2013 Spotlight on You MBA Admissions Q&A with Linda Abraham

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2013 Spotlight on You MBA Admissions Q&A with Linda Abraham

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Miriam Berlin: Hi. I'd like to welcome everyone to the Spotlight on You Open MBA Admissions Q&A today. Out of all the feedback that we've received post-events, this is definitely our biggest request: more time for questions. So this one is for you and thanks to everyone who gave their feedback at the earlier events.

I also want to introduce Linda Abraham, the president and founder of Accepted.com who will be responding to your questions today. Accepted.com was founded in 1994 and today is a premier international MBA admissions consultancy. We've guided thousands of applicants from all corners of the globe to acceptance at top MBA programs. Linda's also the author of the best-selling, MBA Admission for Smarties, which she'll be telling you a little bit about later on during the webinar. Without further ado, Linda Abraham.

Linda Abraham: Hi. Thank you very much, Miriam, and thank you to the applicants who have joined us this morning. So we really have a nice distribution of people in different parts of the application process. Let’s start with the questions. Miriam, what questions should we start with?

Miriam Berlin: Sure, Linda. Well, we actually have quite a lot of questions already. One question that I think might be a good one to start with is a question on differentiating yourself. So Raphaella asks specifically, "How can a management consultant differentiate himself from other management consultants in the applicant pool?" But I think this is a much broader question because everybody has their own niche and their own section that they're in. So how can an applicant coming from an overrepresented group differentiate themselves, whether it's in IT or engineering, how can they stand out when they're applying?

Linda Abraham: Yes, it is a great question and thank you to the applicant who asked it and thank you, Miriam, for also putting it in a broader context. There are two ways that you can be overrepresented. You can be overrepresented in terms of your professional group. In other words, you come from a group that very frequently applies to business school, or you can be overrepresented in the sense that your ethnicity is overrepresented in the applicant pool, and you can be represented in both ways.

If you are the management consultant, there are a few ways that you can distinguish yourself. One, and this is true for everybody, this way is a way that any applicant can and should distinguish and differentiate themselves, by providing your unique perspective on the events that you're writing about. If you write about a particular project, and there has to be a reason that you consider it important enough to include in your limited essay real estate, you need to share that reason and you need to share it with a certain degree of profundity and depth so that you don't sound like everybody else.

The other way that everybody can distinguish themselves is by writing in specifics. One of the things I do, particularly if I'm presenting to a live audience is I'll ask a series of questions in general terms, like, "Have you volunteered? Have you had a leadership position? Are you a consultant," and I will get a lot of hands in the air. Then I'll ask those questions in a much more focused and specific way. "Have you volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and helped build a home for a disabled vet? Have you worked on a consulting project in Eastern Europe? A marketing project in Eastern Europe? Or have you led your fraternity to increase membership by 50%?" And suddenly, the number of hands in the air declines dramatically, and I'll ask them, "What is the difference between those two sets of questions?"

Somebody will almost every time get the answer. The first sets of questions were very general and in general terms you are very similar. In specific terms, you are very different, and your individuality can shine out when you focus on specific events and your specific insights into those events. So that's one way you can distinguish yourselves and we go into that, by the way, in "Five Fatal Flaws," free report. For anybody, whether you're from a large applicant pool in terms of ethnicity or in terms of professional background, those methods will automatically and authentically distinguish you.

However, lets deal with the person who, let's say, is from management consulting. Again, one way to distinguish yourself would be to not talk or write in terms of management consulting, but in terms of your specific project, also in terms of your specific achievements in those projects. Did you play a critical role? Well, that was a role that only you could play. Was the project particularly noteworthy? Why was it noteworthy? Why were you given the responsibility for being on that project? Again, going back to my point about specifics, if you write about your work in specific terms and what's distinctive about it, perhaps your achievements in those roles, then already you can be writing distinctively.

The other way you can distinguish yourself if you are in one of these fairly common professional pools is to write about non-professional experiences that still demonstrate the qualities business schools value, such as leadership, initiative, innovation, teamwork, etc. You can demonstrate those by writing about community service, sports participation, leadership, the arts if you participated in the arts, and things like that. So that, I think, is a long answer for a very short question, but I hope it dealt well with the topic.

Miriam Berlin: Linda, that was a great answer, but you are leading up to our next question, which it's good thing you're not writing the essay with your answer because the next question is about word limit. Yes, they have a lot of information that they want to give over to the adcom, but especially this year, if I remember correctly, a lot of the essays have gotten smaller word limits, so a few applicants asked that question. So how can you write a compelling essay and not take as long as you did to answer a short question?

Linda Abraham: Okay. Well, you can tell a story, a succinct story and then talk about why that story is significant to you. You have to be very focused in terms of what you are writing about. In any of these essays, whether they're 250, 500 words or even 1,000 words, you can't tell your whole life story. So you have to focus on events that are representative of what you're capable of doing and that also answers the question. That's one level of answering.

