Last updated: August 1, 2012 2:06 pm

Ask the Expert: MBA Applications 2012

Q&A: Chioma Isiadinso

Welcome to the Financial Times Ask the Expert Q&A on MBA applications.

Are you thinking of applying to study for an MBA? Are you cramming for your GMAT test? Perhaps you are preparing for an interview at one of your dream business schools?

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IN Ask the Expert

Chioma Isiadinso is chief executive of Expartus, the business school admissions consultancy, a former business schools admissions manager and author of the guide The Best Business Schools’ Admissions Secrets. She will answer your questions about the application process, on this page, on Wednesday, 1 August 2012, between 14.00 and 15.00 BST.

Email your questions now to ask@ft.com and they will be answered on the day.

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Hello Chioma, I would like to enrol for my MBA at Stanford next year God willing and I have just commenced studying for the GMAT. May I please know what it entails to get into Stanford?

Adekola Oyetayo

Chioma: Hi Adekola, thanks for your question. Admission to Stanford GSB is quite competitive and judging from the very low acceptance rate (7 per cent) the bar is clearly quite high.

Successful candidates tend to have very high GMAT or GRE scores (note that the average at Stanford is 720). But a high GMAT score alone isn’t enough to get admitted to Stanford. You will need to show that you have a strong work profile (ideally from a well-regarded company where you have a strong showing of achievements).

Your academic performance is also important. GPA of 3.6 or higher is often the standard. For UK schools, you will need at least a second class upper.

Finally, Stanford wants individuals who are able to adapt, find creative solutions to real problems and have a habit of changing the lives of those they are around as well as the organisations they are a part of.

Good luck studying for the GMAT. Once you get that out of the way, you can focus your efforts on writing strong essays and getting strong recommendations from your referees.

I would really like to go to business school but I am struggling to apply with the increase in tuition fees. Do you have any advice?

Chioma: You raise a really important question. Without a doubt, business school costs a lot of money. It can be significantly less if you choose to go to a one-year versus a two-year MBA programme. If cost is a major factor you may want to go with the shorter programme. You will need to consider whether the programmes you are targeting have adequate support and resources to prepare you for the post degree career.

It’s worth mentioning that many of the top business schools offer some scholarships but these tend to be only partial awards in most cases. (US citizens who are minority and women can apply for the Consortium scholarship or the Forté Foundation scholarships). Most top schools also have a loan scheme which applicants, regardless of where they come from, can qualify for.

Ultimately, it’s a personal decision that only you can make on whether the return on the investment is worth it for you.

Do you think the investment of an MBA at a top-tier school can still be paid off within a few years of graduation, given the current economic climate?

Chioma: The short answer is that the MBA continues to be a worthwhile career investment for many applicants and with careful planning you can pay off your loans.

However, you have to decide whether the MBA makes sense for you. Most people who pursue an MBA secure a job that pays close to $100K when they graduate. These numbers vary by industry and can be less in more non-traditional fields like social enterprises.

Being able to fast-track your career, build a strong global network and expand your skills remain the main reasons that people continue to pursue the MBA, despite a tough economic climate. You have to figure out whether you can achieve the career objectives you have without the MBA. If that’s the case, then you may find that deferring the degree may be right for you.

I’m a B-Tech student from India looking for an MBA in the US. I couldn’t pass my B-Tech exams on time so my degree is delayed beyond the stipulated four years. What are my options now? Can I still make it to a top 50 FT ranked business school?

Ankit Singh

Chioma: You will need to explain why you didn’t graduate in the standard amount of time. Top 50 schools could be doable but it will come down to how your entire package looks: strength of your work experience, recommendations, essays, GMAT scores and overall performance in college.

There has been a lot of talk lately about using MBA knowledge for social entrepreneurship. What are your thoughts on this? What do you think is the best approach to take if you are keen to apply for an MBA but also make a social impact?

Chioma: There has been a convergence between the non-profit, public and private sectors and more and more applicants are expressing an interest to work in a socially-driven career. I don’t think we are likely to see a decline in this trend. Those who operate in social enterprise contexts are going to be called on more frequently to be adept at tackling challenging business issues and having a robust tool kit that allows them to work across cultures, industries and even sectors.

If you have a social entrepreneurial background, make sure to articulate specifically why the schools you are targeting will be a good fit. Show how you will draw on your existing lessons in the social enterprise space and how you will enrich the programme based on your experience.

