you’re experiencing right now. Here’s what you can do to beat the waitlist blues and earn your spot:

1) Don’t Take It Personally

There are several reasons b-schools waitlist students, and most have nothing to do with your credentials; in fact, you must be qualified since you didn’t get outright rejected. Perhaps the school wants to diversify its incoming cohort, and the applicant pool was saturated with students of your background (college major, professional interests, etc.). Whatever the reason, it’s likely something you can’t control. So, focus less on the reason you were waitlisted and more on giving them reasons to admit you.

2) Know Where You Stand

Some schools tell you where you rank on the waitlist or indicate that you’re likely to be admitted or that you should probably consider other programs. If you still have a fair shot, continue showing interest using the advice below. If the school has less confidence in your prospects, take that information at face value and redirect your efforts elsewhere. This is not a situation where you want to place your bets on good luck or a marginal possibility; you don’t need to remove yourself from the waitlist, but actively pursue your Plan B possibilities so you aren’t scrambling later.

If the school sends you a generic note that reveals little more than that you are waitlisted, reach out and ask politely where you stand. They might not be able to tell you (especially because they cannot predict who will decline and open spots for candidates of your background), but if they do, the information can help guide your efforts. Also, don’t be afraid to mention that you have offers from other b-schools with upcoming deadlines and are inquiring so you can make a timely decision. They are people, too, and may be more honest if they know you are under pressure to commit elsewhere.

3) Respect the Directions

If a school instructs you to take certain steps to increase your chances of getting off the waitlist, do those things. If you’re told not to contact admissions or send additional information, don’t do it! You want to show interest while still following guidelines. If those guidelines are not addressed or unclear, ask for clarification on what you can do to demonstrate your interest.

4) Be Proactive and Demonstrate Interest

Once you understand what the school expects you to do and have established that it’s okay to do more than the minimum, take those extra steps to show how badly you want this! Start with a letter that reiterates your qualifications and interest. Thank the school for their consideration, address recent qualifications or experiences that have made you an even stronger candidate, show how you have overcome any application weaknesses (ex. by increasing your GPA or taking additional coursework), and reinforce your compatibility with the program. If it’s truly your top choice school, emphasize that you would accept if admitted.

If additional materials are not off-limits—and especially if they are encouraged—submit materials that strengthen your application. Sending in stronger GMAT scores and thoughtful additional essays will show your commitment to getting in. You can also submit additional letters of recommendation, but DO NOT have alumni or important figures recommend you just for the association; they should add something valuable. Also, continue showing interest regularly—not so often that you irritate the committee, but enough to reiterate that you are still interested and haven’t committed elsewhere.

5) Keep the Ball Rolling

It’s easy to get stuck on the fact that you’ve been waitlisted at your dream school and to forget about other moving parts in the process—don’t let that happen! Continue communicating with your Plan B schools; if you end up attending one of them, you don’t want to be the candidate that took weeks to respond to emails. Also research your financial aid and housing options, both at the school you’re waiting on and at other prospective schools. If you must make an immediate decision, you want to be prepared for its financial implications. As a courtesy, decline at schools you know you will not attend; this helps waitlisted students waiting on their dream schools (and karma might send you a favor).

Contrary to how it seems, being waitlisted is a huge honor—your dream b-school has deemed you qualified enough to attend should the opportunity arise. Now, take the initiative to make that opportunity a reality!

Should I Re-Apply to a B-School that has Rejected Me?

Didn’t make it into your dream b-school the first time around? As they say, there’s always next time—which might be right now! But, is re-applying the right move for you? In most cases, resilience is viewed favorably and re-applying is fine, but it depends on your specific situation. Consider these questions when making that call:

1) Why that school?

If you are re-applying because of the reputable name, you may be better off choosing another program. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get into the best schools, but ultimately, it’s not where you go that will shape your professional future—it’s what you do. While Harvard or Wharton degrees might get you that initial spark of interest from an interviewer, what will get you the job is a solid resume, leadership experience, impressive grades, and other credentials that you can earn at just about any school. If you want to get into certain schools to access special resources and other things that only they have (such as particular professors or specialized programs oriented toward your professional track), by all means re-apply! But, play it safe by also applying to other programs that have similar—if not the best—resources and programs.

