Can I Use Humor In My Application Essays?

Want to let your funny side show in your application essays? Here is what Linda Abraham has to say about humor in admissions:

For more application essay advice, download a free copy of our popular special report Five Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your Personal Statement.

Get a GRIP on Team Questions

Learn 4 tips for displaying teamwork in your application essays.

Remember that a tight GRIP = a tight team

I took away a lot of wonderful concepts, frameworks and strategies from my MBA education that led to a successful admission career. In fact, one of the most powerful lessons I learned at Michigan (now Ross) was how to lead and work effectively on teams.

Professor Noel Tichy, one of the gurus of Organizational Behavior and Leadership offered us a simple acronym that has stuck with me to this day: GRIP.  His theory was as follows:  if everyone on the team works toward a common goal that each individual fully understands and to which he/she commits; and everyone on the team understands and has the skills to carry out his/her roles and responsibilities; and everyone on the team shares information in a way that is productive; and the team has agreed to a process by which they will accomplish the goal, then the team will be effective.  In fact, our teams would periodically do a GRIP check to make certain that our GOALS, ROLES, INFORMATION and PROCESS would align to keep the projects moving forward.  When a team has only one GRIP element out of place, the team will be dysfunctional.

I use this framework with my clients when they need to describe their own teams’ successes or failures.  It helps them pinpoint what really happened to the team and not point fingers at an individual that may not have carried or had the skills to carry his/her weight because the “R” was out of alignment.  It helps them understand that by not having a process “P” in place, misunderstandings may occur.  It helps them understand the importance of working towards a common goal.  And it helps them understand the importance of transparent and effective communication “I”.

So when you are asked about teamwork, remember that a tight GRIP = a tight team and I will remember to thank Dr. Tichy for his wisdom and insight and for telling me to get a GRIP on my team.  Thank you Dr. Tichy.

Download our special report- Leadership in Admissions

Natalie Grinblatt Epstein By , an accomplished consultant/editor (since 2008) and entrepreneur. Natalie is a former MBA Admissions Dean and Director at Ross, Johnson, and Carey.

Obtaining Graduate Assistantships

@TNicole84 asks us for advice on obtaining graduate assistantships. Here’s information and a few application tips:

Check out our PhD Admissions 101 Page!

Need help funding your graduate education?

Assistantships are a way of funding your graduate education. They are more often awarded to PhD students than to master’s students (though a department may sometimes have funding available for exceptional master’s students). You may be awarded a Teaching Assistantship (meaning you help teach a class, teach a section of a larger class, teach a lab, or the like—responsibilities vary by institution); or a Research Assistantship (meaning you work with faculty to support their research—your responsibilities will depend on your field).

Most PhD programs will evaluate your application for funding (including assistantships, fellowships, etc) when they admit you, based on the same materials you submitted with your application for admission. Most universities also require that you file a financial aid application (including the FAFSA, if you are eligible for federal aid), so that they can also determine your financial need. Check the requirements for each university you’re applying to.

Some universities offer “named” fellowships/assistantships through campus research centers or interdisciplinary teaching centers—these programs are likely to have independent application processes. Research your options carefully and make sure you get all your application materials in on time.

If you’ve been admitted for a PhD and your department has not offered you funding (in the form of assistantships/fellowships), contact the department to ask whether students are able to apply for assistantships in other (allied) departments. For instance, the university might offer graduate teaching assistantships for interdisciplinary general education courses, and positions might become available late in the year. If you’re in English, perhaps the Composition department needs additional TAs. Find out what materials you need to submit (normally your CV, LORs, occasionally the application you submitted for admission).

If you’re applying for a TAship independently of your admission application, use your CV to highlight any previous teaching experience. In your cover letter, explain why pedagogy is important to you and why you see teaching as an important part of your academic training (and career). If you’re applying outside of your home department, make sure you can demonstrate you have the skills to do the job (for instance, if you’re an Applied Math student, can you also TA Physics? If you’re a Comparative Literature student, can you TA German?).

In addition, you can often supplement your primary funding with work as a grader or reader during exam periods.

