One of the great joy’s of my role as a researcher is to assist MBA students to optimise their time while delivering great research results. Other than Ph.D and some other masters degree students MBA’s have a more practical approach to research and in many cases they have a lot less time availability than academics. During the years I have seen some mistakes and best practices in the way MBA students approach their research.
Here is my disclaimer up front: The tips are meant to be practical and in no way replace your formal requirements by your institution.
1. Choose your research topic wisely - research with the correct topic can boost your career. On the other hand research with the wrong topic can make your data collection and entire research project a nightmare. Be sure if you are researching a topic that your topic’s population size is large enough. If your segment is very niche - collecting data can become a serious problem. Your research topic if relevant to your chosen career path can be the start to a specialisation. Resist the urge to choose a topic of little relevance to you but related to a pet subject or supervisors interest.
2. Identify the methodology to meet your objectives, be practical - your topic will determine your methodology. My research style is more quantitative and I tend to prefer working the numbers. Optimal response rate in the data collection for these quantitative studies become very important. You have to make sure the study is practical and that you will receive enough responses to make your study valid. If your population is small, and you are doing exploratory research. Consider using a qualitative methodology.
3. Manage your research as a project - learn from large research firms. Research is a project not unlike any other construction or design project. During some phases you should, if possible include outside suppliers. Ethically with most institutions you are allowed to outsource data collection, statistical work and proof reading/editing. You are also allowed to approach outside supervisory assistance if you feel it is required. In no way may the outside suppliers assist in the writing up of any part of your research.
4. Get it done - If you do not get it done, your research project can drag on and cause great disappointment to you. In some cases it can even cause you not to complete your studies. Running your research like a project where you set specific milestones and use outside help can truly assist in simplifying the process. Get a statistician in before data collection to assist with sample requirements. Get outside data collection services to gather your data. Ask the statistician to give you feedback on the data. Once this is done you will find analysing the learnings a lot easier.
With a little bit of planning you can reduce the stress related to your research project. Who knows maybe even make a career of it one day.
About the author:
Adriaan Buys is managing director at iFeedback. He specialises in online research methodology, academic data collection and research project management. He is currently studying towards his Ph.D in Environmental Management.
As you’ve studied for the GMAT, working hard on researching business schools, and prepared yourself to apply for your MBA, you may not have realized that there are many fantastic programs in Europe – some with more clout and higher rankings than some domestic programs! While there’s no question that American has the most prestigious MBA programs in the world, there are many excellent European programs which have steadily gained in popularity and clout in the past few decades. Here are five reasons to consider studying abroad while earning your business degree!
1. European schools are cheaper overall. While money isn’t the only consideration in earning an MBA, the amount of debt you take on can vary significantly. Europeans schools are up to $50,000-$70,000 cheaper overall to earn your degree, especially if you consider distance learning programs.
2. More contacts abroad. If you want to eventually work/live in Europe, then what better way to make contacts overseas and launch into that field than at a native business school? You’ll ease yourself into the new culture and have a much greater advantage to those students who stayed at home.
3. Travel opportunities! You’re only young once, as the saying goes, and living abroad is the experience of a lifetime. It will change you much more than staying at home, and as long as the education itself is comparable, you’ll lose nothing by taking the leap.
4. Diverse options. Certain European programs have become incredibly specialized in the focus. Want to do distance learning? Warwick Business School in the UK offers an incredible online program for a little more than $10K a year. Looking for flexibility? The ESADE school in Spain offers 12, 15, or 18 month programs. You’ll find a broad range of specialties, course offerings, and formats in Europe.
5. Shorter programs. Want your MBA as quickly as possible? European programs on the whole tend to be a year shorter, although you will likely have a heavier course load in a European program. But if speed is what you’re after, you’ll probably find a better program abroad!
Check out Grockit’s “MBA Admissions Lesson 1” video course here and make sure you’ve got everything you need for a successful MBA application!
Nervous about applying abroad because your GMAT score is stuck at 600? Set up a 1-hour “triage” session with a Grockit tutor via Skype to discuss effective strategies for all aspects of the GMAT.
Let’s be realistic: business school ain’t cheap.
Now that you’ve completed the applications for admission at each of your schools and programs, you’re almost done. You’ll still need to pay for school, and in order to obtain scholarships and loans, schools require you to submit financial aid applications.
Step 8: Apply for financial aid and scholarships.
In order to apply for financial aid, you’ll need a massive stack of information. Perhaps most crucial in that stack of information: your taxes.
Gather all required application forms and information from each school’s website or other information provided to applicants.
Even if you haven’t heard anything from the programs you’ve applied to, go ahead and submit a financial aid application. Don’t wait for your decisions to start rolling in. In fact, most schools will tell you not to do so. Be sure to find all instructions and deadlines. You should have marked these dates on your application calendars a while back and you should have printed out all the required information and placed it into your application file box. Retrieve all that information now so you can complete the final step.
Retrieve or complete your current year’s tax returns.
