Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Recommendations

This is definitely the most complicated part of the application logistically. You need to find two or three persons with good English that are willing to write 3-4 pages about you. They need to know you really well. They have to write a recommendation for each school you apply to - and it's a different recommendation for each one.

You need to find people who actually care enough for you to write a long essay about you. They are probably very busy people. So it is twice as hard for them to write a decent recommendation. The recommendations are a very important component of the application - so your recommendations should be good.

Choosing the Recommenders
One of your recommenders should be your current direct supervisor. Of course he should know you really well. The highest ranked he is in your organization the better, but definitely favour someone who knows you well.

Your second/third recommender should be someone from your previous jobs. If you don't have one, you can pick a professor from your previous studies. You might choose a colleague, or someone who knows you proffesionally well. If you can get a famous person to give you a recommendation it will be great - but he should know you. There are no discounts for this recommender - his/her recommendation should be as long and well-written as the other recommendations.

How to start
No one expects your previous boss to remember every little thing you contributed to your team. You will have to sit and debrief your recommenders. In Israel, for example, it is not common to write a recommendation in the style that the MBA schools require. That is why it is very important to explain in details what this recommendation is all about.

Explain what the business schools require from candidate, what type of characteristics they need, what background they expect, and what experience the recommendation should show. The recommendation should be very enthusiastic about you and your future plans to become a manager. The recommender should use superlatives as much as possible. Your recommender should wholeheartedly recommend you to the school. Explain the structure of the recommendation: several questions that should be answered. Each school has different questions, so it will be a lot of work. Some schools give categories that based on them the recommender should rank you, and might need to explain. When giving the rankings the recommenders should not rank you highest in all categories, but mark several categories in the second highest level (so he will be taken seriousely).

Once the recommendation is completed the recommender should submit it online. You should not see the recommendation at all, nor should you participate in the process of writing the recommendation. The school might contact the recommender at later stages to verify the validity of the recommendation. The deadlines are important - the recommendations should be submitted before the deadlines, so you might want to create a schedule. Word limit is important too - the recommender should not exceed it - although some schools will be linient about this.

Meet your recommenders and share old stories. Make a list of all your contributions, times that you made an impact, examples for leadership and teamwork, and times you had to do better. Remember that the recommendation should not contradict your essays, and should support your strategy, so it is important that you come prepared.

Once you make the list together give the recommenders a list of common questions from previous years. The recommenders will be able to write a generic recommendation, and once the real questions are published they will have short work of adjusting the recommendations to the schools. It is important not to send a too general recommendation because the admissions comittees don't like it.

Common Recommendation Questions

The following 5 areas keep coming up again and again for each school: Applicant's role, strengthes, weaknesses, potential, and interpersonal characteristics. Some schools might have different wordings, word-limits, or more specific questions (for example, Wharton asks the recommender to describe the applicant's sense of humor; HBS asks about the applicant's English abilities). But if the recommender prepares good stories and examples for these questions, he will later be able to assemble the appropriate official recommendations once the questions are published.

1. How long have you known the applicant and in what connection? If applicable, briefly describe the applicant's role in your organization. Please comment on the frequency and context of your interaction. (HBS)

2. Strengthes - In what ways has the candidate distinguished himself or herself among peers? (HBS) What are the applicant’s most salient strengths? (Wharton)

3. Weaknesses - Comment on the candidate’s professional weaknesses and opportunities for growth. (HBS) What efforts has the applicant made to address these areas? (Wharton)

4. Charactristics - What observations do you have concerning the applicant’s leadership abilities, team and/or group skills? (Wharton) Describe the candidate as a person. Comment on his/her ability to establish and maintain relationships, sensitivity to others, self-confidence, attitude etc. (INSEAD) Please provide an example of the applicant's impact on a person, group, or organization. (MIT) Please provide a representative example of how the applicant interacts with other people. (MIT)

5. Potential- How will the MBA degree contribute to the candidate’s career development? (Wharton) Comment on the candidate's potential for senior management? Do you see him/her as a future leader? (INSEAD)

At the first stage the recommenders should not worry about word limit, or English styling. When they write your final recommendations they can use all the material and adjust it to fit. It is ok for the English level to be standard and not perfect - but the recommenders should be familiar with English - you cannot translate it for them.

Pick recommenders who know you very well proffesionally, and that care enough for you to get into this adventure. Sit and explain to them exactly what you need, and make sure that they understand what the recommendation should look like in the end. Remind them of your heroic stories. Make sure that they are on deadline, and that the styling, word limit and other requirements are fulfilled. Make sure NOT to participate in the process of writing the recommendation. They should submit it online and on schedule (or send it directly to the university - contact the specific school for details).

