How to become a Baker Scholar

 George Fisher Baker (1840-1931), the first major benefactor of Harvard Business School and namesake of the Baker Scholars

George Fisher Baker (1840-1931), the first major benefactor of Harvard Business School and namesake of the Baker Scholars

Case method classes in business school are unlike any other academic environment one will encounter. They require diligent preparation, excellent communication skills, and the ability to quickly analyze an evolving business problem in front of your peers. Class participation at many case method schools account for half of one’s grade. That’s the situation at Harvard Business School, where even though there is an official policy of grade non-disclosure, there is stiff competition for top marks.

At the conclusion of each course, students are assigned one of four grades designated as Category I, II, III, and IV.

Category I - given to the top 15-25% of students

Category II - given to the next 65-75% in a section. The actual number of Category II grades is subject to the number of Category I grades assigned.

Category III - given to the lowest-performing 10% of students in an elective curriculum course section.

Category IV - seldom assigned; designates failure of achievement and/or commitment and, therefore, failure to meet minimum standards of the course. If Category IV is used in a course, the combined number of students who receive Categories III and IV must equal the lowest 10% of the elective course section.

Those whose accumulation of “Net Category I” grades (i.e. the sum of their “I”s minus the sum of their “III”s and "IV"s) puts them in the top 5% of their class (over both years) earn the distinction of “Baker Scholar,” an honor named in memory of George F. Baker the "Dean of American Banking" who literally built HBS. Those who receive 5 or more “IIIs” face suspension from the program pending a review by the academic board (something called “hitting the screen”).

What steps can you take to make Baker Scholar and avoid hitting the screen?

1. Invest in your team.

Case method schools often assign students to discussion groups to analyze the case before the class. See our article on how to get the most of your Discussion Group here. These people are not there to merely suck up an hour of time you might otherwise spend sleeping – they are there to make you look good by challenging your understanding, assumptions, and analysis private before your classmates will attack them in public. This really only works if you foster trust, cooperation, and reciprocity among your discussion group, so before you get to work, get to know them first and foster the comradery you would want in a high-performing team.

2. Work smarter with “Case Captains”.

Read our article on that system here. Until you get really good at preparing cases they take 2-3 hours each to read, analyze, and write-up. That means that you’ll need to prepare 6-9 hours in advance of a three-case, easily sucking up any time that you might otherwise spend on other productive activities such as networking and recruiting. By using Case Captains, you can free up time on nights when you’re not on duty to attend social events to keep you sane, and recruiting events to keep you employed. Plus, if something happens and you’re not able to read the case, the Case Captain system throws you a lifeline to see participate in class.

3. Enlist a feedback buddy.

It’s really hard to be on the dance floor and to visualize yourself from the balcony at the same time. Likewise, it’s very difficult to accurately assess how you come across with your comments in class and what you need to improve. That’s why you should enlist a feedback buddy to keep special notes on the things you say. Things to have them look for include (1) the logical flow of your comment (was it easy to follow?), (2) your volume (could you be heard?), (3) its relevancy (did it fit in with the flow of the conversation or did it take the class on a tangent?), (4) the reaction of the professor and the class (positive or negative?), (5) any public speaking ticks to correct (you’re practicing a skill when you speak in public, practice it correctly!)

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4. Keep a comment log.

Related to the above. Note on a I-III scale how well you think you did with your comment. This will give you a sense of how well you think you should be doing going into mid-term feedback and will help you understand where you need to invest your time to improve your grades. Noting when you speak in class will also tell you when you are due for a comment. When you’re overdue (i.e. it’s been more than three classes since your last one) you might want to start expecting a cold call. Having air-tight analysis pre-prepared in such a situation will make you look like a rockstar, but you’ll probably only be able to do that when you know the cold call is coming!