2) What does b-school mean to you?

This question digs one level deeper than the last. Ask yourself why you are invested in re-applying. Many students find themselves without any acceptances following their first application cycle, but they try again because b-school is crucial to their professional goals and the years invested in applying justify the end. Sound like you?

Consider what b-school will do for your professional future and ask yourself the hard questions (better now than later) to determine whether pursuing another application season—and b-school—is prudent. Are you re-applying to redeem yourself after rejection? Are you unsure of your long-term goals and trying to delay the process of determining them? Are you unhappy in the 9-5 world and seeking a way out? Is b-school what your parents or partner want for you, or is it what you want for yourself? Do you want the degree for the prestige?

One positive consequence of not getting into b-school the first time is having an extra year to clarify your interests and goals. Perhaps you found that you really liked your interim work (or volunteer) experience and can see yourself pursuing it as a career without an MBA. If you re-apply to b-schools, keep your options open and consider a Plan B in case it doesn’t work out again. Though a 2nd try may be worthwhile, chasing a 3rd year could result in more frustration and wasted time and keep you from working toward other worthwhile pursuits.

3) What has changed?

If you’ve considered (1) and (2) and are still confident that b-school is the right choice for you, go ahead and re-apply—but re-apply strategically! You need to prove to admissions committees that you’re returning more qualified and more valuable to the program. Of course, unusual application cycles could have explained a rejection or two the first time (maybe the application pool was massive or exceptionally strong that year), but if you were rejected from numerous schools, something in your application might benefit from improvement.

You can directly ask admissions directors if they’ll offer feedback on your past application—some may, but many won’t. You can also ask undergrad professors or others who have gone through the process (or better, served on committees) to locate weak spots in your past application and offer suggestions. Or, you can put on your admissions committee hat and scrutinize your application yourself—we are, after all, our own worst critics.

Don’t just evaluate, though—improve! Was your GMAT score or GPA low? If so, retake the GMAT. Though you can’t undo a low GPA, a strong test score can help compensate for it. Was your undergrad business program undistinguished? Take coursework online, audit courses elsewhere, or pursue opportunities for advancement at work in your interim year. Were your recommendations weak? If your recommenders have shown little interest in following up after the application cycle, perhaps they were not all that invested. If you suspect this is the case, ask other professors, your boss, or colleagues for strong recommendations this time. In your essays, explain how you have grown and what new experiences or knowledge you bring to the table. And whatever you do, DON’T recycle old essays.

Re-applying to your dream b-school can give you a second chance to enroll in the best program possible for your professional future—but, as with all things, approach the process realistically. Apply to schools across the competitiveness spectrum, have a Plan B, and make round 2 count by presenting an irresistible application. We’re rooting for you!

Does Your Major Matter for B-School?

You’ve mapped out your future and made a plan. The next step: b-school. You majored in English literature in undergrad and you’re concerned that you’re at a disadvantage applying to business school, despite the fact that you’ve had four solid years working in a corporate environment. You probably think finance majors are a shoo-in at a top ten b-school. Let’s investigate these assumptions.

To see how your major fits in at a prospective b-school, a good place to start is by looking at the profile of the current class. A simple search will help you find this information quickly. Some schools are more detailed in their analysis of undergraduate majors, but you should at least get a rough idea of how you would fit in. To help you get started, I’ve compiled a list of undergraduate majors at various business schools for the current class. I included some of the top business schools according to U.S. News & World Report. The percentages indicated in the table below were found on the universities’ websites.