Helpful resources on campus will include your home department, the office of graduate studies, and the financial aid office.

Good luck!

Check out our ebook, Financing Your Future. It is a comprehensive guide to graduate funding.

Download free: Plotting Your Way to a PhD

Rebecca Blustein By , editor and former Student Affairs Officer at UCLA’s Scholarship Resource Center, and author of Financing Your Future: Winning Fellowships, Scholarships and Awards for Grad School. Rebecca will be happy to assist you with your grad school applications.

GMAT, GRE, SAT, and All Things Test Prep

Bhavin-1-closeup-500x500GMAT, GRE, SAT… If one of these tests graces your future, tune in to our interview with Bhavin Parikh, CEO and founder of Magoosh, the leading online test prep company.

Listen to the recording of our conversation with Bhavin for great test prep advice and the lowdown on Magoosh.

00:02:17 – The story behind Magoosh and a word about it’s future.

00:04:10 – Why Bhavin is on a “mission to change the way people learn.”

00:06:09 – More effective than traditional test-prep: How do you know?

00:07:44 – What makes Magoosh different.

00:11:39 – The risks of self-study (Magoosh is like a gym membership).

00:14:24 – Best GMAT (and GRE) prep tips.

00:18:29 – The million dollar question: GMAT or GRE?

00:22:15 – SAT changes ahead.

00:25:43 – The Hansoo Lee Fellowship for Haas entrepreneurs.

00:27:58 – Bhavin’s stand on the debate about the value of the MBA to entrepreneurs.

00:30:18 – Last pieces of advice for applicants.

Listen to the full conversation to learn more!

Admissions Straight Talk Subscribe to Admissions Straight Talk in iTunes so you don’t miss a single episode! *Theme music is courtesy of

Relevant Links:

•  Magoosh
•  Should You Retake the GMAT?
•  How to Put Your Best Foot Forward on Test Day 
•  The Hansoo Lee Fellowship
•  7 Steps to a Successful MBA Application

Related Shows:

•  Interview with Chris Ryan of Manhattan GMAT
•  Linda Abraham on Overcoming Weaknesses
•  MBA Admissions According to an Expert
•  CommonBond’s Story: A Revolution in Student Loans

Subscribe to Admissions Straight Talk:

Subscribe to Admissions Straight Talk in iTunes!     Subscribe to Admissions Straight Talk in Stitcher!

Choosing Among Multiple Offers

Preparing to apply for a PhD? Check out our PhD Admissions 101 Page.

Which program most closely matches your interests?

Whether you’re applying for a Master’s or a PhD, entering April with multiple offers in hand is a terrific position to be in. Now you need to evaluate which program is the very best one for your needs. Here are some important things to think about as you make your choice:

Location: Can you see yourself living in the city/region where the university is located—either for 1-2 years for a master’s, or up to 6 (or more) for a PhD? Do you have family or friends in the area where the school is located? Do you have a spouse who will need to find work in the area? Consider the practical and emotional aspects of choosing a place to live.

Reputation: Is one of the departments a better match in terms of its reputation in your field of interest? (Note: this doesn’t necessarily correspond with rankings!)

Fit: Go back to the notes you made when you were selecting schools to apply to. (If you didn’t make careful notes then, now’s the time.) Which program has the best opportunities for you, in terms of curriculum, research opportunities, etc? Which program most closely matches your interests?

Research: This applies mainly to PhD students. Who will be your research supervisor? Have you had the chance to meet or correspond with potential supervisors at the programs you’re choosing from (or their current students)? Your undergraduate adviser is also a helpful resource, if s/he knows the field well. You want to do your best to choose a program where you will have great mentoring and research supervision.

Funding: This is of more significance for PhD students, since PhD programs are often fully funded, while fewer MA/MS programs offer funding. Which program offered you the best/most attractive funding package? How do the packages compare in terms of their composition (fellowships vs assistantships)? How many years is funding guaranteed for, and is summer funding available?

Cost of living: Related to both funding and location is the cost of living. In some parts of the country, a graduate stipend might be plenty to live on, while in very expensive markets, you may need to consider loans (or additional employment) to cover living expenses.