In order to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), you’ll need your tax information (and possibly your parents’ info, too). While it’s not 100% necessary to actually file your taxes, you’ll need information that essentially requires you to complete them, so why not submit them? Generally, if you’re under age 30, you’ll also need your parents’ tax information, too. Check with the schools to which you’ve applied to find out if parental information is required; requirements vary from school to school.
Complete a FAFSA.
Virtually all schools require the submission of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Your FAFSA is used to determine any need-based grants and your loan awards. New forms are available each year starting January 1st. Get started as soon as possible, as many schools’ deadlines are as early as March 1st.
You’ll need the school codes for each program to which you’ve applied. Codes can be retrieved from each program’s website or you can search for a school/program by name and location as you complete the FAFSA online at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/.
Complete any required school-specific forms.
Some schools have a separate financial aid application you’ll need to complete, and this application is often available online or will be sent along with admissions information. If you haven’t found anything yet, make a call to the financial aid office to find out if there’s anything you should be completing and sending their way.
Apply for every possible scholarship!
Schools and private organizations often offer scholarships ranging from one-time $500 awards to renewable full-tuition awards. Usually, applicants for such a scholarship are asked to submit a topical essay and/or other information (letter of recommendation, résumé, etc.). There are tons of books available at your local bookstore and loads of information available online regarding such awards. Check your schools’ websites and hit the bookstore or your local library. Make a list of all the scholarship programs you’re eligible to apply for, and make a run at every dime you might get to help fund your education.
Research educational loans.
Chances are good you’ll need some loans to help fund your life through business school, and it’s never too soon to prepare. Get a credit report so you’re aware of your current standing, then research educational lenders. The financial aid folks at the schools you’ve applied to can offer you more information on public and private lenders with whom they work.
Hurry up and wait.
Everything is now officially on its way! Many schools will email you to confirm acceptance of your application materials, completion, and decision status, but some won’t. The waiting game you’ll play between application submission and decision notification can be nerve-wracking. Pick up a hobby. Throw yourself into work with new vigor. Read more books. You might hear in a week, but you might not hear anything for several months. Remember that each applicant is different, and try not to hedge bets on whether or not you’ll be accepted or rejected. There’s only one way to find out, and you’ve done all you can. Only time will tell.
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You’ve researched. You’ve planned. You’ve taken your tests. Sent your transcripts. Gathered your letters of recommendation. Written your application essays and personal statements. Now it’s time to make it official.
Step 7: Complete and submit your applications.
Good news: you’re just moments away from becoming an official business school applicant. The hard parts are finished, and by now, you should have a stellar application packet almost ready to go… it just needs an official application form to introduce you to the admissions committees who will soon be reviewing your file.
And more good news: there’s not much you can do to screw this part up, but there are a few pitfalls you must absolutely avoid at all costs.
Review your programs’ application website and proofread everything else.
Before you complete the last portion of your application for admission, take a few moments to re-read the full application instructions on the website of each program at which you intend to apply. Double-check all application instructions to ensure that you’ve followed all instructions and completed all the necessary elements. Review the word count or page limits for your essays. Check off each required form, letter, or statement required. Once you’re satisfied that you’ve done everything correctly, you’re ready to fill out the surprisingly brief application form.
Do a “dry run.”
After the months you’ve probably spent preparing everything else, the actual application form will look pleasantly quick and easy. But before you begin filling anything in, print a copy to fill in manually if you plan to submit online, or print or photocopy a spare if you’ll be sending in a paper application. Start on your practice copy. Make sure you read each prompt carefully and provide the correct information. Taking the time to physically write out your application (rather than simply completing it online) will give you an added opportunity to get everything right.
Once you’ve finished filling out the paper form (or the spare copy), read everything again. Trust me: this is not the place for sloppy mistakes, missing blanks, or typos.
Complete your final application form(s).
When you’re satisfied with your “dry run” application, transfer everything to your final application form(s). If you’ll be sending in a paper application, choose your pen wisely. Choose a pen that won’t smudge as you write or bleed through to the opposite side of the paper.
Proofread your final application form(s).
Yes, again. You can never be too careful with this stuff. Always be aware that your admission and scholarship opportunities will be determined based upon your submissions, and take the appropriate amount of caution.
Include or attach payment.
Applications cost money (unless you’ve obtained a fee waiver), so don’t forget to include the correct payment amount with your application.
Once you are absolutely, positively certain that your entire packet is ready to go, it’s time to send it off. If you’re submitting online, make sure all documents are properly attached and send it off with confidence. If you are sending in a paper version, use your printer to address the envelope you’ll be using. Make sure the envelope is oriented properly in the printer. Double-check the addresses. Make sure you place a check in the envelope or include credit card payment information on the application form (if/where you’re prompted to do so). Include all of the appropriate documents and attachments, seal up your envelope, and stamp it. I recommend taking your applications directly to the post office, but maybe that’s just me being neurotic.
Your application is now officially on its way! Time to celebrate! …But not for too long. You’ll still need to pay for school, so when you’re ready, you’ll need to gather up your most recent tax documents, complete your taxes, submit your FAFSA (for domestic students), and apply for financial aid.