School STEM Business/Economics Humanities/Social Sciences Other
Harvard University 38% 41% 21% N/A
University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) 28% 26% 46% N/A
University of Chicago (Booth) 24% 55% 14% 7%
MIT (Sloan) 43% 37% 20% N/A
Stanford University 37% 15% 48% N/A
Northwestern University (Kellogg) 29% 45% 28% N/A
University of California–Berkeley (Haas) 27% 42% 23% 8%
Dartmouth College (Tuck) 26% 23% 51% N/A
Yale University 28% 39% 33% N/A
Columbia University 25% 31% 42% 2%
Duke University (Fuqua) 32% 44% 23% 2%

*NOTE: Economics majors are included in the 51%. Most schools lump economics and business majors together.

A quick look at the table will give you assurance that all majors are accepted and indeed welcomed at top business programs. These schools want their incoming classes to be diverse and well-rounded. They want students from a variety of academic backgrounds, not just those who studied business in undergrad.

Points of Interest:

University of Chicago (Booth)

Prefers business and economics majors – 55% of the Class of 2018 had backgrounds in these fields but only 14% came from humanities or the social sciences.

University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)

Favors students from humanities or the social sciences, with 46% of the current class having a background in these fields.

Stanford University

Also favors those with humanities or social sciences – 48% of the current class hail from these backgrounds and a mere 15% of Stanford’s current class majored in business!

MIT (Sloan)

Predominantly favors those from a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) background, with 43% coming from these fields. This shouldn’t be too surprising since MIT is, after all, a technical institute!

Dartmouth (Tuck)

Appears to overwhelmingly prefer students with a humanities or social sciences background. But, their stats are a bit misleading since the 51% listed in the table also includes economics majors, as noted above. Most schools list economics majors as a separate category or include them with business majors.
A closer look at the table reveals that some schools have percentages that add to 101% or 102%. Let’s chalk that up to rounding errors.

What can we learn from all this? Well, if you majored in history, you may be better off applying to Stanford or UPenn (Wharton) rather than Chicago Booth. On the other hand, if you were a math major, Harvard or MIT might be a better choice.

As a final takeaway, it’s not worth worrying about your undergraduate major. If you want to pursue an MBA, go for it! You can use these stats to determine where you might be best suited. Remember, schools are interested in the whole student, not just your major!

9 Steps to Beat B-School Application Anxiety

For many business school students, the stress begins way before the school year starts—thanks to the notoriously daunting application process. These months are packed to the brim with research on programs, prepping for the GMAT, writing and rewriting essays, practicing for interviews, and lots and lots of waiting. So, how do you keep your cool when the anxiety rises to a boil?

1) Trust Research, Not Rumors

Rather than believing rumors you hear about impossible application expectations, research the facts and go from there. Referencing program websites for class profile statistics and talking to program representatives or even your college career center staff can help you determine what to expect and how to plan for it.

2) Flaunt What You’ve Got

At this point, you know what you have to offer, and lamenting the fact that you don’t have the same 20 years of experience as the next guy will not help you. Starting the application process early can help combat weaknesses. If your GMAT score was low, retake it. If your GPA was subpar, develop experience that reflects your true abilities. Portray your qualifications—whatever they are—in the best possible light, and accept that you can’t change what’s out of your control.

3) Combat Physical Stress

Nervousness, fear, exhaustion, irritation, and distractibility—though normal—will all compromise your ability to complete applications and balance them with other obligations. Physical exercise can help you blow off steam, yoga can help you relax, and spending time outdoors can improve your mood. Find an outlet that works for you and stick with it.

4) Take Care of Yourself

This is related to the previous point, but it’s more fundamental. Your mind can’t perform unless your body can, so make sure you are getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night, eating 3 healthy meals a day, and taking breaks when you feel overwhelmed. Try cutting out alcohol, too—nights of drinking can spoil valuable days of productivity.

5) Submit Confidently

When you have completed and reviewed your materials and are prepared to submit your application, just submit it! Rereading things so many times that text starts blurring together can lead you to make erroneous revisions and edit things without end, preventing you from moving on to other applications. Don’t obsess over that one sentence in your personal statement—this is, after all, just an application, and the details that are driving you crazy now are marginal in the bigger picture. And, though it’s certainly best to submit a polished application, there are humans at the other end of the process who are usually willing to switch out materials if you discover you made a significant mistake.

