Category Archives: Grad

Choosing Which Graduate School to Attend

Submitted By Stephen Round, Executive Director, Round One Admissions Consulting Co., Ltd. (“R1″), www.roundoneadmissions.com

First posted on February 15, 2015

Some of you who applied in the first application rounds last fall have already been admitted to several MBA programs, but are still waiting to hear the results from your second round applications. Therefore, you’ll have some decisions to make in the weeks ahead regarding which graduate school you will choose to attend. In the process of making your decision, you should consider several factors, just as you did when you were deciding which programs to include in your Application Portfolio last year.

Class size: Some MBA programs, such as Harvard Business School, have very large classes consisting of almost a thousand students. Although large class sizes (i.e. the number of people earning the MBA degree in a certain year) provide an advantage in terms of connecting students to large networks of people, including MBA students and alumni, some students claim that it’s difficult to become familiar with classmates and faculty members in such MBA programs. These people might feel more comfortable at a business school with a smaller class size consisting of a few hundred students, such as the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. One of the advantages of programs with smaller class sizes is that it’s generally easier to become familiar with students and to build closer relationships with faculty. When an MBA program only has a few hundred students, people will be more likely to remember your name and face during, and after, the program!

Location: Certain MBA students prefer to study in large cities like New York and Los Angeles, which are home to the outstanding MBA programs of Columbia Business School and the Anderson School at UCLA, respectively, among others. Some of the advantages of living in such metropolitan areas include excellent public transportation systems, a wide variety of entertainment options, and easy access to Fortune 500 companies. Nevertheless, some people who have spent most of their lives in huge cities like Tokyo see the downside of these locations, such as higher living expenses and crowded spaces. If you are one of these people, you might prefer to study in a college town type of environment, such as Ithaca or Evanston, home to Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, respectively. Single MBA students may prefer to choose schools in urban areas, whereas those with families may gravitate toward universities in college town settings. In any case, you should choose the environment that’s the best fit for you (and your family), based on your own unique and specific priorities.

Costs: If you are one of the fortunate MBA applicants whose company sponsors your graduate studies abroad and will pay for your education and other expenses that you will incur overseas, then cost might not seem like an important factor for you. However, there has recently been an increasing trend among companies that sponsor MBA applicants in that many have required their MBA Scholarship winners to sign agreements to repay their organization for the expense of their MBA education in the event that they leave the company within a specific time period following their graduation. Therefore, cost might be more important than you think. Of course, if you’re a private-sponsored MBA applicant, then you’re probably quite conscious of the costs associated with your MBA education already. Keep in mind that public schools, such as the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, tend to be a bit less expensive than private schools, such as New York University’s Stern School of Business. Also, remember that there are some financial aid programs available to international students, so be sure to check with the schools to which you have been accepted to see if they can assist you. We expect that that some of you will scholarships this year and wish you all the best with that! J

Placement Success: In R1’s opinion, the ultimate measure of a graduate school is its ability to find jobs for its graduates. After all, that’s why so many people, like many of you, make such an extraordinary effort to gain admission into the top-ranked and most highly-reputed graduate programs. While company-sponsored applicants need not concern themselves so much with their chosen school’s placement success since they will return to their organizations, those of you private-sponsored applicants who plan to hunt for new jobs should pay special attention to the placement success of the schools to which you have been accepted. R1 strongly advises you not to accept the advertised placement success rates at face value. Remember that the majority of a business school’s placement resources are spent on supporting “domestic” students. Therefore, if you’re a private-sponsored “international” student in need of a job following your graduation, then you should carefully research the schools to which you have been accepted in order to determine what resources and support systems are available to assist international students searching for jobs in your home country. Furthermore, you should ask alumni of those schools how they found their first post-graduation positions back home. If you plan to find a new job after graduating, then R1’s advice is for you to be very proactive in your employment search. The early bird gets the worm!

