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What is an MBA?

The MBA does not swap your $43,000 tuition bill for a guarantee that you will be able to pay off your student loan in two years and get rich quick. But those who have done a stint in a branded B-school agree that the MBA gives you the quant skills, and connections to opportunities to skip up the corporate ladder.
BY Braingain Staff Writer |   01-08-2012
Introduction

The MBA's $43,000 tuition bill is not a guarantee that you will be able to pay off your student loan in two years and get rich quick. But branded B-school graduates agree their MBA gave them the skills and connections to shimmy up the corporate ladder.

Most aspiring B-school students see an MBA from a top school as a guaranteed investment. There is no dispute that when the economy is in good shape it translates into roaring demand for newly minted MBAs.
MBA jumpstarts your earning capacity and insures you won’t get stuck spinning the wheels in a low-pay, dead-beat job

By the same logic things begin to unravel if the economy tanks and slips into a recession. The MBA's $50,000 tuition bill is not a guarantee that you will be able to pay off your student loans in two years and get rich quick. But branded B-school graduates agree that their MBA gave them the quantitative skills and connections to shimmy up the corporate ladder.

It jumpstarts your earning capacity and insures you won’t get stuck spinning the wheels in a low-pay, dead-beat job. It also gives you unbelievable options. The blue-blooded investment banks, consulting firms and companies are always going to come to good schools for networking and recruiting events.

Bigger paychecks for MBAs

Graduates from top American B-schools like Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Columbia, Chicago, Kellogg, Stern, Sloan and Darden are commanding heftier salaries than their counterparts did a year ago, according to a new survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). The median starting salary offered to alumni from the class of 2010 was $78,819, up from $75,000 in 2009, but below the $80,000 enjoyed by graduates in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Even Wharton is not rigidly fixed on what’s right for someone and will admit a gifted younger candidate.

The report says these post-recession graduates are faring better than their counterparts did following the last recession in the 2003. At 78%, the at-the-time-of-graduation employment level of the MBA classes of 2010 worldwide is six percentage points higher than 2003, when it was 72%. This year 21% of MBAs landed up in the Finance sector, 19% in the Products and Services sector, 15% in the Consulting sector and 13% in the Technology sector. A substantial 10% of the MBAs polled had taken up jobs in the Non-profit sector or Government.

"Companies are managing through an unprecedented economic environment," said Dave Wilson, president and CEO of GMAC. "It is precisely because of these pressures that they place such a high value on newly minted MBAs to help them survive and thrive."

For those considering applying for an MBA program, a telling result of the satisfaction of business school graduates is that 76% of responders believed that they could not have obtained their current job without their business degree. Additionally, 96% of the alumni surveyed rated the value of their degree as outstanding, excellent, or good.

Timing the MBA

It is crucial to pick the right time to pursue a master's degree in business. The decision has to be in synch with your family responsibilities and finances, as well as the strength of your application. It is quite rare for branded US business schools to admit anyone without any work experience.

The average class age at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania for example, is 28 and less than 2 percent of students there had fewer than two years of work experience.
Don’t kill your chances by being unprepared -- and do not rush for the test just ahead of B-school application deadlines

This should not deter younger candidates with less than the traditional two to four years of work experience. Even Wharton is not rigidly fixed on what’s right for someone and will admit a gifted younger candidate. But you have to be really gifted.

“The pendulum has gone too far in one direction in terms of the younger candidates applying to B-school. It has not kept pace with the overall pace of applications. We want more young applicants applying. The goal is to bring the average age down in the next couple of years,” Derek Bolton, director of admissions at Stanford, was quoted as saying in “The Best 290 Business Schools.”

Harvard Business School says on its website; “It is important for you to assess your own readiness when deciding when to apply.”

The Nuts-And-Bolts of the Admission Criteria

Intelligent essays tie all the pieces of the application together. They not only tell a story but give a key insight into your personality

Most American MBA admission boards review your prior academic performance, the results of the GMAT, and, if applicable, TOEFL and/or IELTS, and your work experience.

There is no particular previous course of study required to apply; but you must demonstrate the ability to be able to handle analytical and quantitative concepts that B-school will throw at you.

You will also have to carve out time to work on multiple MBA essays ahead of looming admission deadlines. The application process can be punishing if you are applying to four or five schools. All schools have their own essay questions and word limits.

Passkey to GMAT scoring

The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is used by B-schools around the world to assess applicants. It was created in 1954 and remains the benchmark test for business and management programs at the leading business schools globally.

Seek out references from people who know you well It is better to ask someone junior who knows you well rather than a star corporate CEO who barely knows your name.

The GMAT has now evolved into a three-and-half-hour computer adaptive test (CAT) with multiple choice math and verbal sections as well as an essay section.

