Top MBA Programs Using Shared Letter of Recommendation Questions

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A Shared LOR = Good News for Applicants, Recommenders, and B-Schools

The number of top-ranked MBA programs now asking the exact same questions for the letters of recommendation is growing, which is good news both for recommenders and for candidates. LORs are very important to an applicant’s case, providing an objective assessment from a supervisor, former manager, or other professional that helps affirm (or not) what the applicant has stated about her own skills, traits and abilities. But different questions with different word limits were onerous for both applicants, who had to ask the same people to write varying assessments for their multiple applications, as well as the recommenders.

This year, Harvard, Darden, Yale, Stanford, Columbia and Wharton are asking these questions:

 • How do the candidate’s performance, potential, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples. 

 • Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response.

Harvard, Wharton, and Yale have word limits for both questions, though the other programs do not. Not all schools had released their LOR questions for the 2015 application season as of this writing, so this list is not comprehensive, and other schools may be added to the list. Stanford has a helpful link to a transcript of a podcast on what elements make for successful and effective LORs. This advice is certainly applicable to LORs for any other MBA program as well.

Some schools also ask recommenders to fill out a personal qualities and skills grid form, evaluating applicants in a variety of areas. Currently, there is no unity among the schools on the use of a grid, so carefully check each school’s requirements.

Graduate school admissions consultants have lobbied to streamline this LOR process for years, and this convergence around shared questions is a direct outgrowth of those efforts. Last year, at the annual conference of the Association of International Graduate School Consultants (AIGAC), the topic of LORs became unexpectedly lively, with school admissions directors expressing concern over the integrity of what they were reading in LORs, and AIGAC members arguing that using shared questions would enhance the integrity of the process because it would take pressure off both applicant and recommender.

Anna Ivey, president of AIGAC, is pleased with the development of more schools converging around shared LOR questions. “Applicants have for years found themselves in quite a pickle because they have had to dump so much work on their recommenders. In some cases, their recommenders have had to write more words than the applicants do in their essays. That has created all kinds of distortions, despite good intentions.

“As AIGAC’s MBA Applicant Survey has shown since its inception, a sizable minority of recommenders ask applicants to write their own letters, and we suspect that’s because there’s only so much bandwidth they can dedicate to someone else’s application, let alone for multiple people for whom they might be writing letters. That multiplier effect makes for a daunting amount of work. Any convergence around common recommendation questions not only makes the application process easier for applicants and their recommenders, but also helps preserve the integrity of those recommendations and the application process. Cutting down on the duplication and extra work for recommenders will make it more likely that recommenders write their letters themselves, and that’s a great outcome.”

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Judy Gruen By , MBA admissions consultant since 1996 and author (with Linda Abraham) of MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.

The Economist’s Top 20 North American MBA Programs

How much do MBA rankings matter? Click here for the short answer. Below you’ll find The Economist’s top 20 American business schools, with a rank on the left (ranking the top 20 in the U.S. and Canada) and a rank on the right (the school’s place in the top 100 global rankings). As you’ll see, the American programs listed are all located at the top or very close to the top of the top global programs. The Economist article highlights the legacy of American programs – their size, their history, their all-star faculties (all of Wharton’s 245 professors have PhDs), and their financial magnitude.

As always when looking at rankings, you need to understand the methodology behind them. The Economist’s methodology is a weighted average going back to 2011 of some fairly quirky factors including “Diversity of recruiters,” “Number of languages taught,” and “Number of overseas countries with an official alumni branch.” If those and other factors considered by the Economist are not important to you, then this ranking probably isn’t that useful to you.

There are 16 schools on the global rankings that have an average GMAT score over 700; 14 of them are American (with Stanford GSB taking the cake with an average of 729).For opening up doors career-wise, the top 5 schools in the global rankings were all Americans – Chicago Booth, Dartmouth Tuck, UVA Darden, and Columbia. Interestingly, even with the top marks for job opportunities, graduates from American programs tend to earn less than those from European and Australian programs – the Economist article claims that this is likely due to the limited pre-MBA work experience of those accepted at American programs. (Even Stanford’s grads, who in America boast the highest average salary of around $130,000, earn less than grads from less prestigious programs like IMD in Switzerland and University of Queensland in Australia.)