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You know yourself.
Adcoms, however, don’t know you. All they have to go on is your GPA, some test scores, some letters from some people who know you, and these: your application essays and/or personal statement. With that said, your essays and personal statements are, well, personal. So I can’t (or won’t) tell you what you should write.
What I can–and will–tell you is what characteristics your essays should and should not have. There are reasons adcoms ask specific questions: 1) to figure out how well you can follow directions, 2) to learn more about your writing and communication skills, and 3) to find out more about your specific qualifications for their programs. Here’s a good starter list of dos and don’ts:
DO: Be honest.
DO NOT: “Stretch” the truth.
Never, ever “stretch the truth” in an application essay or personal statement. More often than not, these kinds of things have a way of coming back to bite you. Think of it this way: the applications process is tricky enough on its own. You’ll have enough to keep track of with your various schools and myriad essay questions and personal statement guidelines and deadlines. You’ll need to make sure you’re naming the right school, sending the right targeted letters of recommendation, meeting the right deadlines, answering the right essay question, and keeping to the appropriate margins and word counts for each school’s essays. Telling the truth means you have that much less to remember.
There are ways to deal with the less-than-pleasant elements of your past as they apply to b-school applications. There are few things that are absolute deal-breakers. Should you need to address something like a grade slump, an altercation with the law, or a blemish in your employment past, adcoms want to know that you learned a valuable lesson from the experience and that the problem is in your past and won’t happen again.
Besides, admissions folk see enough applications to develop some pretty good instincts on honesty, fluff, and outright falsehoods in applications, and I’ve heard plenty of stories about applicants being asked about elements of their applications in interviews. If you have to lie to get into a program, it’s not the right program for you. Trust that the admissions people know who and what they’re looking for, for reasons that are quite often beyond an applicant’s knowledge and/or understanding. They’re professionals. Trust them; if you’re who/what they’re looking for, then you’ll get in… and if not, well… that just wasn’t the school or program for you.
DO: Use spelling and grammar checkers.
DO NOT: Submit any writing samples with spelling errors or grammatical mistakes.
In the age of built-in spelling and grammar-check, there is absolutely no valid excuse for submitting a writing sample that contains spelling errors or grammatical mistakes. Such blunders are often considered inexcusable, and rightly so. If you’re applying to graduate studies, your most basic writing skills should display competence. A lack of such attention to detail also reeks of laziness and shoddy work, traits not so highly sought after in the business school admissions process.
But beyond mere lack of error, there are other crucial elements to keep in mind.
DO: Follow directions.
DO NOT: Exceed the allotted word limit, page count, or margins.
You are not the first person to feel like you are worth more than 500 words or two pages or whatever the particular limitations might be. I know I might sound repetitive here, but trust that the adcoms know what they’re doing (not to mention that they’re really, really busy).
Great writing necessarily involves great editing. A truly great story includes all of the relevant story elements and nothing superfluous. Need more tangible examples? Think about what happens to a joke’s punchline when you flub the build-up with too much padding, or recall a bad movie you’ve seen that seemed to carry on and on for hours with little plot development (”Swept Away” comes to mind), only to leave you feeling underwhelmed at the end (and robbed of three hours of your life).
But don’t take my word on it: When asked why he wrote a particularly lengthy letter, Mark Twain allegedly replied, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” A little bit of editing can go a long way.
DO: Answer the questions asked.
DO NOT: Stray from the topic.
To do so, your submissions must be on-point. Failure to do so can cause adcoms to think one of two things about you: 1) you didn’t think the question asked was worthy of an answer, that you know what they want better than they do, or 2) you’re unable to comprehend directions. Neither portrait is a desirable one.
Here’s something important to consider: In the applications for many different schools offering similar programs, you may find a high degree of overlap in essay question prompts. While it is definitely okay–and smart, even–to consolidate your efforts by using some of your answers to similar questions from previous applications, you should make absolutely certain that you have adequately tailored the response you submit to the particular question asked on the correct school’s application.
DO: Communicate skillfully.
DO NOT: Answer the question(s) like a simple Q&A.
This is a writing sample–a rare chance for you to shine–and, as such, your writing should positively exhibit your communication skills. Being free of spelling or grammatical mistakes is a start, and staying on point is also helpful, but you’ll need to exhibit some real panache if you want to stand out from the crowd.
In regards to tone, know your audience. Schools are looking for serious students, so you’ll want to convey maturity and commitment in your writing. The structure of your writing should illustrate your ability to introduce, develop, and conclude an idea. Your language and sentence structure should be complex enough to exhibit your linguistic skills, but shouldn’t be plugged with excessive displays of esoteric language.
DO: Be true to yourself in your writing sample.
DO NOT: Copy someone else’s personal statement or write your essays “by committee.”