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Writing the Essays

After you have created your strategy, and created a list of all your history achievments, you are ready for the hard work: Writing the essays. You should have an idea of the schools you want to apply to.

Business schools require 5 essays in average. The essay questions are published one month or 2 months before the deadline. However, you can start writing the essays much earlier. If you want to apply to one or two schools, check the essay topics of last year (you should easily find them on the schools' websites, or google them up). You can start working on those. Once the official topics are published you will have less work. Most of the times the changes from year to year are minor.

If you want to apply to more schools you can start by creating a General Application. There are topics that keep coming up every year. Once you write essays for the general application, you will be able to use these for each school. Write long essays, with many examples, so later on you can shorten them to fit to the school's actual essay.

The General Application Essays

I have applied to 8 schools, so I know what most business schools ask. I took the most frequent questions, and put them here on a list. I also wrote the name of the school from which I took the exact wording for the question. Don't be mistaken - those questions came up again and again in various wordings.

  1. Discuss your career goals. How will your past and present experiences help you achieve this? (LBS) What skills do you expect to gain from studying at SCHOOL and how will they contribute to your professional career. (INSEAD)

  2. Please give a detailed description of your job, including nature of work, major responsibilities and where relevant, employees under your supervision, size of budget, number of clients/products and results achieved. (INSEAD)

  3. Please give us a full description of your career since graduating from university. If you were to remain with your present employer, what would be your next step in terms of position? (INSEAD)

  4. Give a candid description of yourself, stressing the personal characteristics you feel to be your strengths and weaknesses and the main factors which have influenced your personal development, giving examples when necessary. (INSEAD)

  5. What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such? (HBS)

  6. Please describe your experience of working in and leading teams, either in your professional or personal life. (LBS)

  7. Please tell us about a time when you had an impact on a person, group, or organization. (MIT)

  8. Describe a failure or setback that you have experienced. How did you respond, and what did you learn about yourself? (Wharton)

  9. When have your values, ethics, or morals been challenged? How has this shaped who you are today? (Wharton)
Those essay topics are typical, and are often asked in variations. They might be asked in the interview as well. So answering those will give you a lot of material that you can use in your applications.

How to go about writing an essay

For each question you need to brain storm first. Write down every option, every example, every thing that might be related. You have to realize that the essays are the only part of the application that the committee will learn about you. They need to know who you are, and why they should pick you for their school. Some tips:

1. Don't be modest - This is your only chance to show that the committee should choose you! If you don't feel that an activity, action, idea, contribution is an achievement - think again. Everything can be phrased as an achievement. You just need to write it in the proper way.

2. Be honest - you can't fool them. They can smell lies from miles. It can come up in the interview. It is easier to write an essay about the truth. You should have plenty of stuff to write about. But it is ok to exaggerate and embellish the truth in good taste.

3. Each essay should show different aspects of you. Try to make your application cover as much as possible - this way the admissions committee will see that you are a diverse and strong candidate that can contribute in various ways. Everything that is not covered in the essays, should be addressed in the recommendations (and the recommendations should support your essays). Note that sometimes there are short essays in the application form itself, which gives you a chance to cover more.

4. If you have more than one topic to write about, definitly write the essay more than once. This way you will have more material when you work on the real application. Also some examples and stories can be used in several questions, so you will have more flexibility when you assemble the pieces for the real applications.

5. Answer the question. Read it carefully, and if there is more than one part don't forget to address everything.

6. Don't waste words. Try to write in short and decisive manner. This way you can tell more things about yourself.

7. Don't use offensive, cynical, definitive words. Always leave room for someone with opinions that are different than yours (you should be decisive, but show that there is a 0.001% that you might be wrong). Don't use rethorical questions.

Writing the real essays

Start from the earliest application deadline. The school will publish the essay questions about 1-2 months before the deadline. First, plan! Read all the questions and decide what you want to write about in each question. Than pick stuff from the general application and make the needed adaptation so that your application will fit the school.

1. Make sure that the application is in coordination with your strategy, and that you covered as much a spossible.

2. You should use stuff from your general application. Remember that each school looks for different things, so you might want to change some paragraphs. Also - schools don't like getting generic application - they want to make sure that the application was written especially for them. So make the essays fit the school.

3. Don't go over the word limit. But use every word you can. In each sentence rephrase it so it will be as short as possible. Than if you have more words think about adding new things. If you don't have anything to add, you can add words to the essays in order to make it longer.

4. The schools care about YOU - NOT your story. They don't care about the details, and they don't care about your company or your team. It is very tempting to write half of the essays about the story - because you don't have to dig deep. But you have to remember that they care about what you did, felt, said, and thought. So write the story background in short (if you do it correctly you will be able to tell only the important part and make it interesting), and then focus on your actions. Tell them what you have learnt. Tell them how did you make an impact. Tell them how you can improve and grow. Show that you are a leader.