5. No case-facts or chip-shots

Every comment you make in class is graded. Each one is assigned a potential maximum value based on its level of difficulty (think of the way gymnastics and diving are scored by “degree of difficulty” in the Olympics). Questions where the answer is a case fact are by their nature incredibly easy. The best you can score by answering such a "chip-shot" flawlessly is a low “II.” If you mess it up, you’re in for a low “III”. Professors specifically ask these questions for students who are extremely nervous or under-prepared so that they can get their participation grade and get back out of the conversation. If you’re hoping to do anything more than not fail out of the school, you should avoid these questions at all costs.

6. Don’t speak in the first 30 minutes of class.

Related to the above. This is where all the case-fact questions are asked. The questions with a level of difficulty in the “I” range come usually at the two-thirds or three-quarters mark.

7. Quantity has a quality.

Every professor will say that the quality of your comments matter more than the quantity. However, after a certain point, quantity achieves a quality all its own. This happens for a couple reasons. First, faculty work to balance the airtime between students, so if you’re always speaking, the professor won’t want to waste a (dreaded) cold call, when they can use that to instead draw quieter students into the conversation. Second, and related, if you know that you won’t be cold called, you won’t have to play defense by answering chip-shots and case-fact questions. This gives you the freedom to only raise your hand to speak when you have a truly great comment. Last, while faculty say that quality is much more important than quantity, quantity is much easier to measure and consequently has greater weight for grading purposes.

8. Dig past the obvious answer

Most cases are meant to teach an incremental topic or framework. You know that the finance class on using comparable companies to calculate the WACC will involve calculations of comparable companies’ Beta. Don’t be content just calculating the other Betas; chances are all of the other smart kids calculated it too. Instead, ask one question deeper. Something like, are these even the right comparables? What do their Betas tell me about the strength of their firms? What does this WACC tell me I should invest in?  

9. Make one point and make it well.

Comments with one thesis are easier to execute and easier for the class to follow. Complex comments referencing five points made over the past 30 minutes disrupt the flow and won’t be appreciated.

10. Erect signposts.

"Signposting" is the act of providing meta-structure to your comment in order to aid in its understanding. Example, “I disagree that the CEO should fire her CFO for three reasons. The first reason is that…”. This will help the class understand the journey that your comment is going to take them on, as well as then they can expect it to be over.

11. Let overripe comments go

Every comment has a moment in the case conversation. When the moment for your comment comes and goes, let it pass. Saying it anyway will disrupt the flow of the conversation and make it look like you were not listening to your classmates (i.e. being disrespectful). There is nothing more self-denying and zen than sitting on a comment you were sure would score a home run after your team has taken the field again.

12. Visit office hours.

Professors are people too and they appreciate getting to know you outside of class. Making one or two appearances shows your interest in their subject, and can provide great opportunities to ask questions that you never got to in class. Plus, professors can be valuable assets after graduation and visiting with them can really boost your professional network.

See related articles:

How to improve classroom comments with a Feedback Buddy

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Case-based MBA programs are all about the comments you make in class. Those comments make up a huge part of your grade and set the first impressions that your classmates will have of you. That’s why it is so important to (1) understand how you come across when you make your comments and (2) use that information to improve. I suppose you could accomplish that by filming yourself on your smartphone, though that would likely break any rules your school has about using electronic devices in class. A much easier solution is to enlist what is called a “Feedback Buddy” to to help evaluate your comments.

What Feedback Buddies Do

It’s really hard to be on the dance floor and to visualize yourself from the balcony at the same time. Likewise, it’s very difficult to accurately assess how you come across with your comments in class and what you need to improve. That’s why you should enlist a feedback busy to keep special notes on the things you say. The specific things that you might want them to note when you speak are:

(1)  The logical flow of your comment (was it easy to follow?)

(2)  Your volume (could you be heard?)

(3)  Your comment’s relevancy (did it fit in with the flow of the conversation or did it take the class on a tangent)

(4)  the reaction of the professor and the class (positive or negative?)

