The time span between being accepted to business school and arriving on campus, which often exceeds half a year, offers rising MBAs an unparalleled opportunity for self-examination, career exploration, and the pursuit of new endeavors that can both influence and augment one’s business school experience.
In recent years, and especially since the ‘Great Recession’ and its aftermath in the U.S., students have increasingly selected a range of activities that are strategically tied in with their plans to attend business school, combining elements of study, work, and networking while participating in programs predicated on their status as newly-admitted MBAs.
The number of options they choose from is also increasing – from corporate-sponsored immersion programs such as the Procter & Gamble’s Marketing MBA Summer Camp, to hard skills-based, culture and language transition, and career strategy-focused pre-MBA training programs such as The Practice MBA Summer Forum, to diversity or gender-based scholarship programs, conferences, and network-building opportunities such as the Forté Foundation’s Forté Fellows Program.
Students who are planning to switch career tracks are also leveraging their pre-matriculation status to pursue internships at companies that may not otherwise recruit MBAs, or that are willing to take on a pre-MBA candidate.
If you’re applying to business school, and you’d like to get a jump start on planning for what to do once you’re admitted, there are three things you can do to anticipate and leverage the significant gap in time between the end of the admissions cycle and the start of school.
First, realize that you will need to create a formal pre-matriculation strategy. It is not too early to start thinking about, researching, and preparing for the opportunities (and related deadlines) that may await you once you’re admitted to business school.
As with any MBA-related activity, it makes sense to be aware of and sensitive to any occasion in which you come into contact with MBA recruiters, recognizing that having an opportunity to meet (and potentially be evaluated by) a possible future internship or full-time employer before the start of business school can both expand and limit your future opportunities.
Second, begin to educate yourself. Think about the curriculum of the schools you are most likely to attend. How much of the material you are about to encounter as a first-year MBA will be brand new to you rather than subject matter that you’ve studied in the past or mastered in a previous work context? Can you acquire syllabi for MBA core courses and purchase text books to read in advance (if anything, to make the process of absorption and learning that much smoother once you are in the thick of business school life)?
If there are obvious knowledge gaps – such as a lack of exposure to financial modeling via Excel – can you undertake coursework or skills-building programs that will help you perform with greater facility in business school, when the stakes will be much higher and the course material more sophisticated?
And, if you are not yet a consumer of business news and marketplace information, there is no better time than before the start of school to make a steady, daily habit of reading BusinessWeek, the Wall Street Journal, or The Financial Times. If you know you want to pursue opportunities in a specific industry once in business school, can you identify the “go-to” publications, blogs, trade magazines, or research reports that influence thinking in that field?
In short, start reading, and become knowledgeable about companies, industries, and job functions that interest you … your ability to sound truly knowledgeable during job interviews is not something you will be able to cram for later. The few weeks before the start of MBA internship interviews is a bad time to start acquainting yourself with back issues of Consulting Magazine, for example.
Third, and last, there is an additional process step at the end of the admissions cycle that you should consider. MBAs generally understand that if they are rejected by a specific business school, they can ask for feedback from the admissions office that might yield valuable guidance, such as the need to retake the GMAT or acquire more years of work experience, etc. before potentially reapplying. Few students, however, opt to seek admissions feedback after being admitted.
While gaining an offer of admission is sufficient for most students to celebrate, feeling that the acceptance reflects full confidence in the candidates’ ability to succeed in business school, the reality is often more nuanced. … An offer of admission means that the school feels confident that you will collect sufficient credits to graduate (not that you won’t struggle along the way), that you will succeed in taking your next professional step beyond school (not that you will land one of the most highly-coveted jobs), and that your presence and performance in all spheres of MBA life will reflect well on the school’s brand and reputation (not that you will necessary become a club leader or the class president). Schools expect you to “make it”, but it’s up to you to excel.
