Second recommender down – as well as energy levels

As discussed last week, the task moving forward in my applications for last week has been securing the support of my second recommender. Her background is as a former MBA-grad herself, which brings with it both a certain credibility as a recommender and also a good awareness of the requirements of the admissions committees.

I’m pleased to say she has wholeheartedly agreed to support me, and accompanied it with an amazing show of enthusiasm. She began the conversation with a wish to ask me to consider a secondment to help develop internal succession planning – considering this, it’s even more gracious of her to consider supporting an application that she will surely know will result in a significant chance of me leaving the business.

Now away on annual leave to visit her home in the states, I am largely left to my own devices, blundering aimlessly through the unstructured mess that are my essays. This is still an improvement on no mess at all!

In other news, I had been sharing in the general feel in the blogging community a slight ‘summer slowdown’. I suspect the long anti-climactic build-up and working through the summer is draining the energy (and fun) out of the process for many. My recommenders getting involved is giving me a little extra push so some progress has been made this week. Long may it continue up until my ill-advised holiday in the first week in September…

EDIT: Logged into the HBS application this evening. Went in just to enter some basic information, and check I hadn’t forgotten anything that needed ordering like transcripts. Feel overwhelmed! Throughly recommend logging in early if you haven’t already.

Sweating on the big things

Over in the UK we’re experiencing our hottest and most sustained heatwave with temperatures hitting the roasting highs of 36°C, the hottest temperatures here since 2006. My days are punctuated by my staff complaining about the heat, sport-related sunburn and a regular prescription of ice cold beer, three times a day (I’m definitely the best Doctor for me).

Needless to say, none of these are really suited to sitting and focusing on anything related to indoor introspection but do provide some breaks to the usual routine. My applications go through sudden burst of activity often followed by up to a week of little or no progress. They continue to dominate my thoughts though, I’d describe my essay drafts as ‘patchy’ – an improvement from the previous status of ‘sparse’.

I have an appointment to discuss my application with my General Manager early next week, and hopefully secure agreement for her to be my second recommender. The build-up to a slightly awkward conversation is now nothing new to me, following my early discussion with my line manager which went really well (read about it here in my first post) and I plan to follow similar lines.

As a MBA-alum, and someone familiar with both my own experience and also the application process, I’d dearly love her to agree to invest that time in me. I also know that she is incredibly busy at the moment, as well as a little more emotionally involved in such things, so I am a little apprehensive. I discovered last week that my prospective recommendation was in danger of evaporating due to a 3 week holiday in the August to return home to the states, so I am slightly more rushed than I’d planned. Still, if I can’t cope with this maybe an MBA isn’t such a good idea?

Most deadlines are now around 2 months away, apart from HBS who have obviously have decided they need to be first and have their first deadline in 16th Sept. Having broadly decided now on my application strategy up until the end of the year and R2 it’s time to go to work! That’s if BBQs and sunshine-bathing don’t get in the way. Just another 30 minutes…

x drafts + y rewrites = ?

MBA applicants around the world are starting to lock themselves away with laptops and immersing themselves in their essays. Unless they haven’t started yet or still brushing up their GMAT in which case that last sentence won’t help at all.

I came across a rather extraordinary exchange on a prominent forum the other day, that went a little like this;

Applicant 1: I’m 3 drafts down for HBS and done 2 drafts for Wharton….

Applicant 2: I’m on draft 4 for HBS

Applicant 3: I’ve done 6 drafts for HBS already!!!

Applicant 1: Man, I need to write faster. I suck at writing essays.

I think that really sums up my point. Since when did more drafts equal more quality? Who has six genuine separate stories that they need to tell the admissions team of their chosen school? Absolutely no-one, that’s who.

Maybe its because graduate business applicants by their nature are quantitative-heavy in general, they feel the need to measure themselves in such discreet terms. I’m sure that some applicants feel less than secure about their message and that they also need to brag about these stats online. And I’m absolutely certain that no-one who writes ‘6 drafts’ as they put it has any 1 draft that makes a good essay.


“A number-of-draft to quality ratio can be expressed with an inverse exponential equation”… Seriously, just shut the f%$* up!