Remember that this might be a school’s best chance of getting to know the real you. Be yourself in your essay. Speak in your own voice. Don’t retool the essay of someone else who got into XYZ school, and don’t get the input of your twelve closest friends and family members. Doing so only makes it more likely that your writing samples, when considered as a whole package, will sound disjointed and confusing. They’re not applying to XYZ school; you are. You know your reasons better than anyone. You know why this is the perfect school or program or field of study for you better than anyone else does. No one will be a stauncher advocate in this process.
Trust your own voice and run with it. Many applicants choose to write personal narratives, others choose to write persuasive essays, while others feel that neither option fits and choose a style more personal. There is no right or wring way to write, so long as you stick to the dos and don’ts above. Find the best way you can use this opportunity to prove to schools why you’re the right fit for their program and get to work.
DO: Write several drafts over time.
DO NOT: Procrastinate until you have only two days to submit your essays.
Trust me on this one: you’ll need time to be able to edit your essay(s) properly. Even the best writers can’t edit their own material without giving the brain some time to recover from writing mode. Give your head a little time to distance yourself from the first draft. Come back a few days, maybe a week later, and give it a fresh look. You’ll be much better equipped to find the problems in flow that need to be fixed or the linguistic oddities you’ll want to smooth out. I recommend dedicating the same day every week for a month to the process. On your application calendar, maybe block off every Saturday morning for the month before you intend to submit your applications. Use this time for drafting, writing, editing, revising, and finalizing your essays. You’ll be glad you did.
Now go get inspired! Read a few pages from your favorite book or poem or speech. Take some notes. Print out the essay questions or personal statement guidelines and start outlining what you want to say. When you’re ready to move on, we’ll get on with the business of submitting those applications you’ve been working on for so long!
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We all know the drill by now: study your verbal and quant concepts, do lots of Grockit practice questions and tests, and review everything to learn from your mistakes. But isn’t there anything you can do to improve your score without opening a book or turning on your computer? Well, maybe. Science seems to support these little tweaks to your routine, and they certainly can’t hurt!
1. Chew gum while you study and while you take your exam
According to a study presented at the 2008 10th International Congress of Behavioral Medicine, "An investigation into the effects of gum chewing on mood and cortisol levels during psychological stress," chewing gum can help to improve alertness, relieve anxiety, and reduce stress among individuals performing a variety of multi-tasking activities in a laboratory setting. There is also evidence that chewing gum may significantly improve performance on “multi-tasking activities.” All of these benefits have the potential to translate to a less stressful, more productive GMAT experience. So go ahead and unwrap a stick—and make it peppermint, because…
2. Aromatherapy can give you a boost
There are many different scents that can improve your mental and physical state as you prepare for the GMAT. One of them is peppermint, which can uplift the mood, relieve mental fatigue, improve alertness and enhance memory. And who doesn’t need a little relief from mental fatigue while studying? Once you put the books away for the night, try using some lavender or chamomile to help you sleep or relieve an upset stomach. Like peppermint, eucalyptus is said to help with stress and fatigue, but according to some, it has the added bonus of boosting your immune system, helping to keep your healthy for test day. Used in large amounts, eucalyptus essential oil can be toxic, but in small doses it can be beneficial. And finally, to reap all of those benefits, look to rosemary, which is said to improve blood circulation, relieve a sore throat, improve digestion, improve mental alertness, memory, and mood, and relieve mental fatigue.
3. Have a cup or two of java, but don’t go overboard
Drinking coffee is known to increase short term recall and boost performance on a variety of mental and physical tests. Studies have shown that both regular and occasional coffee consumption can boost memory, reasoning, and other cognitive skills. Too much of it, though, can make you jittery and paranoid, which can have negative implications for your studying and test day performance. So know your caffeine limits, and don’t push past them—but if coffee is something that you enjoy, by all means, take advantage of its benefits!
4. Get off the couch and move!
Studies have shown that regular exercise is not just good for your body; it can also help to relieve mental and emotional stress, plus neutralize some of the physical effects of that stress. One study, reported at the 2001 Society for Neuroscience conference, found that, young adults who followed a 12 week regimen of jogging for 30 minutes two to three times a week significantly improved their performance on a number of cognitive tests. The scores fell again if the participants quit their running routine. Researchers suggest that the increased oxygen flow to the brain may explain running’s beneficial impact on test scores. Even if it’s just a quick walk around the block, getting your body moving can be a big help to your mental and physical condition, and that can translate to improved numbers on test day!
Overall, there’s no substitute for knowledge and preparation when it comes to your GMAT score. But these little tips can give you an extra boost, and might just be the difference between a so-so score and one with which you’ll be satisfied. What’s your favorite way to relieve stress and improve your mental and physical condition as test day approaches?
Get a Great GMAT Score – Study Online with Grockit.
People dig you.
Well, let’s hope they do, at least, because once you’ve requested that your transcripts and documentations be sent to schools, it’s time to find a few people who are willing to vouch for your aptitude for graduate business studies:
Step 5: Solicit and obtain letters of recommendation.