Thus, seeking admissions feedback after being admitted may elicit valuable information that guides your pre-matriculation strategy. You may discover, after gentle inquiry, that it would be helpful to take an Accounting, Finance, or MBA Math course before the start of school. If you are an international student (and non-native English speaker) arriving in the U.S. or Western Europe, you may learn that your first year in a brand new host country environment and transition to a new academic, professional, and social environment, could be that much more successful if you undertake a few weeks of in-country immersion before embarking on the MBA. (Full disclosure: I oversee the curriculum for the Practice MBA Summer Forum, which I believe offers the only current MBA-specific offering for international students.)
And, if you are from a ‘non-traditional’ MBA background (a category that includes experience as varied as military service, professional sports, the creative arts, public policy and government, education, medicine, and law), a career strategy focused pre-MBA program might help you start school on a stronger footing, helping you learn how to position your unique skills and experiences and revealing what the performance benchmarks are for employers vetting candidates in a range of industries and for a range of roles.
It goes without saying that the only person who has not been through this process before is … you. Everyone else, from MBA program staff to faculty, recruiters, alumni, and second-year students has a first-hand appreciation of all of the ways in which even the most worthy MBA students can fall shy of their goals, while others seem to effortlessly succeed.
If you’re approaching business school with a truly MBA-worthy strategic mindset, then recognize that there is a step beyond simply being admitted. The few months before the start of school offer a unique opportunity to prepare for the professional, academic, and social realms you are about to encounter, in what will undoubtedly be a competitive environment. Ask questions, seek information, try to understand the playing field, and be smart about your choices and use of time after you receive that wonderful letter welcoming you to the class of 2016!
I spent last Friday at the GMAC Test Prep Summit in Los Angeles. The conference was mostly for test prep professionals, but GMAC invited admissions consultants and I decided to go. I’m glad I did.
I am keenly aware of both the rise in test scores over the last 20 years as well as the importance of a competitive test score in the evaluation process. The session presented by Dr. Larry Rudner, GMAC’s VP of Research and Development and Chief Psychometrician, highlighted factors for success on the GMAT. They may not be news, but they are critical to achieving a high score. They are also worth highlighting and repeating. Here goes:
1. Prep matters. Dr. Rudner showed us data on the nationalities that score the highest on the GMAT, specifically on the quant section of the exam. He also showed us data by nationality on self-reported prep time. Those nationalities with the highest scores also spent the most time preparing for the exam.
2. Pacing correlates to a high score. The first questions are not more important than later questions, especially if you end up guessing at the end just to finish.
3. Guessing is better than omitting. If you run out of time, you are better off guessing than simply leaving questions blank. However, see #2.
4. It usually pays to retake. If your score is not competitive at your target schools and you scored less than 700, then you should retake the exam. Among U.S. test takers who scored 700 or more on their first GMAT, the average increase was less than 10 points. Of all U.S. test re-takers, 55% increased their score by 30+ points. If you aren’t happy with your first score given your target programs, are willing to put in the time and effort to raise your score, got less than a 700, and are applying to a school that, like most, uses the highest score, then you should give it a second shot.
Thank you GMAC for holding the informative conference!
By Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted.com and co-author of the new, definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.
Get ready to read about Cassandra Hendrix, a nontraditional pre-med student and author of the blog Two Strange White Flowers (read on for an explanation of this title). Thank you Cassandra for sharing your story with us – we wish you the best of luck and hope you keep us posted!
Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study (or are studying) as an undergrad? What’s your favorite (non-school) book?
Cassandra: I grew up in a tiny little town on the outskirts of the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina called Brasstown. I graduated high school in 2009 and moved to South Carolina the fall of that year to attend a small technical college. I married my husband, Matthew, the following year and switched majors from English to early childhood development. I graduated in May of 2012 with an associate degree in applied science. To make an incredibly long story as short as possible, my husband and I moved back to North Carolina after I graduated for a gap year to pursue a few projects that ultimately did not work out as intended. Given the opportunity to return to college, I began to question what in the world I actually wanted to do with my life. I re-enrolled at Tri-County Technical College in August of this year for a second associate degree in science, building on previously earned credits. I hope to transfer to a university next year. I’m currently taking standard pre-medical science courses and I plan to major in microbiology at the next institution.
