Things you wish you knew during GMAT prep and B-School application

phillyboy's picture
Rank: Orangutan | 357

There are often many things i wish i had known during the recruiting process for IB which i expanded on last year and thunk would have held me in good stead if i had known them earlier

Now that I am about to start my prep for the GMAT and eventually apply for B-school I would like people in/admitted in MBA programs or grads to share the things they wish they had known prior to their bschool journey

Comments (22)

Mar 18, 2016

No one cares about what you have to say ;)

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Mar 18, 2016
  1. Story matters. You have to find a way to tie experience/transferable skills->MBA->Outcome. And you have to tie to an outcome that is achievable (protect the school's stats) AND unique. It's not easy.
  2. I would be fascinated to see a stats breakdown by experience/goal/ethnicity/gender. Which will never happen for obvious reasons. I had a "silver" profile overall (5 years Corp Fi, 3.5 from top 30 school, 720 GMAT as a straight white male. Basically just over the average at my top targets (3 schools in the low teens). Checks the box but doesn't differentiate. I got into my 3rd choice, WL'd at #1/2. I was hoping for $ / picking between schools at minimum. I did get a full tuition offer from a 20ish school though.
  3. It's a random process to an extent. My dream school was my worst interview, because my interviewer was awkward as f and we didn't click. That's bad luck. I own it to an extent but let's just say I'm not surprised the guy had no offer in Feb of year 2. There are only so many of your "profile" that get a spot, and it can be luck for who they like more. At interview day for the best program I was accepted to, one of the adcoms sought me out because we both grew up in the same town and basically gave me a 10min pitch on the program. Again, that's luck.
  4. Don't wait until the last minute. I am kicking myself for missing R1 and for not visiting last summer / getting more face time with admissions. I think that could have made a difference. Ultimately, similar to a job interview someone has to go to bat for you. It's way different than undergrad admissions, at least for me. Face time matters (without being an annoying fcuk).
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Mar 18, 2016

If you are from an overrepresented group, smash the GMAT. This is the most important part of your application. I can't overstate this. Study as much as you can and then study some more and knock it out of the park. If you are not overrepresented, then other story elements probably take precedence over GMAT as long as you are "within range". For OR candidates, it's a large differentiating point.

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Mar 21, 2016

If I may, I think two factors underlie your statement.

  1. Over time, the US News has increased its weighting of the GMAT. Schools have kowtowed to this metric.
  2. The GMAT allows unlimited re-takes, and recently stopped showing cancelled attempts on score reports sent to schools. Thus, you're now expected to do whatever it takes to get a score that's competitive (now 750+) for over-represented demos.

"Smash[ing] the GMAT" will put you in contention for scholarships and ensure that your GMAT isn't red-flagging your resume forinternships and full-time.

Mar 18, 2016

When you guys talk about "story", do you mean that you need to have a background that is consistent with what you want to do post MBA?

What if you honestly have no idea what you want to do post MBA? do you make up some "story" about how you are passionate about the energy industry and hope to get accepted?


Mar 18, 2016

Not necessarily "background" it can be skills, life experience, demonstrated interest via founding an organization, etc.

Ideally it is something like:

I have XXX skills/experience or a demonstrated interest in XXX through the volunteer work/hobby/organizations founded.

This led me to develop my goal of XXX.

An MBA will provide XXX that will allow me to emerge from my cocoon as a fucking monarch butterfly. Ideally it is not "an MBA" it is "School XXX's MBA" i.e. specific characteristics of that MBA.

Now I am not saying that it NEEDS to be save the world. But every piece has to make 100% perfect sense, picked apart from any angle.

Because adcoms bucket you - I.e. all aspiring consultants. We know what MBB looks for. Who has the stats, the transferable skills, and the interest to meet our expected hiring quota? Moreover, who can sell themselves?

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Mar 18, 2016

1.) GMAT Matters as everyone else here has said
2.) Don't pick anything too outlandish as your goal; schools want people that will boost their stats. Saying you want to be an entrepreneur when you have never done anything entrepreneurial in your life is saying to the school: "I am doing the hot thing but I am really going to hurt your stats. Starting your own company doesn't give them the big names hiring in the brochure, the high post-MBA salary that drives all of the ratings etc."
3.) Having a different background can be a big challenge because schools do not know how to slot you. See point above.
4.) The GMAT is full of useless information you will soon forget. It is also full of tricks that are predictable. If you are going to do a class, make sure you schedule an exam within 2-3 weeks of completing it.

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Mar 18, 2016

Don't rely on Princeton Review prep.

Mar 25, 2016

Don't rely on Princeton Review prep.

I believe these reviews ( are quite accurate?

Apr 23, 2016

Depends on whether you want to go for a in-class GMAT tutoring or an online version or even self study. There is a good post at to browse the best GMAT prep options.

