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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.
By Betsy Massar of Master Admissions
As we come up to the business school application deadlines, thousands of aspiring MBA students are asking their bosses, former bosses, senior colleagues, and even clients for recommendations to business school. Some might argue that it’s already too late to hit up a busy executive for a b-school recommendation, but if you plan and execute right, the amount of time remaining should be reasonable.
You can find many opinions about how to strategize the recommendations all over the web. I only have three words to say about it: Don’t overthink it. Admissions officers have come right out on their websites and told students what they are looking for in a recommendation, and I encourage you to take them at their word.
A classic article on this subject can be found on the Stanford Graduate School of Business website. Kirsten Moss, the GSB’s former Director of MBA admissions, offered clear advice for all applicants, not just Stanford. She purports that the recommendation is “about about bringing this person alive. How, if they left tomorrow, would [the] organization have been touched in a unique way. “
Note too, that admission committee members reading your letters of recommendation don’t want everything to be stellar. If all the recommenders say that the applicant is wonderful for the same reasons, or if the student looks like a demi-god, “it loses its authenticity.” says Stanford’s Moss.
Derrick Bolton, Dean of Admissions at Stanford’s MBA program also guides students with ideas to make the letters specific:
You might review the recommendation form and jot down relevant anecdotes in which you demonstrated the competencies in question. Specific stories will help make you come alive in the process, and your recommender will appreciate the information.
And from Harvard Business School…
Dee Leopold, the very experienced and candid Director of Admissions at Harvard Business School, advises that recommenders answer the questions posed, and be specific (good advice for applicants as well as recommenders!). Furthermore, “Many recommendations are well-written and enthusiastic in their praise but essentially full of adjectives and short on actual examples of how your wonderful qualities play out in real life,” she explains. “What we are hoping for are brief recounts of specific situations and how you performed.” Her blog is not indexed, so I recommend searching for her posts of August 24, 2009 and June 17, 2008.
The always articulate Soojin Kwon Koh, Director of Admissions at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, allays fears that your recommenders must write perfect prose. “We won’t be evaluating your recommenders’ writing skills. We will be looking for content that helps us understand who you are as a professional and … the impact you had within your organization.” She also offers the following four specific tips
1. Choose substance over title (in other words, don’t ask your CEO)
2. Go with professional relationships
3. Make it easy for your recommender (For example, remind them of examples, in context)
4. Provide ample lead time
More Excellent Resources Available
Several students and former students have chimed in on the recommendations process. One of my favorite applicant blogs, Palo Alto For Awhile, thoughtfully offered a very specific step-by-step guideline for the recommendation process.
Another generous soul is Jeremy Wilson, who is on the Northwestern Kellogg admissions committee and currently a JD-MBA student there. He offers some answers on how to ask someone to write a recommendation who is very, very busy. Good question! His response is thoughtful, and action-oriented. I especially like his #3, “Highlight Why You Picked Them.”
Many of my AIGAC colleagues have some great advice on recommendations, and a read-through of their websites can be worth your while.
Indeed, organizing and managing the recommendation process can be a challenge, especially if you are applying to a number of different schools. But it’s a lot like managing a project at work: you’ve got to get buy-in and meet the deadlines.
I know you’ve got it in you.