Adcoms (admissions committee members) don’t know you. Some MBA programs don’t even offer interviews, though most of the top ones do. In most cases, all they’ll see of you is a short stack of paper, and they’ll probably have hundreds or thousands more very much like yours from other applicants who want to get into their program just as much as you do. Standing out from the pile can be difficult, but it’s absolutely crucial to gaining acceptance (and, perhaps, scholarship offers) to your desired program(s).
Chances are good that your “numbers” are more-or-less set. If you’re considering business school, then you’ve either finished your undergraduate education (in which case you can’t do anything to nudge your GPA up any more) or are very near the end of it (in which case you have very little time to make even a small positive change in your GPA). You may still have time to improve your GMAT/GRE score(s), which can definitely help. But more likely than not, your best opportunity to shine comes from two sources: your application essays and your letters of recommendation.
Solicit recommendations early.
Since the letters of recommendation aren’t fully under your control, you should solicit them before you start working on your application essays. Give yourself two to three months before you plan to submit your apps so your recommenders (who are probably busy people) have time to write an insightful, well thought-out, glowing recommendation.
Ask the right people.
Hopefully, when you started this process, you took my advice and followed up with some potential recommenders. If you haven’t done so yet, now’s definitely the time. Make a quick phone call or send an email. Invite him/her out for lunch or coffee.
But who should you ask? Schools typically have guidelines for applicants regarding who should recommend a candidate and how many letters must and can be sent. Before you start asking around, visit each school or program’s website. Peruse the “admissions” section. If you haven’t already done so, print out the application and slip a copy into your application file box. The admissions page or application will contain guidelines for recommendations.
Nothing bugs an adcom more than an applicant who doesn’t follow instructions. Don’t send more letters of recommendation than a school accepts. It won’t make you look any better. Two letters of recommendation is a fairly common requirement; three are often accepted (and some schools will accept even more). Most schools want at least one recommendation to come from an academic source, although there is a little bit of wiggle room on this guideline. Unless otherwise specified, it’s usually best to solicit at least one academic recommendation and one professional recommendation.
Some highly competitive programs require a Dean’s Certification form/letter, either during the application process or sometimes after acceptance, which can be tougher to obtain, so work on making communication in-roads as soon as possible to facilitate the process.
Applicants come from a variety of backgrounds and apply at various stages of their lives, and adcoms know this. If you’ve been out of school for quite some time and you have a difficult time contacting your old professors, schools will generally accept recommendations from less traditional sources. It’s not uncommon for candidates still in undergrad to submit exclusively academic recommendations; similarly, candidates returning to school after years in a career path often submit exclusively professional recommendations. While this may not be ideal, it’s certainly acceptable.
Get the best recommendations possible.
Most importantly, your recommendations should be absolutely stellar. If you’re not sure how positively a potential recommender will endorse you, ask. Try something direct, but courteous, such as: “How strongly would you be comfortable recommending me to [business school]?” If he or she seems at all hesitant, this is probably not your recommender of choice.
You may know an alumnus of one of the programs to which you’re applying. If so, a targeted letter is a great idea. A targeted letter is one written particularly for one specific program by someone who has close ties to that school or program. In such a letter, the recommender can address your aptitude for that particular program. Such a recommendation is likely to carry more weight, considering the intimate knowledge the recommender has with the school. But here’s a word to the wise: make sure you don’t send the targeted letter to any of the wrong schools. Want to insult an admissions committee? Then send Stanford a letter that outlines why you’d be such a great fit at Harvard Business School. That’s almost a guarantee that you’ll be placed in the “reject” pile.
While an alum or board member can be a great recommender if he/she knows you well enough to endorse your application to graduate studies, submitting “celebrity” letters just for name recognition won’t do you any favors. Like I said before, the most important element of any recommendation is its quality. Your recommenders should be able to address your aptitude for graduate studies in your particular program of choice. They should mention things like your work ethic, your attention to detail, your attitude and how you interact with other students or co-workers, your intellectual curiosity, your written and verbal communication skills, your logical aptitude, your critical analysis skills, etc.
I hope this point is obvious, but it’s still worth stating. Make sure you provide your recommenders all the proper forms and guidelines they need. If a particular school requires a specific form, make sure you provide it along with your request.
To make their jobs a little bit easier, provide a résumé to each recommender and supplement the résumé with notes. Include a story that illustrates a particular skill or trait that he or she might include in the letter, but make sure the story is relevant to the particular recommender in question. If you have them done, provide a draft of one of your application essays or another writing sample.
Also, be sure to provide envelopes that are already addressed and stamped. Recommending you shouldn’t cost the gracious writer anything and shouldn’t be a hassle. And I’m sure you want the letters to get to the right places, so do the legwork yourself. In short, make it as easy as possible.
Set a deadline.
Don’t forget that recommenders are people, too. They have other priorities, most of them more important that writing a letter of recommendation for a business school applicant. To help the process along, set a deadline for him/her and make sure to follow-up on occasion–maybe every two weeks. Don’t be annoying, for sure, but check in with a quick email asking if he/she has had a chance to look over the forms and materials you presented and ask if he/she has any questions you might be able to answer to help with the process.