My favorite non-school book is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I ventured out of my comfort zone in reading it, as it is a post-apocalyptic novel, and was pleasantly surprised by how lovely McCarthy’s manipulation of grammar and punctuation (or lack thereof) read. If I see copies of it at a used book store I usually pick them up and try to give them to others as gifts; I truly think it is that good of a work.
Accepted: Can you tell us more about your position as a “nontraditional” med applicant and your med school plan?
Cassandra: There are several factors that describe me as a nontraditional student. I am a first-generation college student, which is typically defined as the fact that neither of your parents or legal guardians attended or completed college. I am also a career-changer; I did not originally enroll in college as a premedical student and I hold a degree that is entirely removed from that specific career choice. As of this past fall I am also a returning student, not part of the straight-from-high-school demographic (even though that is how I originally began my post-secondary education). I’m nontraditional in the sense that I’m atypical, if you will, from the standard college student.
I have crafted my educational plan over the course of many months and it is something that I am most proud of. I have blogged about it extensively, and plan to continue blogging as the journey unfolds. My plan is simply an idealization of what I want my educational career to be. My goal is to pursue zoonotic virology, which is the study of viruses that originate in nonhuman animals. I am interested in viruses that cross the species barrier and are infectious to humans. I feel the best way to achieve this goal is to pursue three doctoral degrees: a doctorate of veterinary medicine, a doctorate of philosophy in the sciences, and a doctorate of medicine.
Initially, I was quite wary of sharing my personal aspirations due to the possibility of criticism and judgment. However, this is a path that I am truly inspired by and it serves a higher purpose than simply earning the formal title Dr. Dr. Dr. Hendrix. I am an avid supporter of graduate education and feel that it leads to opportunities that might not otherwise be available. In deciding to pursue all three paths I am going to receive a circumspect view of the subject. I chose to start with veterinary medicine because it is the origin of the type of viruses I want to work with, then move on to the research doctorate so I can gain experience researching disease with an extensive foundation in animal science, and complete the endeavor with a medical doctorate.
Ultimately, I want to have the qualification necessary to practice medicine on humans. My actual career interest is infectious disease pathology, and I would like to eventually work on zoonotic viral outbreaks and public awareness for an organization like the National Institutes of Health.
Accepted: What people or experiences have inspired you to pursue a future in medicine?
Cassandra: This is almost as complex of an answer as trying to describe my educational plan. It essentially can be broken down into two parts: First, I’m going to reveal something about myself that I have reserved until this moment in time: I was a “Medicaid kid.” Government provision for healthcare is the reason I was able to have near-cancerous lesions removed from my tonsils at seven years old, have my vision corrected at fourteen years old, was able to manage extreme allergic sensitivities throughout childhood, and able to receive necessary treatment during emergency situations. It is also the reason that the treatment, both medical and social, I received differed from other patients. I am not stating this to victimize myself, but rather to shed light on the reality that in certain situations there seems to be an evident bias against patients with government insurance.
Whether it is because the demographic is typically low-income or because the process of receiving payment is so arduous, a perceived difference in treatment can often be painfully felt. I have never had a primary care physician or family doctor; I saw whoever would take my insurance card for whatever medical care I needed. Since losing eligibility at 19, I have not had health insurance of any kind and have been to a doctor thrice in the past three years. Again, this is not so I can provide some commentary on government healthcare or stand on my soapbox to declare my political views; the situations I have described were simply my reality and a piece of my life that has strongly shaped how I feel about the practice of medicine in the United States.
Due to these emotional experiences I never thought I could be a doctor. I thought physicians were on such a different plane academically and financially that such a career could not be a possibility for me. As I grew older, I came to the realization that my financial situation, economic status, and social standing had nothing to do with my ability to become a physician.