6) Don’t Play Compare and Contrast

After submitting, avoid learning about other applicants’ outcomes, and check discussion boards such as Clear Admit sparingly. No amount of checking how others did is going to change—or produce—a decision in your inbox (which, by the way, you should also limit checking).

7) Redirect Your Productivity

After operating in high gear for so many months, waiting to hear back from schools can make you restless and give your anxiety room to flourish. Rein it in by focusing on other things that will advance your business career. Polish your LinkedIn profile and find volunteering or other opportunities related to your career goals. Also consider refreshing your business clothing wardrobe; this will prepare you not only for b-school events and future interview opportunities, but also for potential b-school interviews!

8) Do You

It may sound cliché, but it’s crucial that you keep doing things that make you happy and not lose yourself in this process. Spend time with loved ones. Get out of the house on weekends. Paint, hike, play sports—whatever your hobby is, don’t cut it out of your life. Engaging with the world outside of b-school apps can ground you and keep things in perspective.

9) Resilience is Key

As you start hearing back from schools, don’t lose heart if things don’t go the way you had hoped. Maintain a realistic view of your possibilities, give fair consideration to schools that may not have been your first choice, and, if it turns out that attending b-school is not an option (or the best one) this year, don’t worry! You’ve just gained another year to build your resume and a stronger application for next year. Allow yourself to cry and have some ice cream, and then research a strategic Plan B rather than lose momentum.

The business school application process is demanding, but it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Other applicants are going through it, too, and you have the support of family, friends, and Ready4 along the way. When all is said and done, it will have been a worthwhile rite of passage. So, take a deep breath and give it all you’ve got!

6 Common B-School Interview Questions (and how to answer them)

Your b-school applications are in. You just checked your inbox and received the coveted invitation to interview at your top choice b-school! Congratulations! While this isn’t the same as an offer of acceptance, it indicates that the school wants to pursue the admissions process with you. They’re interested!

Once the initial excitement about reaching this stage has worn off, it’s time to start thinking about the interview. Interviews typically last about a half hour and may be conducted on-campus, off-campus (in person), or via Skype. Whatever the venue is for the interview, take time to prepare. This will go a long way toward helping you succeed in the interview. It will also help allay any anxiety you may have about it.

You likely won’t be surprised by the interviewer’s questions. The questions are fairly typical across the board. They aren’t designed to trick you or catch you off guard. Rather, the goal is to get to you know you on a personal level, aside from the information you’ve presented in your application. The interview is a great way for the school to get a complete picture of you. Think of this as a terrific opportunity to set yourself apart from other candidates.

To get some tips about what to expect from an interview at a particular school, start with the school’s website. Often, there’s excellent information pertaining to the interview process – who will be conducting the interview, how long it will be, etc. Some schools will even list specific questions that might be asked.

Speaking of lists – here are 6 typical b-school interview questions and some advice on how to answer them.

1. Why do you want an MBA?

If you’ve come this far in the admissions process of an MBA program, then hopefully you know why you want an MBA! Discuss how an MBA will help you attain your career goals. Be sure to address not only “why?” but also “why now?”

2. What are your career goals?

Include both short term and long term goals. Short term goals are easier to address. Make sure the goals are realistic and attainable. Long term goals may be more difficult to articulate. Think this through and if there is a specific element to the b-school that will help you reach your goal, be sure to address that here. You can review your application essay to find inspiration that will help you formulate your answer.

3. Tell me something about yourself.

This open-ended question can be the toughest type to answer effectively. Remember, your goal is to show the interviewer that you’re a great candidate for their MBA program. Be brief–speak no more than 3 minutes. Focus on things like the reason you chose your major in college, your successes at work, or personal accomplishments outside of work. Don’t just recite your resume – they’ve already seen it!

4. Discuss your accomplishments as a leader.

You can be pretty confident that the topic of leadership is going to come up in your conversation. Make sure you have several specific examples from both the workplace and other areas where you’ve demonstrated leadership skills. Describe how you motivated others to reach their goals.

