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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?

Chioma Isiadinso

Chioma Isiadinso, chief executive of Expartus, the business school admissions consultancy, a former business school admissions manager and author of The Best Business Schools’ Admissions Secrets, answered reader’s questions on Monday, 29th July 2013.


Do you think an online MBA is now as worthwhile as a traditional MBA (studying on campus), if not better given today’s increasingly digital world?

Chioma: How you define worthwhile can vary from one person to another. It depends on what you wish to get out of the MBA. The world has become more technologically connected. At the same time more online MBA programmes are being created and they are becoming somewhat more acceptable than in the past.

However, the decision to choose a traditional MBA versus an online MBA depends on your overall objectives. Some students do not have the flexibility to take one to two years off from work. For such students a part time MBA in the city where they live can be an option. Others can choose to do an online MBA for the above reason. Online MBA options that are strictly virtual have detractors including the lack of face to face interaction and learning from classmates.

Regardless of your decision, do make sure to fully research the programme to ensure a good fit and that it can provide you with the right education that you need for your professional advancement.

How can I make myself stand out on my business school application? What points should I focus on?

Chioma: To stand out in your MBA application you need to have a clear message of WHO you are and WHAT you want to do career-wise and show that it fits in with what the school offers.

With regards to the message of who you are as a candidate, make sure you highlight both in your resume, your essay(s) and third party recommendation (your recommendations) that you are someone who is genuinely passionate and interesting…that you have a track record of impacting those around you (people you work with, your firm, your projects, even outside of work). Schools are interested in people who are doers…they make things happen…they don’t sit on the sidelines of life….

Your goals are also interesting and should come through both through your resume and in other parts of your application….if you have done something unusual and interesting in your career or you have had a career progression that is unprecedented you should have your recommenders rave about you (better the bragging comes from the recommenders than you).

Finally, to stand out make sure you articulate why you have done what you have done….show that it makes sense in the overall scheme of your story and that there are no major gaps that are left un-addressed.

I’m thinking of studying for an MBA as part of my plans to launch a social enterprise. Is this the right way forward?

Chioma: Good for you for desiring to start a social enterprise business. We need more of these types of businesses in the world.

I would caution you to think carefully about seeking the MBA solely for the business start-up. Consider whether you could get your business off the ground without the MBA. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do with your business education. Many students have started businesses social enterprises and otherwise without the MBA.

If after you have researched the entrepreneurial business school path and you decide you want the MBA then consider the following when selecting your MBA programme: Coursework and faculty support, opportunities for social enterprise students (do they have a club, conference, business plan competition, options to get funding, etc), number of graduates pursuing social enterprises and loan forgiveness schemes for students (some schools have robust SE loan forgiveness programmes).

A recent FT MBA blogger wrote that it doesn’t matter if you don’t attend a top ten business school. What are your thoughts?

Chioma: You know the saying that the clothes don’t make the man? I’m a believer in that to some extent. There are numerous MBA graduates from schools that are not in the top ten who are extremely successful. Many successful people also do not have a MBA at all.

Having said that I have seen many people with MBAs from top schools who have used the degree to accelerate their career.

It depends on what you want to get from the MBA. If you go to a school that isn’t top ranked it is likely to be more challenging to get a job in particular industries such as private equity, consumer goods companies and top consulting firms. But you can work really hard and still get a job - it’s just more challenging to do. On the other hand, simply getting into a top school does not guarantee career success.

You should seek to get into the best school you can and when you enrol at the school do everything you can to maximise your experience and growth.

What are your tips for answering video questions? What should I wear?

Chioma: The video question is a way for you to candidly portray yourself. I know it’s a cliché but the best advice here is to be yourself. Be clear on why you want the MBA, what you hope to get from the particular school and how you will add value there. The video interaction is very brief so you have to focus on the most compelling and interesting things about you.

Regarding how to dress: If it’s for the essay video question then you should wear something that represents you…a pair of jeans is fine. If it is for the video interview you should be more formal: A pair of trousers and a dress shirt if you tend to be very laidback. If you are more formal, you could do a suit and tie. Ladies should wear a dress, with a jacket depending on how formal they want to appear. In any case you should treat it as a formal interview and wear what you would have worn if the interview was in person.

Columbia now asks applicants what their immediate post-MBA professional goal is. I’m not sure what my goals are yet, how should I respond?

Chioma: The good news is that you will not be held to any immediate term goals that you professed in your application. The school simply wants to know that you have a general sense of where you are heading towards. I would encourage you to give it some more thought and pick one thing. You may have multiple things you are considering but be willing to put your stake in the ground and pick something that you have honestly considered and would want to explore further.

Of course you will likely change your mind. You know that. So do the schools. But if they ask you for specifically what your immediate post MBA goal is don’t be vague - share with them something you would consider doing now.

How can I show I understand and value a business school brand and culture?

Chioma: The way you answer your essay questions, your responses to your interview questions can all indicate whether you “get” the brand/culture of a school. Schools like knowing that a student understands them. The smaller the school the more they care about this.

In fact programmes that care about you understanding them will ask whether you visited or how you got to know them. Schools like NYU Stern, Tuck and Haas are examples of programmes that do care a great deal about this. Letting the school know how you have engaged with alumni, students and the school directly will help you convey your interest and understanding of the programmes.

To read more about other experts featuring in this series, visit our MBA applications homepage.

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