In terms of cost, the American schools certainly rank at the top of the chart. A Harvard MBA will run students $112,000. A degree from Wharton costs $130,000.

How much do rankings really matter? Click here to view our 2-min answer.

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GRE vs. GMAT: Trends

A recent Poets & Quants article highlights some of the current data surrounding the decision applicants make in choosing between the GRE and GMAT. According to the Educational Testing Service, almost 10% of MBA applicants took the GRE instead of the GMAT in the 2012-2013 testing year, a 38% increase since last year’s testing period.

One factor responsible for this shift is the fact that some major MBA players (mainly Chicago Booth, UC Berkeley Haas, and Georgetown McDonough) finally decided to accept the GRE.

Here are some additional stats:

• 29% of b-schools surveyed by Kaplan Test Prep said that at least 10% of their applicants were GRE test takers. 18% of schools said that their GRE pool was at 18%. 6% of respondents said that their applicant pool was made up of half GRE test takers and half GMAT test takers.

• At Yale SOM, 21% of applicants submitted GRE scores last year, an increase of 18% since the previous year.

• 25% of Notre Dame Mendoza prospective students submitted a GRE score last year, up from 12% previously.

• At UCLA Anderson, only 3% of applicants submitted GRE scores.

• 5% of Columbia Business School applicants took the GRE last year, compared to 2% the year before.

• At Emory Goizueta, 8% of last year’s prospective students took the GMAT, up from the previous year’s 3%.

• Washington Olin’s GRE pool dropped 7% from 31% in 2012 to 24% last year (which is still high).

• Texas McCombs also took a slight dip, from 13% in 2012 to 11% last year.

• In India, the number of GRE test takers increased 68% last year, from 52,792 in 2012 to 88,884 last year. In the U.S., the increase in test takers over that same period was just 5.3%, from 401,286 test takers in 2012 to 422.668 this past year.

Reasons for the Growth in GRE

• Versatility of the GRE. Rob Weiler, UCLA Anderson’s associate dean, points out that many students are submitting scores from GRE tests they took up to a few years ago. “It’s clear that they had graduate school in mind when they took the test but were still considering the best avenue to take for their career,” he says. “Once it became clear that business school was their choice, they used their GRE score to apply.”

• Price. The GMAT is priced at $250, while the GRE costs only $195.

• Rankings and willingness to accept lower scores. The P&Q article states that admissions consultants are suggesting that applicants take the GRE over the GMAT because of the way official rankings take the GMAT into consideration. “So an admissions office might be overly sensitive to a low GMAT score, but might pass on a lower GRE,” states the article, which then goes on to compare GREs and GMATs of accepted students at Yale – the former being lower than the latter. (Using ETS’ comparative tool, the equivalent GMAT score based on the GRE scores accepted at Yale would be 660; the average GMAT score at Yale is 714. A similar phenomenon is found with other programs, with a 91 point gap at Cornell Johnson, a 126 point gap at Washington Olin, and a 118 point gap at Vanderbilt Owen.)

• The ScoreSelect option. This allows test takers to retake the exam and send only their best score to their target schools.

The following chart comes from the P&Q article and shows the percentage of 2012-2013 applicants who submitted GRE scores, as well as the GRE-GMAT differences.

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Source: Business schools reporting to U.S. News & World Report

My thoughts

On one hand, the focus on the comparator tool may be misplaced. When I have spoken to admissions committee members about the GRE we spoke in terms of percentile scores. I would love to see this data and the comparison between the GMAT and the GRE comparing percentile scores. I think that would be more worthwhile. I suspect it would still show similar results, but perhaps with smaller gaps.