5. Why are you interested in our MBA program?

The way you answer this question is very important. Make sure you do your research on the specific program and can articulate what attracted you to it. Don’t answer with generalities that could easily be applied to many b-schools. What makes their b-school unique and appealing to you? How does the program align with your career goals?

6. What questions do you have for me?

Be prepared to use the last five minutes or so to ask your own questions about the program. It’s possible that the questions you want to ask were already answered during the first 25 minutes of the interview, so make sure you have several questions lined up in case some no longer apply. Don’t ask questions you can easily find the answers to on the school’s website. Do your homework and come in with well thought out questions that can distinguish you from other applicants.

In general, don’t sound too rehearsed. Stay on topic and be succinct in your responses. You don’t want to accidentally find yourself on a tangent that has nothing to do with the question! Soojin Kwon, the Director of Admissions at Michigan Ross, suggests, “Answer the questions that are asked. This will differentiate the scripted interviewees from those who aren’t. It’ll also demonstrate listening and thinking skills.”

Ultimately, think of the interview as a way for the admissions committee to get to know you better and vice versa. This is your moment to let your personality shine through.

The MBA Application Timeline: Thinking Ahead to Be Ahead

Today’s post comes from Ivy MBA Consulting. Ivy MBA Consulting is a leading admissions consulting firm that offers comprehensive, personalized, strategic consulting services, focused on getting clients accepted into the leading MBA programs in the world. Ivy was established by graduates of some of the world’s top MBA programs – people who were in your shoes not long ago. Ivy MBA Consulting is currently the only MBA consulting company in the world whose success rate is examined by Deloitte.

There are a lot of things to get together and organize when you decide to apply for an MBA program. One of the most important things to remember is to not save everything for the final hour. As great as it would be to not have to prolong the headache of applications, thinking that it is possible to do everything well in a matter of weeks is nothing short of fantasy.

If you know the MBA is where you’re headed, you should start prepping your career and tailoring your experience well before you start writing your essays. Years before you plan to apply (at least two years, to be exact) you should ask yourself “what is my growth trajectory at my current job?” Ask yourself if you are showing development. Ask yourself if you’re on track for promotion if you haven’t already received one. If not, see what big projects you can take on and what initiatives you can push to show that you’re a mover and a shaker.

If, by chance, you know that you are interested in changing careers, it’s important to try to get a related job in the related field a couple years before. It’s much harder to make a case for acceptance in a field in which you have no experience.

This is the phase that you should think of “experience building.” It will bolster your case as to why you will make a great MBA candidate and will also show why you’ve reached a point in your career where an MBA is actually beneficial and not simply convenient.

The “experience building” phase is also a good time to start looking at volunteer projects or activities that are outside the workspace. MBA programs like to see candidates who aren’t only involved in their work, but also in the community. If you didn’t start doing so in college, then start now.

Ideally, you want to already have built up your experiences, professional and personal, by the time you begin the application process. MBA programs rarely like to see last minute scrambling in attempts to pad or beef up a resume.

The year before you are planning to apply is a good time to begin preparing for the GMAT. The last thing you want on your mind when you’re writing essays and completing your applications is the GMAT. So finish it well before schools release their essays. Also, take into consideration that many people have to take the exam several times – so you want to leave yourself enough space to take the test as many times as you need without the stress of deadlines weighing heavily on your shoulders. By the way, if you need to take any language proficiency exams such as the TOEFL, this is also the time to do so.

The year before applications is also a good time to start researching programs, connecting with current students, and perhaps reaching out to alumni. A huge part of the application process is demonstrating student connections. The more you nurture the connections, the more you can leverage them in your application. So start early, and don’t forget to check-in with those you’ve reached out to. You don’t want to connect a year before applications are due, and then reach out one more time the day before deadline.

Come January of the year you’re applying, you should start researching consulting agencies to help you with your applications. Make sure you find consultants that will both help you build a career strategy and guide you in your path toward quality, genuine, and effective essays that not only demonstrate what you have accomplished, but also convey your character in a creative way. You will be working very closely with your consultants – so make sure that in your conversations you feel like you are getting the unique attention you deserve. No slogans allowed.

