Friday, August 31, 2012

LLM Deadlines are Slowly Being Released

For LLM applicants anxious to get their schedule updated with this year's deadlines, a few schools - New York University Law School, Harvard Law SchoolGeorgetown Law and Berkeley Law have released their information.  

Berkeley Law has announced that their deadline is 12/15/2012

As for other schools, including Columbia Law School, Chicago Law and Stanford Law School, as of this blog posting deadlines hadn't been released.  Be sure to keep checking each program's official admissions pages to get the most accurate and up to date information, rather than relying on other sites such as  Over the next two weeks or so most schools will probably have released their deadlines.

John Couke

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Texas McCombs MBA Deadlines and Essays for 2012-13 Admissions Season

The Texas McCombs Full-Time MBA program has released their deadlines and essay prompts for those aiming to enter their MBA program in the fall of 2013. Here are the deadlines:

Round 1:
Deadline - 10/16/2012
Decision - 12/14/2012

Round 2:
Deadline - 12/4/2012

Decision - 2/15/2013

Round 3*:
Deadline - 1/23/2013

Decision - 3/29/2013

Round 4:
Deadline - 3/26/2013
Decision - 5/10/2013

* Final deadline for international applicants

Here are their application essays.

Required Essays:
1. Describe how your professional and personal experiences have led you to pursue an MBA at this time. Please share with us your short and long term goals and why the Texas MBA at McCombs is the program best positioned to help you achieve them. (Limit: 800 words)

2. At the University of Texas at Austin, our motto is “What starts here changes the world.” Here at McCombs, we are looking for students who share this vision. We believe that the MBA experience is a transformative one and that our students are able to have a positive impact, not only on their own lives, but also in their workplaces, their local communities, their professional industries and/or the world generally.

a) In your life to date, please tell us about an instance when you felt that you had the most positive impact and why you believe it to be significant? (Limit: 200 words)
b) How do you intend to positively impact the MBA community while you are an MBA student at McCombs? (Limit: 200 words)
c) After graduation from business school, what kind of positive impact would you like to have? (Limit: 200 words)
Optional Essay:
Please provide any additional information to the admissions committee that you believe is important and/or will address any areas of concern that will be beneficial to the committee in considering your application. (For example, if your standardized test scores are low or if you have not had coursework in core business subjects (i.e. calculus, microeconomics, statistics, financial accounting), please tell us how you plan to prepare yourself for the quantitative rigor of the MBA curriculum.) (Limit: 200 words)

As always, do confirm all information directly at the school's admissions pages.

John Couke

London Business School Deadlines for 2012-13 Application Season

London Business School has published on its admissions website deadlines for those applying for the MBA program that will begin in the fall of 2013. Here are those deadlines:

Round 1:
Deadline - 10/4/2012
Interview Decision sent on 11/2/2012
Admission Decision sent on 12/13/2012

Round 2:

Deadline - 1/3/2013
Interview Decision sent on 2/8/2013
Admission Decision sent on 3/28/2013

Round 3:

Deadline - 2/28/2013
Interview Decision sent on 4/9/2013
Admission Decision sent on 5/16/2013

Round 4:

Deadline - 4/17/2013
Interview Decision sent on 5/29/2013
Admission Decision sent on 6/28/2013

Do confirm all information directly at the LBS admissions site.

John Couke

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Should I Bring my Resume to the MBA Tour?

The short answer is you might need it, so it doesn't hurt to have copies available. 

However, having copies of your resume in your bag does not give you permission to hand them out freely to anyone near you at the event.  Instead, when you talk with a representative of a program, it is much better to exchange business cards and then have an intelligent discussion about how their program can help you to achieve your academic or career goals. 

I get concerned sometimes when people mention how essential it is that they "hand out" their resume at the MBA Tour. It is easy to picture them avoiding a conversation, avoiding asking good questions, and therefore avoid saying something positive and memorable about themselves, all while they instead hide behind that piece of paper. I've seen it happen more than once before, and no matter how good the resume may appear, the impact is not as strong as inquiring about their school, and managing a quick and effective conversation.  Don't forget, there are other ways to continue the conversation.  Once business cards are exchanged, it is common to follow up a day or two after the event with a polite email, thanking them for their time, and even recalling the conversation or asking a further question if you feel it warranted.

So do bring copies of your resume in your bag, and have them ready in case anyone asks you for a copy of it.  But don't let the resume act as a replacement for a conversation.  

John Couke

Monday, August 20, 2012

RSM Features Current Japanese Student Keiji Sawa

The Rotterdam School of Management recently featured current student Keiji Sawa from Japan on their MBA program website.  Read the full article here to learn more about how he chose RSM, and how he has benefitted from his experience there thus far.

