Written By Jonathan Deforge. Prep Zone Academy’s MBA Admissions Consultant
Often, I am asked by prospective applicants whether business schools’ applications differ from each other. While business schools tend to make applicants believe that every application has to be entirely bespoke, the truth is actually fairly different.
I personally like to use a metaphor to explain to my applicants what their game plan should be when applying to business schools.
Most business schools operate like conservative investors.
They seek stable investments that will gradually grow in value. They tend to dislike investments prone to high volatility. The key words for them are steady income stream and moderate capital growth. In other words, they play the career placement card. They want to ensure that at least 90% of their graduates will be employed within 3 months of graduation and that top tier firms will hire their graduates. Established top business schools like INSEAD, LBS, Columbia, Tuck or Kellogg will fall in that category.
When it comes to applying to these kind of business schools, I would personally advise, most of the time, to take a conservative approach and develop a clear and efficient career plan. While entrepreneurship is definitely getting traction in every school around the world – as a matter of fact, INSEAD ranks 4th worldwide in VC-backed entrepreneurship – we would avoid to mention such path in the application if prior exposure to entrepreneurship is very limited or none. Similarly, GMAT score will be more important to these schools as it will be considered as a great indicator to reduce the school’s risk exposure.
Some business schools operate like balanced investors.
They seek a somewhat more volatile portfolio and expect a good capital growth over the long term. Although they are willing to take more risks, a rollercoaster ride is rather unlikely under normal market conditions. These schools also mostly play the employability card but their placements in top tier firms can be lower. To balance it, they increase the percentage of family business-owners and aspiring entrepreneurs in their classroom. These schools are usually younger and less established and increase their risk exposure to build their brand. The best example would be schools like IE Business School, Oxford and Yale. Some of the schools that take a more balanced approach are more established business schools trying to move into the VC Funds threshold. Think of schools like Chicago Booth, Wharton and MIT Sloan.
In most cases, we would approach the application in a very similar way as when applying to more conservative schools. However, if an applicant has a lower GMAT score, we would tend to build an application where entrepreneurship is at the center and try to convince the school of the potential of the vision. We have had success placing mid-600 GMAT in schools like Booth and MIT but almost none placing applicants with similar scores in schools like INSEAD or LBS.
The VC Funds
The world’s two most prestigious business schools in the world share the same mission. In a nutshell, educating leaders who change the world. The fact that they receive thousands of applications every year allow them to behave like true VC funds. They understand that the majority of the early-stage investments made will fail. In fact, multiple failures are expected. The hope is one big winner — like Grab or GoJek — will more than make up for it. Additionally, they will keep a majority of their portfolio in a more balanced way and still play the corporate card. Both Stanford and Harvard place hundreds of students in top tier firms. But while INSEAD places almost 50% of its class into Consulting with close to 250 graduates joining an M/B/B, Stanford only places 16% in Consulting.
As a result, the key word when it comes to applying to Stanford and HBS is impact. It is crucial that you approach those two applications in a very unique way. While these schools have the highest GMAT average, they can easily absorb lower scores when they really like a profile. Last year one of our dual admits (GMAT 670) was rejected by a top European MBA program. Your achievements, work experience and skills will be used to assess your potential, but what matters to them most is your vision. You must define a vision of impact that you can link to your past experiences.
Now that you know more about their investment behaviours, craft the perfect investment pitch for all!