(5)  Any public speaking ticks to correct (you’re practicing a skill when you speak in public, practice it correctly!)

Who should you choose?

An ideal feedback buddy would sit on the other side of the classroom from you so that they can see you clearly when you make your comment and ensure that your voice carries across the room. Choosing a feedback buddy is also a great way to get to know someone better so think about picking someone you might not otherwise socialize with, or someone who had a pre-MBA career you’d like to learn more about.

If there is exceptional demand for Feedback Buddies in your section, don’t be afraid to form networks that you can use to get insights from many different people.

How should you give and receive feedback?

After your choose your buddy, keep a comment log for them on a separate piece of paper, noting the details mentioned above. You’ll want it to be something easy to take from class to class that you could just hand them if need be. Make sure to set initial expectations that you want real, honest feedback, not nice words to make you feel good. Then meet every 2-3 days (perhaps between classes), or whenever you have ~5 comments to debrief with the other person.

You’ll likely want to meet more frequently earlier in the first year when you are still learning how to play the comment “game” and want to iterate more rapidly.

Case Captains: the key to working smarter in discussion group

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Until you get really good at preparing cases, each one takes 2-3 hours to read, analyze, and write-up. That means that you’ll need to prepare 6-9 hours in advance of a typical three-case-day.

A few people each year come to business school purely for the academic experience and gleefully invest this time in their classes. However most people don’t, and the thought of academic demands taking away all the time that someone might otherwise spend on productive activities such as networking and recruiting might make them reconsider going to business school.

So how do you fix this problem? Two words: Case Captains. Here’s how it works.

1. Divide work, assign responsibility.

On Friday, have your discussion group assign each case coming up in the next week to a different member. That person will serve as the “case captain” for that class on that day. Your discussion group can choose to rotate the assignment for each class, assign cases to members who have prior work experience that is relevant to the topic of that case, or even allow members who want to grow in certain areas (e.g. accounting and finance) to take the lead on those. Just make sure that every case has one person assigned to be in charge of it.

2. Write-up and read-ahead

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While the expectation is that everyone will still read the case and come to discussion group prepared to discuss it, the case captain will conduct special analysis on it. The case captain will send out a “read-ahead” quickly summarizing the case and their key findings ahead of the conversation. If there is an excel model, they will send that out too, taking special precaution to do a thorough job on it and to format it in a way that will be easily legible to others.

3. Captain the ship

On the day of the case, the Case Captain will lead that conversation in discussion group and answer as many questions as they can. Of course, other members of discussion group will come with their own analyses, which may challenge that of the Case Captain, but at least one person will take responsibility to become an expert in that subject.

The Benefits

Case Captains give you peace-of-mind to take advantage of all the important extracurricular offerings of business school without having to sacrifice sleep or exercise to do your school work. On nights when you’re not the case captain, you can go out safe in the knowledge that you will have a lifeline if the case turns out to be especially hard to crack. The Case Captain system is also flexible; if you know you’re going to spend a night out later in the week at a recruiting event, you can move around your Case Captaining responsibilities so that you’re not on-duty the morning after. Lastly, the Cast Captain system is fairer. In some discussion groups, one or two people might otherwise take the lead for analyzing every case. With this system, the duty is spread out and the problem of free riders is fixed.

How to discuss your extracurriculars in your application

I often come across discussion threads where people ask others to evaluate their odds of admission. Many of them will include discussions of community involvements or extra curricular involvements such as these.

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Often these sections exceed the length of their education and professional work experience.

The problem is that these applicants have given their extracurricular activities as much real-estate on their profile as their work experience, but the former is not nearly as important as the latter. The dirty truth is that business schools generally do not really care about your extracurriculars at all. This is for two reasons.