5. There is always an optional essay to include. USE THIS ESSAY. You can include an essay that covers a topic that you were not able to address in your application.

6. Read the entire application and see that you addressed everything. See that your application is suitable for this specific school. See that you did not contradict yourself. If there is a strength that you want to show, add it to one of the essays.

7. Make sure that you covered: Your leadership skills. Your teamwork ability. Your knowledge of English. Brand names. Your business skills (if there are any). Your intellectual abilities. Your international experience. Your extra-curricular activities (voulenteer and community contributions).

The Career Goals Essays

One of the essays is always: "What are your career goals? Why MBA? Why Now? Why our school?".

This essay is the most important, and it should be different for each school. In this essay you should include a short passage about your short and long term career goals. You might want to include a short description of your career progress.

Tell them why their school is best for your needs. Show that you need to aquire some skills (2 or 3), that those skills are best taught in their school, and show examples and facts based on your research (from the school website, and students/alumni). Give specific courses, clubs, faculty, facilitis, activities, etc. Show that you know their school and that you fit. Tell them how you can contribute to their student body.


The essays should show the committee who you are, what drives you, and why they should pick you for their schools. Make sure that the application fit the school and your strategy. Write short and to the point. Tell an interesting story - be unique.

I believe that this part is the most important, so you should work hard on it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Building Your Strategy

Business schools don't admit everybody. They are flooded with thousands of applications, and the numbers keep going up each year. If you want to be even considered you must think how you are going to market yourself in front of the admissions committee. Your application should shine in the crowd.

What is a strategy?
You need to come up with very clear short-term, medium-term and long-term career goals. The short term is the period of time that starts with your MBA graduation and last for 2-3 years. The medium term is 5 years from your MBA graduation. The long term is 10-20 years after your MBA graduation. Once you come up with your goals, you will be able to start planning your essays and recommendations. You should come up with the strategy about 5-6 month before the first deadline (together with your history list).

What Do Business Schools Look for?
First of all they look for specific characteristics. It's true that business schools vary in this category, but most of them want candidate with leadership potential, rich background, good references, and something interesting to tell. They want the candidate to be able to contribute to the atmosphere and the academic environment of the school. They want people with initiative and drive. But most important - they look for students with good chances to become very SUCCESSFUL.

The business schools want to climb the ranking ladder. The higher the school is ranked, the more prestige it becomes. With prestige comes large grants to build better facilities, better academic faculty, more companies will come to recruit. All of these will lead to higher ranking in the coming years.

How are the schools ranked? There are many criterions, but the most important (at least in my opinion) are the percentage of employment after graduation, the promotion of the alumni over the years, the brand name of the school, how desirable are the alumni of the schools, the diversity and number of nationalities, the facilities and faculty, the opinions of the students and alumni themselves, the salaries after graduation, and how many admitted candidates refused the offer and chose to go some place else.

The school wants to be sure that:
A. You will be successful - it will bring prestige to the school.
B. You will find a good job (that pays well) immediately after graduation.
C. You fit into the school, and you won't refuse their offer.

Your strategy must see that you are what the business schools look for. By admitting you, the business schools will not only gain an excellent students in their standards, but also you will help the school climb the rankings by being successful, and bringing good reputation to the school.

Creating Your Strategy
Your goals should be connected to your past, present, and future. If you are not into banking, why do you want to be an investment banker? If you have never seen a high-tech company from the inside how do you expect to fit into technology management? You should show that you know where you are headed and that it makes sense. For example: becoming an entrepreneur (with no experience) is very risky - you might fail. It is more safe to stay in your industry. If you want to change careers you need to realize that it is more difficult, so you better have good way of doing it and proving that you can. Some schools would prefer career changers while other won't.

Choose the industry - if it is an industry that you are familiar with it is more safe. Be very specific. Show why this industry is good - how much market does your industry have? What is the potential growth? Is your industry interesting? Do some research on the industry if you have to.

Choose your specialization - Do you want to be a project manager? A business strategist? A consultant? An investor? An entrepreneur? You need to know that this specialization fits your profile. The furthest you change your career the riskier it gets. And again - be specific. What exacly do you want to do, and how does that fit with your profile and industry?

Select your short-term goals - Where do you see yourself after graduating from business school? Do you want to create a start-up? (it might be risky). Do you want to return to your old employer? (if your boss can confirm this in the recommendation - it is safe. The school will like the idea that it does not need to find a work place for you). Do you want to switch countries or careers? Again, be specific - what kind of companies do you see yourself work for? Remember that your goals should match your background.