If you are looking to get into the social enterprise space, make sure that you have a legitimate argument to show how you will benefit from studying this in business school. There is usually scepticism on the part of the admissions board when people say they are looking to do something that involves doing good for business - such applicants are viewed as simply jumping on the venture philanthropy or social enterprise bandwagon.

You have to be believable and have some evidence, perhaps through your extracurricular activities, to make a convincing bid for admissions with a social enterprise career interest.

Do you think having more women enter business school is the best way to increase the number of women on boards? What are your thoughts on the campaign introduced by Commissioner Viviane Reding, to work with business schools to create a list of ‘board-ready’ women?

Chioma: I believe more women in business school will help increase the number of women in top companies across the globe. This will also drive more numbers of female representation at the board level. Business schools in the US are ahead of the game on the female recruitment front with many of the US top business schools posting over 35 per cent women in their MBA class (Wharton has 45 per cent women (the highest) and Harvard 40 per cent).

European schools are making progress but still lag slightly behind and will need to have a robust strategy similar to the US schools to identify and recruit more women to their programmes. There will be a need for similar organisations like the Forté Foundation that is dedicated to the education and career progress of women in business.

It appears that Commissioner Reding’s campaign is growing with the board-ready list already over 7,000 women. I think identifying women who have great potential for more business responsibility is key but this has to be part of a multi-pronged approach that starts younger even before women apply to business school.

Thanks for raising this important issue.

I have 10 years of work experience in the consulting industry and am currently considering an MBA; I am searching for the best programmes with the following criteria: US location, one year full time, class average age of 30 and top 20 ranked school.

I am also considering switching to work in the industry I usually do consulting work for which is heavy manufacturing; which schools / programmes would you recommend for that?

Mostafer Maher

Chioma: Your target of US schools means that you will have fewer options when it comes to top one year full-time MBA programmes. Unlike the European programmes where most MBAs are one-year, US full-time MBA programmes tend to be two-year programmes.

Here are just a few examples of one-year programmes you can explore: Kellogg, Cornell, Thunderbird, Babson and Emory University Business School.

I suspect more US schools will eventually consider one-year programmes but for now there aren’t as many options.

I would like to study for an executive MBA programme on multiple campuses in the US, Europe and Asia. What are the visa requirements for this sort of programme, and should I apply for visas at the same time as I apply for the programme?

Visa requirements can vary from country to country so it is probably wise to find out directly from the schools you are targeting what the protocol is. It is important to apply well in advance of the start of the program to allow for enough time to secure the visa. Most candidates who are admitted at top EMBA programs tend to have solid work experience and pose little flight risk which is often the concern that Visa Consular officers are concerned about. As far as timing the visa application, it seems that the ideal logistical option would be to apply all at once for all of them so you don’t have to keep going back to deal with Visa officers. Check with the specific schools you are targeting to confirm their recommendation.

What do you think are the most important points to focus on when writing your personal statement?

Chioma: The personal statement requires you to be succinct. Applicants must focus on the most important parts of their story and have very little space to do so. Identify the three or four points you wish to communicate about yourself and zero in with examples to show the point instead of making a generic statement that lacks vivid evidence.

Business schools usually require more than one essay so it is important to read the instructions of the essays carefully to ensure that you are answering the question directly and completely. One of the biggest mistakes applicants make in writing their MBA essays is to write generic essays for one school that they cut and paste for other schools. Unfortunately, the way the essay questions are worded can differ from school to school, making it obvious when an essay has been quickly adapted from one school’s set of essays to another.

With schools increasingly accepting both the GRE and the GMAT, what would you recommend I take? I have struggled to achieve a high score on the GMAT in the past so I’m wondering whether to go for the GRE instead or have another go at the GMAT in its new format?

Chioma: Many schools ask applicants to report both test scores for the GMAT and the GRE so the weak GMAT may still come up. On the other hand, you may have to assess what you have done so far for the GMAT preparation. If you are sure you’ve done everything in your power to improve your score -taking a class, tutoring, plus dedicated studying then you may want to cut your losses with the GMAT and try for the GRE. You have nothing to lose by taking the GRE if you think you will do better with that exam.

I am an engineer and I am considering applying for a one-year MBA at Insead or IMD, as I can’t afford to study on a two-year programme. Do you think these one-year programmes can help me change career?

Chioma: Absolutely. There is a misconception that applicants can’t pursue a career change via a one year programme. At the top one-year programmes in Europe, including Insead and IMD, a majority of the students successfully change either job function, industry, sector or geography. In some cases, some students are even able to make multiple changes. These schools have practicum consulting projects and industry networks that facilitate the smooth transition to new careers for students seeking career change.

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