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by Dominic Basulto

Given the fact that continued economic weakness in the Russian economy has enhanced the attractiveness of western business schools, it is understandable that the number of Russian applicants to the leading, "name-brand" MBA programs is on a sharp upswing. This is simply the realization of many young Russian professionals that it makes sense to pursue advanced business education in the West until the fallout from the financial crisis has dissipated. On the other hand of the coin, though, there simply may not be enough places to accommodate the increased flow of Russian candidates to Western Europe and the USA. The number of places available for students at the leading MBA programs in Europe and the USA is limited at best. Even INSEAD, the largest European school with a total intake of over 300 students per term, has historically accepted only a small number of Russian applicants. The current July 1999 graduating class of 305 at INSEAD consists of only four Russians.

How, then, to salvage a potentially awkward situation when you have not been accepted to any of the top European or American business schools? First of all, the failure to receive admission to any business school is probably more the result of a flawed application strategy (i.e. only applying to the highest-ranked programs with the most competitive entrance requirements) than any demonstrable weakness in the underlying application. Business schools essentially act as a "screen" for the corporations which hire their MBA graduates, placing a guarantee of quality on these future corporate professionals. As such, the admissions process to the leading European and American business schools is often more challenging than landing any eventual job offer after graduation.


There are essentially two reasons why candidates are refused admission to an MBA program: (1) failure to articulate the uniqueness of the application (2) a lack of "seasoning" in business. These two weaknesses can be easily addressed and used as the focal point of the re-application process. However, once a school has denied acceptance to a candidate, it becomes incrementally harder to win the favor of the admissions committee in the next application cycle. Candidates must demonstrate a "quantum leap" in background or experience. This is important to bear in mind, since a "jump" of 20-30 points in the GMAT score is not enough. In thinking about this "quantum leap," candidates should focus on increased managerial responsibilities at work, extra-curricular activities, and possible new international experience.

Once the deficiencies in the overall package have been isolated, it becomes important to highlight any changes within the new application essays. As pointed out in an earlier article (Feb 27-Mar 13, Career Forum, "How To Think Like a Business School Admissions Officer"), the essays should be incorporated as an integral part of the application package and leveraged as part of one's "unique selling proposition." Focus on what makes you unique and distinctive from other candidates, not on how you are similar to every other candidate to B-school.


In the absence of an admissions offer, it is sometimes instructive to re-assess career goals and ambitions. While the MBA degree certainly confers a recognizable distinction accepted on a global basis, this degree may not be the appropriate step in one's career. If business school is viewed as simply fodder for the resume, then it is probably the wrong choice. Take a minute to read through the admissions brochures- most of the interviewed students speak about truly life-changing experiences and a wholesale changing of their approach to business.

In lieu of the garden-variety MBA, other options at the leading business schools do exist. There are three basic options available: (1) Executive MBA (2) Master's-level programs within a specialized discipline and (3) short-term corporate-sponsored training at the business school. Most top B-schools with significant links to industry offer an executive MBA (EMBA) program, tailored to older candidates who are not willing to take an extended break in their career. The length of the EMBA can be anywhere between 1-3 years, and comprises an alternating schedule of classroom teaching (either at night or on weekends) and extended company assignments. Other schools such as London Business School offer a number of master's level programs which differ more in scope than in content from its traditional 2-year MBA program and are designed more for candidates intent on a more narrow career training than that provided by a well-rounded MBA program. Finally, the newest generation of business education offers a number of on-site programs which are typically substantially shorter, and geared towards more experienced executives, senior managers, and even line managers with significant professional experience.


Since MBA programs position themselves as "brands" and commit a number of resources in order to develop their PR image, there are some MBA programs that are well known in Russia (INSEAD, London Business School, IMD, IESE), almost to the exclusion of other programs. However, there are a number of other programs that are regarded just as highly (or in some cases, higher) in the eyes of future corporate recruiters. Applying to lower-ranked or less-visible MBA programs is not an admission of defeat. In fact, most of these programs offer an academic program that is just as rigorous as that at a "Top 10" business school. The difference between a school being in the "Top 10" or not being in the "Top 10" is often just a matter of perception. In the realm of the MBA, perception is reality. While schools such as IMD and INSEAD have staked out a highly visible presence in continental Europe, there is a number of worthy competitors. For instance, in Spain there are two other B-school programs (Instituto de Empresa, ESADE) that vie with IESE for the honor of being the best Spanish business school. Also within continental Europe, there are three quality Dutch programs (Maastricht, Nijenrode, NIMBAS) that can rival the traditional powerhouse Rotterdam and two French programs (Lyon, HEC School of Management) that are alternatives to INSEAD. Similarly, while London Business School often receives top billing in the U.K., there is a number of top British MBA programs, among them Cranfield and Manchester.

For candidates who prefer the traditional 2-year MBA program, the USA offers the most depth and breadth in B-school education. Without a doubt, the Top 50 U.S. business schools offer just as much in terms of academic content and rigor as the average European school. Since the American MBA programs are typically larger and more established than their European competitors, however, these programs can offer a more diverse selection of elective courses and expanded access to a wider spectrum of employers.

In the final analysis, for professionals intent on attaining a world-class business education in the West, there are various options other than the traditional full-time MBA at one of the "Top 10" name-brand business school programs. Candidates can (1) wait for the next deadline and simply re-polish the application package (2) "trade down" to lesser-known, but equally respectable MBA programs or (3) attend non-traditional (i.e. non-MBA) programs at a business school. The appropriate choice dependents completely on the unique profile of each candidate.

Dominic Basulto is a 1998 graduate of Yale School of Management and currently works as a consultant for Pericles ABLE (American Business and Legal Education) in Moscow. Pericles offers a full MBA advising program.

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