The second part comes in the form of personal interaction. During the course of our gap year my husband and I became friends with a man who, for the sake of this story, I’m going to call Sam. Sam was an interesting individual, very reserved, with an ailment that had haunted him for over ten years. It presented physically and seemed to have diminished his sense of confidence. Out of a love for natural healing I was convinced that an herbal infusion held the cure. Matthew and I zealously crafted tinctures and formulated teas, and other concoctions we thought could be of use. While these preparations alleviated certain symptoms, they (of course) did not phase the ailment itself. He had spent many years and thousands of dollars seeing specialists searching for name and a cure. All of these efforts were to no avail. His condition reemerges every few years, each time creating pain and discomfort. After meeting Sam, I realized how much compassion I have for people who are ill. Additionally, the mystery surrounding the sickness intrigued me and piqued my intellectual interests. Sam will always be the initial inspiration for why I chose virology. I wanted to help him, to heal him, because he represented the greater whole of mankind. The only way that was ever going to be possible was if I spent my life researching viruses and practicing medicine.
Accepted: What’s been your biggest challenge so far in transitioning back to school? How have you worked to overcome that challenge?
Cassandra: My biggest challenge so far has been adjusting to the “pre-med lifestyle”. In my first degree I excelled in all of my courses and graduated as an honor student. However, I did not have to take college-level science and mathematics courses and the level of memorization required was slim in comparison to certain premedical subjects. When I returned to college this fall it had been four years since I graduated high school. I immersed myself in the basic level sciences and assumed that it would be a fairly easy transition. I did somewhat poorly on my first few exams, and I even dropped my algebra course in order to lessen my workload. This resulted in my losing some confidence in my academic abilities.
I began to search for bloggers with similar experiences and I interacted with other premedical students on Twitter. I sought help from my college’s tutoring center, and I also took time away from my blog in short bursts to really evaluate my commitment. Giving myself some time to absorb the situation and find a rhythm was essential in fighting “burnout.”
I feel like it is extremely easy to let yourself become overwhelmed, but it is important to realize that the transition into a college student is a process. So, meeting the challenge is not something I feel like you have to overcome as much as it is finding the courage to trust in your own evolution. Once I chose to do so, the material became enthralling and enjoyable to learn. Keeping my focus on my future goals inspired me to live up to the challenge of my new life.
Accepted: Can you tell us about your blog — Two Strange White Flowers? Why did you decide to blog, and how did you come up with that name?
Cassandra: The idea to start a blog came to me in November of 2012, and I began actively blogging this past April when I enrolled at a small distance-learning college in Vermont. I was not able to continue my education there because the format was very nontraditional, so I removed all posts and decided to start anew. I searched for hours for other bloggers with experiences similar to mine and found very few, most of which had let their blog go some years prior.
In an attempt to connect with others, I felt the urge to open myself up and be transparent with my own journey. I concluded that if no one read my posts then the blog could serve as a diary, sort of like a first-hand account of this wonderful adventure I have embarked on! Fortunately there are people who read it (which I feel incredibly humbled by) and I am excited that, in sharing my experiences, I might be able to encourage others towards a similar path.
I decided to title it “Two Strange White Flowers” upon its inception. My husband had mentioned that he wanted to start a blog eventually and, since he is a mathematical physicist, I told him he should consider titling his “The Time Traveller.” One of our favorite books is H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, so the suggestion was in an effort to reflect his interests. We read the book together before we were married and I remember falling in love with the story, how eloquently written it was, and the plight of the Time Traveller sitting with me long after the book was put back on the shelf. There is a small excerpt from the book I have also put on my blog that reads thus:
“[The Time Traveller,] I know…thought but cheerlessly of the advancement of mankind, and saw in the growing pile of civilization only a foolish heaping that must inevitably…destroy its makers in the end. If that is so, it remains for us to live as though it were not so. But to me the future is still black and blank…a vast ignorance, lit at a few casual places by the memory of his story. And I have by me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers – shriveled now, and brown and flat and brittle – to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man.”
I found this ending conclusion of the book incredibly inspiring and wanted to pay homage to great classic literature by titling my blog after so prominent a statement. As a personal connection I feel that my husband and I, because we are nontraditional, are like the two strange white flowers the narrator references, seemingly out of place and out of time.