John Couke

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Choosing an Admissions Counselor

These days, more than ever, you have a lot of choices when it comes to choosing an admissions counselor.  The criteria? There are a lot of things to consider, not the least of which include the location and/or flexibility of the counseling service, as well as the availability of the counselor him/herself.  A bigger thing to keep in mind is the feel you have when communicating with a potential counselor - is this someone I can work with? Will I respect what they have to say?  I think that clients, and often counselors themselves, are looking for a good sense of "fit" with each other, as the applications they are discussing together are of great importance.

However, beyond the flexibility of the scheduling, and beyond the comfort level you have with a prospective counselor, one thing stands above everything else.

Has your prospective counselor helped people gain admission to your top choice program(s) before? 

If they have, great. Ask questions. What years, and how many people? Ask them if there may be anything different about your situation (note: there will be).

If they haven't, then naturally you are accepting some degree of risk if you elect to work with them.  This, to me, is simple common sense. What have they done? If you are aiming for a top MBA and they have a lot of experience with top programs, then this could be alright. But what if they have little or no experience helping people get into MBA programs at all?  Maybe in such a case their selling points include transferable skills that they feel will help you with your application. This may work or it may not, and the risk you assume is based on the idea that they will be able to figure things out and adapt well to this new situation as you work on your applications.

If you can't ask them directly before working with them, because a) you don't know who they are, or b) they or someone else won't allow it, then why are you even considering them as an option in the first place? 

John Couke

MIT Sloan Fellows Essays for the Entering Class of 2013 are Available

The MIT Sloan Fellows program's admissions essay topics for the current
2012-13 admissions season have been released.  Here they are:

Required - Statement of Objectives:

What are your immediate and ultimate professional objectives for attending
the program? Specifically, please indicate how your objectives fit with the
purposes of the MIT Sloan Fellows Program in Innovation and Global
Leadership and indicate what you would contribute to the Sloan Fellows
community. (500 words or less, limited to one page)

Required - Essay 1:
Discuss a defining experience in your development as a leader. How
did this experience demonstrate your strengths and weaknesses?
(500 words or less, limited to one page)

Required - Essay 2:
Please tell us about a time when you had a difficult interaction with a person
or group while working in a team environment. Describe in detail what you
thought, felt, said, and did. (500 words or less, limited to one page)

Required - Please answer only ONE of the next two essays.

Essay 3:
Discuss a time when you made an unpopular decision. What did you learn
from the experience? Describe in detail what you thought, felt, said, and did.
(500 words or less, limited to one page)


Essay 4:
Please give an example of a significant innovation (product or process) that you
developed for your organization (500 words or less, limited to one page)

Additional Information:
Please use this section to include any additional information that you believe
is important for the Program to have in evaluating your application, but that
you were unable to include because of the constraints of the online application.

Please do confirm this information directly in your MIT Sloan Fellows
application, available from the school's admissions website.

John Couke

Friday, August 17, 2012

Rotterdam School of Management offering 1-2-1 Discussions in Tokyo on August 29, 2012

The Rotterdam School of Management is giving potential applicants the opportunity to have a 1to1 informative discussion with a member of their admissions staff in Tokyo on Wednesday, August 29, 2012.  A resume is required in advance.

More information as well as the sign up form is available here.

John Couke

Oxford Said MBA Admissions Deadlines and Essays for 2012-13

Oxford Said has released its deadlines and essay prompts for applying to the program beginning in 2013.


Stage 1:
Deadline - 10/12/2012
Interview Decision on -  11/9/2012
Admissions Decision by - 12/7/2012

Stage 2:
Deadline - 1/11/2013
Interview Decision on -  2/1/2013
Admissions Decision by - 3/15/2013

Stage 3:
Deadline - 3/8/2013
Interview Decision on -  3/22/2013
Admissions Decision by - 4/19/2013

Open Field (rolling):

Deadline - 3/23/2013 up to 6/28/2013
Decision - within four weeks of applying


1. Explain why you chose your current job. How do you hope to see your career developing over the next five years? How will an MBA assist you in the development of these ambitions? (750 words)

2. What should Oxford expect from you? (750 words)

Reapplicants will need to complete the two essays mentioned above and a third essay on the topic:
3. What improvements have you made in your candidacy since you last applied to the Oxford MBA? (250 words)

Ensure you confirm all information directly at the Oxford Said admissions website.

John Couke

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cambridge Judge MBA Application Essays for 2012-13

Cambridge Judge has released their admissions essays for the 2012-13 season.  There is one personal statement as well as two essay questions. However throughout the entire application, there are four additional employment-related essays, as well as an optional essay too.

Required essays:

1. Please provide a personal statement. It should not exceed 500 words and must include the following:
  • What are your short and long term career objectives?
  • What skills/characteristics do you already have that will help you to achieve them?
  • What do you hope to gain from the degree programme and how do you feel it will help you achieve the career objectives you have?
2. If you could change one thing about your current organisation, what would you make different? How would you overcome obstacles to this change, and what impact would this change have in the short-term and long-term? (300 words)

3. What did you learn from your most spectacular failure? (up to 200 words)

Employment essays:

1. Previous Roles/Promotions and Dates (150 word limit)

2. Describe your primary job responsibilities; 1) type and size of internal and external teams with which you work or supervise 2) type and number of clients or projects you manage; 3) size of budget or revenue for which you are responsible; 4) international experience or exposure (150 word limit)

3. What is your most significant challenge? (150 word limit)

4. What is your most significant accomplishment? (150 word limit)

Optional essay:

Please provide information on any aspect of your candidacy that requires further explanation, or information that you would like the Admissions Committee to know (300 word limit).