Show your gratitude.
Be forewarned that some schools require a very specific recommendation form, and any good recommendation will take some time and effort to be well-written, so you should be extremely courteous and thankful of anyone willing to jump through such hoops for you. Once your letters are in, do more than just say thank you. Send “thank you” cards to your recommenders. Take them out to lunch or coffee. Make sure your recommenders know they did the right thing by signing their names to your application to schools. A little bit goes a long way.
Once your letters of recommendation are taken care of, it’s time for you to start writing. Next up in the series: application essays and personal statement.
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If you’ve completed your research, you should be ready to move on to the next step and begin some real work. But before you start plugging away, it’s smart to organize your application process. With that in mind, here’s the next step on our list:
Step 2: Manage the application process.
Managing the process– much like you might manage a project at work– will help ensure you meet all deadlines and obligations while maintaining high quality standards in your applications. Here are the most important elements you’ll want to be sure to work into your routine:
Tend to your relationships with potential recommenders.
Your recommendations will play a big role in your applications, and you should ensure that you’re getting absolutely top-notch recommendations. And while noted alumni are great recommenders for targeted schools, the most important characteristic of good recommendations is that they come from people who are credible, know you well, and can speak to your aptitude and preparedness for graduate work.
While your recommendations can come from a variety of sources (academic, professional, personal), most schools have preferences regarding at least some of your recommendations. In fact, many schools prefer to receive at least one academic and one professional recommendation. If you’ve been out of school for a while, it may take some time to hunt down an old professor who remembers you well and fondly enough to sign his or her good name to your application to graduate business studies.
Start early, and make sure you show your gratitude at each step of the process. If it’s been a while since you’ve spoken or seen each other, write a quick email to say hello. Maybe invite him/her to lunch (you’ll buy, of course). Make sure this person feels comfortable recommending you strongly; if you’re unsure, you might want to ask just that: “How strongly would you be comfortable recommending me to — school/program?” It never hurts to ask, as long as you are courteous.
Sort your list of possible schools into categories.
At this early point in your application process, you probably aren’t sure where you’ll score on the GMAT/GRE (many schools now accept both). But you should have done plenty of research on the schools that offer your desired program. Sort your list of possible schools into three categories:
* “reach” schools, where you may be unlikely to gain admission, but would nonetheless love to attend;
* “target” schools, where you are competitive for admission and would like to attend; and
* “safety” schools, where you have a very high likelihood of admission.
While you may not be absolutely certain which schools are “reach”, “target”, and “safety” schools until after you get your scores back, you probably have some early inclinations one way or the other about many schools. You can always rearrange your list later.
I’m a spreadsheet addict, so I personally recommend making a spreadsheet. A spreadsheet is probably the best way to organize your list of schools. You’ll be able to add columns for “applied” (date submitted), “complete” (date application is “complete” at each school), “interview” (date), “financial aid” (dollar amount), “tuition” (total), and “decision” (outcome). You may want to include other columns as well, but these should get you started. A spreadsheet with all important information will make selecting the best school for you much easier once all the columns get filled out, and you can always delete a row if you decide that a particular school isn’t right for you.
Make an application calendar.
Get a calendar to track important dates for admissions process. Include the following:
Last acceptable test administration.
From your list of schools, determine the last possible test date you can take to meet all application deadlines. Since you’ll likely have multiple schools, be sure to note the earliest of the test deadlines. Write this date in big, bold letters. Red, preferrably. Then plan backwards for at least one possible retake, should the worst happen. Make that your target test date, although you may want to back up your target test administration date even further to reduce your test anxiety a bit.
Financial aid/scholarship deadlines.
Many schools have scholarship deadlines prior to regular admission deadlines, especially for larger scholarships. If you plan to apply for them, be sure to note the relevant dates and schools in your application calendar. You should also try to get your taxes done as early as possible, since most schools have a financial aid paperwork deadline of March 1st, and for U.S. schools, you’ll need to submit a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) in order to be considered for any need-based assistance or federally-backed loans. While you can estimate your taxes, I recommend doing them and getting the right numbers in rather than stressing about whether or not your paperwork is correct.
Three rounds of application deadlines.
Many top business schools have three rounds of application deadlines. Applying to an earlier application round means there’s more space in the class for you. Deadlines for Round 1 are typically in October, Round 2 in January, and Round 3 in March/April. These vary by school so make sure you have the dates carefully organized by school. Apply early because by Round 3, there is a chance that there may not be enough room left in the program because of all of the Round 1 and Round 2 applicants.
Program start dates.
Don’t forget to mark the date that classes start at each school. That’s what the application process is all about! It’ll help you remember why you’re doing all the legwork, plus it’ll help you organize the major life changes you’ll need to make as you get ready to start graduate school.
Setup a both a physical grad school file box and a virtual file folder.
Go to Office Depot, Staples, or your office supply store of choice to pick up a portable file box and hanging file folders (unless you already have these on hand). Make a file for each school/program to which you intend to apply. You may choose to organize your files alphabetically or by preference (put your top choice program first, for instance).