Mar 18, 2016

Take breaks from studying for the GMAT. If your only activity outside of work is studying for the GMAT, you will probably burnout at some point. I'm not saying take week breaks at a time, but a night here and there can help reduce burnout.

Don't use bad study material for the GMAT. Using low quality questions can actually hurt your performance, as the logic in those questions can be different than that used on the actual GMAT. I would stick to questions from OG, MGMAT, Veritas, and Magoosh.

Best Response
Mar 18, 2016

1) Totally agree that story matters. You need to be able to tell a coherent story about where you've been, where you're going, and how the MBA program fits into that journey. Be honest with yourself too. Just because you like Stanford / Harvard / whatever doesn't mean its the best fit for you in that journey.

2) Have a mission, not a goal. People naturally gravitate to people that have bold missions in life. Let me give you two examples. Which of these statements are more powerful?

"I want to help illiterate people in Vietnam by joining a CPG company and improving the firm's marketing for these consumers."
"My goal is to join P&G as a Marketing Manager."

"As a Chinese citizen, I have seen the wastefulness of our statement owned enterprises. I want to join a strategy consulting firm to help these companies become world-leading firms."
"I want to become a consultant at McKinsey."

Paint a bold, lifelong mission that is achieved in steps by hitting certain goals. People remember missions, goals are forgettable steps on the road. Read the Avi Gordon book for more details about this.

3) Visit every school that you're considering. You'll learn way more about each school by spending one hour on campus than you will by reading their brochure or the US News review.

4) There is no excuse not to perform well on the GMAT. Unlike your past work experience, education, etc., you have complete control over your gmat score.

5) Region matters. If you plan on living in the east coast, recruiting will be a lot easier if you go to an east coast school. Same thing for west coast and midwest.

6) Recognize that every school has its strengths and weaknesses. Want to do IB in New York? You should be looking at Stern, Columbia, UVA etc. Tech on the west coast? Look at Berkeley and Stanford. Marketing? Kellogg and Berkeley should be on your list. Some of the schools ranked 10-20 are actually elite in certain fields.

7) Don't assume that you need a MBA. A MBA is a huge financial and time commitment. You can often achieve your life / career goals without a MBA.

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Mar 21, 2016

I'm in the same boat. Just started preparing my GMAT with the intention of applying round 1 for LBS/INSEAD/Cambridge.

Thought about taking the exam 28th of June. Not long hours job (08:30-19:30) and 2 of 4 free weekends a month. Told by a MBB GMAT taker that these 3 months should be more than enough. Do you guys agree?

Mar 21, 2016

There are a few things that as a new MBA applicant you need to figure out/ work on to have a great application!

  1. Work on your quantifiable attributes (GMAT, GPAs, WEetc)

i) Research 5-10 schools that you believe you will be applying to. This list can be composed of 2-3 absolute dream schools, 3-4 good/favorable bets, 4-5 'safe schools', (personally I dont believe in this concept of 'safe' schools as bschools are competitive as f and there is no such thing as a 'safe school'.)

ii) While researching, look at the admitted student profiles of last 2-3 years (median and average GMATs, median and average GPAs and total intake).

iii) The median scores will guide you to set a target score for yourself. You need to give yourself 2-3 months to get to your target score in GMAT (especially important if you have a low-ish GPA or belong to one of the over represented groups (Chinese/Indian engineers etc)). The research will also tell you what schools you can mention while giving the GMAT so that you save on 5 school reports at least.

iv) Do take into account that you might have to re-do GMAT as not many people achieve their target scores on the 1st attempt itself. Give yourself a buffer of 1-2 months for retake. New applications are not live until end-June/early-July. gmat scores are one of the first filters when adcoms review an application. So to be competitive, try to be as close to the median GMAT as possible.

v) Once you are done with your GMAT, give yourself atleast a month to decide your MBA strategy (why MBA, LT/ST goals, why that particular school etc) before you dive into your applications, starting mid-August.

vi) You also need to decide whether you want to go for an admission consultant or go solo with your applications.

vii) DO NOT RESUSE the essays of 1 school for other schools. You should always start with a fresh draft for a new school but can definitely take a few things from other essays. This will prevent you from quoting the name of ABC school in XYZ's applications.

I had R1 deadlines 1 month after I got my target gmat score. It led me to hurry into my essays, resume and application even though I did hire a consultant to help me out with the applications. It was a pain to have everything ready for 4 schools in a month. This was the reason , IMO, that I got dinged after interview at Wharton and Columbia.