Please verify all information at the Cambridge Judge MBA admissions site.

John Couke

London Business School 2012-13 MBA Admissions Essays

While the admissions deadlines for London Business School have (as of this posting) not been released, the essay prompts are available at the school's official admissions pages.  Here are the essay topics:

1. In what role or sector do you see yourself working immediately after graduation?  Why?  How will your past and present experiences help you achieve this?  How will the London Business School MBA Programme contribute to this goal? (500 words)

2. Where do you see your career progressing five years after graduation and what is your longer term career vision? (300 words)

3. Give a specific example of when you have had to test your leadership and / or team working skills either professionally, or outside of work. What role will you play in your first year study group? (300 words)

4. Student involvement is an extremely important part of the London MBA experience and this is reflected in the character of students on campus. What type of student club or campus community events will you be involved with and why? How will you contribute? (300 words)

5. London Business School offers a truly global and diverse experience. Describe any significant experiences outside of your home country or culture. What did you gain and how will your experience contribute to the School? (150 words)

6. Give an example of a person who, in your opinion, has made a profound impact on the way the world does business. How will this person influence your contribution to your MBA Programme at London Business School? (300 words)

7. (for reapplicants only) How has your candidacy for the London Business School MBA changed since your last application? (300 words) 

8. (additional information - this question is optional) This is not a compulsory essay but please complete if you would like the opportunity to clarify or expand upon any information submitted in your application. (no word limit given)

In their essay instructions, LBS notes that:
a) applicants need to write the word count at the end of each of their essays
b) applicants cannot write more than the specified word limit for each essay
c) candidates should not contact LBS for advice on how to approach or interpret the essays

As always, please confirm the latest information directly at the school's admissions website.

John Couke

UNC Kenan-Flagler 2012-13 MBA Admissions Essays

Here are the essay questions for applying to the UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA for a seat in the class starting in the fall of 2013.

Required Essays:

1. What are the 2 or 3 strengths or characteristics that have driven your career success thus far? What are the other strengths that you would like to leverage in the future? (500 words maximum)

2. Please describe your short and long term goals post-MBA. Explain how your professional experience has shaped these goals; why this career option appeals to you; and how you arrived at the decision that now is the time and the MBA is the appropriate degree.   (500 words maximum)

3. What personal qualities or life experiences distinguish you from other applicants? How do these qualities or experiences equip you to contribute to UNC Kenan-Flagler?  (500 words maximum)

Optional Essays:

4. If your standardized test scores are low, or if you have not had coursework in core business subjects (calculus, mathematics, statistics, financial accounting), please tell us how you plan to prepare yourself for the quantitative rigor of the MBA curriculum.  (300 words maximum)

5. Is there any other information you would like to share that is not presented elsewhere in the application?  (300 words maximum)

As always, do confirm application information directly at the Kenan-Flagler admissions pages.

John Couke

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

UC Berkeley Haas 2012-13 Essay Analysis

Here's a short write-up on the Berkeley Haas essay prompts for the application for the class entering in the fall of 2013.


(the school's own instructions) At Berkeley-Haas, our distinctive culture is defined by four key principles — Question the status quo; Confidence without attitude; Students always; and Beyond yourself. We seek candidates from a broad range of cultures, backgrounds, and industries who demonstrate a strong cultural fit with our program and defining principles. Please use the following essays as an opportunity to reflect on and share with us the values, experiences, and accomplishments that have helped shape who you are. (Learn more about Berkeley-Haas' Defining Principles).

1. If you could choose one song that expresses who you are, what is it and why? (250 word maximum)

Most will be intimidated by this question, and probably because they are approaching it the wrong way.  The key is not to figure out a song, and then ask yourself what it says about you.  Instead, the key is to forget about a song while you determine what you want to say about yourself in this essay. Only once you have figured that out should you consider what song to use. Doing this - and in this order - will make the task of finding a song that expresses who you are and writing this essay easier.

You may choose a song with lyrics that mean something significant to you, a song that reminds you of (or was even playing during) an important time in your life, or a song with cultural or social meaning for you. No matter what you choose, I think they key is what you say about yourself in this essay. 

2. What is your most significant accomplishment? (250 word maximum)

This may be personal or professional, and it is wise to keep in mind the word "significant" as you choose the topic.  Be clear in your response how this particular accomplishment was significant to you. Did you learn from it, did it allow you to then move onto a bigger challenge, or was it in some other way memorable and/or important to you?  The "biggest deal" might not be enough here: there should be a measurable take-away that has a strong impact on your strengths or skills, your leadership or teamwork ability, or the way you communicate with others or even view challenges. 