Once you’ve made your physical files in your grad school file box, visit each school or program’s website. While you’re there, bookmark all important pages and organize them into folders in your web browser. Print out the admissions information, tuition and fees information, and the application form. Place a hard copy in the appropriate folder in your file box.
If you used a calendar program on your computer, then you should make an additional calendar folder. Print out a copy of each month between now and the final deadline for applications at the latest school’s deadline and slip the calendar pages into the folder so you’ll never miss a deadline.
Organize your finances for business school.
Since most of us will need some combination of personal contributions, scholarships, grants, and loans, you’ll need to make sure your finances are in order before you start the loads of paperwork that await you. Find out w
here you stand, and do your best to maintain or improve your financial outlook before your paperwork is submitted. Some tips:
Get a credit report.
Know your credit score so you’re not caught off guard by an instance of identity theft or some oversight from a move five years ago that can prevent you from getting loans. Do everything in your power to maintain a good credit score or improve a weaker one in the time allotted. Google “credit repair” and research the many options available to you.
Make an application budget.
Applying to business school isn’t cheap, and there are many “hidden” expenses people often forget. Be sure to include all application fees, standardized test fees, test prep/prep material costs (more on that in part 3 of 8), transcript/paperwork fees, recommender thank-you lunches, travel funds for school visits and interviews, a clothing allowance for interviews, interviewer and recommender “thank you” cards, and a seat deposit at the school you finally choose. Put the allotted budget into savings and don’t touch it until you need it (or start saving it, if you don’t have it available yet).
Put the amount you intend to pay out-of-pocket for tuition into savings and don’t touch it.
Based on your FAFSA and/or other financial aid information, you will be provided with an expected contribution. Try to get an estimate of that as early as possible so you can put that money away until tuition is due. Again, if you don’t have it, start saving now.
Once you have your process all setup, you’re ready to get to the first major hurdle: taking your test(s).
Check out other articles in this series:
Get a Great GMAT Score – Study Online with Grockit.
Okay, so you’ve decided you want to go to business school. Now what? This blog entry and the following seven will build and flesh out a “To Do” list for you, helping you find answers to questions from “What should I study?” to “How can I get financial aid?” Each entry will focus on one step of the process so that you know where to start and what to do next.
I strongly recommend starting this list a year before you plan to start business school, but this can definitely be done in six months or less; you’ll just need to be more resourceful in some steps. Here’s a good ordered list of things to do to get yourself started (we’ll fill in notes on each step in this and subsequent entries):
2. Manage the application process
3. Prepare for and take the appropriate test(s)
4. Get your transcripts sent.
5. Solicit and obtain letters of recommendation.
6. Write your application essays.
7. Complete and submit your application(s).
8. Apply for financial aid and scholarships.
“But how do I dive into this list?” you ask. Well, let’s start at the beginning:
Step 1: Research.
Before you do anything else, do your research. Make sure you investigate each of the following points:
Research which MBA programs of study may be right for you. Identify people who are in positions you’d like to obtain, and find out their educational backgrounds. Ask them, ask co-workers, and check company websites.
Research what MBA program formats are available and appropriate for you. Once you’ve identified the program(s) you wish to pursue, research the different program formats offered at different institutions. Many MBA programs now offer many alternatives to traditional full-time studies. Look into part-time, fully-employed (weekend), and “virtual” (online) options that could allow you to continue working while you’re in school or enroll in courses at a non-local institution. Many employers will even contribute to tuition for such programs!
Find out which schools offer your intended program(s) of study in your desired format(s). You may want to start with nearby institutions or with those with name prestige. U.S. News and World Reports publishes (in print and online) annual rankings for MBA programs—and breaks them down by specialties, even—as do countless other organizations. Google “business school rankings” or “cost-effective MBA” and see how many results you find.
Determine the costs associated with business school. Using the schools’ websites and other published resources, figure out annual tuition and expenses (books, parking, etc.) and, if you’ll need to relocate, expected cost of living. You can use a cost of living comparison tool, which you’ll also easily find online.
Figure out the reasonable expected Return on Investment for your graduate studies. Many published rankings’ sources and school websites offer average starting salary for graduates of each particular program. You’ll need to be a bit more persistent in your research, but different schools offer different options. A strong alumni network, high rankings, and reputation are just a few factors that may impact graduates’ starting salaries. Before you hand over much of your hard-earned (and, likely, hard-borrowed) money, pick the best investment… because that’s exactly what you’re doing: investing in your future.
Research the schools and their surroundings. If you’ll need to relocate for school, you’ll want to make sure that the city in which your program is located is, in fact, a place you can live comfortably. Research the size and demographics of the towns, check message boards, and visit the campus and city if you can. In addition, many schools place recent graduates best locally, so it’s definitely wise to make sure you like the area before you commit to two or more years there.
Once you’ve gotten a handle on your program and school research, you’re ready to start applying. In my next blog entry, we’ll focus on how to properly manage the application process.