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First, strategically, whereas college admissions has retrospective criteria (what have you done to earn this spot?), business school admissions has prospective criteria (e.g. what will you do with this opportunity?). This is because an MBA is an entirely elective degree. Whereas you need a JD to practice law, no one needs an MBA to practice business. Therefore, any good application needs to explain what the candidate will do with the degree on their professional journey, and even insinuate what negative consequences will befall them and the world if they don’t obtain it. The answer to this question lies in work experience and narrative, not in your free-time hobbies.

Second, tactically, extracurriculars are just not as valuable to business schools. Colleges (especially elite colleges) really value the community experience and look for students to take leadership in this important area. That’s why they give steep scholarships to athletes and little admissions boosts students who will round out difficult-to-fill spots in the orchestra (like oboe players). Talking about your extra curricular activities on your college essay made sense because you had something of value to offer to the school. In contrast, the whole point of business school is to secure an internship and later a full-time job offer. Almost all extracurricular activities exist to advance that singular goal. For example, the finance club meetings will either be to network with prospective banks or to tutor students on building models in excel. Playing the oboe at business school gives you a lot of money in a worthless currency.

The right way to talk about extracurriculars

There are two ways that extracurriculars can be useful in your application. The first is when they accentuate your Narrative. Say that you are a consultant who wants to come to business school in order to improve economic opportunities in Latin America. While this may be a sincere and profound interest, it is a hard story to tell if your work experience has been entirely in the United States, even if it gave you relevant skills. That’s because you need to show the admissions committee that you are already working on this mission; if your mission instead seems disconnected to your past professional experience, your mission comes across as insincere and your application uncompelling. Say that one of your community involvements is with a Habitat for Humanity chapter in Latin America, or volunteering for a community organization helping to integrate Latin American immigrants. Even a quick mention of those activities could really bolster your narrative.

Second, they humanize you and make you seem more interesting. Reading MBA applications gets boring really quickly. Anything you can do to pique the interest of the adcom plays to your favor. On your resume, in your personal section, include a few interesting or surprising activities, hobbies, or accomplishments. “Running” is not interesting and “traveling” is not surprising, so don’t include those.

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How to read and prepare an HBS-style MBA Case

 HBS is among the most prolific producers of Business School case studies

HBS is among the most prolific producers of Business School case studies

MBA classrooms all over the world use cases to teach. Each case tells the story of a business problem from the point-of-view of a “case protagonist.” Cases ground a future conversation about what the protagonist should do, and the goal of that conversation is to arrive at some insight that students can use when facing similar business challenges in the future.

While many business schools write cases for use in their classrooms as well as others, all cases generally follow the same format: a page setting up the situation, followed by some pages of background historical information, a longer narrative of the problem, the decision to be made, and concluding with numerous pages of data and exhibits. The cases are short, but are meant to be comprehensive for the following case conversation. This makes the case conversation more realistic as business leaders often have to lead their firms through uncertainty and with limited information.

Sounds simple, right?

In fact, it’s deceptively simple. Cases end up being remarkably dense, making them much harder and slower to read than a Wall Street Journal article. Their stories open up a million doors, making it difficult to tell where the case conversation might actually go. Their data can be analyzed in a million different ways, each taking up valuable time that could be spent preparing for other classes or recruiting interviews. So how can you work smarter and prepare the case properly?

1. Know where the case fits into the curriculum

The first case in a class is a special introductory case meant to include and highlight all of the topics you’ll cover over the course. The last case is a capstone summarizing all of the concepts previously covered. Usually one or both of the two were previously used as the basis for a final exam. All the other cases in the sequence (except those meant to accommodate the personal schedules of visiting case protagonists) are meant to illustrate an incremental concept within a module. Look at the syllabus for clues as to what those concepts might be so that you can run the analysis before class. Examples might include calculating the appropriate WACC in finance or analyzing the 4 P’s in marketing.