Select your long-term goals - you can dream here. Where do you see yourself when you are all grown up? How is that connected to your short term goals? Do you want to be VP or CEO of a large corporation? Do you want to be a mayor? Do you want to own start ups?

If you want to, you can come up with medium term goals that will connect your short and long term goals.

Your strategy should be solid and very specific. It should make sense. It should be interesting. It should be realistic. Your past, present, and future should be linked together. And most importantly - the MBA must be the natural connection between you past and present, and your goals. You will later have to prove in the essays and interview that without an MBA, you simply can't reach your goals. Don't forget - be honest. Don't invent something just so that the admissions committee will like you, because it won't work. Pick goals that come naturally to you.
Write everything down on 1 page and save it as a reference. You will need it when you write your essays, and when you plan the recommendations. You will be asked about your goals on the interview. Remember that your application must support your strategy 100%. In your application you will show your strengthes that will help you achieve your goals, and the weaknesses that you have to work on during your MBA.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Planning the application

By now you should have:
- Taken the GMAT and scored about 700
- Taken the TOEFL and scored more than 265 (CBT)
- Done your research regarding the MBA programs and the MBA experience
- Picked some schools you want to try an apply to.


For each school you have chosen you need to know the deadlines for first, second and third rounds. Most schools don't care if you apply on the second round. Third round might be problematic. Note that some schools (such as Columbia) have rolling admissions process, meaning that "Applications are reviewed in the order in which they are received and decisions can be rendered at any point during the review period. It is always to your benefit to apply before the posted deadline" (From the Columbia website). You should take into consideration deadlines for scholarships.

Prepare a schedule for all the schools you want to apply to, and optimally give yourself at least 4 days between each school - you will need it! Don't apply to more than 4 schools in each round. Apply for the schools you want best at the first round (but don't apply only to Top-10 schools - give yourself the option to choose a Top-20 or Top-30 school as well).

Remember that each application will cost you 200-300$, and you will have to be prepared with everything on time. That means that you should start no later than 3 month from the first application. 6 month would be great.

I heard about MBA students that only applied to only one school and got in. I heard about successful candidates that prepared their entire application in 2 weeks. If you think you can pull it off - go ahead. But most people (like me) simply need more time and more schools.

What do you need in the end?

This is a short checklist for the stuff you must send on-line or by mail prior to the deadline (if you don't send something important you might be postponed for the next round - contact the specific admissions office).

- On-line application form (Personal details, employment history, academic background, self reported GMAT and TOEFL scores, self reported undergraduate grades, additional essays)
- Essays
- 2 or 3 Recommendations - should be sent on-line or by mail from the recommenders (or from you in a sealed envelope).
- Pay on-line
- Send official GMAT and TOEFL score reports to the school directly from the companies.
- Send official undergraduate grades, class-rank, and diploma in a sealed envelope (in English).

The last two can be arranged ahead of time - I suggest you take care of it as soon as possible.

Is it worth to use a consulting company?

There are consulting companies that help MBA candidates to prepare the application. They will not write anything for you, just help you decide what to write, come up with a promising strategy, fix your English, and give you comments on the essays. Those services are very expensive - starting from 60$ per hour (can reach 10-20K$). But, you might want to look at the overall cost (100K$ per year) and decide if additional 10K$ to spend in order to get in is not worth it. Those consulting companies can be helpful if you utilize them correctly. DON'T DO ANYTHING UNETHICALLY. You should write the essays. You should tell the truth. You should write about true events. Believe me - you have plenty. Those companies should only guide you based on their knowledge of the schools and the process - not do all the work for you (they won't).

Research your own background

Before you do anything, sit down and write everything you have done in your life after high school - at work, in school, in public service, military, and hobbies. Take a week to do it. Write all your accomplishments - anything that made you look good. Did you initiate? Did you help someone? Did you lead a team or a project? Did you try something innovative and it worked or did not work? Did you make the difference? Did you stand out in the crowd? Do you have something unique? Did you have a good idea or invent anything? Can you show good team work? Were you successful? Did you win any awards? Was your group better because of you? Are you a part of a winning team? Did you improve anything? Can you show progress in your work, and links between the things that you do? And so on.

This should be long!!! I had 9 pages, and I had to dig deep. It's not that I have such a unique background. On my day to day work it seems that I show some enthusiasm, initiative, drive, and maybe some of it can be connected to leadership later (this is from a retrospective point of view - I could not see all of it at first). I showed progress in my work and status throughout the years.

I wrote down everything. Some of it was not useful in the essays, but the things that I wanted to write about became more clear to me. For the first time in my life I could actually list my accomplishments (and my failures). I knew what I would want to avoid mentioning. I could perhaps see my weaknesses so I could address them later on. And most important I had examples for my strengthes and weaknesses - this would be extremely useful both in the essays, recommendations, and interviews.