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The Cultural Side of Admissions Consulting

By Candy Lee LaBalle, mbaSpain

Six Tips from the Trenches

MBA admissions consultants help applicants in everything from choosing schools to essay brainstorming to resume editing. But, when dealing with non-US applicants, we also have to do a little cultural translating. At mbaSpain, I face this reality every day, and, after comparing notes with several AIGAC colleagues, I’ve identified six application areas where cultural awareness is essential.

1. Sell Yourself

Call it branding, positioning, or tooting your own horn, what is second nature to US applicants is often taboo to non-Americans.

“With Middle Easterners, particularly women, I spend a lot of time encouraging them to talk openly about themselves, their accomplishments and initiatives, and their dreams,” notes Tanis Kmetyk, who handles EMEA applicants for Accepted.com. With Asian applicants, she says, “Standing out is not considered a ‘plus’… so helping them to, well, stand out, is important.”

In addition, many foreign applicants believe an MBA application means all business. Rocio didn’t think the fact that she co-founded one of Spain’s most important youth sporting events to be relevant. “But I was in university, wouldn’t the schools rather hear about my banking experience?”

2. Embrace your Failures

“Even physical hurdles that people face (like handicaps) are seen as a weakness in many countries,” says Tanis. We have to push them to realize that the value of that failure, what they learned can actually be a strength for their application.

Some non-US applicants try to avoid sharing failures by thinly veiling achievements. Jaime was determined to tell LBS that his failure to graduate number one in his class (instead of number two) was due to his demanding role as captain of the rugby team! It took a bit of coaxing to help him realize that his initial struggle with leadership was actually a more powerful story.

3. Answer the Question

Getting non-US applicants to clearly tell a story is another struggle. Vince Ricci who runs VincePrep.com in Japan notes, “Japanese storytelling emphasizes context – a long wind-up before the final punchline.” With this approach, they’ll run out of words before they get to the point.

Spanish applicants love to share mucho ruido, pocas nueces (a lot of noise, few nuts). Though it is good advice for all MBA hopefuls to stay focused and answer the question, non-US applicants benefit immensely from the application of STAR: Situation, Task, Action, Result.

4. Commit to the Tests

Standardized tests provide their own cultural challenges. Victoria Pralitch of MBA Consult in Russia says “My applicants see GMAT as just a math test, and our schools in Russia give a great math training, so no need to overstrain. As a result, the percentage of those who pass successfully the first time is not that high.”

“German applicants are typically exasperated about the GMAT requirement,” notes Dr. Marlena Corcoran of Athena Mentor. “They are convinced they are superior candidates, and their less-than-stellar scores on a standardized exam must mean the exam is unfair.”

Other applicants choose to ignore their English test until it is too late. “I have a 720 on GMAT and use English everyday,” Pedro, a very promising candidate told me last November. “I don’t have to prepare TOEFL.” He got a 104 and had to put off his Harvard application for a year.

5. Recognize Extracurriculars

“Most Western Europe governments take care of their people from ‘cradle to grave,’ so community activity here is not at all the same as it is in North America,” notes Tanis.

Maybe our non-US applicants haven’t done typical extracurricular activity, but most likely they’ve played team sports, served on an events committee at work, helped a family member open a business, or participated in some activity that allowed them to take initiative, have impact and show leadership.

Ricardo was convinced he had no extracurricular activity to share. Then I found out that when he was in university, his family went bankrupt. He used his computer skills to make 20,000 euros in an online venture which helped his father get his business back. Talk about impact!

6. Go Beyond Rankings

“I have to educate my non-US applicants about the diversity of schools – many are just focused on the top 10 and it’s frustrating, whether it’s not realistic for them or just there’s a better fit,” says Yael Redelman-Sidi of Admit1MBA.com based in New York.

While a top-ten obsession is typical among most MBA applicants, non-US applicants also face the cultural pressure of attending a brand-name school. Everyone in Spain, China and Brazil knows Harvard, not so many know Babson or Kelley or Tulane. It is our job to mediate their expectations (not all of them can go to Harvard) and open their eyes to other schools that could be a better fit.