Writing in a typical story order (introduction - what was at stake - your particular role - the steps you took - the eventual result - the impact of that result on others - the impact on yourself) is probably appropriate if you are writing out a first draft, but for the finished product, you may need to rework or reorder some of the story details in order to fit it into the school's tight 250 word limit while also maximizing the impact of your story.

3. Describe a time when you questioned an established practice or thought within an organization. How did your actions create positive change? (250 word maximum)

A quick read through Berkeley's Defining Principles is all it takes to see the emphasis Berkeley places on innovation.  Read as well (Executive Director of Admissions) Stephanie Fujii's comments on the Berkeley essay set, and as well this interview with the school's dean,  Rich Lyons and you'll see that Haas values people who are willing to take risks to achieve something big that'll have a considerable impact on those around them. 

To answer this question, you need to cite a time when a) you had an idea that involved something new - a new way of doing things, or a new way to approach an existing problem, b) implementing that idea would require changing something already established, c) you did in fact take concrete steps towards realizing that idea and d) the steps you took produced a measurable outcome.

Size or scope is not necessarily the defining factor of a great story here - you don't need to have changed the world through the actions you took. Instead, what is important is that you could create a new idea, and follow through on implementing it. Once again, just as you did in essay 2, show here that your actions resulted in making your division, department, company or industry better in some way - hence the "positive change" part of the question.  

4. Describe a time when you were a student of your own failure. What specific insight from this experience has shaped your development? (250 word maximum)

Let's break down the first sentence into a few important parts.  "Your own failure" means you need to write about a time when you were unable to accomplish a goal, or something you or others expected you to be able to do. "Were a student of X" means that you learned something demonstrable from the experience.  Now let's turn to the second part of the question.  "Specific insight" means that you learned something specific about yourself or your surroundings, and "shaped your development" means that you were able to internalize and apply this learning, in such a way that you could be more effective in a future situation.  All of these elements should be present in this essay, which may involve a personal or professional topic, so while you have a lot of options, be careful in choosing the episode which best answers to all the parts of the question and shows your learning and development in the best possible way.

A few things to consider as you approach this essay.  1) Don't write about someone else's failure, or a team failure to which you were only loosely connected. Instead, write about a time when you genuinely could not do what you set out to. It'll make the resulting learning that much more effective.  2) Once you find your own failure, when you writer about, don't try to blame it on someone else.  

Finally, when brainstorming possible topics, it is probably better to think about the second part of the question first, rather than trying to come up with a failure at the start. In other words, ask yourself what strengths, skills and characteristics you have now that may be worth presenting.  Where did these things come from, or how did you learn them? In more than one case I am sure, you will find you have developed significantly from learning something - and a period of learning often follows a period of failure.  Some reverse engineering may help you to arrive at a good topic, which - importantly, allows you to show off what makes you special and unique today.

5. a. What are your post-MBA short-term and long-term career goals? How have your professional experiences prepared you to achieve these goals? b. How will an MBA from Haas help you achieve these goals? (750 word maximum for 5a. and 5b.)

This is a typical goals essay, with a generous word limit (750 words total). Although this amount is actually reduced from previous years (where applicants had 1,000 words) it is big enough that some may consider this the landing spot for their first goals essay, even if the other questions aren't done until after other schools have been finished, due to the topics and tight word constraints presented in them.

When drafting out your first attempt, start with a) who you are now professionally, b) the short-term and longer-term goals, c) the strengths and skills you have gained up to now that are relevant to these goals, d) the strengths or skills you need to gain, and e) how an MBA is needed and in particular f) how Berkeley is the best place for you to get the education you need.

Most of my other MBA essay analyses have some detail on the goals essay, so I won't go into too much additional comments here, save for two.  1) In terms of the goals, think big.  Berkeley embraces innovation and people who have the spirit to accomplish big world-changing things.  So, if you have big goals, show them. Be sure at the same time to show how their MBA will help you to accomplish them, and also be sure to show that these goals are something you can achieve based on strengths and skills gained up to now.  2) Give specific reasons as to why you are attracted to the Berkeley Haas MBA in particular.  You have the word count to do it - so don't skimp when it comes to giving clear and well-thought out examples of how Berkeley is a better fit for you, and a necessary step to where you want to be in the future.

Optional Essays:

1. (Optional) Please feel free to provide a statement concerning any information you would like to add to your application that you haven't addressed elsewhere. (500 word maximum)

Balance across the essay set is important, and considering that this is a very open-ended optional essay, some applicants may use it to round pout their self-presentation, after reviewing the contents of all the other essays they wrote.  I'd advise something slightly different: that the wise applicant should have a balanced presentation (i.e. personal and professional) across essays 1-5, and this optional essay can then be used to point out a problem (choice or recommenders, etc) or better yet an additional strength that comes from a professional or personal experience that couldn't be fit into any other essay.  Remember this last point, and don't just repeat something that is already well-developed elsewhere in your Berkeley application.