Evaluating multiple attractive offers is an enviable position to be in! We wish you the best as you make your choice.


Rebecca Blustein By , editor and former Student Affairs Officer at UCLA’s Scholarship Resource Center, and author of Financing Your Future: Winning Fellowships, Scholarships and Awards for Grad School. Rebecca will be happy to assist you with your grad school applications.

CommonBond Offers New Refinancing Program for Grads

CommonBond just released its new Grad Refinance Loan™, available to law school, med school, engineering, and b-school graduates.

With the new refinancing program, borrowers will receive:

•  Low fixed rates for 10- and 15-year loans.

•  A single monthly bill after the consolidation of multiple loans.

•  Personalized service from the CommonBond team.

Do you want to learn more about CommonBond and how they can help you pay for grad school? Check out our recent podcast, CommonBond’s Story: A Revolution in Student Loans, in which Wharton grads and co-founders of this student loan financing startup share excellent advice on how you can finance your education.

CommonBond’s Story: A Revolution in Student Loans

GRE vs GMAT [Infographic!]

Magoosh just released an excellent new GRE vs. GMAT Infographic that presents a side-by-side comparison of the GRE and the GMAT. Check it out, share it, and decide which test is right for your b-school applications!

Magoosh GRE vs GMAT Infographic

PhD Waitlist — Is There Anything You Can Do?

6 tips for waitlisted applicants

A frustrating place to be!

@JoifulJoi posted the question on Twitter that inspired this post. Thanks for the great question and congrats on the interview invitation.

Anyone who’s been on one can tell you that the waitlist can be a frustrating place to be! On the other hand, the fact that the committee has waitlisted you shows that you’re very close to the top of their rankings. If you’ve been waitlisted by a PhD program, what should you know, and what can you do?

The short answer is: not very much, other than be patient. But there are some important things to consider and be aware of.

Do you want to stay on a PhD waitlist?

First, consider whether you want to stay on the waitlist. Do you have other offers? Is this your top choice school? Is it the only school you were waitlisted at (with rejections everywhere else)? If you definitely want to stay on the waitlist, look carefully at the correspondence you received from the program and see whether there’s anything you need to do or to let them know: do you need to confirm you want to remain on the waitlist? If so, you can take that as an opportunity to briefly affirm your interest in their program. Most PhD programs aren’t interested in having a lot of contact from you, and you don’t want to turn them off—so don’t send them unsolicited materials. (Conversely, if they ask for updates, by all means supply them!)

The PhD Notification Timeline

Second, understand the timeline you’re dealing with. For most US PhD programs, April 15 is their notification/enrollment date. Schools require a commitment from admitted students by the April 15 deadline, in order to fill their classes by that date. If there’s movement off the waitlist, you can expect to hear something as April 15 approaches (and even slightly afterward).

If you’ve received notification that you’re on a waitlist, you’re dealing with a program that is at least being transparent about its waitlisting procedures. You could be on a waitlist and not even know it. Most programs start letting admitted (and rejected) students know their status in late February or early March—but as I said, the process lasts until mid-April. Many schools will rank candidates below their “admit” list, but not send a notification unless a space opens up—in other words, you might not hear anything at all from the school until they determine, in April, whether they have space for you. (Talk about frustrating!) Schools that do this will send their final rejection notifications in April, too.

If you’re on the waitlist and you haven’t heard anything as April 15 approaches, you can consider contacting the admissions chair to ask what your rank is on the waitlist—that will give you a clearer picture of whether you have a realistic chance.

Financial Implications of the PhD waitlist

Third, consider whether there would be any financial aid/funding implications to being admitted to a program late (if you do decide to remain on the waitlist and are admitted). Some programs may have distributed all of their fellowship funds early, to students at the top of their list.

Unfortunately, the waitlist does involve some patience—but the fact that you’re waitlisted at a very competitive program does mean that your application is strong. Good luck!

