Like most things in life, its not who you know; its who knows you.
The same principle holds true in the world of the MBA application process. Every year there are tens of thousands of MBA hopefuls applying to the top 50 business schools and the percentage admitted represents only a handful from that pool of hopefuls. More often than not, these applicants are a cut above Joe Six Pack. They have the high GMAT, strong GPA, good work history, recommendations et cetera.
So what separates the candidates that are marginal from those with a phone call of admittance: face time with Admission reps, alumni and students. The more advocates at the school that can put a face to your application, the better chances you have at getting in, especially if you are competing head to head with someone else. Human nature wins out. People trust people they know and no statistic can overturn that fact.
To be clear, I am not talking about schmoozing at every MBA road show. The last impression you want to make is that of a cheesy salesman. What I am describing is the stage at which you have narrowed down your school selection and you have exhausted every other facet of your application: your story, GMAT score, etc. Your application needs someone to bring your story to life, to give it three-dimensionality. For example, if someone wanted $10000 from you, would you give it to them over a phone call or an email? No. The same is true of your application. These schools are investing tremendous resources to hear your story. The interview is their best attempt to hear that story but all things considered every instance you can sell yourself more is the edge that puts you in the incoming class.
Here are some tips:
1. Go to MBA tradeshows and visit booths with schools you are interested in. Introduce yourself in 30-45 seconds, stating Why an MBA?, Short and Long term? and why this school?, then ask questions. Afterward, get the representatives business card and tell them you will follow up. IMPORTANT: Follow up!. This sends a strong signal that you are serious, have done your homework and will make an impact.
2. Visit the school. This is crucial. Not only will you be able to determine whether the school is a true fit, but you will leave a DNA trail, with the students, faculty, and admission officers in the Admission offices. Most MBA campuses are small and everyone talks. The more favorable opinions and vouchers you can get from various people the more credible you become as a bonafide student of consideration.
3. Meet the decision makers, if you can. Some programs make it hard for you to do that. Their process is not very transparent. HBS, for instance, is hard to crack from an admissions perspective. But regardless, try your best to meet the Dean of Admissions or Assistant Dean of Admissions. Ultimately if they can speak on your behalf at the decision committee meetings, your chances are drastically improved.
4. Go to dinners that programs throw in your area. Many times local alumni will throw a meet and greet on behalf of a program. This is a great opportunity to learn about the program and network and leave a favorable impression with someone connected with the school. Often times you would be surprised, either the host of these events knows someone or can directly say something positive in writing, etc about you to the main admissions office. Its a long shot but depending on how acute your methods are, something good could happen from it.
Like I said, face time is crucial. If you do not put the work in network, it won’t work. You have to be comfortable with yourself, know your story and not be afraid to make an impression. Try it you might surprise yourself with an admittance!