Two, you have to make sure that every word counts. Now we do have a page on the site that specifically deals with how to write essays, and there are a number of articles there on writing succinctly. You want to avoid the passive voice; it's much wordier. You want to use active and vivid verbs to convey meaning. Again, the macro level is you want to focus your essay. The micro, though, is actually how you structure your sentences and your writing. Get rid of any kind of gobbledygook like, "I had the opportunity to do X." "I did X," saves you a whole bunch of words. "I came to the conclusion that . . ." "I concluded."

Again, if you look at these articles, you will see ways simply to cut words and gunk from your writing. So there's the macro level, focus very much your essays on specific events and specific insights, and, two, the micro level, get rid of the gunk in your writing.

Okay. Next question. I was more succinct.

Miriam Berlin: Okay. Great. So we have another whole group of questions about recommendations. Latif and Jane asked how do they choose a recommender. Kay asked, for example, "Would a recommendation from a CIO who's not my manager, but works very closely with me help me in getting an interview call?" Another recommender question is from R.A. who asks, "I'm applying to Wharton, so does a Wharton alum giving a recommendation make a difference?"

Linda Abraham: Okay. The first rule to remember when you are choosing a recommender, this is top, this is priority number one, is the recommender has to know you well. They have to be able to comment from personal experience on your ability as a manager, as a future business leader, and usually as an employee or a subordinate or a team member. If you're just going for a title for somebody who doesn't know you well, you're making a mistake.

So if you work closely with the CIO and the CIO can comment from personal experience on your qualifications, then yes, that person is an excellent recommender. If your boss is not the CIO and can comment more intelligently and with greater information on your capabilities, then your immediate boss would be a better recommender for you. If the Wharton alum knows you well and can comment intelligently on your capabilities and qualifications from personal experience as well as on your fit with Wharton, fantastic. That's an advantage. If the Wharton alum doesn't know you as well as your immediate supervisor who is not a Wharton alum, then you're better off with a non-Wharton alum. If you want to establish a hierarchy on how to choose recommenders, the first element has to be personal experience working with you, usually in a supervisory role.

Second criteria would be, I would say, knowledge of the school, in other words, the ability to show that you fit in with the culture, and the third would be title. There is on the website an article that I wrote last year on President's Day, The President Wrote My Letter of Recommendation! Again, I was in somewhat of a flippant mood when I wrote it, but it does make that point also, and that would be another reference for you. But those would be the criteria.

Miriam Berlin: Linda, we have quite a lot of questions here. Another topic that seems to be on everybody's mind is the GMAT, especially how to compensate or what to do if your score is lower than you would like. I'm sure that's a concern for a lot of people here.

Linda Abraham: That is a concern for a lot of people and, actually, we had a webinar last summer called, That GMAT Score that specifically dealt with who should retake and when you should retake and what are the criteria for that. I also have a shorter video that you can look up on that topic.

In a nut shell, it's very hard to make up for the GMAT because you can always retake the GMAT. However, there does come a point in time where you've taken the GMAT maybe three times, your score's in the same 20-point range, and those numbers are going to be 50 points below the average score at your target program. Then I would say it doesn't pay to retake it anymore. You've tried. You've done your best. Presumably you've studied. If you haven't prepared, obviously it's a different story. But presumably you prepared and that's your score and you've taken it, like I said, three times. I don't think there's any point in torturing yourself further with retakes.

So at that point, you have to look at your profile and say, "Well, how does everything else stack up," since the GMAT is not the sole criterion for admission. Are your grades above average for your target school? Is your professional progression above average for your target school? Are you from an overrepresented or underrepresented group in the applicant pool? If you're from an underrepresented group and the grades are good and your career progression is above average, then it may still make sense for you to apply to those target programs. However, I would also suggest that you apply to some programs where you're much more competitive.

The other way to go if you've taken the GMAT several times and have been unable to raise your score, obviously, is to change your target programs to where you're going to be more competitive. If you haven't taken the GMAT three times or you took it and you feel like you made a silly mistake in timing or you were sick or there was a jackhammer going outside the building or there was some extenuating circumstances that you felt caused you not to test well, then I would say, "Take it again and raise your score." Whether that implies that you have to apply third round or apply next year, that's a whole separate question, but retaking the GMAT and raising your score is the best response to a low GMAT score since virtually all schools take or count the highest score.

Miriam Berlin: Thanks, Linda, that was really helpful. Ameenthan asks, "How do you demonstrate fit with a school?"

Linda Abraham: Fit with a school. Okay. Here at Accepted.com, and I believe in admissions in general, particularly MBA admissions, graduate admissions in general, but MBA admissions in particular, your goals drive everything, and it drives fit too. It's not exclusively about goals but that is one great way to show fit.