You might want to discuss this with your close friends and family. They might be able to say things about you that you did not realize.

For each of the companies and organizations you worked for or took part of, do some research and find some impressive way to describe them - was your company #3 in manufacturing something in the world? Was your company a leader in your industry? Did your company earn 40% of the revenue of the entire industry? Things like that. Show that you were part of successful interesting organizations and projects.

Create your resume

Write a 1 page resume. It should be a brief summary of your background list. For each employment, degree or activity in your background pick out the 5 most important things you've done, and write them in 1 short sentence starting with an active verb. Pick the things that shows your leadership, teamwork, initiative and so on. It should look like a business CV, so format it in a similar way.

Some school require your resume, and some don't - but will not object if you ask to send one. This document is good to have, because it will help your focus on the essays.

Recommendations and Essays

I will write different posts about those. You should start them no later than 3 month before the first application. Because each school asks different questions you will have to work on each application seperately (but can re-use some of the work from previous applications).


You now know when to start preparing the application, how to create a schedule, and how to get yourself starting by creating a list of your background and your resume.

In the next posts I will describe in detail how to write the essays and how to get good recommendations.

The TOEFL Exam

If you are an international student you will probably have to take the TOEFL exam. Some schools do not require TOEFL (MIT for example) but this is rare.

The TOEFL is an English language test - tests your English skills. It is computer based, and is adaptive. You don't need to take it if you are a resident of an native English speaker, or you studied in an English school. You should probably verify this with the universities. It costs around 150$, and you can take it several times. You send your scores to specific programs, and later on can send to additional schools for extra fees.

In Israel, there are some problems with testing availablity (you book the test date on-line, and there are no available dates) so you should take the test well in advance! You don't want to go to a different country to do the test (right?). The grade will count for 2 years. It takes about a month for the schools to receive the score reports. The customer services of ETS are not so good (to say the lease), so relieve yourself from this exam soon enough.

I suggest you take the GMAT first. Finish with the GMAT about 6 month to a year before application deadlines, so take the TOEFL when you are done with it (this is just my recommendation. You can manage to do them 3 month before the application deadline and even less). The TOEFL test is much easier than the GMAT, which contains most of the material of TOEFL, so it makes sense to take the GMAT first.

I did the CBT which is one format of the exam. Today, as far as know, the test is only available in iBT format, which I have heard is harder. The CBT test had a grade skale of 0-300, and the minimum requirement was 265.

Basically the CBT test contained 4 sections: Listening (you use headphones to listen to some lectures and conversations, and then answer some questions), Grammer, Reading, and an Essay. This is not like the GMAT - the focus here is purely on English vocabulary, grammer, and knowledge. The GMAT had much more focus on way of thinking, business logic, decision making, etc. You cannot write anything during the listening section!

In the iBT version there is a Speaking section.I have no idea how that works out.

Check out the TOEFL website: . You can download sample tests from the website and check your level.

In summary, this is an easier test than the GMAT. If you got around 700 in the GMAT, you should not have many problems scoring high in the TOEFL. You should probably spend 10-20 hours to study (mostly prepare yourself fot the format of the exam and types of questions). Do soem tests and you are done.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Choosing a School

If you are interested in a Top 20 business school, you should do your research. Each school have different strengthes and weaknesses, class size, student body diversity, teaching methods, atmospheres, requirements, and more. US schools and a European schools are very different. You should talk to students and alumni, and possibly visit the schools before you apply. It will have tremendous impact of your way of thinking. Also visit the web-sites of the schools, look for the academic program details, student life and clubs. Look for scholarship opportunities, look for the location of the school and the accomodations. Look for the brand name and the recruitment details. Observe the statistics of each school. Also, check the requirements for admissions (essays, recommendations).

In short: DO YOUR RESEARCH. Then decide how many schools you want to apply to (3-8 schools). You might want to spread the risk: apply to a few Top Tier schools, and a few Second Tier schools. Each application should be different - because each school looks for different things. If you get into more than one school pick the one best suited for you. I must emphasize that most of the applicants I have spoken with applied to no more than 4 schools. Each application costs you time and money.

To get you started look at some of the MBA rankings. The most popular are:

Financial times:
Business Week:
US News:
Those rankings are based on different parameters with different weights (thus explaining the differences in ranking). Most important (at least to me) are the salaries, diversities, percent of employment, nationalities, and several more.

If you want to get mathematical, then pick your top 5 or ten criterias and weigh them according to importance. Then you will get yourown customize ranking. Woo-Hoo!

But seriousely, you don't need all this.

The top 7 schools in USA are (not in order) - based on my research.

