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Application Success

The key to creating successful applications includes taking the time to put together an appropriate, sophisticated marketing effort. Applications for business masters programs tend to be substantially more complicated than those for undergraduate study. The prospective student body is more international and from a wide range of educational and work backgrounds, necessitating that multiple criteria be used in selecting a class/study group. Similarly, the data these programs seek tends to be extensive.
 

Typical essay questions

• What are your goals for the future and how can a masters degree at this time help you to reach them?
• How has your interest in this subject developed?
• Why have you chosen this program?
• What are your expectations of the program?
• What abilities and credentials/qualifications do you have to do postgraduate work?
• What are your most substantial accomplishments?
• What are your strengths and weaknesses?
• What have you done that demonstrates your leadership potential?
• Describe meaningful cross-cultural experiences you have had.

Marketing yourself

Application success Effective marketing not only requires that you maximise your strengths and minimise your weaknesses, but also show that you will fit in at the school, while also standing out as a unique individual. Start by assessing what you want to gain from postgraduate study. Then learn as much as possible about the programs best suited to your needs; you need to know what they are looking for in their candidates so you can present yourself in the best possible way.

When applying, you have the opportunity to present your objective data – credentials/qualifications and experience – in their most favourable light. You will also include important additional material for the admissions committee.

Your application vehicles will be many. Essays reveal not just your interests and desires, successes and failures; they also reveal your writing skills and ability to sustain a tightly reasoned argument. Recommendations/references reveal the extent to which you’ve impressed people with whom you have studied and worked. Interviews reveal not only your oral communication skills, but also your personality and interpersonal skills. Follow these tips to ensure that all the components of your application best reflect your skills and aptitudes.

Essays

If you intend to rely on your ‘numbers’ ( GMAT score , undergraduate record, etc) to get you admitted to business school, you will be missing the opportunity to improve your chances dramatically. In fact, the better the program, the more likely it is that the objective data in your application will not determine your fate and that the essays will weigh heavily in the decision.

Admissions officers will judge you on the basis of what your essays reveal about your writing ability (including your ability to persuade, structure and maintain a well-reasoned argument, and communicate in an interesting and professional manner), honesty and maturity, understanding of what the programme offers and requires – and how well you would contribute to it, and clear (and believable) ideas about where you are headed. They will want to learn what you have accomplished, who you are as a person, and how well you can communicate.

Thus, essays offer you the chance to show schools who you really are. Take advantage of this opportunity. Referees can show only a part of who you are, since most of them are professors and have thus seen you in only one context, often for a limited time. (The same is true for employers or internship sponsors.) Similarly, interviews are not under your control to the same extent as the essays, which can be rewritten and re-examined to make sure the ‘best you’ is presented.

Your essays can and should present a clear picture of you, but they do not need to tell all. Sketching in the main points with appropriate stories will show who you are. In fact, whenever possible, try to tell a story rather than write an essay. The task will seem lighter.

This is your chance to choose which parts of yourself to highlight, and to determine how people should view them. This is a precious opportunity take full advantage of the chance to colour your readers’ interpretations.

Recommendations/references

Top interviewing tips

Establish your objectives – eg making a good impression, conveying your strengths, and explaining what you could potentially bring to a program.
Prepare for the most likely questions. Be ready to explain why you want this degree (and why now), why you want this program, and what you can contribute.
Know the program and the school, and be ready to ask questions. The school wants to see that you are curious and enthusiastic about the program.
Practise. Undertake mock interviews with friends who are applying to similar programs. Consider interviewing first with the schools that matter least to you, in order to gain experience and confidence.
In the interview, listen for clues as to what the interviewer values. Picking up on these values will help you to establish a rapport.

Schools generally ask for recommendations/references from two referees. If you have not yet had substantial internship or work experience, you are likely to obtain both from professors. On the other hand, if you have had such experience, you will probably be better served by obtaining at least one recommendation/reference from the workplace.

There are three cardinal rules that should be remembered when choosing your referees:

Rule 1: choose people who know you well. Don’t choose people who are famous or important if they won’t be able to discuss your candidacy and performance in detail. Instead, choose people who can make the recommendation/reference credible by illustrating their points with anecdotes that show you at your best.

Rule 2: choose people who genuinely like you – they will take the time to write a polished, carefully considered recommendation/reference.

Rule 3: choose people who can address more than one of the key subjects: your academic and intellectual ability, your professional and leadership potential, your personal attributes, and your career intentions.

It’s often worth scheduling a formal meeting with your referees, and providing them with written information about your plans and goals, and reminders of your accomplishments. At a minimum, explain why you are seeking a masters degree, why you have chosen the programs you have, and your application (positioning) strategy. You might also give them an outline of what you want discussed, including the examples that you think best demonstrate your capabilities and performance.

Interviews

Interviews offer schools an ideal opportunity to learn much more about you. Some things are not readily apparent without a face-to-face meeting, such as your charm, persuasiveness, presence, and business manner. The increased emphasis upon soft skills in postgraduate business education (and in business) means that personality and social skills are considered more important than they were in the past. Interviews also provide an opportunity to probe any areas that were insufficiently explained in the application.

Basic forms and data sheets

Pay attention to how you present yourself in the basic forms and data sheets, including those where you describe your education and work history and respond to short-answer questions. Take care that what you say here is consistent with how you are presented in the essays, interviews and recommendations/references.

Making an application

Most applicants underestimate the amount of time that a successful application requires. The reality is that many of the necessary steps are very time-consuming. For example, contacting a referee, briefing him or her, and allowing time to write a recommendation/reference will take weeks (or months) rather than days.

You should begin the process as far as possible in advance of the program start. Given the early application dates for some programs, beginning 12 months in advance may not put you ahead of the curve. Apply as early as you can, unless you expect your credentials/qualifications to improve dramatically later in the application period.

Succeeding in the business masters application process requires strategic thinking, sound planning, organisational skill, persuasive ability and plenty of hard work – in other words, it’s good training for the degree itself.

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