Regardless of the validity of the comparator tool, this article suggests that the GRE may not only be cheaper, it may in a way take your score out of the public eye. And if you don’t need a high GMAT to snag an interview at an elite bank or consulting firm, and you’re struggling with the GMAT, the GRE may be a better test for you.

Although I can’t locate the blog post, soon after schools started accepting the GRE in greater numbers, I suggested that those of you with other evidence of academic ability who are struggling with the GMAT should contemplate applying with the GRE. I felt that because the GRE is not reflected in the published GMAT averages that applicants, alumni, and employers use as a quick-and-dirty reflection of student “quality,” submitting a GRE score instead of the GMAT would give admissions officers wiggle room to focus on other aspects of your application. It would allow them to consider your application without worrying about a hit to their GMAT average.

On the other hand if you can do well on the GMAT, go for it. Schools want GMAT bragging rights.

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Linda Abraham By , 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.

Where Does Wall St. Hire: U.S. B-Schools Sending Grads into Financial Services

According to GMAC’s just released Prospective Students Survey Report, 37% of prospective MBA students hope to go into finance after they earn their degree, making it the most popular post-MBA destination. If you fall into this crowded category, then you’ll be interested in knowing which b-schools prepare the most grads for jobs in financial services.

As you’ll see below, we’ve created two charts (based on data from U.S. News’ top 25, which happens to have 26 schools because of a tie for 25th place) that display the U.S. schools with the highest percentage of grads going into financial services and those with the highest number of grads reporting financial services jobs. We did not include non-U.S. programs because U.S. News doesn’t rank them, and we wanted the data to be consistent. There are definitely financial powerhouses outside the U.S.

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The top names on this list, in terms of absolute numbers, are the standard bearers in finance, known as Wall St. breeding grounds. I was a little surprised at how low MIT Sloan came out on both totem poles. It has very prominent faculty in finance, including Nobel Prize winner Robert C. Merton. Perhaps those smaller schools known for entrepreneurship, like Stanford, MIT Sloan, and Haas, are sending more of their graduates into non-traditional fields. Consequently they will not do as well in this kind of a ranking even though they have the curricular, co-curricular, and placement ability to support financial services goals.

Can you put less weight on attending schools at the top of the list even though you may want to go into financial services when you graduate? You can if you’ve already worked in financial services and are looking to get a broader understanding of business, management and leadership through the MBA. Those of you with that background already have valuable skills and a relevant network. Those of you looking to get into financial services for the first time, however, will probably want to look more closely at the programs higher up this list.

Realize that these lists don’t reflect the class profile of the programs or the typical credentials of admitted applicants. You need to know that information too to assess your competitiveness when choosing where to apply. Washington Olin (2nd in percentages) has an average GMAT of 696. UNC Kenan-Flagler (ranked #4 in percentages) has an average GMAT of 683. Both schools send 32% and 28% of their grads respectively into financial services. For those of you without GMAT bragging rights or other qualifications to get into Chicago (average GMAT 723), Columbia (716), and Wharton (average GMAT 725) — the leaders on this list in absolute numbers and overall USN ranking – Olin and Kenan-Flagler may be a good alternative and at least start you down your desired career path.

Much as I did with the similar data we compiled on consulting I must issue a warning: This list or ranking is valuable, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. “Financial services” is a very broad category covering everything from private equity and venture capital, to investment banking, money management, corporate financial analyst positions, and even good old bean counting (AKA accounting). Clearly your specific area of interest is critical, and you have to dig deeper into the employment reports at your target schools to confirm strong placement in your particular area of interest. Also understand how the curriculum and co-curricular activities, events, and clubs will help you do what you want to do after your MBA.

You want to attend a b-school that will help you realize your career goals. Identifying schools with exceptional track records for students with similar goals – especially for those of you seeking to change industries and enter financial services – is an excellent place to start when choosing which MBA programs to apply to, and ultimately, deciding where to attend. This list helps you focus your research. It is the starting gate, not the finish line.