2. Before you start reading, set a timer

Parkinson's Law states that work will expand to consume all the resources available to it. The same goes for cases. There is always another analysis to run; always more investopedia articles to read. Rather than allow the case to eat up your schedule, set a timer and “time box” your analysis. When the timer goes off, stop working on that case and move onto the next one.

Shoot to get your reading and analysis down to an hour or less per case by the end of first year. At the start, you’ll probably need to give yourself something closer to 90-120 minutes.

3. Get your bearings

Before you read the case cover to cover, skim it to get your bearings. First, read the entire first page, then the first line of each paragraph, and then all of the exhibits to orient yourself. Understand that cases are each meant to stand alone as a document, and so they include a lot of extra detail that anyone with Google can just look up for themselves. By skimming you can avoid the red herrings and focus on the details that matter. Ask: what is the decision that has to be made? What are the immediate causes of the central problem? And who are the stakeholders?

4. Skip historical background section

This is usually on pages 2-4. You can read it if you're personally interested, but it is almost never relevant.

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5. Develop a note taking system.

I’m a fan of 4-color pens. Here is my system: black is for all primary notes; blue is for organizing primary notes, taking secondary notes, and making revisions; red is for all names and contact information; green is for all to-dos and follow-ups.

As I read a case, I box all stakeholders and circle all numbers in red. I take notes to answer discussion questions in black. I note all questions I want to look-up or ask my discussion group in green. I save blue to write a summary of the case discussion and the major takeaways at the top of the first page of the case when there is only 5-10 min left in class.

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6. Apply any frameworks you have been given

Frameworks that get introduced in one class tend to make repeat appearances in the following classes. Most first-year classes spend the first half of each session drawing out these frameworks on the blackboard and then filling them in, fact by fact. If you’re just looking to make a quick "chip shot" comment in class, offering a piece of analysis to fill these frameworks can be a great way to do that. To calm your nerves and give yourself a lifeline in case of a cold call, fill in the full framework in advance so you won’t be caught off guard in the moment. If you’re gunning for a good grade and a next-level comment, don’t use the frameworks to answer "case fact questions" – instead use them to see further faster. Use them to see what the analytical conclusion will be and then be ready to make sense of it once it is revealed.

For example, in marketing class I just took the summary slides that the professor showed us with the frameworks on them, deleted the text, printed them out, and took notes on that sheet. Because I did that, I would often understand earlier than my peers which channels were most profitable for a company to use, which price points to target, or which product lines to discontinue.

7. Only conduct hypothesis-based analysis

Even a short case has too much data to run all the numbers. Plus “boiling the ocean” is not how business leaders make decisions anyway. Instead develop 1-2 theories as to why the the business is facing the problem that it is and then run the numbers to see if you’re right. Or, if you think you know what the key takeaway from the case will be -- such as calculating beta for comparable financial analysis (see #1 in this list) -- run just that analysis.

8. Ask if you have any relevant experience worth sharing

Those comments tend to be memorable, bring the section closer together, and yield better grades.

9. Limit your notes to 1-2 pages, print single sided

They’ll need to be short enough to reference in the heat of the moment. You won’t want to be flipping pages back and forth either.

10. Remember that preparation does not end when class starts

Keep taking notes as the class goes on, either in a notebook or in the case. I print out my case notes in black and take notes by hand in blue. By taking notes, I can often anticipate where the class is going to go and cut it off at the pass with a great comment.

11. When there are 5 minutes left, begin taking summary notes

In blue, if you're using my method. See #5 in this list. That way you won't forget the lesson, either for the final exam or for use beyond.

12. Evaluate yourself

Ask how well you did at (1) finding the “big question” of the case, (2) identifying the key data, (3) analyzing that data correctly, (4) using that data to arrive at the right decision, and (5) communicating that decision logically and persuasively in class.