Come June, you should already be in conversation with your MBA advisor. This is a good time to rekindle networking ties you began to make the year before if you’ve left them untouched. The upcoming months will be your time to work intensively on your applications, ensuring – through many iterations – that each document is ready for final submission in the fall.

Most of the deadlines for the first round of applications are in September; if you start work in June, you wont meet the September crunch that many candidates face. Remember, a rushed application runs a much higher risk of missing out on the opportunity to do you justice. The MBA process starts way before the year of application – do yourself a favor, and start planning early.

How to Maximize Your Chances of Getting Merit Aid from B-Schools

What do Yale, Rice, and UCLA all have in common? They all offer generous merit aid to accepted business school students. Note that I said “offer”—merit aid, as the name suggests, is earned for achievement. This sort of funding can help make an MBA more affordable if your hard work has qualified you for merit aid or if you believe your (or your family’s) income is too high to receive need-based financial aid.

With the best MBA programs competing aggressively to attract the strongest applicants, schools are capitalizing on a fact that both students and schools will easily acknowledge: money talks. Poets & Quants estimates that $220 million in scholarships is awarded annually by the top 25 MBA programs. Though Harvard Business School easily tops the list with its $31.5 million scholarship fund, public and private schools across the spectrum are flaunting lavish awards that cover up to the full cost of tuition (or more commonly, a quarter of the cost). With MBA price tags sometimes reaching upward of $200,000, you want to tap into all the financial resources available to you. But, how do you make yourself a strong contender for merit aid?

#1 Some Things Never Change

No matter which program you attend, merit aid (if it’s offered) will typically be awarded based on the same over-arching factors. This is great to know so you can begin planning early. Generally, educational achievement, life accomplishments, competitiveness, and other indicators of merit will be considered. This can mean flaunting high GMAT scores (750+) or an exceptional GPA (3.6+). It can also mean earning an impressive undergraduate degree (from a distinguished undergraduate business program and/or with multiple rigorous majors) or belonging to prestigious professional societies (such as Beta Gamma Sigma). Applicants who have been out of school for some time can also build outstanding work experience on their resumes—and it doesn’t need to involve working for a Fortune 500 firm. Often, a leadership role at a lesser-known company or successful completion of a demanding project can demonstrate the degree of ambition business schools are looking for.

Hint: In a large pool of highly qualified applicants, you should set yourself apart in some way. Invest time and effort into at least one thing that will make admission committees remember you and distinguish you from equally competitive peers. Start a small organization or a club, for example, or engage in pro-bono work that aligns with your long-term goals. Schools love to see that you are passionate about your business subfield.

#2 Research the Qualifications

If programs offer merit-based aid, they will typically list on their websites what factors they consider when evaluating applicants for scholarships. Assess how you measure up—and if you’re still early in the process (i.e., still an undergraduate), figure out how you can strengthen these factors before you apply. At UChicago’s Booth School of Business (known for its generous funding), educational achievement, intended concentration, quality of interview, competitiveness, life experiences, and professional goals are all considered.

Hint: Typically, your graduate school application will also serve as your application for merit aid. However, you should double-check with programs’ financial aid offices well ahead of deadlines to make sure you don’t need to submit separate applications and aren’t missing potential scholarship opportunities.

#3 Leverage Your Options

Being a big fish in a small pond can have its advantages—so apply to schools where you’d be one of the top candidates. Schools are eager to raise the average GMAT score and GPA statistics of their class profile, and if your numbers can help with that, they will likely try to attract you with greater merit aid than they offer your lower-scoring peers.

#4 Negotiate for More

Lastly, once you have your offers in hand, don’t be scared to negotiate funding if your top choice school is offering you less merit aid than other comparable schools. They might refuse (Harvard and Stanford claim to not negotiate, for example), but you can’t know unless you ask. If they agree, you can maximize your chances of walking away with the best possible funding offer as well as the opportunity to attend the best school for you. However, to increase the chance that your negotiations will be fruitful, you’ll want to present yourself as a competitive applicant from the start by strengthening the factors listed above in #3. Make yourself a candidate that schools can’t pass up.