Focus on Finance will help you research and identify the best programs for you to apply to given your finance goals.

Linda Abraham By , 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.

Top MBA Programs for Entrepreneurs

B-schools are always touting their entrepreneurial offerings, programs, and placement, so when we examined the employment reports of U.S. News’ top 25 business schools to see which schools send the most graduates into entrepreneurship, we were surprised to find that only thirteen programs provide this information in their employment reports.

Below you’ll find the results – the U.S. News’ top 25 MBA programs that reveal the number and percentage of 2013 grads who immediately founded their own businesses after completing their MBA:

School

# of 2013 Grads

Starting Their Own Business

% of 2013 Grads

Starting Their Own Business

Standford GSB 70 18%
MIT Sloan 37 9.5%
Wharton 59 7.5%
Harvard Business School 63 7%
Yale SOM 10 4.5%
UCLA Anderson 14 4%
Kellogg* 3%
Chicago Booth 17 3%
Columbia 18 2.5%
NYU Stern 2%**
Michigan Ross 8 1.5%
Duke Fuqua 4 1%
CMU Tepper 2 1%

* Numbers include all Kellogg MBA programs
** % of reported placements

Clearly, Stanford is way out in front in this horse race. MIT Sloan with its program in Entrepreneurship and Innovation is a distant #2, followed by HBS and Wharton in a tie for third place. Stanford and Sloan have long been known for entrepreneurship, but HBS and Wharton are generally thought of as financial services and consulting breeding grounds. In reality, both programs – without taking away from their strength in consulting and financial services – have sharpened the entrepreneurial saw over the last decade.

This comparison is useful for those of you who want to start your own business ASAP after earning an MBA. It is an indication of an entrepreneurial culture and education. And if entrepreneurial spirit and ultimately an entrepreneurial alumni network is important to you, then you need to know which schools are strong in this area and how they compare.

While this listing is useful, it still doesn’t tell the entire story of MBA programs’ entrepreneurial strength. Many business school grads will work for a few years to pay back loans and then start their own businesses. Among those, there will be a few grads who immediately enter a startup, so essentially they will initially be entrepreneurs on someone else’s dime. There are other MBAs who will work in entrepreneurial areas of established companies. None of these MBAs are reflected in the chart above, but all still benefited from their MBA program’s entrepreneurial education and culture.

Additionally, either we couldn’t find the data or schools don’t all publish these numbers. Consequently, the chart above is incomplete. Don’t automatically assume that programs we haven’t listed aren’t good for entrepreneurship. For example Haas has a highly entrepreneurial culture and many courses relevant to entrepreneurship, but we couldn’t find the number of 2013 grads who started their own business immediately upon graduation. Don’t let that lack of info prevent you from considering Haas if founding a startup is your dream. Similarly, Georgetown has many entrepreneurship resources (See Jeff Reid on Entrepreneurship at Georgetown). Finally, programs outside US News’ top 25, may be excellent for entrepreneurship, deserving of consideration, and easier to get into (For example, Babson).

As with almost all stats in MBA admissions – especially anything related to (un)rankings and comparing programs – take this data as useful information not as the be all and end all of evaluating the entrepreneurial value of different MBA programs. It is simply a succinct compilation of data that you should incorporate into the additional research you should do before deciding where to earn your MBA. Also consider:

• Entrepreneurial curriculum. What classes are offered? Are there opportunities to develop and work on a business plan?

• Extracurricular groups and activities. Are there venture capital competitions, clubs, events, etc.?

• The student profiles at specific schools. Are they entrepreneurial? Would you like to be on a project with them?

Now it’s time for me to get back to drafting that business plan on the back of a napkin.

If any school in the US News’ top 25 includes that data in their employment report and we missed it, or they published the data after we visited their site, please email saraw@accepted.com and we’ll add it.

MBA Admissions A-Z: 26 Great Tips

Linda Abraham By , 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.