Elizabeth Guiley is a Marketing Manager at AccuWeather, and a 2015 MBA Graduate of Penn State University. While an MBA Student, Elizabeth served as VP of Philanthropy for the MBAA and the VP of Corporate and Alumni Relations for the Marketing Association. As a result of going through the MBA Admissions process Elizabeth learned what it takes to put forth a great application and has been sharing her insights with prospective students, friends and colleagues. She took the time to share some of those thoughts with us today.
Preparing to apply to MBA programs can be a pretty stressful exercise – GMAT, GPA, Essays, Recommendations and more. Applicants take months, even years, to ensure their candidate profile is as attractive as possible. But, maybe your GPA was low in undergrad, maybe your recommendations are not as stellar as you would have hoped. In my case, my GMAT score was low. If, as you review your candidate profile, you find an area that you feel could be a liability, there are a few guidelines, which worked for me, that you can follow as you continue through the process.
Once I was able to see what my application to an MBA program was going to look like, I took a step back and asked myself which schools I could actually gain admission to. I am a huge proponent of always maintaining a stretch goal when working on projects, but with my profile, I knew I should focus on schools ranked from 25-50. Even then, I knew I would have to do some additional networking to get in front of the key decision makers at my target schools so they could understand my motivations and drive – something the GMAT just cannot score. Being realistic allowed me to narrow my focus on what I felt was truly attainable and then put all of my energy into those schools.
Network Like Crazy
After I did an honest evaluation of my candidacy and narrowed my pool to a handful of core schools that I hoped to attend, I networked – like crazy. MBA programs focus on giving candidates the skills to become managers and leaders in their organizations. While scholastic aptitude is certainly an important factor in the success of a manager, drive and determination are also paramount. This high motivation is something that cannot be quantified in an exam, it can only briefly be shown in an admissions essay, where it is most prominent is through interaction and direct communication with others. I knew I needed to work very hard to demonstrate my drive and determination to supplement my low GMAT score. I had to make sure my target school could witness my drive first-hand. First, I had an on-campus visit with the Director of Admissions over a year before my classes would even start. Second, I went to an Admissions event in my hometown. Third, I went to MBA for a Day on campus. I sought advice from current students on how best to prepare for my admissions interview. My last stop was my interview – my final chance to prove how badly I wanted to be there. After having met me and heard my story 3 different times, I was convinced the Director of Admissions already knew whether or not she was going to admit me before we even shook hands. That is a very advantageous situation to be in. Rather than “nice to meet you” pleasantries and attempts at building rapport, I was catching up with her on what had been going on in my life in the 4 weeks since we’d last met. She was well aware of my strengths and weaknesses and what I could offer the program long before my interview.
This is not only important while applying to MBA programs and interacting with current students and program personnel, but is truly important throughout your career. You must stay true to yourself and the goals that you have outlined. Authenticity is highly respected in the business world, especially with those that you collaborate with. Allowing perceived vulnerabilities to be out in the open should also not be frowned upon. Rather, highlight strengths you can offer as a result of those vulnerabilities. My past work experience was in education – very different from business. This was something I could not change about my candidate profile. Thus, I emphasized the different perspective I would have in the classroom than my business trained peers and the value I could bring through seeing problems with a different lens. I made sure to play to my strengths as much as possible. However, when confronted about a skill where I had less experience, I was honest that it was an area of growth for me and I looked forward to working on my development while I was a student. You can never be faulted for being genuine and authentic. Both are highly respected character traits that one is lucky to have and will surely help in the admissions process, as well as throughout your career.
My ability to be realistic, demonstrate my drive through networking, and be genuine throughout the admissions process is undoubtedly why I was admitted to my first choice school. I took the time to let the admissions team get to know me and what motivates me. While GMAT scores & GPAs are very important, MBA programs are admitting a human being – a collection of many different quantitative and qualitative data points. Make sure you give your target school admissions team the opportunity to know each of your data points, and then many strengths you have to offer their program.