You’ve worked hard to get where you are, and it doesn’t get any easier in business school! The good news is that you can at least ease your financial burden. Seek not only merit aid, but also need-based aid, fellowships, and external funding whenever possible. The investment of time and effort pursuing funding now will pay off—literally.

Why Student Loans Might be a Good Investment for Your MBA

The results are in. You’ve been accepted to your top choice business school! Hurray! You’ve also received a decent scholarship and can contribute a good amount of savings to your degree. But, the numbers don’t lie. Your resources fall short – very short – of where they need to be in order to completely finance your MBA. The big question: should you take out a student loan to cover the remaining costs?

Every individual’s situation is different. There are no easy answers but consider the following points as you determine whether or not a student loan, and hence an MBA, is a good investment for you.

1) Your b-school can make all the difference.

An MBA from a top tier school like Harvard will carry a lot more weight in the eyes of hiring managers than an MBA from an unranked school on U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 Best Business School list. When determining whether or not you should take out a large loan for your MBA, research expected salaries for recent alumni of your school. A top tier school can make a big impact when job hunting, but the price tag for such a degree can be a lot steeper. Weigh these factors to determine if a student loan makes sense for you.

2) Your field of concentration after graduation is huge.

The typical MBA program focuses on teaching general business skills like marketing, finance, statistics, accounting and operations. If you anticipate going into a management position in finance or consulting, then an MBA can be a great value for you. On the other hand, if you want to become part of a tech startup, the CEO may not be looking for someone with a traditional business background. Not only that, the base salary at a startup will likely be lower than at Morgan Stanley or Goldman Sachs. More specialized industries may not appreciate an MBA as much as you might think. Salaries can vary wildly depending on your career goals. Before taking on the heavy debt burden of an MBA, make sure you research the skill set needed for your particular career path. An MBA may not be the best option for you.

3) Calculate your need.

With tuition costs increasing each year and salaries not keeping pace, the average amount of debt an MBA student takes on can be alarming. Take a glimpse at the b-schools with the highest average student loan debt, according to US News & World Report:

List of MBA Cost

Shocking, right? As you can see, the average MBA indebtedness is in the 6 figure range for 8 schools on the list.

Suppose you’ve been accepted to Tuck, a top tier b-school. The program comes with a high price tag. You estimate that you’ll make $148,000 per year after graduation, based on average salaries of last year’s graduates. You received scholarships and have some savings so you’ll need a loan of about $110,000. Common Bond, a private lender that offers graduate school loans for a selection of 29 top-ranked MBA programs, provides useful student loan calculators. The calculator pulls information directly from your school of choice, assuming it is among the 29 eligible b-schools. The following screenshot was taken from Common Bond’s calculator, using Tuck’s data.

MBA Tuition Cost

Financial Summary

The nice thing about Common Bond’s calculator is that it does nearly all the work! Notice the monthly loan repayment is $1,328. That’s a lot of money, but the debt to income ratio is 11.67%. The federal government considers a debt to income ratio of 20% manageable, though the median debt to income ratio for MBAs is about 30%. If you go through a budget based on a reasonable prediction of your annual earnings post-MBA, you might find this debt to be pretty manageable, making the MBA a good investment. If you have undergraduate debt or a mortgage, you’ll need to consider those as well.


4) Determine the ROI (Return on Investment) of your MBA.

Look no further than GMAC (Graduate Management Admissions Council) to help you figure out the ROI. To calculate your ROI, find your school’s data and sit down with the numbers. GMAC has a handy slideshow to help you determine the ROI. GMAC looks at three time periods to calculate the ROI – 3, 5 and 10 years after graduation.

Some final words.

It’s worth noting that MBAs aren’t as rare as they used to be. In the United States alone, there are 470 accredited schools with MBA programs. The Economist reports, “Nearly 200,000 students from American institutions have been awarded Master’s degrees in business every year since 2010.” Keep this in mind as you determine whether or not a loan is a good investment.

