How to Get into a Top B-School: Admitted MBA Students Share 10 Things They’d Do Differently
Our ongoing Real Humans of the MBA Class of 2019 series has given us glimpses into tons of current MBA students who set their sights on leading business schools across the nation and the globe—and now call those campuses home. We’ve learned about some of their crazy accomplishments and the mind-blowingly diverse experiences they bring to share with classmates-turned-friends. They’ve also divulged when, why, and how they knew that x school was exactly where they belonged.
Each installment in our series has focused in on a single school through the eyes of five or six amazing students. The resulting collages each help reveal what it is about a given school that drew these disparate applicants together. And the chemistry that occurs when they unite gives further proof of the true culture of the MBA program that attracted them. If you’ve missed any in the series, we highly recommend you check them out—we’ll offer easy links at the conclusion of this piece. And rest assured, if a school you’re interested in hasn’t yet appeared, it’s on our list.
Across Schools and Individual Students, Sage Admissions Advice Abounds
The Real Humans series has revealed the unique personalities of the students we interviewed, the specific strengths of certain schools as lauded by student after student, and the idiosyncratic characteristics that distinguish a Haas from a Ross from a Booth from a Kellogg. But beyond that, some universal truths about the MBA application process have also emerged.
This is thanks in great part to the words of wisdom these successful applicants—now first-year MBA students—generously shared with those who follow them. We’re thankful that these future global business leaders took the time to offer thoughtful, introspective, actionable advice about the admissions process they just experienced. You will be, too, if you take the time to take in their tips.
The advice was so good—and so wide-ranging—that we’re going to break it into several posts. And we’ll be sure to save room for future nuggets of wisdom that come in from the schools we’ve yet to feature. To kick things off, we’ve decided to dig into the various responses students gave to the following question: What’s the one thing about your application process that you would change or do differently?
10 Things Admitted Students Would Do Differently as Part of Applying
1. Worry Less
Summi Sinha, Georgetown McDonough MBA Class of 2019
Summi Sinha, now a student at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, said that she would worry less about the entire application process. Of course, this is easier said in hindsight once you’re into the school of your choice. Even so, it was a refrain repeated by enough students that it’s probably worth reminding yourself of when the anxiety mounts.
Stef Rubinstein, now a student at the University of Michigan’s Ross School, also said that she wouldn’t have stressed so much—in particular about the GMAT. “I got so caught up on ‘being bad at math,’ but I actually just lacked confidence in my abilities,” she said. “I sacrificed everything that kept me sane—cooking, exercise, sleep, yoga—to study. Those sacrifices worked against me; on the real exam, I scored 80 points below my best practice test.” Fortunately, at the advice of a friend, Rubinstein had signed up for a second GMAT just 16 days later. “I relaxed and took practice tests over those 16 days and scored 150 points higher on my second exam. Investing in my health and relaxing was the key to a good score, not incessant stress and studying.”
Aimee Dennett, now at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, also said she would stress less about how her application was going to be perceived. “If you feel that you’ve accurately represented your personality, goals, and capabilities, there is little to be gained in worrying about why you were granted an interview with one school, waitlisted with another, and accepted into another,” she said.
Darden School of Business student Mike Feng confessed to paying too much attention to numbers like GMAT score or GPA. “In the end it’s what you do or aspire to do with your talent that is meaningful,” he advised.
Kallie Parchman, Chicago Booth MBA Class of 2019
Kallie Parchman, now a student at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, also said she’d be a bit less stressed if she could do things over. “The process can be long, yet the self-reflection that comes from it is a worthwhile experience and helps showcase what really matters to you,” she said.
Finally, Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management student Maya Wolf said she would have spent less time wondering and worrying about how she sized up to other applicants. “This is easier said than done, but this kind of negative thinking is simply not useful.”
2. Start Sooner!
Perhaps the most oft-cited advice current students had for would-be applicants was to start sooner—whether on essays, GMAT preparation, actually taking the GMAT, or applying in an earlier round.