I’m certainly working on my essays. How many drafts have I written? Well, for the one’s I’ve started worked on maybe 1.5 – 2.5? Its rare I complete tear up a draft and start again. I take bits out, I put bits in, I take bits out again. I cut down words, I use simpler clearer vocabulary. But I don’t start all over again, and I have no idea how many ‘drafts’ I’ve written.

I don’t come from any genuine experience, but I do have a good gut feeling about some of these things. If you’re out there, locked in your room, furiously crossing whole essays out with red pen, relax and write something about you that is true and matters. I’m sure it’ll be a better essay.

I’ll put the unusual rage displayed in this post down to light cabin-fever…


Stuck in the middle with… my essays

Traffic - my worst enemy

Traffic – my worst enemy

I had a new experience this weekend, I gained a flat tire on a noisy British motorway. Unfortunately it was on a main route to the ferry ports in the South-East England, meaning a huge goods vehicle thundered past every 10 seconds inches away from where I crouched and struggled with a small and slightly plastic-y compact vehicle jack.

After almost falling backwards from my crouched position for the third time into a certain death, I caught myself doing something even more ridiculous. I am getting MBA application essays on the brain. Even before I’d finished tightening the wheel nuts I was trying to work this latest episode into a “Tell me about a time you’ve triumphed in adversity” essay (maximum 500 words).

I furnished my story in my head with images of myself standing on top of my vehicle in celebration, or flagging down a heavily laden lorry to save a small bunny rabbit that had strayed into the road from the grassy verges (Stamford would love this stuff, so I’ve heard. Throw in a bit of landmine-clearing or other animal saving activities while I’m at it…)

Having changed over in a rather impressive time for a first timer that would make some pro-racing teams proud – that Engineering degree wasn’t for nothing kids – I retreated home. I need to make some better essay progress and the semi-thrashed notes in my head just aren’t working, or at least fast enough.

So an enforced day at home after a trip to the garage involved roughly 50% tennis viewing and 50% essay structuring. I’ve not gone full-technicolor spreadsheet with all my essays, but I have constructed a list of titles, deadlines and a rough essay sequence to get drafts done. I feel better already! I won’t when I miss all my self-imposed deadlines…

Juggling my work responsibilities between now and the end of September (as well as having to help plan a wedding – yeah well, like it wasn’t enough of a challenge already?) is going to be causing some serious stresses and strains ahead so hopefully this bit of planning will ease some of my worries.

Stop! Essay time.

I’ve not posted in a little while. I’ve attempted to have a break before application season really kicks off, but in reality I’ve been quite occupied with work-things.

I came out of this semi-relaxed phase with a jolt with the news that several schools have essays out – first Columbia, then Stamford and now Harvard.

I’ve tried to motivate myself to write some ‘dummy’ essays but it feels quite a wasted effort when you’re not writing ‘real’ subjects. Thankfully these have provided some real material to get working on.

Columbia’s essays seem quite ‘standard’ application essays based on what I’ve seen from previous years. No real surprises. I don’t really know too much about Columbia at the moment, but they seem more preoccupied from pointing out at every opportunity “HEY LOOK! WE’RE IN NEW YORK! NYC! YEAH?”. Maybe if every school was a person, they’d be from New Jersey?


I can now hit the bin from 10 yards with these, 100%!

Last week I read the essays that had been released from Stanford. There’s no big changes from last year’s questions. The first question “What matters most?” is incredibly open-ended which should give some flexibility to creative souls and I’m sure provide some entertaining answers. I did find these a little intimidating until I saw Harvard had released theirs…

Harvard have shocked me with their one essay, optional, compared to the fairly generic essays they had for last year (“Describe one thing you did well” etc.);

You’re applying to Harvard Business School.  We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you.   What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?

There is no word limit for this question.  We think you know what guidance we’re going to give here. Don’t overthink, overcraft and overwrite. Just answer the question in clear language that those of us who don’t know your world can understand

Well I like the emphasis on clear speaking, it clearly pushes the writer to focus on something they’re passionate about. But no word limit? No real subject? That will be a challenge to make it interesting to the reader compared to some of the off-the-wall answers they’re sure to get. It sounds a little like they’re trying to out-simplify Stanford – but surely a big risk they won’t get the detail they need to make an informed decision about applicants?