2. (Optional) If not clearly evident, please discuss ways in which you have demonstrated strong quantitative abilities, or plan to strengthen quantitative abilities. You do not need to list courses that appear on your transcript. (250 word maximum)

Clearly evident quant skills would, for most, come from your GMAT quant score or university transcript.  If this is the case for you, you may not need to write anything here.  But, if neither shows strong quant skills, you may emphasize work experience or additional courses you have taken. There is an option to write about something you will do.  If you need to take this route, be specific as possible, to make your answer feel like more than just a vague promise. 

Good luck on your Berkeley application!

John Couke

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Evaluating the new GMAT Integrated Reasoning Section

GMAT's new Integrated Reasoning section is now a regular pat of the GMAT test. How will MBA programs evaluate your result?  The consensus seems to be that school admissions officers will continue relying on what they know well - the verbal, quantitative and AWA sections, to determine your academic potential, although by no means is every school disregarding the new section.  Read on through a short series of links to see what exactly schools are saying about the integrated reasoning section.

First, courtesy of, a short refresher on what the test is and how it is scored:

Now - how will schools be evaluating this new IR section?

The Stanford GSB admissions team wrote pretty directly that they will see the IR score, but will focus on the verbal, quant and AWA sections as they evaluate your candidacy.  After reviewing IR scores throughout this admissions year, they'll consider how to evaluate it for the next year:

Poets&Quants, a portal to MBA applicants that provides high-level interviews, trends, analyses and information, recently offered this article on the Integrated Reasoning Section noting that several other school seems to be echoing Stanford's stance:

In the article, INSEAD and Kellogg are mentioned.  Here's what each has to say about the GMAT IR.

In INSEAD's admissions pages, they summarized the changes to the GMAT, and then in a series of FAQs noted that they will not be using IR scores until they are able to benchmark a candidate's score against a meaningful pool of applicants:

Kellogg notes that while the IR section will provide an additional number, the numbers which provide them with a more consistent evaluation are the other sections of the GMAT:

On a counterpoint, at The GMAT Project, they have summarized a GMAC (GMAT maker) twitter chat with admissions staff from both Wharton and the London School of Business.  According to the article, both schools will consider the IR section, though they won't consider it more important that any other part of the application:

Summary and Conclusions:

As you may anticipate, do your best on this new section.  Some schools state they will consider the numbers, and others don't, but the one thing we do know is that every school to which you apply will have your IR section score. So, as with anything else in your application, make sure it is as good as possible to help your chances of getting admitted to your top choice program.

John Couke

Michigan Ross to hold Tokyo Admissions Event on August 23, 2012

It was reported to me that Michigan Ross will be hosting an Admissions Information Sessions for their Full-Time MBA program on Thursday, August 23rd 2012 from 7pm to 9pm. 

Details and the sign up form can be found here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Proficient in Microsoft Word, Excel and using the Internet

Is this line necessary, or even useful in the additional section of your resume?  The short answer, in virtually all cases, is no.  While all of these may be desirable skills, they are not differentiated or unique ones, and so they have no place in the modern resume.

What's more, the line is so vague that it loses all meaning entirely.  "Proficient in using the internet".  What exactly does that mean?  Typing a phrase into Google, or designing elaborate web sites?

The same goes for Word and Excel - can you type, or do you have experience in programming elaborate macros that allow your worksheets to do things out of the ordinary?  If the latter, the detail will probably be present in accomplishments or projects elsewhere in the resume.  If the former - then just cut the line entirely.

John Couke

(This post is cross-posted in my Next Step Resumes blog, that is focused on providing resume advice for people aiming for the next step (job or school) in their life.)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dartmouth Tuck 2012-13 Essay Analysis

Here's a quick analysis of the Dartmouth Tuck essay questions for those aiming to enter their MBA beginning in the fall of 2013.


Please respond fully but concisely to the following essay questions. Compose each of your answers offline in separate document files and upload them individually in the appropriate spaces below. We encourage applicants to limit the length of their responses to 500 words for each essay. There are no right or wrong answers. Please double-space your responses.

This year Tuck is asking that essays be limited to 500 words each, while in the past they only used to state that on average most applicants use 500 words per essay. This change shows the school is trending towards a preference for shorter and tighter essays.  So when writing, be clear and concise, and ensure your essays stay under their 500 word limit for each.

Essay Questions:

1. Why is an MBA a critical next step toward your short- and long-term career goals? Why is Tuck the best MBA program for you, and what will you uniquely contribute to the community? (If you are applying for a joint or dual degree, please explain how the additional degree will contribute to those goals.)