Top 3: Harvard (Boston), Wharton (Philadelphia), and Stanford (San-Francisco)
MIT (Boston), Chicago, Kellogg (Chicago), and Columbia (NYC).

These are sometimes refered to as the M7.

In Europe the top 3 schools are: LBS (London), INSEAD (France/Singapore), IMD (Switzerland).

By getting into one of those schools you are almost guaranteed a good job after school - and earn a good salary. You will get a good internship. Companies will come to your school and pick students to work for them.
But, each school has its strengthes and weaknesses. You need to learn for yourself which is best suited for you.
Also, most of these schools are expensive, and do not offer scholarships (although some of them do). Plus, it is the most difficult to get into one of them.

The second tier schools are:

In USA: NYU Stern (NYC), Tuck (NH), Yale (Connecticut), UCLA (California), Ross (Michigen), Duke (North Carolina), Berkeley (California), Darden (Virginia), Cornell (NY), UNC (North Carolina), Carnegie Mellon (Pittsburgh). Perhaps other schools as well.

In Europe: Instituto de Empresa (Spain), Oxford (UK), Cambridge (UK), HEC (France), Manchester (UK), Esade (Spain), IESE (Spain), Bocconi (Italy). Perhaps other schools as well.

Those are really good schools (some of them are especialy good in a specific field of business). Getting into one of those open doors for you almost as much as the Top Tier schools, but you have to do your research. Read the recruitement sheets, and visit the websites. Go to conventions and talk to people.

Look at MBA forums. The biggest one is Business Week. For Israelis look at (I'm known as jhammer there).

Wednesday, June 6, 2007


The GMAT is a psychometric exam that is designed to test your skills as a future manager. Well, at least so they say. Actually it is a grueling computer adaptive test that test your quantitive and English verbal skills. You must take the GMAT in order to get into a business school. You should score about 700 if you want to get into a top 20 business school. The GMAT is only the first step in the admissions process, and I suggest you take it out of your way as soon as possible. It might prove difficult to work on the essays while studying for the exam.

The GMAT cost today 250$, and you can register online on the official website. . Once you register to the site (not to the exam), you can download a software package with 2 sample exams and some exercises. You can take the GMAT in the test center near you in any business day, in 2 different time slots (morning and noon). You can take the GMAT each month (7 times a year).

Test Description

The GMAT has 3 sections.

1. Essays - 2 English essays. 30 minutes for each essay. One is to tell your opinion on a day-to-day topic. The other is to explain why a claim is logically false. The grade for both your essays is 0-6, and a score of 4-5 should be OK. The grade for essay is given seperately from the GMAT grade, and only after 2 or 3 persons have read your essays and graded them.

2. Quantitive part - 37 questions in 75 minutes. You see only one question at a time and can't go back. All are multiple choice questions with 5 answers. The topics are geomatry, statistics and probability, percents, relations, problem solving, numbers theory, etc. All in pretty basic level (nothing in academic level). But you only have about 2 minutes for question.

There is a special type of questions: Data Sufficiency. You are given 2 statements and a question. Based on the two statements you must decide if the statements are sufficient to answer the question together, each one alone, or not sufficient.

3. Verbal part - 41 questions in 75 minutes. All are multiple choice questions with 5 answers. There are 3 types of questions: Reading Comprehension - read a short articles and answer some questions about it; Sentence Correction - You are given a sentence with a part underlined. You must decide if the underlined part is correct or choose between 4 alternatives - this will test your grammer; Critical Reasoning - You are given a statement or a short story (couple of senetences) and a question that you need to answer (for example "What can strengthen/Weaken the statement?").

The Score System

You get 4 scores - Essays (0-6), Quantitve (0-60), Verbal (0-60), and GMAT (0-800).

The GMAT score is a combination of the quantitive and the verbal parts. In the quantitive - a score of 48-52 (maximum - in the computerized tests it is impossible to score higher) is sufficient. In the Verbal a score of 40-50 should be enough. For the essays you should score more than 4.

For example: Quantitve 50 and Verbal 40 earned me a 740, while Quantitive 50 and Verbal 34 earned me a 660.

What Score Do You Really Need

About 700. Some business schools will admit candidate with 620, while others will not admit candidates with 770 GMAT. For example, I got a 740 and was not admitted to all the schools I had applied to. It is important to understand that the GMAT is only one of many components of the application. However, a high GMAT score will compensate on weaknesses in your application. For example, if you have a low undergraduate GPA, a 720 GMAT might compensate on that.

If you want to do an Israeli MBA you don't need to do the essays, and some schools don't even need the verbal score. Check the business school you want for more information (but the score would be something like 500-550, and more than 45 in the quantitive)

I did bad. Should I do it again?

