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The Problems With Entering Business School
By: Daniel Repko

The task set before me is to convey to you, the reader, the biggest problems that people face when applying to b-school and then let you in on the secrets on how to solve these problems. Unfortunately, this task is not as simple as it may sound. There are courses that last more than a month trying to discuss what I am supposed to explain in one page. However, I can point to two things, out of the many tedious little items, that seem to give many people, and in particular Russians, the most problems. The two problems are: escaping the rankings when choosing a school and profiling oneself for each individual program to which one applies.


When Russians are deciding to which school they should apply, the first place to which they turn are the many different ranking systems, in an impossible attempt to decide which is the "best b-school in the world." Even though the rankings can give you good knowledge as to which schools are considered the best overall, no ranking system can break down each area of a school's strength and analyze which program is best for which student. Therefore, the best variant for prospective students is to not only look at the rankings but also to think of additional factors that will affect their future after they graduate. Examples of such factors include: 1) Where do you want to live after graduation? 2) What career path do you want after graduation? 3) Where do you want to be in 10 or 20 years?.

Taking as an example just one such factor-what kind of career path you want-you can see the importance of going beyond the rankings. Let us take two students, both of whom would like to be general managers. One decides to go to Harvard and the other decides on Michigan. At first glance it would seem that after graduation the student from Harvard would get the premiere job while the student from Michigan would have to take a less prestigious position. However, even though Harvard is, in general, one of the best known universities in the world, Michigan is known for producing better General Managers while Harvard is better known for producing Consultants. Thus, industry leaders interview at Michigan just as much as at Harvard.

As another quick example, let us take Thunderbird University. Thunderbird is a Top 50 B-school but ranks nowhere near the top 10 or top 20. However, if you take individual strengths and weaknesses you will find that Thunderbird is generally considered to have one of the best international management programs available. What does this mean? Well, if you want to work in International Management then a smart choice might be the top 50 b-school Thunderbird, rather than a top 10 b-school like Wharton or Harvard. Of course, it would be hard to hang up if Wharton calls, but you might find yourself more easily admitted or more eligible for financial help at Thunderbird, while still getting a top ranked international business education.

To reiterate, the truth of the matter is a name and a high ranking is not the best reason for choosing an MBA. You must look at many other factors, such as the match between your interests and the strengths of individual programs within the school.


Problem number two is profiling yourself for each individual school. The common tactic of applicants is to write one example essay and then submit the same answer to different schools. Since many schools have similar essay questions many students make very minor changes for each school.

The problem with this strategy is that each school has a different type of student that they are looking for. Therefore, in order to increase your chances of getting admitted to more than one school you should research each school and learn enough information about the school to know how to best profile yourself for that school. For example, if Harvard and INSEAD were both to ask a question about what makes you unique, you would not want to write the exact same essay for each. The reason is that both schools like diversity but both have a very different applicant pool. While Harvard, with its Eastern US location may have, for example, very few applicants from the Russian Far East, INSEAD, with its Singapore Campus and history of loan programs targeting Russian students, may have many such applicants. Thus, the uniqueness that makes your application focused on your Far East business activities interesting to Harvard, might make it "just another on in the pile" for INSEAD.

The other problem in profiling oneself comes into play when one is asked to describe oneself or to describe a recent success one has had. Every university asks itself the same question, "Is this a person that we want to represent our university in the business world." If they answer no, then this is the answer you will get from the school. Therefore, understanding the school and what they are looking for and targeting your essays to each particular school increases your chances of getting accepted.


Noted above are only two of the many problems that students encounter when applying to b-school. It is a long grueling period with the rewards only witnessed two years later. While there are no sure fire methods of ensuring one's chances of getting into one's favorite b-school, with some insights into the process and some personal research most students find that they can be very successful. Do not be afraid to ask for help, especially from those who have extensive knowledge and experience in this field.
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