This is a standard goals essay, with an extra element: your contribution to the program.  The best way to organize your first draft is to address the following topics in turn: a) a brief introduction of who you are professionally now, b) your short-term goal, c) the long-term goal, d) a quick assessment of skills you have and skills you'll need to reach those goals, e) a few clear and specific examples of how studying at Tuck in particular will help you gain those skills you need and f) 1-2 examples of what you can offer to your fellow students at Tuck.  

Note the word "critical" in the essay prompt.  You need to show clearly that you truly need an MBA.  The way to do this is by having a specific post-MBA goal that requires an MBA, as well as clear examples in part d) of what exactly you need to get from an MBA to position you to achieve that goal.  Ensure the post-MBA goal is not something you can attain simply with more experience in your current role.  The post-MBA goal should instead be something you couldn't possibly do without all the benefits and learnings associated with an MBA.

In terms of your contribution, this could be what you can offer to a specific class and could be based on an element of your professional experience. But don't limit yourself when brainstorming possible ideas here: it could be that the best examples of what you'll offer is related to activities outside the class, and your own personal passions, rather than professional experiences.  Be clear how an element of your background, engagement in a sport or other activity, or contribution to a volunteer or other organization will help you contribute in turn to your fellow Tuck classmates.

Feels like a lot for 500 words? You are correct.  I'd suggest the initial draft simply contain all the elements and details you hope to include.  As you pare it down to something shorter, be ready to retain the core ideas (a to f) mentioned above, and cut out additional elements or repetitious or unnecessary sentences not totally focused on the story you are trying to tell.  

2. Discuss your most meaningful leadership experience. What did you learn about your own individual strengths and weaknesses through this experience?

This may be a professional experience, or it may be a personal one. The choice depends highly on what topics you choose for other essays, as you want to ensure that the overall essay set is balanced.  Also, the experience needs to be meaningful - which means that you need to have learned something significant from it, and can demonstrate that you have applied that learning to future experiences.  Given this, it may be best not to choose something you did yesterday or last week - in other words, choose a leadership experience where the significance on you can be clearly shown. 

I think that using the STAR technique is generally a great way to draft a story essay.  STAR stands for situation, task, action, and result.  

Start with the situation; for instance - what was the project you were involved in, and why was it important to your company?  The situation could also be the days after your company released a weak earnings report, or it could be the fact that the NPO you volunteer with has just announced that their public funding would be cut off in 6 months. 

Next, detail what in particular you wanted to accomplish and what hurdles might be involved.  Did you decide to get a new product fast tracked or approach a new prospective donor?  In addition, be clear what the problem or difficulty was. It could have been reluctance among peers or members of another department towards your idea.  Whatever the case, be clear as to a) the goal you set and b) any difficulties that presented themselves in accomplishing that goal.  

The action part of your essay is easily the most important, because it shows how you work, act, and communicate with others, and also because it is likely to be the longest part of your essay. Show here what you did.  Include everything in the first draft, and be ready to focus in on just the key elements of your story in later versions.  

Finally, watt was the outcome of this experience? How was this outcome a success, and what did it mean to you, your colleagues, organization or industry? Be clear as to the significance of the accomplishment.  In addition to this, what was the significance of the experience to you - in other words, what did you learn? You may have learned something about yourself, or about how to manage or lead other people.  Be clear as to not only a strength you possess that you could recognize during this experience, but also a weakness. In defining a strength AND weakness, you'll want to show that not everything went smoothly, or that perhaps the outcome was good but could have been greater if there was something else you could have done, or another method you could have employed in getting the result you wanted.

The value in describing such an experience is that the reader can learn more about you, how you make decisions, how you take initiative, how you accept responsibility, how you communicate with others - and how you have impacted those around you, while also being reflective and learning something about yourself. 

3. Describe a circumstance in your life in which you faced adversity, failure, or setback. What actions did you take as a result and what did you learn from this experience?

While your reputation may be the result of your accomplishments, your inner strength and character may be a result of your failures.  In this case Tuck is asking for a time when everything wasn't going well for you, what you did as a result, and what you learned from the experience.  Like essay #2, this story may be personal or professional.  In terms of balancing work and non-work topics, you may choose to have one professional and one personal topic between essays 2 and 3, although this is not a hard and fast rule for everyone. 

Most people dislike writing about adversity, failure, or setback experiences for two reasons.  

1) It is hard to come up with a good topic.

Many of my former clients have told me that "they have never experienced failure".  I doubt this to be true, and usually get them to define failure to me to see if they have misinterpreted the word.  In this essay, there is not only failure, but additional options: setbacks and adversity. Let's take a close look at the meaning of each.

Adversity - a situation where someone or something is opposing what you want to do or preventing you from accomplishing what you want to accomplish
Failure - when you are unable to perform to the level others expect of you, and this prevents you from achieving a certain result
Setback - a reversal or check in progress (I took this from here

As can be seen clearly from the definition, there are a lot of choices here. You could write about when a great accomplishment was put at risk at one step along the way.  You could write about a failure where the result was truly negative, but the resulting learning allowed you to achieve something better later on.  You could write about a severe difficulty encountered along the road towards a victory.  The point is to consider all options when brainstorming possible topics. In the end, be sure your story fits one element from the question: adversity, failure, or setback.