The test begins with the Analytical Writing Assessment section containing two essay questions. The “Official Guide to the GMAT” published by the educational Testing Service preps you for what to expect. It has drawn up a list of 150-odd topics that often come up in the official test. You have 30 minutes to write each essay.

After the essay is a multiple-choice section which has a 75-minute math section and 75-minute verbal section. The Math section consists of problem-solving questions and data-sufficiency questions. “Data-sufficiency questions require you to determine whether you have been given enough information to solve a problem. The good news about these questions is that you don’t actually have to solve the problem; the bad news is that these questions can be very tricky,” warns the “Best 290 Business Schools” bestseller.

You must demonstrate the ability to be able to handle analytical and quantitative concepts that B-school will throw at you.

Once you've elected to see your scores, the CAT system will ask you to select the schools that should get your score report. The CAT system provides a complete list of schools, and you can select up to five at a time without incurring an additional fee. Anytime later you'll have to fork over $25 to the GMAC for each score report.

It is a good idea to scribble your test scores down on your scratch paper before you leave the testing room. The supervisor will allow you to copy it out onto another sheet of paper to take home before leaving the testing room.

Number crunching is an inescapable part of B-school and it can be tough to get a competitive score (a.k.a. 700+) without hitting 80 percent in the Math section. According to admission pros, many B-schools adhere to an 80/80 rule or benchmark, meaning they'd like to see students hit at least the 80th percentile in each section.

Retake the Test

You can retake the GMAT test again if you get a weak score. The jury is still out on how many times it is okay to retake the test for a candidate without sending a red flag to a potential school. Keeping your GMAT attempts to two tries is best, say most admission pros.

Don’t kill your chances by being unprepared -- and do not rush for the test just ahead of B-school application deadlines. Getting the entire application together is stressful enough at that point. The average GMAT study time is 2-4 months. At the more big-name schools you’ll need a higher GMAT score to stay in contention.
A good interview may be used to fill in the blanks in a borderline case so always take it seriously.

You can take the GMAT exam once every 31 calendar days and no more than five times in a rolling 12-month period.

However, it is counter-productive to obsess over the GMAT because some feel it is only one data point for B-schools. They just need to see you have a decent score to take your application seriously. A 700-plus score, however, is the unwritten threshold for most Ivy League B-schools. The GMAT scores ultimately stack up with your essays, recommendation letters, work experience and interview to finally tilt the admission decision in your favour.

The Essay is the Clincher

It may come as a bit of a surprise for quant jocks that it is finally a perfect piece of prose that gets you into a top B-school. The GMAT reveals little about you beyond the fact that you won’t fall through the cracks in a high-pressure B-school. Your good grades and work history again reassures the school that you are a consistent performer. But it is the essays that really underscore your Unique Selling proposition (USP) and breathe life into an application.

It may come as a bit of a surprise for quant jocks that it is finally a perfect piece of prose that gets you into a top B-school

Intelligent essays tie all the pieces of the application together. They not only tell a story but highlight your experiences, skills, background and give a key insight into your personality. Make no mistake; the essays are expected to give more than dry answers to leading questions. B-schools are looking for some colour and personality when they are sifting through mounds of applications.

Be careful to get the right tone. Highlight your leadership skills and extracurricular achievements without coming across as incredibly smug with yourself. All schools want candidates that can think and write clearly.

Letters of Recommendation

You need to be careful about choosing your references because you won’t see the recommendation letter which is mailed directly to the school. The admissions office will have its antennae up if one of your referees says something that blows a hole in what you have been pitching in your essays. The facts have to add up.

It is fair to keep your reference writers in the loop about stuff you have highlighted in your application.

Number crunching is an inescapable part of B-school and it can be tough to get a competitive score (a.k.a. 700+) without hitting 80 percent in the Math section

Seek out references from people who know you well. Scan each application guideline on choosing your references. Most schools want two professional references. But some may want a third academic reference.

Most people are capable of making a good call on who to dial up as a reference writer. Roping in a boss who is ambivalent about you is plain stupid -- the recommendation is likely to be flat and deathly boring. It is better to stray on the side of caution and not ask your current boss if you think it is going to set off unhealthy undercurrents if he or she finds out that you plan on leaving too early.

You also don’t need to ask a very senior person in the company. It is better to ask someone junior who knows you well rather than a star corporate CEO who barely knows your name. It is a big bonus if you can coax a recommendation letters out of alumni. A former graduate knows exactly what your recommendation should include. The letter is worth its weight in gold because the alma mater is more inclined to go with the recommendation. It might push a borderline case past the B-school gate keepers.

The Interview

Not all B-schools attach equal importance to the interview. Some US schools don’t even interview candidates although most are now warming up to it. It is common for some US schools to conduct telephone interviews. They might even ask alumni to meet with and interview a candidate out in India and then send in a report.

A good interview may be used to fill in the blanks in a borderline case so always take it seriously.

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