However, the flowers are indicative of much more than what their physical existence implies; they also represent the future. Throughout the book, the Time Traveller is sharing an elaborate story of how he traveled 802,000 years into the future and things were so drastically different from the time he and his acquaintances are familiar with (Victorian England). He leaves two flowers behind, both a symbol of the time he traveled to and the future of the world in its entirety. I chose to name my blog “Two Strange White Flowers” to represent the journey I am on (inevitably intertwined with that of my husband, “The Time Traveller”) and the future that this path represents. I want my story to be an inspiration to those who feel the need to begin anew, but who are afraid. The “future is still black and blank…a vast ignorance, lit at a few casual places” only by the radiance of our dreams.
Accepted: Can you share some advice for other pre-med students who are just starting out their journeys?
Cassandra: My advice mainly consists of suggestions for nontraditional students, as that is the only scope of the premedical experience I have. However, I think it is most likely applicable to anyone who has chosen to pursue higher education, whether it is medicine, research, or anything in between!
1. The past does not define the present. Yes, it gives this moment context and meaningful direction, but it is certainly not the definition of who and what you are. Dwelling on negative aspects of your past experiences will not help you take positive steps towards your future; if anything it only leads to frustration. Try to not turn your past into a scarlet letter because there is much more to the nontraditional process than focusing on what could have been better. Whether you failed out of college the first time, you did not do well on standardized entrance exams, or you lacked direction, it is important to not let these things define you. Choose to move forward from where you are, and do not regret where you have been.
2. Keep organized and stay focused. I cannot stress this enough. This was undoubtedly my biggest struggle, even though I sought help from others in how to go about “keeping it all together.” The most valuable thing, to me, is finding your own rhythm. How do you prefer to study? What time of day is best for you to read your notes, textbook, etc.? What kind of environment is conducive to your learning process? In addition to keeping an agenda and calendar, it is also important to evaluate your response to questions like this in order to maximize your learning. The best universal advice I can offer is to work diligently, effectively, and do not be afraid to ask questions.
3. Don’t give up. This is a common phrase espoused by most motivational propaganda and has unfortunately become a cliché. However, looking past the simplicity, these words represent grasping hold of hope. Just in case you might be like me and need to hear it twenty times a day, I am going to say it just for you (yes you who are reading this): DO NOT GIVE UP! Do whatever it takes to encourage yourself to keep pressing forward. Check out books about your subject, start a conversation with your professor, form a study group, watch educational videos, visit medical schools, do whatever it takes! But whatever you do, do not give up on your educational goals. It lies with you; you are the only one who can decide what is best for your life, what you want to do with your life, and how you are going to do it.
In accordance with this thought, I wanted to share a quote from The Road. McCarthy’s characters are unnamed, simply a boy and his father, and a conversation takes place midway through the book regarding the father’s concern for his child. He realizes the hardship his son will face and wants to encourage him to always press onward. McCarthy omits punctuation in his writing, making it difficult to sometimes navigate, and the quote I have shared begins with words from the father:
“You have to carry the fire.
I don’t know how to.
Yes, you do.
Is the fire real? The fire?
Yes it is.
Where is it? I don’t know where it is.
Yes you do. It’s inside you. It always was there. I can see it.”
We each have a fire burning within us, a passion that brings joy to our lives. Sometimes it can be smothered by failure, or is weakened by a sudden gale of hardship. Despite all of this, the fire never truly burns out and can always be rekindled. Stoke your fire, keep it ablaze, and allow your passion to shine a light into the future.
Do you want to be featured in Accepted.com’s blog, Accepted Admissions Blog? If you want to share your med school journey with the world (or at least with our readers), email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This blog post is one in a series of MBA applicant profile evaluations called “What are My Chances?” authored by Michelle Stockman. Michelle, who started consulting for Accepted in 2007 and worked previously in the Columbia Business School admissions office, will provide selected applicants with school recommendations as well as an evaluation of their qualifications.
If you would like Michelle to evaluate your profile at no charge and as part of this series, please provide the information requested at http://reports.accepted.com/what_are_my_chances.