If you scored less than 620 you should definitely do it again. Most of the times you can improve your weak points in a month and score much higher. Most schools take into account the highest score, but receive all your scores!!! If you take the test 5 times it might look suspicious. If you got 400 because you did not prepare yourself, they might see it in a bad way.

For example, the first time I got 660. I improved my verbal skills, especially Sentence Correction, and received 740 one month (and 250$) later. It was worth it.

If you received more than 700, it is ok - don't bother. If you did the exam twice and got 680, you might want to stop and work on the other important components of the application. It depends on your background.

Adaptive Test

The GMAT is an adaptive test - that means that the computer will generate the questions as you go. If you answered well on a question you would get a harder question next. If you answered wrong you will get an easier question next. No-one knows the exact algorithm. It is said that the difficulty level of the last question is your grade (you need to answer correctly a hard question in the end in order to do well on the test).

Here are some guidelines: You start from an average question. The first 10 questions decide your general level - so it is important to answer correctly on those. After that you get questions for your level. Failure to answer consequent questions will lower your grade substansially (if you have to make mistakes - spread them around). If you fail to answer all the questions you get a severe penalty.

Time is critical - You don't want to finish early and rest for 20 minutes because it means that the test went easy for you and you did not get to your potential difficulty level. Although I am strong in math I worked very hard in my quantitive part, and finished just on time. That means that I got difficult questions (to solve in 2 minutes) and I couldn't get more difficult - because I would not complete on time. You need to practice your timing before taking the exam.

Also don't waste your time on one question - it is sometimes more benefitial to spend only 2-3 minutes on the questions and make a guess, than to waste 10 minutes on the answer and get it right - because the next question will be harder and you won't have enough time to finish your exam.

Don't try to predict how well you are doing. They plant pilot questions (they test new questions on you) everywhere. Those questions do not count, and they are not in the correct difficulty level. You will not have any idea how well you did until the exam is over - but you will get the grade immidiatly on your screen when you are done with all parts (except for the essays).

How to study

I did a GMAT course with Kidum (an Israeli company). Their website is It was good - I did not need the quantitve course (but I did it anyway), and I really improved on the verbal section. For the essays they give you nice templates that you learn by heart, and then you just fill in the blanks based on your topic. You practice 3 or 4 essays and you are done.

We used the ETS official book (which is sufficient in my opinion), and Barrons (not so good). Now they use Kaplan (I heard it is harder).

The course cost about 1000$ (4000 NIS). Which means that I might have done the GMAT 5 times for that price (not recommended - but maybe 2 times would have been enough).

If you are not sure whether to take a course, I suggest you download the software from the GMAT website, and do one of the sampel tests. Skip the essays, and do the Quantitve and Verbal. Don't take rests, and don't cheat (yourself). The sample exam is very similar to the real test, and the score you get might give you an indication of where you stand.

If you feel you can handle the quantitive section, you might want to consider a verbal course. If you got 600 in this exam, you might not need a course at all - simply solve problems from ETS books, and then take the exam. I suggest you practice at least 4 sample exams before the real thing.

Pick Schools to Send the Grade

Before you take the test you choose 5 MBA programs you want to send the grade to. If you later on decide on different schools, you can ask the GMAT guys to send it to additional schools (for the nice price of 25$ per school). So it is nice to pick the schools you are going to apply to, but not crucial.


This is your TODO list:

Read my post. Download the sample exams from the official website. Do the test and see your initial level. Either take a course or study yourself. Practice several sample tests. Do the exam once or twice. Get 700.

Good luck!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Do You Really Want an MBA?

Before you get involved in the admissions process, take a moment and read this post. It is probably the most important post in this blog.

I suggest that you think hard if an MBA is really what you want and need. The MBA Admissions Comittees will make sure that your decision is based on valid reasons, so why not start this early in the process before you commit. I'm not trying to scare you or anything, but this is your life, so it is best to make sure in advance that you are on the right track. Plus, it would be a shame to waste a year on writing essays and taking tests only to find out that you don't really want to leave your work, or that your spouse does not want to leave with you abroad.

Do you really want to leave your work for one or two years in order to study? What do you want to gain by that? Are you not satisfied with your career? Do you think an MBA is a stepping stone, and a natural continuation of your career? How can an MBA help your career? Can a different path be more benefitial? Why not pursue a graduate degree in your field? Is the MBA a mean for career change? Do you want to stay in your industry or your company? Do you want to work in general management, investment banking, public office, private equity, consulting, or entrepreneurship? How is that connected to your undergraduate studies and your work history?
Do you have enough work experience? Do you have enough academic background? Are you in the correct age?

You are going to spend 100-200K$ for your studies. That is like buying a house. Like buying 10 cars. Like traveling around the world. Can you handle that? Do you have financial means? How do you feel about getting a loan? Do you want to get into such a financial adventure? Why? How do you plan to pay off the tuition after graduation?