2) Even if a good topic is chosen, the first draft of the story usually fails to show any hint of adversity, failure, or setback.

When I read a weak first draft of a failure essay, the weakness can usually be traced to one of a few things:  a) the author uses "we" instead of "I", so it doesn't really look like they themselves failed at anything at all (instead it looks like the anonymous group, not the author of the essay, failed) or b) the author presents a terrific, big failure - but then fails to describe a clear learning from it that is applied later on.  Be sure to avoid both mistakes when choosing your story and writing initial drafts.  Be sure as well to write about yourself - it is okay to have a team story, as long as you personalize elements of the failure, setback or adversity, and are clear about what you learned from it.  

Once you're sure you've got a great topic, tell the story and personalize it as best as you can.  What was the situation, and what was your particular role?  What happened that was not desirable and to what extent was this your responsibility?  In other words, did you fail, or did you encounter adversity or a setback? Be clear about the next steps: how did you react, and what did you do?  Maybe you assessed the situation, or maybe you got advice.  In any case, be clear how you were proactive in turning the situation around.  Show what you did to make a positive outcome, and show also in the end that you are able to reflect by describing what you learned about the experience.

4. (Optional) Please provide any additional insight or information that you have not addressed elsewhere that may be helpful in reviewing your application (e.g., unusual choice of evaluators, weaknesses in academic performance, unexplained job gaps or changes, etc.). Complete this question only if you feel your candidacy is not fully represented by this application.

The example topics offered in this optional essay (unusual choice of evaluators, etc) are all examples of negative elements of your application that you feel may need to be explained.  And to be sure, if you feel your application has such a negative element, you should consider explaining it here.  But beyond this, if you can't think of anything bad that warrants explanation, I'd include another element, something positive, that reveals another strength or uniqueness about you.  Be sure though, as the question says, to not use this optional essay to simply repeat something that appears elsewhere in your application.

5. (To be completed by all reapplicants) How have you strengthened your candidacy since you last applied? Please reflect on how you have grown personally and professionally.

They key here is growth, and it is important if you were rejected previously that you be able to demonstrate improvement since that time.  Consider what weaknesses existed in your previous application, and what you have done to address them. Make sure those examples of improvement are clearly shown in this essay. Perhaps you took on a role of more significance or with more individual responsibility at work. Maybe you took a course in a subject that you were not strong at, or maybe you got involved in something outside of your work, where you had previously not done much at all. Whatever the case, demonstrate not only the activity, but also what you have learned, and how you have benefitted and grown, from the experience. I always think that the very best examples will be things you have initiated, or set out to do, rather than things that have happened to you.

Finally, you want to demonstrate not only improvement, but also how this improvement has strengthened your candidacy. How do these changes make you a better prospective MBA student? How will these new experiences help you to better contribute to your peers at Tuck? Be clear as to how the changes you have initiated have allowed you to position yourself as someone who can make a difference at Tuck.

John Couke

Sunday, August 5, 2012

INSEAD 2012-13 MBA Admissions Essays

INSEAD has released their application for the 2012-13 admissions season, and with it their essay question for this year as well.  The essay question appear below, and can be confirmed in INSEAD's official admissions pages.

Job Description Essays:
1. Briefly summarise your current (or most recent) job, including the nature of work, major responsibilities, and, where relevant, employees under your supervision, size of budget, clients/ products and results achieved. (250 words maximum)

2. Please give a full description of your career since graduating from university. If you were to remain with your present employer, what would be your next step in terms of position? (250 words maximum)

3. If you are currently not working, what are you doing and what do you plan to do until you start the MBA programme if applicable? (250 words maximum)

1. Give a candid description of yourself, stressing the personal characteristics you feel to be your strengths and weaknesses and the main factors, which have influenced your personal development, giving examples when necessary. (600 words maximum)

2. Describe what you believe to be your two most substantial accomplishments to date (if possible specify one personal and one professional), explaining why you view them as such. (400 words maximum)

3. Describe a situation taken from your personal or professional life where you failed. Discuss what you learned. (400 words maximum)

4.  a) Discuss your short and long term career goals. (300 words maximum) and 
     b) How will studying at INSEAD help you achieve your vision? (250 words maximum)

5. Please choose one of the following two essay topics: 
      a) Have you ever experienced culture shock? What insights did you gain? (250 words maximum) 
      b) Describe the ways in which a foreigner in your country might experience culture shock. (250 words maximum)

6. Is there anything that you have not mentioned in your application that you would like the Admissions Committee to know? (350 words maximum) This section is optional.