  1. Define your qualitative qualities (community involvement, leadership attributes, quality of WE)

i) This is something you should have already been working towards for the past 1-2 years as workplace leadership and quality of WE develop only after you have put in sufficient time. You can not expect to have a meaningful community or professional involvement within 4-5 months.

ii) If you feel you have not been taking too many leadership roles at work (need not be CEO or Director etc type of roles), be proactive now and assume more responsibilities.

iii) Make sure to have these examples handy when you sit down with your recommenders (give them good amount of time to have their recommendations turned in), so that the recommenders can talk about all the relevant examples and in turn reinforce what you write in your essays/applications.

  1. General Comments

i) Keep in mind that different schools value different personality traits differently. Do a very careful and thorough check on this and use these things to differentiate your essay from other 1000 essays.

ii) Visit schools if you can. This tells the adcoms that you have a genuine interest in attending the school. Visits also help you in assessing your FIT with the school. You dont want to attend a school that does not give good vibes.

Finally, do not keep things for the last moment. Things will find a way to come and bite you.

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Mar 21, 2016
  1. Already been said, but visit the schools for sure. Especially within tiers-- I know a bunch of students that shotgun-applied to every school in the "fighting for top 10" tier (fuqua/darden/stern/Ross/whateveritdoesntmatter), which I think is bonkers. They might be similar in the number of people they send to MBB, but the school personalities are different, and the only way to confirm that for yourself is to visit.
  2. Everyone has a story or a theory about why they were admitted or rejected from a school, and are more than willing to share them with the next wave of students. Take them with a dump truck of salt. Nobody has any fucking idea why they did or did not get into school; it's a bizarre cocktail of tangibles and intangibles and interviews and the adcom's mood that day and whether or not they already have a better one of you. Best you can do is visit, or troll LinkedIn, and ask people their backgrounds, and make your own assessment.
  3. Beware the kool aid drinkers. When you are visiting or trying to get people to talk about schools, keep in mind their perspective: they picked this school, or didn't have any other options, so they want to be right about this major life decision, and they've never gotten an MBA anywhere else. The fact that they are volunteering their time to talk to you already is a positive selection bias. Make sure you tactfully ask people about things they would change, or things that surprised them, or other ways to get at a more complete picture.
  4. For Chrissakes, know why it is you want to go to school. I'm not saying you need to open up to everyone about it, or plaster it all over your essay, but just for you, in your own mind, you have to know. I've met plenty of people at school who aren't entirely sure why they came. Sure, they painted a lovely story for the adcoms, but the truth is they were running away from their old life instead of running toward their new one. They come to school without a firm plan of where to recruit or how to pay off their loans or even why they needed a degree in the first place, thinking that "it'll be a transformative experience that will change me as a person" or "it will teach me quantitative skills I couldn't learn anywhere else" or "as long as I have brand [x] on my resume, I'm set for life." For most people, these things do not come true, and for those that do, well, they were starting with low expectations or capabilities or both. A little introspection goes a long way.
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Mar 22, 2016

I won't beat the GMAT drum but I agree with what's been said. 750+ if you're not URM, stop fighting it and start studying.

Essays are important - way more important than people give them credit for and especially if it's an essay prompt that is open ended or allows for some creativity. I'm not saying go all avant garde and expose yourself as a psycho, but if you're on the borderline then you probably need to take some risks. The reality is, there are probably 10 of you applying for the same spot at the same school, and stats/w.e. wise, admissions dgaf because you're all essentially the same. That's where the essay comes in. You're not a beautiful butterfly, so write a good essay.

I always recommend kids who are thinking about applying far enough in advance to go the year prior and open up an application at the school(s) you're interested in and page through it. They don't change that much from year to year (I think) and as you read through what they're asking you for things will probably jump out at you that you wish (italics) you could write in. Basically it will give you a better sense for where your holes are, and a lot of times you can address minor things pretty well given 6-12 months.

Some schools have formal portals for alumni or current students to submit letters of support. I wouldn't stress it too much because it probably doesn't affect 99.5% of decisions, but if you run out of things to do, that's another tool to leverage.

Mar 22, 2016

thanks for the advice guys

especially @Sachin Tendulkar . lol I might be one of the few here who knows who he is. ny roommate is college was indian and used to wake up at godawful times to watch the world cup of 2011

Mar 22, 2016

There were/are/will be no "godawful" times to watch the Indian cricket team play!!

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Mar 22, 2016

If I could add on a question, how important is the undergraduate school and grades when applying for an MBA?

Mar 22, 2016

They again are big filters that adcoms look at. If your UG school is not great or your GPA is low, you will either have to show a higher gmat score or create an alternate transcript to convince the people reading your applications that you can navigate through the MBA courses. Alternately, not a great UG school/low GPA can sometimes be compensated by advanced certifications (CFA etc) alongwith GMAT. If you just starting on your MBA applications, focus on getting the GMAT out of the way.

Mar 23, 2016
Mar 23, 2016