This week’s article is written by guest author Amanda Albright Turner.
You studied tirelessly for the GMAT, courted old bosses for glowing recommendations, dazzled your interviewer and wrote arguably the best essays in the history of b-school. Signed, sealed, delivered.
What happens next can seem like the proverbial black box. We went behind the scenes with two admissions directors—Sara Neher at University of Virginia Darden School of Business and John Roeder at Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management to hear what takes place around the conference room table.
What is the number one mistake applicants make?
JR: One of the biggest mistakes is on letters of recommendation. Applicants think we will be impressed by a recommendation from a CEO or senator. The best letters of recommendation are always from someone who knows you well.
SN: Inconsistency. People will answer different sections at different times and never read through the entire application for consistency. For example, one applicant said they did not have time to volunteer because of their hours as an investment banker. However, under hobbies, they talked about playing golf every weekend. If you can play golf every weekend, you can volunteer—even if you are teaching people how to play golf.
How important are recommendations? What’s the most important thing you want to hear from a reference?
JR: Letters of recommendation are a critical part of the application. I advise students to spend time with the person writing the recommendation—tell them why you want to get your MBA and what you are looking for in your career path. Having a recommendation from an MBA is always good. If it happens to be a graduate of Owen, that certainly can help as well.
SN: I am looking for a person’s leadership potential because potential is hard for us to get from a static paper. So it is not just about the recommender describing accomplishments but also commenting on potential. You can coach your recommenders to talk about that.
What advice can you give applicants when it comes to essays?
JR: The best advice is to answer the question as asked. Too often students try to utilize one essay for multiple schools and it doesn’t work. A good gauge is to have someone read through your essay and see if they can guess the question. If they can, you have successfully answered the question. Also, proofread. Every school receives at least one essay a year with the wrong school name.
SN: An essay should be a description of a moment, a project, or an incident—not a list of your accomplishments. Also, always answer the question. Each business school is different and we ask specific things for specific reasons. If you try to make one essay work a lot of schools you are probably going to be out of luck.
What are you looking for when conducting an interview?
JR: How a candidate interviews is a strong reflection of how they might interview with a corporate recruiter on the back-end. Dress professionally, be prepared, and ask intelligent questions. It does not look good for a candidate to ask something that can be answered on the front page of our website.
SN: The interviews vary a lot by school so research the school’s interview process. Our interviews are blind, meaning the person interviewing you doesn’t know anything about you. If an applicant doesn’t know that coming in, they can be really thrown off.
What is the best way to get off the waitlist?
JR: Any student on our waitlist will get feedback on how they can improve. So the best way to get off is to do what we ask you to do. That could be providing clarification of career goals, retaking the GMAT, or taking a finance class.
SN: Reach out to the school and stay in touch. Express a willingness to take classes or re-take tests if that is an area of weakness. Sometimes expressing the willingness to do those things is as important as actually doing them. Then again, if we ask you to follow through you probably won’t get in unless you do. It is also nice to submit one additional letter of recommendation.
Amanda is a freelance writer and communications consultant who works with companies of all sizes to develop targeted strategic communications. Prior to working for herself, Amanda was the director of Corporate Communications for Baxter International, a $10 billion healthcare company. Amanda holds a Master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from Northwestern University and a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature and Communications from Vanderbilt University