Hello P&Q readers, and welcome to my advice column! Interested in insider tips for your MBA applications? My name is Karen Marks, and I am the Founder and President of North Star Admissions Consulting. I have been helping people get into their dream schools since 2012, and prior to that I was the Associate Director of Admissions at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. In both roles, my goal is to give people the accurate, insider information that they need to succeed and make good decisions.

Towards that end, I am thrilled to be joined by my friend and former colleague Amy Mitson, who is the Director of Admissions, Recruitment & Marketing at Tuck. Amy has seen both the student experience through her years in student services and now the admissions process as a member of the Tuck Admissions committee for the last 15 years. Amy shares my commitment to transparency, and together we will give you the real answers to your burning admissions questions, from both sides of the desk. Ask away, no topic is off limits!

This week, we will share strategic insider tips for your MBA applications. These nuggets of advice can make all the difference when you’re trying to get into your dream school.

Karen: Amy, we both know that there is so much misinformation swirling around about the business school application process. Often, if applicants listen to transparent admissions offices (like Tuck’s!) or to knowledgeable admissions consultants, they can literally transform their candidacies.

For instance, one aspect of the admissions process that is frequently misunderstood is the difference between the GRE and the GMAT, from a ranking and reporting standpoint. Essentially, a lower GMAT score is harder for the Committee to overlook than a lower GRE score, because it will have a bigger negative impact on the class profile. Can you please explain this more?

Amy: There are numerous MBA program rankings, as many applicants are aware! Not all rankings weigh the same data and not all rankings use the GRE score. Most MBA programs accept both the GMAT and GRE and do not prefer one over the other. My recommendation is to research both tests, understand the format and maybe even take a practice test for each. An applicant can determine where they feel more comfortable and move forward with their preferred test.  An applicant is wise to look at each school’s averages for the entering class and submit the test where they are scoring closest to or above the posted averages.

Karen: Another confusing area is the choice of recommenders. Applicants often think that they need to choose their current supervisors, even when doing so will jeopardize their continued employment, or when they haven’t worked together for very long. In reality, schools want you to use good judgment when choosing recommenders, which means that you need to ask people who know you well. It’s also super common for applicants to feel concerned about disclosing the fact that they are hoping to leave for school, so it’s no problem to ask previous employers instead. Just tell the schools why you are making this choice.  Amy, can you please debunk the myth that candidates absolutely need to ask their current supervisor for a recommendation?

Amy: While the admissions committee may have a stated requirement or preference for a recommendation from your current supervisor, we understand if that is not possible. The most important action a candidate can take it to explain their choice of recommender if they are not able to meet the committee’s request. We see this often enough that we have a drop down in the application that lists some of the reasons Karen just cited. It is not unusual to see an applicant choose “unable to disclose plans to current employer” or “recently changed jobs”.  Whoever you select as a recommender, share your deadlines and provide them enough advanced notice and information to submit an on time and detailed reference to support your candidacy.

Karen: On a related note, I get a lot of questions about how to handle layoffs, periods of unemployment, or mid-application-cycle job changes. None of these situations are fatal flaws – the key, once again, is to be clear and straightforward. There can be many valid reasons for these permutations. It’s entirely possible to get into top schools, even if your employment path isn’t linear.

Amy: The foundation for success here is your narrative. Get comfortable with your story and please tell it like it is. I agree with Karen, none of this is fatal and the planned or unexpected changes in your timeline can make for an interesting path to the MBA…and beyond! It is a great time to clarify your narrative. Not only will this serve you well in the admission process, but you will also be better able to share this with a future employer when you are interviewing for a summer internship, or your next full time offer. While I will never say I have heard it all (that is impossible in Admissions!), a layoff or job change is not unusual. The only mistake you can make here is not being clear about job changes or timeline. The admissions officer seeking to understand your path will have unanswered questions and that is something to avoid. Be straightforward and honest….we can handle it!

Karen: This time of year, a lot of candidates are considering asking for test waivers at schools that allow them, including Tuck. In my experience, for candidates who can clearly demonstrate their ability to handle the work without a test score, there is no disadvantage to asking for a waiver. Schools won’t grant them unless they feel confident about the applicant’s academic preparation, and even if a school denies the waiver applicants frequently go on to gain admission (with a test score.) If someone has this preparation and doesn’t have a strong test score, waivers can dramatically increase their odds of admission. What is your take on the best use of test waivers?

Amy: Agree…..and waivers are not a shortcut and are not easily granted. At Tuck there are several requirements to obtain the testing waiver.  It is likely that a member of the admissions committee will decide on your approval for the waiver. This approval means that your pre-MBA coursework and/or professional experiences reflect quantitative readiness for the MBA curriculum. If you were not granted a waiver, this just means the committee is seeking more detail on your quantitative skill set which you can demonstrate through the GMAT or GRE.

There is no harm done if you are denied the waiver. If you were seeking the waiver when applying to Tuck, for example, you would have to submit it well before the application deadline. If the waiver is ultimately not granted, you would likely still have time before your chosen application submission date to sit for a required test.

Karen: Finally, for today, I always advise my clients to take advantage of opportunities to demonstrate genuine interest in the schools that they are applying to, and to help the schools get to know them better. For instance, Tuck offers guaranteed interviews to applicants who apply by a certain date each round. Can you please talk about why you do this, and how candidates can leverage these types of opportunities?

Amy: Ok, let me start with interviews. So, this comes down to personal preference…..and some calendar management. The guaranteed interview requires you to accelerate your timeline, but the benefit is (drumroll!) a guaranteed interview! While we are very generous with interview invitations, opting for an accelerated deadline and guaranteeing yourself an interview may help to decrease worry or an unknown in the application process. The guaranteed interview may also benefit applicants who think they can tell their story better in person than on paper.

There are numerous ways to demonstrate interest in your top choice programs. The best way, however, is to submit a thoughtful application that reflects genuine interest and connection. How you accomplish this is up to you. Whether you devour details on a school’s website, visit, zoom in, or connect directly with student ambassadors or alumni …….do something! Typically, an applicant can illuminate a compelling connection with a school because they have taken the extra step to get to know the program during the application process.

Karen: Stay tuned for more insider tips about how to get into your dream school. Listening to the right strategic advice about your applications can make all the difference.

Amy: And good luck and keep asking questions!

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Karen Marks

Karen has more than 12 years of experience evaluating candidates for admission to Dartmouth College and to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Since founding North Star Admissions Consulting in 2012, she has helped applicants gain admission to the nation’s top schools, including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Wharton, MIT, Tuck, Columbia, Kellogg, Booth, Haas, Duke, Johnson, Ross, NYU, UNC, UCLA, Georgetown and more. Clients have been awarded more than $70 million dollars in scholarships, and more than 98% have gotten into one of their top choice schools.
North Star Admissions Consulting