Download free: Plotting Your Way to a PhD

Rebecca Blustein By , editor and former Student Affairs Officer at UCLA’s Scholarship Resource Center, and author of Financing Your Future: Winning Fellowships, Scholarships and Awards for Grad School. Rebecca will be happy to assist you with your grad school applications.

5 Million to Share: The 43North Competition

Want to know more? Listen to the full episode!Do you have a great business idea but need 1 million dollars to get yourself started? Meet Peter Burakowski, Senior Marketing Manager at 43North.

Listen to the recording of our fascinating conversation with Peter to find out why 43North is going to give away $5 million dollars to eleven promising entrepreneurs and what you need to do if you want to be one of the winners.

00:01:43 – About 43North (and why you really want to win).

00:10:06 – Who can apply.

00:11:21 – Why retail and hospitality are excluded.

00:12:25 – The 43North application process.

00:14:30 – What are the judges looking for?

00:16:33 – Setting up shop in Buffalo.

00: 21:49 – How many applicants are vying for the gold?

00:23:37 – About the judges. (Will you be one of them?)

00:27:32 – Mentorship and community.

00:31:03 – A lot more than a t-shirt: what happens to the semi-finalists.

Listen to the full conversation to learn more!

Admissions Straight Talk Subscribe to Admissions Straight Talk in iTunes so you don’t miss a single episode! *Theme music is courtesy of

Relevant Links:

•  43North
•  Which Universities Contribute the Most to VC-Backed Entrepreneurship?
•  MBA Admissions Special Reports
•  Grad School Admissions Special Reports
•  Med School Admissions Special Reports
•  Law School Admissions Special Reports

Related Shows:

•  MBAs Across America: The Coolest HBS Internship
•  Which Schools are Good for PE/VC and VC-Backed Entrepreneurship
•  Business, Law and Beyond: An Interview with John Engelman
•  Dr. Douglas Stayman Shares the Scoop on Cornell Tech NYC
•  Jeff Reid on Entrepreneurship
•  CommonBond’s Story: A Revolution in Student Loans

Subscribe to Admissions Straight Talk:

Subscribe to Admissions Straight Talk in iTunes!     Subscribe to Admissions Straight Talk in Stitcher!

Can You Get Accepted After Doing Something Stupid?

Check out our MBA Admissions 101 Pages!

Don’t try to hide a conviction.

The point of this article is not to tell you that you shouldn’t engage in disorderly conduct, petty theft, or other minor (or major) infractions (though you really shouldn’t…); what we want to discuss here is how you should overcome the obstacle of a criminal record when approached with the application question: “Have you ever been convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain.”

If you did something stupid, something deserving of a conviction or suspension, how do you prove to an admissions committee that you are worthy of their acceptance?

First, don’t try to hide a conviction. Clients often ask me if they really need to bring up their troubled past, and I tell them they do. Admissions committees (and the firms they hire) conduct background checks on applicants, and an unexplained discrepancy gives them an easy reason to reject your application or withdraw an offer of admission, so, when asked, own up to your behavior on your application.

Don’t make excuses. The biggest struggle I face when helping troubled clients is getting them to move past their tendency to justify their behavior: their writing tends to get overlong with explanations. Even very subtle self-serving statements can be read by an admissions committee as failure to take responsibility for your behavior, so leave out the excuses and directly address what you did.

Don’t go overboard addressing the infraction. The second biggest struggle I face is keeping clients from turning their applications into overblown mea culpas. A client once came to me having written two required essays and an optional essay all addressing a mistake from the past—too much! Often, a well-written response to an application’s “failure” essay question is enough.

Do show that you learned your lesson and that your past behavior won’t happen again. This step tends to be less of a struggle for clients, because usually they can show remorse, they can show the actions they took to atone for their behavior, and they can show how they matured from their experiences. Often such clients become heavily involved with their community, counseling others who tend toward their same behavior and managing to turn their failure into a success benefitting others.

Perfect execution of these suggestions certainly will increase your chances of admission, but they may not be enough to gain you acceptance to a top school. So avoid having to deal with this situation altogether: think twice and three times before you do something that you could regret for a very long time.

Learn how to use sample essays to create an exemplary essay of your own! Click here to download our free report!