UC Berkeley Haas School of Business student Erin Casale wishes she had started her essays sooner. “I procrastinated a bit because I wasn’t quite sure where to start,” she confessed. Classmate America Gonzales, also now at Haas, said she would have carved out more time specifically for editing her essays. Yale School of Management student Elizabeth Landau cited the same do-over. “I would give myself more time to craft essays,” she said. “I am a procrastinator by nature and found myself submitting close to deadlines, which was stressful. Writing the essays is a worthwhile reflective experience. It forces you to distill what’s important to you and why you want to go to business school. You can also learn a lot about a school by the questions they ask. If I were to do it again, I would make it a less condensed experience.”
Several other students recommended allowing more time for GMAT prep, and still others advised taking the test earlier to get it out of the way. Mack Darrow, now also at Booth, would have given himself more time to study for the GMAT. “It would have been beneficial to have a longer timeline,” he said. Seval Harac, now at Tuck, also advises allowing more test prep time. “People generally apply to business school after approximately three to four years of professional experience,” he said. “This is an amount of time that makes you out of academic practice. You need to spend time getting warmed up and then you can try to improve your pace. Since you cannot know how fast you will proceed from the beginning, I suggest you start studying for the GMAT as early as possible.”
Ryan McDonough, Kellogg MBA Class of 2019
Ryan McDonough, now a student at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, suggested getting the GMAT out of the way early. “Complete it before you even start visiting schools and working on applications,” he advised. Classmate Yini Yu, also now at Kellogg, suggested taking it years earlier if possible. “Get the GMAT done when you are young and have more free time,” she said. “You really don’t want to do prep after facilitating a 10-hour workshop and before a business trip.”
Darden student Taylor Sheppard also wishes she had gotten the GMAT out of the way well in advance. She’d already been contemplating graduate school before her initial sea-tour commitment in the Navy, but she wasn’t sure when she’d be able to apply. She learned in the fall while at sea that she’d received the Fleet Scholars Education Program (FSEP) scholarship, after Round 1 deadlines had passed. Because she would be deploying again right after the Round 2 deadlines, she had just two months to research programs, visit schools, take the GMAT, write essays, and gather recommenders. “Looking back, I wish I would have taken the early steps to prepare for the GMAT given that I knew an MBA was an eventual goal, especially since the scores would hold for several years in the event that I had to delay my application,” she said.
Gunjan Jain, now studying at Ross, started the process well after first-round deadlines had passed but says it’s not something she would recommend. “Starting early eases the pressure, gives you more attempts and a buffer in case you want to retake the GMAT—I had none of these luxuries, which made the process quite strenuous for me to manage, especially with work.”
Vikram Gulati, NYU Stern MBA Class of 2019
Vikram Gulati, now in his first year at NYU Stern School of Business, also advised getting an earlier start. “I feel as if I underestimated the amount of work it takes to complete one application,” he said. And Georgetown McDonough student William Brennan also wishes he applied earlier. “I applied in a later round and was nervous about my results and the fact that people from the earlier rounds were already picking up spots,” he said. “If I had applied earlier, I would have known my status and been satisfied at an earlier point of time.”
As an international student now studying at Kellogg, Alejandro O’Farrill also would have applied in the first round if he had it to do over again. “This gives you plenty of time and flexibility to evaluate funding options, scholarships, apply for your student visa, and plan for relocation,” he said.
Finally, Booth student Sally Watson—who applied in Round 3—said the thing she would do differently would be to apply in the first or second round to give herself more time to prepare for the start of the school year. “That being said, I still believe that you should apply in whatever round you think you will be able to put your strongest application forward, so don’t rush the process just to meet an earlier deadline,” she added.
3. Be More Reflective and Authentic
Another common theme we heard was the importance of self-reflection and authenticity. Georgetown McDonough student Clark Pastrick said he would have re-written his essay if he had it to do over again. “I made the mistake of writing my essay about what I thought the school would want to hear instead of what I wanted to write.” Fortunately, things still worked out in his favor.
Haas student Kathryn Balestreri also underscored how critical it is to be authentic. “Don’t spend so much time on thinking through how to fit a certain mold to get an acceptance,” she recommended. “Be your authentic self; in your essays, speak about what’s truly most important to you. Spend the time soul-searching,” she continued. “If you take this approach, you will have a better sense for whether or not there’s a ‘fit’ between you and the school culture. When you get an acceptance, it’s going to feel so good to know that they want the real, raw ‘you.’”