How to make the most of your MBA discussion group

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Case method schools often assign students to discussion groups of about 6 people to analyze cases before class. A good discussion group can really make your MBA experience by helping you make better comments in class, figure out challenging concepts, and work smarter so you can spend more time on networking or recruiting. Members of a well-functioning discussion group often also become close friends, share useful perspectives from their previous work experience, and can help one another in their respective job searches. Conversely, a bad discussion group is terrible. Imagine having to sacrifice an hour or more of sleep every day to sit with people who you don’t like and who aren’t helping you.

So what habits separate good discussion groups from bad ones? How can you make the most out of your discussion group?

1. Launch your team at the bar.

You are going to spend an hour of quality time every day with the members of your discussion group every morning. That’s often more than you’ll spend talking with any other friend you’ll have at school! The most effective discussion groups recognize that above all else they are social groups and treat one another as friends – attending each other’s parties, grabbing lunch together, and supporting one another at their club events. Therefore, before you get down to business, get to know each other first. Take turns going over each other’s life stories – and not just the resume bullets. For maximum effect, do so over a pint.

2. Set norms.

What time are you going to meet each morning? Where are you going to meet? Will you expect that everyone has thoroughly read the case, or are you okay if people skim it during the discussion? Will you communicate over email, GroupMe, or Slack? Having different answers to these questions is a recipe for tension. So make everything explicit! As you launch your discussion group, agree upon and write down the norms your group will use to operate. Perhaps the easiest way to arrive at these norms is to go around and discuss the teams each of you have worked on and what made them work well or poorly. You can also have a frank conversation about what behaviors piss each of you off.

3. Enforce norms.

People are going to be late to discussion group. So what are you going to do about it when it happens? If your discussion group does nothing you’ll create a new norm that it’s okay to be late. Soon people will be arriving so late that it impacts your work as a discussion group while others might stop coming all together. While it may seem like the nice thing to do is to shrug off infractions, the respectful thing is to enforce them. As you get your group norms, set norms about how to enforce them. Maybe you could have a norm that late people get their name written on a white board or that they have to bring donuts next time. Whatever it is, make sure everyone knows that when others are relying upon you, it is not okay to drop the ball.

4. Be open about goals and weaknesses.

Your discussion group will likely be curated to have a diverse set of skills between the lot of you. Take inventory of what those skills are and manage your conversations to bring those diverse perspectives in. Groups that don’t do this often isolate their conversations to the area of shared experience (see picture below). Rather than assume that the finance guys will lead all of those case conversations, ask if someone else wants to learn this skill and try taking the lead.

5. Use “Case Captains”.

More on this in another post (stay tuned!), but in short, divide and conquer the work. With constant demands on your time from a million sources, you need to look for every way to work smarter, and not harder.

6. Facilitate to expose diverse perspectives.

 When you manage your group for diversity, you gain access to the group’s full knowledge, rather than that tiny piece you have in common.

When you manage your group for diversity, you gain access to the group’s full knowledge, rather than that tiny piece you have in common.

Pause every so often to note whose perspectives have been missing from the discussion. Did they see things in a different way? Constantly challenge what others are saying and look for weak points in your analysis. It is so easy to speak from common views and experiences, but when you do your analysis loses so much depth. Look at the graph at the right. When we speak about what we have in common, we only cover the tiny overlapping area. When you manage your discussion group to take advantage of its diversity, you get the insights from the entire footprint.

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How Admissions Committees Evaluate Candidates - The Problem with "Odds Threads"

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Countless MBA blogs allow applicants to post their admissions profile for others to evaluate their chances of admission at different MBA programs. Usually the criteria asked for will be something like the following:

  • GPA
  • Undergraduate Institution
  • GMAT Score
  • Past employers
  • Extra curriculars / activities
  • Certifications
  • Volunteer work

These “odds threads” fundamentally misunderstand several key parts of the admissions process.

Problem 1: They confuse checkboxes for sliding scales.

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The trouble is that these forums breed the belief that the more “extra” someone is in each of these categories, the better chance they have at admission. Someone with a 4.0 GPA must have a higher probability than someone with a 3.8 and 790 better odds than a 750, right? Not quite. This is because applications are evaluated in a two-step process.