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Admissions Consulting: It’s a New World

By Linda Abraham, AIGAC‘s vice-president, Accepted.com’s founder and president.

The Wall St Journal had a great special section this week on graduate business education.  As an admissions consultant for the last fifteen years, I read the articles with memories of similar sections and articles from the past floating through my head. And I see major changes reflected here.

First the article, “Looking for an Edge,” shines a spotlight on the increasing role of admission consultants in the application process. According to the article, 20% of applicants in a GMAC survey said they used admissions consultants. Clearly the applicant interviewed for the WSJ article found beneficial her experience with AIGAC member, Clear Admit. Her comments on her experience closely mirrored the arguments I made in an earlier post, “Why use an admissions consultant?”

The article also reveals increasing acceptance of admissions consultants by admissions directors. According to “Looking for an Edge,” “Deirdre Leopold, managing director of M.B.A. admissions and financial aid at Harvard Business School, says meeting with admissions consultants is useful to ‘get some field intelligence’ about how prospective students view the school and its admissions process.”

“Ticket to an M.B.A.” shows that Derrick Bolton, assistant dean and director of M.B.A. admissions at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, has moved from definite opposition to cautious neutrality:

“Applicants approach the process saying, ‘What are the areas over which I have control?’ They see part of that as getting coaching or guidance from someone who may have seen more candidates.

“Does it help? Does it hurt? It’s candidate by candidate. What I would always ask is, ‘How can someone who doesn’t know you help you be a more authentic version of yourself?’ Some people probably can, if they’re asking the right questions.”

While these admissions directors haven’t become evangelists or advocates for consultants, their comments reveal a marked change in their public posture.They have moved to acceptance, perhaps even grudging respect.

These trends reflect a lot of AIGAC’s hard work over the last five years. AIGAC has set industry standards for professionalism and ethical consulting. It has increased and improved communications with the schools especially at our annual conferences, where members have visited Chicago, Kellogg, Columbia, NYU, MIT, Harvard, Stanford, and Haas.

Finally, the article also has enormous implications for AIGAC, its members, and non-member consultants. The Wall St. Journal overwhelmingly turned to AIGAC members when it wanted information on MBA admissions consulting. Almost every consultant mentioned or interviewed in the WSJ article, “Looking for an Edge,” is a member of AIGAC. In fact the only link in the article is to AIGAC: “To find a consultant, one place to start is AIGAC.org, the website of the admissions consultants’ trade group.”

If The Wall St. Journal is saying that one place to find an admissions consultant is AIGAC.org and you are an admissions consultant, don’t you want to be found here?

If you are a member, you know your AIGAC investment is paying dividends — big time. If you are not yet a member, but you share AIGAC’s values, believe in its vision, and meet its membership requirements, now is a great time to join.

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TOEFL Speaking Scores for MBA Applicants

By Jon Hodge of Strictly English TOEFL Tutors

Within the international community of MBA applicants, there is a series of commonly held beliefs about the role TOEFL scores play in an admissions office’s decision-making process. One is that a high GMAT score can compensate for a low TOEFL score. Another is, just the opposite: that a high TOEFL score can make up for a low Verbal score on the GMAT. Another is that if you study for the GMAT first, then odds are, you’ll unproblematically breeze through the TOEFL because TOEFL is believed to be exponentially more simple than GMAT. Finally, many applicants also believe that a higher TOEFL score will knock out any competition from their country, as if admissions offices would reduce the application process down to gathering together all the dossiers from, say, China, and picking the candidate with the highest TOEFL score.

These myths gain credence as applicants tell each other stories of a friend of a friend who got into HBS with only a 99 on the TOEFL because that friend of a friend scored perfectly on the GMAT. (Interesting, rarely do any of these urban legends claim that it was a well-written, earnest essay or a truly professional job history that balanced out a weak TOEFL score!)

The truth is, though, instead of investing all this energy into gossiping and fantasizing, it’s much more productive to just work hard to get the score that the school lists on their website. No more; no less.