Check out other articles in this series:
Get a Great GMAT Score – Study Online with Grockit.
While the proposed amendments to labour legislation have attracted significant media attention, many refinements can still be introduced before the amendments reach the statute book. Even so, employers should be mindful that they will be facing far-reaching changes to the current labour law dispensation. So what could and should employers do at this stage to be better prepared for these changes?
Amendments to the Labour Relations Act (LRA), the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) and the Employment Equity Act (EEA) will come into effect in the not too distant future. A new Employment Services Bill contains provisions that regulate the activities of labour brokers. While it is unlikely that we shall see the total demise of labour brokers, there will most certainly be extensive debate about the issue before the Bill is enacted.
Of the proposed amendments to the LRA, BCEA and EEA, several are cosmetic, others are technical, but some are of a more substantial nature. Of these substantial amendments, there are those that employers can do something about at this stage. Below are some of the steps employers can take in anticipation of the amendments..
Fixed-term contracts: The Labour Relations Amendment Bill proposes that an employer should only employ someone for a fixed term if the employer can justify it. If not, the employer should employ the person permanently. Employers should therefore be very particular about the operational reason for a fixed-term contract and to specifically include these in fixed-term contracts, for example linking it to a project of a temporary nature. Meaningless provisions such as “fluctuating operational needs” are unacceptable..
High earners excluded from protection: Employees earning more than the threshold determined by the Minister in the Government Gazette (presumably the current threshold referred to in the section 6(3) of the BCEA) will be excluded from referring dismissal and unfair labour practice disputes to the CCMA and Labour Court (with the exception of automatically unfair dismissals). When appointing senior managers or highly-paid staff, or renewing or extending their contracts, employers should pay more attention to the termination, breach and dispute resolution provisions in the contract of employment.
Liability of client company: Where an unfair labour practice is committed by a subcontractor, both the subcontractor and the client could be held liable. This means that a “client company” should be mindful of the labour practices of those who provide services to it. If not, the client company could be held liable. Employers should therefore give consideration to obtaining appropriate assurances/ indemnity from the service providers they contract with.
Benefits of equal value for fixed-term employees: The Basic Conditions of Employment Bill proposes that employers must contribute benefits of similar or equal value to employees employed on a fixed-term contract. They cannot be treated less favourably than permanent employees. Where it is not practicable to afford employees on fixed-term contracts certain benefits (e.g. pension and medical aid), the employer will have to pay them the cash value thereof. This should be taken into account in the financial planning of employers that make extensive use of employees on fixed-term contracts.
Enforcement procedures: Several of the current enforcement provisions (labour inspectors securing undertakings, compliance orders, objections and appeals against compliance orders) will fall away. While this might appear innocuous at first glance, it seems that, consequently, non-compliance issues can be referred directly to the Labour Court. Employers could therefore lose the opportunity they have at the moment to become compliant. In addition, non-compliance with most of the provisions of the BCEA that are currently not criminalised will become criminal offences. Furthermore, the penalties, even for minor transgressions, will include minimum fines and possible prison sentences. Employers are therefore encouraged to ensure that they are fully compliant with the provisions of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. Otherwise they could suffer costly embarrassment.
Work of equal value: According to the Employment Equity Amendment Bill it could be regarded as unfair discrimination if there is a difference in terms and conditions of employment between employees of the same employer who perform the same or substantially the same work or work of equal value. The discrimination would be regarded as unfair if the differentiation is based on of the grounds of unfair discrimination listed in Section 6(1) of the Employment Equity Act or any of the additional grounds added. It is possible that some exceptions will be provided for in the proposed code of good practice referred to in the Amendment Bill. However, employers should re-evaluate their conditions of employment so that they do not fall foul of this form of discrimination.
Assessment of compliance with employment equity requirements: Currently the Employment Equity Act lists several factors that must be taken into account in assessing whether a designated employer is implementing employment equity in compliance with the Act. In terms of the proposed amendment, it is now stated that certain factors may be taken into account, but several of the existing factors have been left out and new ones added. The new ones are “reasonable steps taken by an employer to train suitably qualified people from the designated groups” and “….. to appoint and promote suitably qualified people from the designated groups”. Although the implication is that there may be several others factors (not listed) that the Labour Court can take into account, employers should at least take note of the (new) listed factors when drafting and implementing their employment equity plans.
What is of some concern is the removal of the words “national and regional” where reference is made to the demographic profile of the economically active population. The implication is that, when assessing compliance, the national (rather than regional) demographic profile will be taken into account by labour inspectors. The problem is that the regional profile can in some cases differ to a great extent from the national profile. It is our view that employers, when drafting their employment equity plans, should in fairness be able to argue that the regional demographic profile is a more important consideration than the national demographic profile.
There are other important changes that have not been discussed, as there is probably not much that employers can do in response to those at this stage -we shall have to wait until the proposed amendments in the Bills have been further refined and implemented.
Jan Truter of www.labourwise.co.za