By that I mean, to be more specific, if you want to go into a particular field. Maybe it's investment banking. Maybe it's product management. Maybe it's, I don't know, business development in high-flying IT firms. You look at the schools and you say, "This school's curriculum and recruiting will really help me achieve those goals. This school has this program." Or maybe you want to go into family business and you know that Kellogg has a family business center or you want to go into health care and you're really interested in Haas' program in health care or Duke's. If you can show how the school will help your achieve your goals, that is the first level of showing fit.

Other levels of showing fit, other ways to show fit would be the culture of the school. Schools emphasize different things. Some of them will emphasize design thinking, Stanford, Darden, and Rotman for example. Some of them will emphasize a general management approach very much, not so much the ability to dive deep, but the broad view of management. Well, if you want to run a major corporation that may be very appealing to you. But again, that's sort of getting back to goals.

Let's go back to culture. Culture would be thinking about Haas' core principles for example, "Beyond yourself, students always," and there are two more. I don't have them memorized. So can you show that you are a student always, that you're constantly interested in learning? Can you show that you want to go beyond yourself and you are a contributing member of society? Harvard talks about, I think, a habit of community service, a habit of leadership. Can you show that habit of leadership that Harvard values so much? Stanford talks about changing the world, change a life, change and organization, change the world. Where have you effected change? That would be showing cultural fit. So there are those two levels of fit and those are two great ways to show it.

Miriam Berlin: Thanks, Linda. That's great. So we still have lots of questions. In terms of what you were talking about before, when choosing a school, Sasheena asks, "How do I determine my academic and career map?" If I'm understanding the question correctly, I think he's trying to determine what his goals are or how would he do that.

Linda Abraham: Okay. An MBA is a means to an end. It's not the end in itself. The end is the position and the career you want to pursue after the MBA, that the MBA is preparing you for. So what if you have this vague notion that you want to get an MBA or maybe you have a stronger inkling that you want to go more in a business direction? Perhaps you have a technical undergrad biology major, engineering major, whatever, and you want to go into more of a business role, a management role. Well that's very, very broad, so you need to focus your goal and narrow it in order for it to be an effective guide for you both in terms of career planning and in terms of the MBA admissions process and your business school education. You're going to need to choose a major and choose classes and choose where to interview and what recruiting events to attend and all those decisions should be guided by your goal.

So how do you take this vague sense of, "I think I want to go into business” and make it something actionable and real and practical? I would start with assessing what you like and what you dislike about your current work. Then you want to pursue positions that will give you more of what you like and less of what you dislike.

Then, okay, that sounds almost simplistic, but how do you find that? How do you go about it? Self-assessment you can do yourself, but how do you go about, once you've done that assessment, how do you go about realizing what positions will give you those qualities, that kind of a lifestyle and that kind of a career? Talk to people who are somewhat ahead of you in their career. Ask for informational interviews. Network.

A woman I interviewed recently, The Classy Career Girl, Anna Runyan, she has a networking challenge where I think she set for herself the goal of meeting with and then calling one or two people a week and meeting with two people a month, so that she just keeps expanding her network.

She's post-MBA, but if you're pre-MBA, you could take that same approach and say, "I'm going to meet with one person a week or two people a month," or whatever you feel is realistic and comfortable for you. People who are in positions that, "They seem kind of cool, and I'm going to ask them, I'm going to talk to them. I'm going to ask them, 'What do you like about your job? What do you dislike about your job? Did your education prepare you for it? What helped you? What didn't help you? How would you advise me? What were the jobs you had prior that were helpful to you or weren't helpful to you?'"

Take somebody to coffee, take them to lunch, and most people will be more than happy to talk to you because people like having their opinion asked as long as you're respectful of their time. After you have these informational interviews, and obviously you can be reading and researching on the web and off the web in addition to the in-person meetings and conversations. If you go through this process, you will have a much clearer idea of where you want to take your career and that will help you determine what your goals should be.

Now in terms of defining goals for MBA purposes, what you're really looking at is job function, industry and in some cases, geography. Geography is kind of an extra. For some people it's very important. For some people it's not important at all.

So job function would be do you want to be in business development. Do you want to be an in-house consultant? Do you want to be a product manager? Do you want to be a financial analyst? All those are functions. What industry do you want to do it? Do you want to work in health care? Do you want to work in software? Do you want to work in consumer goods, financial services? If you can define your goal in those terms, again, you don't have to choose which company you want to work for, although you could say you want to work for companies like X. But if you can define your goal in those terms, you will be well on your way to also choosing the best schools for achieving that goal and also using your time in B-school intelligently and effectively.