In other news, I’ll be attending talks from MIT, Harvard and LBS in London during next week – so I’ll be posting what I’ve found from that.

Open Letter to Adcoms: How to market your school to students from a distance

Some time ago I wrote about, in general, how poorly business schools seemed to be marketed to prospective students. We live in the information age and expertise in IT and the internet is now widely available. It struck me as quite staggering that what are effectively multi-million pound professional businesses (who you would hope have some idea about such things) seem to utilise such a key method of communicating with potential customers so badly.

Rather than moan  I thought I might explain how I thought this might be done better or specific examples of where it was done well, badly. I should add that this isn’t a direct criticism of the places mentioned, as they are not the only examples by any means.

1. A decent campus tour video

Considering you may spend up to two years in somewhere you have never been to, this is quite an intimidating thought. “Why not visit?” I hear you cry? Well, I would like to, but I’m currently investigating around 20 schools. Even if I was in the US I doubt I’d be able to visit them all. It’s no substitute for an in-person visit, but surely a decent video tour of the facility would at least help?

Good: Darden (Virginia) is a good example of how this can be done well (if a little chino-heavy):

Bad: By contrast this the most-viewed tour video of HBS on No really. Looks great if you love tourists!

Harvard is not atypical. In most cases, the advice is ‘just come visit’. Not always helpful.

2.  Online Information Sessions

So I can’t visit, can’t get the T-shirt, I watched the video instead. I have video conferences/webinars every week at work? Maybe we could use some of this not-so-modern technology to add a more personal touch to the generic information on the website?

By contrast the absence of any video tour offering, I was really impressed by Harvard’s interactive slide-show as part of their online admissions events with a knowledgeable narration and a verbal answer to questions submitted by chat-box afterwards. Several other schools have a silent chat room system that for all I know could have answers written by a paid-for reseracher in Southern Asia, and the personal touch of a sterile lab.

3. Well-timed information sessions & updated diary of events

Ok, so following 1) we’ve established I can’t visit and can only do so by video, and following 2) I’d struggle to get more than a basic understand of your offering. Ideally I’d meet someone from your school when you’re in town. Considering essays for most business schools get released in the summer, I’d like to apply in Round 1 to make life as convenient as possible for you, maybe it would be a good idea to allow me to speak to your team before the July-R1 essay season?

I appreciate the start of the academic year is a convenient time to start your events for the year, but considering you aim to fill your class by Christmas maybe having some information sessions between April and August would be a good idea?


That’s right, come back in July. Why would you ever need more than 2 month’s notice?

Even better? Why not frustrate me by showing all the events I’ve missed at times that were probably too late for applicants last year, but too early for the majority of applicants this year?Image

Silly applicant, have a look at what you’ve missed!

Just a few of my own examples, as the frustration factor builds I’m sure there’ll be more. What have you found most frustrating in your searches?

“You could use some Sunshine…”

Yes I could. The snow has only just melted here in the UK. And I’m inside reading my profile assessment from someone I’ve never met – which makes the accurate assessment of my complexion all the more unnerving.

I’ve been an avid reader of MBAOver30’s blog ( and one of his early posts recommends the brutal profile evaluation by Sandy Kreisburg, an experienced admisisons consultant.


I gave him quite a lot of information to work on, as I wanted as good an assessment as I can get. It was an interesting read. For starters I’ve never had someone describe my degree as ‘a deal-breaker’ but I wanted an honest assessment and that’s what I got! I suppose I can be pleased that his assessment very closely matched my own, that is a good thing, but that it matched my own average expectations of my chances is probably not.

Some choice quotes that I enjoyed:

Sports teams are not a Stanford fav. extra, especially teams you, yourself play on, rather than teams you coach composed of blind kids or victims of land-mines, or preferably both.

…you will present there [Haas] as a solid guy with an interesting background …. UK, that is interesting and you could use some sunshine. 

I think he was in a good mood that day! In summary, not a bad history but being a white male I’ll be up against it for the super-elite schools. Aren’t the Americans supposed to like Brits…?