The first step is the sorting. The first four criteria in the list above are “check box” data fields. The admissions committee looks at these criteria first to run an initial screening of the candidate pool. The goal from this initial screening is to sort candidates as “highly competitive”, “competitive”, or “not competitive” for admission at that particular school.

A highly competitive applicant will have a GPA and GMAT that is at or above the business school’s overall average, earned a degree from a school well represented from among the student body, and worked at a firm that either places well at the school or (ideally) recruits a lot of MBAs from that institution to return. A competitive candidate will have most of those criteria. An uncompetitive will have few or none. Once this sorting is done, the top category is fast-tracked, and middle is evaluated, and the bottom is dropped.

The second step in the process brings us to Problem 2

Problem 2: They ignore the key selection criteria of Narrative

Since there are far, far more “competitive” candidates than a school has spots to give in a class, the admissions committee needs a second screening to further winnow the class down. This second step evaluates a candidate’s Narrative. Admissions committees want to admit students who have great personal stories, who are going to make the most of their spots in the MBA class to accelerate their career trajectories, and who will change the world for the better. Once you make it through the first screen, regardless of GPA or GMAT, the best story wins.

Put another way, passing the “checkbox” criteria mentioned in Problem 1 will get the admissions committee to listen to you. The narrative is how to convince them. If your narrative lacks focus, clarity, simplicity, credibility, specificity, emotion, logic, values, and everything else we put into our narrative work, even an 800 GMAT score will help you – you will be denied.

You’ll notice that our MBA Odds Form asks for something not included on the list I pulled from the blogs above: personal narrative. Your personal narrative is the single most important factor for determining whether you will be admitted to an MBA program, offers the single biggest return on your time investment, and is the only part of your application that you control 100%.

In short, if you were to plot out the probabilities on each of these checkbox criteria, you would not see a smooth upward sloping line, but rather a step-function as candidates are first sorted, then evaluated individually on their narrative story, the quality of which has a more random distribution.

Problem 3: They focus on the wrong things

 Remember this version of you from your college essay? Cut it from your MBA application.

Remember this version of you from your college essay? Cut it from your MBA application.

Remember your college application? Remember how you talked all about your community involvements and extracurricular activities? That silly essay about your love of track & field and how it's a metaphor for your leadership style? Many people who submit profiles for evaluation devote as much real estate to their hobbies as their actual work experience. This is a huge miscalculation because while business schools care a great deal about your work experience, they care almost nothing about your hobbies. Here’s why.

First, strategically, whereas the admissions criteria for college (and law school for that matter) are retrospective (i.e. they ask what have you done to “earn” or “deserve” a spot in the class), business school admission criteria is prospective (e.g. what will you do with this opportunity?). This is because an MBA is an entirely elective degree. Whereas you need a JD to practice law, no one needs an MBA to practice business. Therefore, any good application needs to explain what the candidate will do with the degree on their professional journey, and even insinuate what negative consequences will befall them if they don’t obtain it. The answer to this question lies in work experience and narrative, not in your free-time hobbies.

Second, tactically, extracurriculars are just not as valuable to business schools. Colleges (especially elite colleges) really value the community experience and look for students to take leadership in this important area. That’s why they give steep scholarships to athletes, and little admissions boosts students who will round out difficult-to-fill community positions (such as oboe players in the orchestra). Talking about your extracurricular activities on your college essay made sense because you had something of value to offer to the school. In contrast, the whole point of business school is to secure an internship and later a full-time job offer. Almost all extracurricular activities in business school exist to advance that goal. For example, the finance club meetings will either be to network with prospective banks or to tutor students on building models in excel. Playing the oboe at business school gives you a lot of money in a worthless currency.

In your MBA application, your work experience is king. Give it the real estate it deserves.

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