Yet, there is one reason why it might be worth working a bit harder on one section of the TOEFL: the Speaking section. Arguably, oral communication is one of the most important skills that any business person needs to get ahead. So learning how to speak clearly, concisely, and persuasively is something that anyone can benefit from. If you’re called in for an interview, you’ll want to deliver answers in a manner similar to how someone who scored a 27 or a 28 on the TOEFL delivered their responses.

To be clear, though, I’m not claiming that a higher Speaking score on paper will in itself do anything for you. The application committee won’t scramble to the phone to call you merely because you have that high Speaking score. No. But a TOEFL Speaking score of 27 or above does mean that you will most likely speak with eloquence and professionalism (with only a slight accent) during an Interview.

And remember, ETS now lets admissions offices listen to some of your six answers, which means you might get the ax simply because your TOEFL Speaking responses were sloppy, unclear, or off topic. Let’s say you nailed that 104 for the school of your dreams, but you did it with a perfect 30 in both the Reading and Listening and a 25 on the Writing. This means that your Speaking was only a 19. Regardless of whether the admissions office invites you to an Interview or merely listens on ETS’s website to the audio file of your speaking, you have to own up to the possibility that odds are low that you’ll impress them with your ability to communicate orally.

Therefore, make Speaking a top priority in your TOEFL study. Mastering public speaking will ensure that you are as empowered as possible, not only for the short-term goal of the TOEFL exam, but also for the long-term goal of being a persuasive and articulate businessperson.

You can learn many valuable Speaking tips by reading our blog articles on Speaking, by following us on Twitter or by visiting our Facebook page.

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Why use an admissions consultant?

By Linda Abraham, AIGAC‘s vice-president, Accepted.com’s founder and president.

There are endless and frequent discussions on forums and message boards questioning the value of admissions consulting. One of the more common arguments against using a consultant runs something like this:

“Everyone I know that’s been accepted and is attending top schools did so without …an admissions consultant…. Is [using a consultant] crucial to top-school acceptance? Absolutely not.”

I’m sure if you took a poll of AIGAC members, the overwhelming majority would have attended grad school without the aid of a consultant. Many, including me, would not have taken a test prep course before applying to graduate school. However, over the last thirty years test preparation went from being an act of desperation, to a competitive edge, to a mainstay of the application process. Today, to maximize chances of a top score and acceptance at the best possible school, virtually all applicants take a test prep course.

The same phenomenon is occurring to admissions consulting, but educational advising is currently at the “competitive edge” stage. At this point, using a consultant is not crucial for some. It is extremely helpful for all.

The question is not whether one can get accepted to business, law, or medical school without a consultant. Many are accepted without professional advising. The question is: Are the advantages of using a consultant worth the cost?

First let’s discuss the ways in which a consultant can help you. We bring:

  1. Experience that you lack.
  2. Objectivity to a subject that is difficult to be objective about: You
  3. Editing skills. Professional writers have editors because their writing benefits from a knowledgeable, critical eye. The same is true for the writing of non-professionals.

How do these benefits justify the cost and provide a critical competitive edge?

Using an admissions consultant can:

  1. Enable your acceptance to a “better” school. “Better” implies more professional opportunity, increased earnings, and an educational experience more to your liking. Just looking at dollars and cents, “better” represents potentially tens of thousands of dollars in your pocket during your career.
  2. Help you snag a fellowship or scholarship. Savings: tens of thousands of dollars.
  3. Save you the cost of reapplication. Applying to medical, law, business school or any other graduate program including application fees and travel expenses can cost several thousand dollars. When you apply one time, you save.
  4. Reduce the time, stress, and frustration you (and those close to you) experience during the admissions process. We can guide you so you don’t go down tangents and useless paths or flounder for weeks as you struggle to learn what we know.

So can you gain acceptance to a graduate school without using an admissions consultant? Certainly. Should you try? Only if you don’t value the experience, objectivity, and skill that can provide you with returns many times the cost.

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