Profile 3: “Cecilia” Adopted Vietnamese-American Teach for America Alum
-Background: 27-year-old adopted Vietnamese-American female. Learned English at the age of 5. Participated in state-level speech competitions, attended Ivy League (think Dartmouth, Cornell) as molecular biology major.
Normally I steer applicants away from discussing their pre-college years. But in your case, full steam ahead! Almost all schools will give you a chance to tell this story, whether in the regular set of essays or the optional essay. Focus on what you learned about yourself by going through the experience. How did it inform your future career choice, and the impact you desired to have on the world around you? Also, both Dartmouth and Cornell are feeder schools (not the top feeder schools, but definitely feeder schools) to top B-school programs such as Wharton, Harvard and Stanford.
-Work Experience: Teach for America alumna in Philadelphia. Taught for 3 years, Biology Team Lead, had 90% passing state exam, served as mentor to incoming TFA teacher. Currently working at in charter school network in New York as a recruitment coordinator. Grew applicant pool by 30% through both travel and online networking.
TFA is a great credential, as you’ve already been through a substantial vetting process and taken on a challenging, impact-driven career move. Most business schools have some sort of application waiver, deferral program, or major tuition break for TFA applicants. Some of the best packages are offered by Yale, Darden, UT McCombs and NYU. You likely haven’t been making huge money, so seriously consider schools with a good scholarship package so your debt won’t be so burdensome. I would think you’re a dynamic and persuasive speaker as a recruiter, so you’re well on you’re way to having that “executive presence.” The question will be: “Can she hang with the quants?” when it comes to the academics at top programs.
-Short-Term Goal: Work for management consulting firm (Deloitte, McKinsey, Bain) in human resources efficiency and recruitment.
Great goal in line with your past, making sense with your future. Do yourself a favor by researching now the recruitment rates for these companies from your set of schools. Talk to current students about the interview process for internships, and how best to angle yourself for this niche.
-Long-Term Goal: Start consulting firm intent on assisting for-profit companies and academic institutions to attract talent to economically struggling US cities.
Inspiring goal. As you are focused on a large geographic swath of the US in the future, think about how the “brand” of your future institution is respected, not only in the city where you anticipate taking up residence post-MBA, but also across the nation.
-GMAT: 680, 45 Q, 38 V
Your GMAT is not a W/H/S median score, which is floating right around 730. Those don’t have to be your only dream choices though, and may not be the best fit. Even so, your quant score is a bit low. You may want to think about retaking for a better shot at your stretch schools. Also show you have significant “quant-ability” through your GPA or on-the-job demands.
-GPA: Increased GPA each semester, from 2.5 freshman year to 3.8 last two semesters.
If low scores in core humanities courses, or a failed foray into classes like Sculpting 101 brought down your GPA, I wouldn’t worry too much. But if you did poorly in quant courses, you really should retake the GMAT.
- Mentoring inner city dance troupe
- Started foodie society mapping out monthly “restaurant crawl” meet-ups that now boasts +200 members with healthy online following, and average attendance of 20 per event.
Very cool extracurriculars. I expect these are your most current, and you left off those from college. What’s great is that you are still currently involved, and they show a sort of entrepreneurial leadership, and joie de vivre—you know how to work hard, and play hard.
Stretch matches: Stanford, Yale, NYU
On-par matches: Darden, Michigan, UT McCombs, Vanderbilt
Michelle Stockman is a professional journalist, former Columbia Business School admissions insider, and experienced MBA admissions consultant.
Last week, Columbia School of Business announced that it will be offering two-year, full-tuition fellowships to four class of 2016 students. The fellowship – the Dong-Bin Shin Fellowship – is supported by the recent $4 million gift of class of 1981 alumnus, Dong-Bin Shin.
The fellowships will be awarded to four students who demonstrate academic excellence as well as financial need. One fellowship will be given to an international student from each the follow regions: South Korea, Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East or Africa. To be considered, students must apply by January 6, 2014.
In appreciation of Shin’s generosity, Columbia will establish the Dong-Bin Shin ’81 and Lotte Classroom on its new Manhattanville campus.