You are going to leave your home country and do a relocation for several years. Are you ok with that? Do you understand that you might have to stay abroad for several years after graduation in order to pay off your tuition? Do you have a family? Discuss your plans with your partner: Are they willing to relocate with you? What are they going to do while you study? Do they have a work permit? Do they want to study (maybe they should apply with you to some schools)? Can you finance your children while you are there? Do you want to live in dorms or student apartments? Do you want to go to USA, Europe, or Asia?

Do you understand that the application process can take more than a year? Can you handle that? Can you handle studying in English?

The answers should come after you do a profound research, talk to people, and understand what a Top-10 MBA is all about. If you decide that you want this badly enough, then you might get into an adventure of a lifetime.

The MBA Admission Process

These are the steps (in chronological order) you need to take in order to complete an application. I am going to write in detail about each step later on.

1. Take the GMAT - you should score around 700. It might be difficult to get in with a score of 600-680 GMAT - but it is possible.

2. Take the TOEFL - The English test is manadatory for most schools, if you are not a English native speaker. You should score above 265, even 280 (That's in CBT test format). It might be a different score scale in iBT. Some alternatives for this exam exists.

3. Select the business schools you want to apply to. Do a research, talk to some students and alumni, go to convensions, check the ranking, and visit the schools' websites. Each school is different, the programs vary, each school has its strengthes and weaknesses. Do your research! it's important.

4. Create a list of all your proffesional, academic, extra-curricular, valunteering, and military achievements. You should have several years of proffesional experience post your graduation (military service counts even before your degree). The list should be long - include every activity that might show your initiative, leadership, awards, accomplishments, team-work, influence, etc. Leave out nothing. You might end up not using some of it, but this will clear your head. Be honest - DON'T LIE and don't make up anything. Summarize everything in a 1 page business resume.

5. Create a strategy - how you want to present yourself to the business schools. What are your short and long term career goals, and what do you want to do next? How is the MBA helpful to achieve your goals?

6. Select 2 or 3 recommenders. One should be your current employer. The third one can be a professor or a colleage. They should know you from different aspects of your past. It is essential that they know you and be willing to write 3-4 pages recommendation in Englidh about you. Sit with each of them in advance, and describe to them what the recommendation is all about. Design with them a general recommendation based on common questions. Don't write the recommendation for them - as it is unethical. But you can help them by reminding them of your strengthes and weaknesses.

7. Write the essays - each school has different essay questions, but there are some typical questions that you can work on in advance. Each school looks for different things in a candidate, so generic essays might not be perfect, but it's a start.

8. If you wish to do so - visit some of the schools you want to apply to. You might learn some things and then add to the essays. It also shows your enthusiathm.

9. Fill the application forms - they might contain short essays as well.

10. Send everything online and wait for the interview invitations.

11. If you received an interview invitation WELL DONE - you are two-thirds of the way there. You can prepare yourself for the interview by practicing.

12. Wait for the decision - you might end up on the waitlist. There are several things you can do while on the waitlist - but basically you have to be patient.

If you are offered a place - CONGRATULATIONS.

About Me

I am 29 years old from Haifa, Israel. I am an INSEAD J'08 MBA student in Fontainebleau, France.

When I started this blog back in June my goal was to share my experience of getting into a Top 10 MBA program. I applied to 8 business schools, and was admitted into 3: INSEAD, MIT and Oxford. I was also waitlisted in LBS and NYU Stern. In my blog you will find a full guide of how to get into a Top 10 MBA. I am no expert in getting into an MBA program, but I did my research. I worked hard on my applications, and gained some useful pieces of information. In a few years I would probably not remember much, so I decided to write down my knowledge while it is still fresh.

Hopefully I should graduate from INSEAD in July 2008. Meanwhile, I dedicate my blog currently to document my life here at INSEAD in order to provide my readers with the understanding of what a Top 10 MBA experience is all about. Especially I emphasize on INSEAD life, and what you should expect if you are admitted. Some of the posts are informative and contain a lot of tips I learnt the hard way.

I am a software engineer by profession. My last job was a software projects leader in Elbit Systems in Haifa, Israel. I studied in the Technion institution in the Electrical Engineering Department, and graduated in 2004. Before my studies I served in the Israeli Navy for 3 years. I also worked as a computer science high school teacher for 4 years.

You may want to learn from my experience and try some of it yourself. You might want to consider alternatives. I mean that there is probably more than one way to get in. Perhaps mine is not even the best. You may just want to read my blog to get some insights or a different point of view. You might disregard everything I have to say and work on your entire application for one month, only to get yourself into Harvard (Lucky you).