Claire Gaut, Cornell Johnson MBA Class of 2019
Claire Gaut was really set on Cornell Johnson but also applied to several schools she realizes she didn’t really want to go. “My heart wasn’t in the process for the other schools, and it showed in my applications,” she said. “I would tell candidates to be selective in the schools you apply to. Once you have a shortlist of where you want to attend, go for it,” she advised. “You only get to go to b-school once, and it is not worth wasting your time applying somewhere you do not want to attend. My experience at Johnson has been absolutely fantastic, and I cannot imagine myself anywhere else.”
Darden student Sam Qiu sang a similar tune. “I would be more mindful of the schools I was applying to,” he said. “The schools are looking to see if you are a fit with their culture, and luckily I found a school that was aligned with my values.”
Both Ross student Ricky Wozniak and Tuck student Oinatz Uribe wish they’d spent more time on self-reflection before writing their essays. “It took me a few drafts before I opened myself up to write essays that reflected what makes me unique,” said Wozniak. “Start with deep self-reflection on your life and what excites you about your future—there’s a good chance that will help admissions teams get excited about your future, too.” Uribe, too, thinks he started writing his essays without thinking enough about his past experiences.
And Darden student Jake Seaman had the following advice: “If I was redoing the process, I would start out by making a list of why I was going to business school and how to determine which schools were best aligned with those reasons.” Too many people, he offered, make their lists based on rankings and the stats of the incoming class. “When you do this, you could end up pretty far into the process before you realize that you are applying to some schools you have no interest in going to,” he said. “I think it is better to spend the time up front knowing what you are looking for.”
4. Visit More Schools If You Can
Another regret many students we heard from expressed was not visiting more schools. Johnson student Nadia Zaman would have visited more schools in person even before interviewing. “It is a good way to determine if you can see yourself living there,” she said.
Alexander Beltes, MIT Sloan Class of 2019
Greece native Alexander Beltes, now a student at MIT Sloan School of Management, didn’t have an opportunity to visit all the schools he was applying to. “I felt at a disadvantage in terms of gathering useful information to make my decision for where to apply,” he said. “I had to rely on reaching out to students and connections and setting up Skype calls to learn more about the MBA experience. I would definitely recommend visiting campuses if you have the opportunity to do so.”
Stern student Calan Underwood also would have visited more business schools if he had it to do over again—including those he was just considering applying to. “This would have made it easier to narrow down my list of programs to apply to,” he said. “I only visited Stern shortly before applying, and it was incredibly helpful. I highly recommend making the effort to visit business schools you’re interested in before submitting your applications, permitting you have the vacation time and resources to do so.”
Finally, Johnson student Vinithra Raveendran wishes she could have attended Destination Johnson, that school’s admitted students’ weekend. “I wouldn’t necessarily do this again if I had the opportunity for a do-over, because I was living in Singapore and flying across the globe was not a feasible option for me,” she said, adding that international applicants shouldn’t worry if they can’t make the trip. “However, my peers who did attend all gave stellar reviews of their experience. If I lived closer or otherwise had the opportunity to visit, I would absolutely take it! The in-person experience would be invaluable in helping you make the decision on whether you want to attend.”
5. Meet Current Students, Alumni, and Professors
“I would have reached out much earlier to the current students or alumni of my top business schools,” said Tuck student Christopher Ramos. “I was happy to have gotten all the perspectives that I did, but I wish I was more deliberate in that process.”
Mason Hanson, now a student at Georgetown McDonough, said he would reach out to the program office and current club presidents to get a better understanding of which parts of the MBA community he wanted to be a part of when he got to campus. “The number of clubs and student organizations can be overwhelming, so come into opening term with a plan,” he advised.
Booth student Praneeta Pujari would also allocate more time to talk to current students and alumni as part of school research. “Online research and going through blogs/websites helps, but I found the first-hand anecdotes and experiences shared by students/alumni to be the most insightful during the process,” she said. “Don’t discount that step.”
Anjelique Parnell, Georgetown McDonough MBA Class of 2019
Georgetown McDonough student Anjelique Parnell also said she would go to more events and meet more current students. “In conjunction with that, I wish I started doing all of this at least six months to a year before applying to school,” she said. It gets overwhelming to cram in events and meetings with people only a couple months before applying and the short time after.”