7. In case of reapplication, please provide an update on any new aspects of your professional, international, academic or personal profile that would not have been included in your previous application. Please also explain your motivation for re-applying to INSEAD. (400 words maximum)

John Couke

Thursday, August 2, 2012

What are They Looking For? MBA Essay vs Recommendation Letter Prompts

A client once asked me what kind of characteristics school X is looking for in an applicant. This isn't necessarily a great approach to take, as instead it is better to ask yourself how you can appeal your own unique points to the school. But nonetheless how to answer the question? There are a few places to consider looking. 

Class Profile:
You could scan the class profile, to see how schools have chosen from certain industries and academic backgrounds in the past. For example, what percentage of their class come from banking, or what percentage find work in consulting? What percentage of their students have business or economics academic backgrounds? <<LINK about Harvard and a possible change>>.  The downfall here is that is that while you can learn about the make-up of the current class, you won't now how the school hopes to change the class profile in the future.  

Essay Questions:
You could also look at the essay questions to see what they value or find important.  The downfall here is that the importance of essays within the overall application are being undermined as they get shorter, a trend occurring at most top schools this year.  This also makes it difficult for applicants to differentiate themselves in the essays.

Recommendation Letter Prompts:
Instead, to me, one interesting way to figure out "what a school is looking for", is to scan their recommendation letter instructions. This is their set of questions for your referees, so it makes sense that what they are asking about would be things that the school values highly or consider important/relevant for applicants. Let's use UCLA Anderson, and a recent posting to their blog introducing both their essay prompts and recommendation letter instructions, as an example.

In a recent post to their blog, the admissions team at UCLA Anderson released both their essay prompts as well as the questions that recommendation letters are meant to answer. UCLA's essays are only slightly shorter than last year's (750 to 700 words each) and so like those of other schools, there isn't a lot of space for you to write a lot, especially about topics like how you have excelled at work.

New Essay Questions:
We require just two essays to showcase your character and goals:
  • What is your proudest achievement outside the workplace, and how has it impacted you? (700 words maximum)
  • What are your short-term and long-term career goals, and how will an MBA from UCLA Anderson specifically help you achieve these goals? (700 words maximum)

As per the essay explanation, two are offered as a way for you to "showcase your character and goals".   But UCLA doesn't give a lot of space here for professional accomplishments or work-related leadership examples. The first essay is designed to focus on non-work contents entirely.  That leaves essay 2, where the writer can include a) a brief professional introduction, b) goals, c) a rationale for those goals (if they aren't entirely obvious), d) an assessment of what they need to achieve these goals, and e) how UCLA is the best place for them to get these things they need.  After completing parts a) through e), there may only be a little room left if the author wishes to include detail of a professional accomplishment, or an example of the kind of impact he/she has had on their organization. That's alright of course because such information may be found in the resume or recommendation letters. But, if a bit of space is left over, and you feel you can include a brief leadership example or detail - obviously you want to be careful about what details to include with the limited space you have.  So, what elements should be highlighted? What characteristics might the school value? For hints - look to UCLA's recommendation letter instructions (from the same blog posting):

New Recommendation Questions:
We revised the questions that recommenders answer to help us identify your leadership and managerial potential:
  • How strong is the candidate’s focus in terms of being results-oriented, strategically-minded, and career-driven?
  • How does the candidate demonstrate leadership, e.g., by creating a vision, motivating others, managing resources, and taking risks?
  • How strong are the candidate’s interpersonal skills as shown by their professionalism, teamwork, attitude, and conflict management?
  • How effective is the candidate in communicating clearly, eloquently, and confidently (in written and oral form)?
  • How does the candidate bring a unique perspective, and contribute to activities outside the workplace?

These questions offer a lot of information as to what UCLA is interested in assessing.  So, if you make space in essay 2 to demonstrate some impact you've had on your current organization (for instance), and feel the experience demonstrates a strength the school is asking about through its reference letter questions - then why not emphasize it? 

Important caveats:
Having emphasized the value in understanding what strengths and characteristics schools are looking for via their recommendation letter instructions, the three following points are things to avoid during the application process.

1. Don't intentionally duplicate content:
Considering recommendation letter prompts does not mean that your essays should duplicate what may be in your recommendation letters.  In fact, that strategy might backfire, as both sets of documents would touch upon the same things, and not allow your application reader to get a fuller view of who you are and what makes you tick.  

2. Don't avoid answering questions:
There is a reason why the essays and reference letters seem to be asking for different things - because they are. So don't avoid answering elements of the questions asked for in the essays, just so you can fit in additional things that you feel might be effective.  Make sure you answer each essay question fully.   

3. Don't just give them what you think they are looking for:
Most importantly, and as noted at the very start of this post, it is better not to focus on what you think the school wants to hear, but instead focus on what unique elements you can offer the school.  Focus on what makes you special, rather than trying to change your profile into something else that you feel will please the school to which you are applying.

The recommendation letter prompts can be telling in terms of skills and values a school is interested in learning more about.  This is worth keeping in mind, although it is certainly necessary to answer the essay questions, and do so fully, while trying to differentiate yourself by emphasizing those skills and experiences which make you unique. 

John Couke