How to Use Free Advice for Your MBA Applications

From free consultations with admissions consultants, “ask” forums, peer evaluations, and webinars, to the endless supply of interview reports, and school presentations, there is a ton of free stuff out there to help you on your MBA journey. Here’s how to make the most out of it while avoiding common pitfalls.
Disclaimer –Vantage Point specializes in providing personalized admissions strategies to applicants aiming for the top schools. So to clarify, this post is not about how to use customized guidance such as an MBA admissions consultant (us or anyone else). Instead, this post is about how to use everything else that’s available to you.
  1. Original Info Is Best:The best person to ask for advice is the adcom itself, right? So, as you start your discovery process, we recommend going straight to the source. The schools’ websites are ok, but what’s more interesting are the more dynamic pieces of content that they’ve all recently focused on more heavily – YouTube videos, blogs and even tweets. In addition, going to their presentations in your city or better yet, visiting the schools, is by far the best way to get info on what the schools are looking for. We’ve found that the city presentations are highly informative and oftentimes provide info not located anywhere else (eg. this year MIT Sloan told applicants who attended their city presentations what to include and not include in their cover letter essays – info that was not located anywhere else). The next best source for original info is going to be alums themselves. If you don’t know any, most schools will find someone for you to talk to, be it an alum or a current student. It is imperative that you speak to someone who actually went to the school you’re applying to before you click submit in order to ensure that you’re correctly aligning with the school’s focus and culture (eg. passing the “fit” test).
  2. Quality of Input Determines Quality of Output:For “ask” forums, peer evaluations (like Reddit, etc) and even free consultations from admissions consultants, you should consider that the value of your response will be dependent upon the quality of the info you provide. Often we see profile evaluation requests where we’re given scores, undergrad major, years of work experience and some vague notion of desired post-MBA industry. With this level of info, anyone answering your request for feedback will probably give you a similar answer to the one you could have found yourself by looking at the 80% range on each school’s class profile. MBA programs are looking for the total package – which means that you are someone who has a unique and interesting contribution to the class and an inspirational goal. At Vantage Point, we call this your “story”, and it is unique to you and your application – not something you can list or quantify. So, when you are asking for a profile evaluation, or when you are requesting a free consultation, try to give the responder more info on what may be unique about you (either past, present or future).
  3. Take it With a Grain of Salt:We participate in many forums and I hate to say that oftentimes we see completely false information given to applicants – egregious things like telling an applicant he or she “doesn’t have a chance” based on very limited info or providing career goal guidance that is completely off base. This is particularly important to beware of with peer evaluations. I caught a person earlier this year giving advice to MBA profile requesters and he turned out to be an undergraduate student with pretty much zero idea what he was talking about. The same thing happens with self-reported interview summaries. Sometimes they are just not true OR they are based on regional particularities that are not applicable to the majority of applicants. So yeah, just don’t put too much stock in any one source who knows very little about you. I’d recommend getting multiple opinions from many different sources overall if that’s your strategy.
  4. Read, Read, Read…but Don’t Template:There are a multitude of school reports, sample essays, interview guides, resume templates etc all over the internet. My advice? Read it all. See how different sources describe the culture at different schools (everyone has a unique perspective and it will be helpful for you to poll the audience as you learn about the different programs). However, please form your own opinions with this information – do not just take each thing at face value. Why? If you recite what’s already been said, it will be generic. Templates do not get into the top schools. Don’t describe Wharton the same way the school guides do – provide your own take based on what you’ve read and who you’ve spoken with. Do not copy anything word for word from sample resumes, essays or anything else. And certainly do not take a sample essay and then sub-in language and slight tweaks to make it your essay. Maybe you think this doesn’t need to be said, but we see people try this every year and trust me, it is never a good idea to even consider.
So in summary, use everything you possibly can. Spend a couple of hours per week during your application process (at least) reading articles about the schools you’re considering, talking to people and continuing to get a feel for what life would be like at that program. Seek multiple opinions both on your profile as well as your story and eventual “pitch”. But ultimately, be true to yourself and make your application about you!

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