Current Sloanie Matt Caple would have attended Sloan Club events during the process. ”There is a great deal of exciting learning that takes place outside the classroom in business school,” he said. “Because the Sloan community is so collegial and welcoming, I would have loved to use this as an additional avenue to explore the community.”
And Haas student Joseph Akoni suggested connecting with more than just students during campus visits. “I would definitely try and spend some more time with the professors, given that they also have a huge impact on your business school experience”
6. Pace Yourself and Make Time for Self-Care
“I would be more patient,” said Kellogg student Charlotte Turovsky. “MBA applications are a marathon, not a sprint, and endurance is important! Though the process was long and felt arduous at times, I learned a lot about myself and the type of environments where I thrive!”
Ross student Marquisha “Kris” Franks said she would take better care of herself during the process. “Because I was so busy, it was harder to keep a regular exercise routine and a balanced diet,” she said. “If I had made personal fitness a bigger priority, I would have been a lot better at stress management.”
Sternie Hamilton Jordan agreed. “If you have something in your life that helps you relax or puts your mind at ease, do it,” he said. “For me it was exercising, and I should have done more of it. I stressed myself out a few times throughout the process. It’s a lot of work, but looking back, I had the time to take a couple of breaks here and there.”
7. Limit Blogs and Feedback
While we’re obviously partial to online resources and forums here at Clear Admit, we note that several students shared that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.
Emily McLaughlin, MIT Sloan MBA Class of 2019
“Don’t talk to too many MBA students or read too many blogs,” advised current Sloan student Emily McLaughlin. “Some information is definitely helpful, but keep in mind that every application is unique and you shouldn’t make broad assumptions about schools from different admission decisions.”
Fellow Sloanie Sahil Joshi also wishes he had remembered that the application is very individual. “Everyone—from friends and mentors to published admissions experts—has a perspective on how much time to spend studying for the GMAT, how to approach essays, and what programs to select,” he said. “If I were to go through the process again, I would filter through these opinions to determine what resonated with me and my strengths.”
And a third current Sloan student offered similar advice. “If I had to redo the application process, I would spend less time obsessing over blogs,” said Daniel Shaffer. “I believe that each prospective student has a unique background and he or she needs to identify that background and highlight it to their target schools. Blogs do not tell the whole story. While they provide some very useful advice and data points, I spent hours, if not days, comparing myself to others, which is an ineffective judge of anyone’s candidacy.”
Looking back, Tuck student Sam Bristol would limit the number of people he asked for input on his essays and applications. “I’m a big consensus builder, and I asked a lot of people for their thoughts on content, style, etc.,” he said. “At a certain point their well-intentioned advice becomes noise, and your essay gets watered down. Ultimately, you need to make the gut call and write something that’s truly an expression of yourself.”
8. Take Courses Ahead of Time to Come to School Prepared
Describing himself as a “nontraditional” student, Chima Mbadugha, a current Ross student who worked as a sixth-grade math teacher and then a recruiter for Teach for America, would have taken more courses online or at a community college to build foundational business knowledge before starting school. “I put ‘nontraditional’ in quotation marks, because at a school like Ross with so much diversity in industry backgrounds, I don’t believe there is a ‘traditional’ student,” he added.
9. Perhaps Not Use an MBA Consultant
As former MBA admissions consultants, those of us here at Clear Admit also believe strongly in the value they can bring to some candidates. That said, they’re not for everyone.
“I personally would probably have not used an MBA consultant,” said Johnson student Lauren Basist. “I used one for a few of my schools, then managed the others’ schools entirely myself, and I had the exact same success rate without them. I ended up spending a fortune just to get in, when it seems it wasn’t necessary.”
10. Think Beyond Business School
King Adjei-Frimpong, Darden MBA Class of 2019
Darden student King Adjei-Frimpong would have put more research into his post-MBA plans in advance of getting to school. “I would have done a better job understanding the companies that interest me and the companies that are on campus, so my recruiting strategy would be more cohesive,” he said.
And last but not least, Yale SOM student Fan Wen recommends a pre-MBA internship to explore more potential post-MBA avenues. “Practically speaking, as a career-switcher, I wish I had done one more internship before coming to Yale to explore different opportunities,” he said.