That said, GMAC’s 2014 Alumni Perspectives Survey Report finds that “The vast majority of alumni (83%) from the classes of 1959 through 2013 report that their graduate management degrees were essential for obtaining employment; 94 percent rate their graduate management education as offering good to outstanding value compared to its total monetary cost.” Don’t discount the value of an MBA! It can be well worth the cost even if you run into debt for a short period of time after school.

3 Steps to Get Your Boss to Pay for Your MBA

An MBA is pricy—but what if you could get your boss to shoulder the cost? It’s no longer unusual for employers to invest in their employees’ education. You are a human resource of the company, and in the long run, investing in resources provides returns. Of course, this doesn’t make approaching the conversation any less daunting. In short, if you want your boss to pay for your MBA, you will need to demonstrate how it’ll help the company. To do this, you’ll need to 1) test the waters, 2) do your research, and 3) make your case.

#1 Test the Waters

Understand how your company typically handles employee education so you know what to expect. Find out whether or not your company has policies established for professional development and employee education. Perhaps some of your colleagues have already cashed in on this benefit; if so, ask them how they went about it.

Also, gauge the company’s attitude toward professional degrees. Does the company value candidates (or employees) with MBAs? Do your coworkers—especially those in your position—have MBAs? If you are the odd one out, you might argue that you need to “catch up.” If most of your colleagues do not have MBAs, you might show how earning one could introduce a whole new set of skills to the team for everyone to benefit and learn from. Whatever the situation, find a way to spin it in your favor.

Finally, make sure your request is practical. If the company is cutting costs because of poor sales, or if they need you working on certain projects right now, it may be unwise and even inconsiderate to bring up the MBA. Moreover, you’ll probably see more success if you hold off until more funds or time open up. If full tuition reimbursement isn’t available, ask if they will reimburse a portion of the cost or pay for specific classes.

#2 Do Your Research

Once you’ve determined that your boss may hear you out, figure out how you’ll channel the benefits of the MBA back to your company. This can take many forms depending on your role, the track of your MBA, and your company’s needs, but no matter what, one thing is for sure: you must prove that the degree will help you do whatever you are already doing significantly better. Research prospective programs that will maximize success in your specific position (or, in some cases, one that you’d be promoted into), and take thorough notes on program offerings and coursework related to your role.

Hint: you can ask coworkers who have MBAs about how their business education has helped them in their current roles; this way, you can cite real-life, accessible case studies for your boss.

#3 Make Your Case

Figure out who you will present your case to. Is this a department-level decision (typical at bigger companies)? Or, will you need to schedule time to talk with an executive (typical for smaller companies)? Allot ample time for the meeting, because inevitably, your boss will have many follow-up questions and concerns, and you want to address them thoughtfully.

Come prepared! You must show that you’re making a well-informed request that will ultimately benefit the company’s bottom line. Establish your credibility by drawing on what you’ve already contributed to the company, and outline a written proposal on the deliverables that the MBA will enable you to achieve going forward. A unique way to do this could be by creating a post-MBA resume, which will include all your new qualifications, and presenting it to your boss alongside your current resume. This will not only show your boss what qualifications are currently lacking, but will also drive home the point that your boss can avoid hiring someone else for them and invest in you to close the value gap.

If you’re a CIO, for example, outline what you’ve done to increase company revenue using technology (numbers are key, and data presentations help). Then, estimate how much more you can help the company’s bottom line using cutting-edge technologies you will master in business school. Whenever possible, cite specific projects and desired outcomes of your company and tie them back to specific methodologies, technologies, and skills you will learn in prospective programs. Of course, if you haven’t yet made much of an impact in your role (perhaps you recently started), it’ll be harder to make a promising case, but you can begin delivering now and make your request later, credentials in hand.

Furthering your education broadens your horizons both personally and professionally—if it can bring value to your company, too, it’s definitely worth a shot to ask for help funding it.