Miriam Berlin: Great. Thank you, Linda. How should an applicant use the rankings when determining which school to go to?

Linda Abraham: The rankings are great sources of data. If you want to compare schools quickly, if you want to look up average GMAT scores or average GPA, various facts on the schools and compare them, the rankings websites are tremendous resources. If you're attempting to determine educational quality or how the school is going to help you achieve your goal, I really don't recommend that you start there.

Where you might want to start, again, once you know your goal, is look at the specialty rankings, let's say, U.S. News or Business Week–I believe Financial Times may have it also–have for the schools because the specialty rankings are going to at least give you some guidance as to what schools have a good reputation in particular areas. So again, if you're interested in marketing, specialty rankings for marketing might be valuable.

I wouldn't limit yourself to that kind of research. I think that what you ultimately have to do is go beyond it and look at employment reports for schools, look at the curriculum at different schools. But the specialty rankings for your areas of interest can be useful starting points for your school research. Then once you're accepted, if you're dealing with multiple schools, you can layer in brand value at some point, but brand value is sometimes very hard to determine, and it's of limited value until you're accepted as a criteria for much of anything.

Miriam Berlin: Okay. Great. Thank you, Linda. Rachel asks, "As a reapplicant, am I at a disadvantage?"

Linda Abraham: Only if you submit the same application. If it didn't work last time, you have very little reason to believe it will work this time. But in general, no, reapplicants are not at a disadvantage as long as they can show improvement and growth since their last application. The people at the older end of the applicant spectrum may be at a slight disadvantage because their level of experience is not the level of experience the schools are aiming at. But other than that, in general, reapplicants are actually at a slight advantage provided they can show growth and improvement in their applications.

Miriam Berlin: Great. Thank you, Linda. And just in general about choosing schools, we also had several questions on that, and I know you touched upon this also, Jane asked, "If I have a GMAT score of 620, 7.5 years of work experience in IT, excellent academics, how do I know which school I should choose?"

Linda Abraham: The way to choose schools, I'm going to go back a little bit, not just with this specific question or this specific profile, there's four steps to choosing schools, actually three main ones. The first one is to determine your goal and, again, goal means the function you want to perform, the industry you want to perform it in, and sometimes geography.

Then you research the schools that support your goals. There's no sense, unless you're interested in human resources, there's no sense in applying to a program that has one class in human resources and no resources for human resources. It doesn't make any sense. It doesn't make any sense to apply to a program that sends nobody to Wall Street if you want to go into investment banking. You need to look for schools and do the homework once you have your goals for schools that support your goals.

So once you do your school research you'll know the schools you want to attend. Then there's another element to this. So now you've determined where you want to go, but the question becomes, "Who will want you?" And that’s dependent upon your qualifications. So then you need to evaluate what your qualifications are, vis a vis, the school. Now, the easy stuff to look at is the GMAT and the GPA, but there's a whole qualitative set of criteria that the schools also look at.

You'll see the average GMAT score. You'll see the 80% range for the GMAT. You'll also see the GPA range, and I also want to caution, I know there's many people who are not U.S.-based and if you can avoid it, don't translate your grade percentage or your class into the American GPA. If the school doesn't ask you to do so, just send over your transcript, and they'll interpret it and the school will probably interpret your score higher than the translation services. So unless you're asked to translate it or get it translated, don't.

So you have these objective numbers and you can compare your stats to that. Then you can assess where are the schools that are likely to want you. If you look at the Venn diagram that's on your screen now, the schools that are likely to want you, the universe of schools that are likely to want you and the universe of schools you want to attend, if they overlap, you need to apply to the schools in the sweet spot of overlap. If you have lots and lots of schools in that sweet spot you can choose what you like, choose the ones with the best outcomes in terms of your goals, the places you'd most like to live. Then you're in good shape.

If there's no overlap, then you're asking to get rejected and you'll either have to change your profile so schools will want you more, you'll be more attractive to the schools, more appealing, or you have to change the schools you want to attend. If the schools that support your goals are not the schools that are likely to want you, then you might have to change your goals. But something is going to have to give if there is little or no overlap between those two circles.

So, again, the three steps, determine your goals, research the schools, assess your qualifications, and then choose the schools where you have that overlap that's on the screen in front of you now.

Miriam Berlin: Excellent, Linda. Thank you. Mohammad asks a question about executive MBA's versus full-time. He says, "Is it the same quality? And are there any differences except for the part-time format and less time on campus? As I want to follow up on my business and develop myself with the MBA, I think the EMBA is the smarter choice," but he just wanted to hear your opinion on it.

Linda Abraham: Okay. This is an excellent question. Thank you, Mohammad. EMBA's suffer from the reputation of EMBA-light, that they're not quite as rigorous as the MBA. At the same time, at the end of the day, you end up with an MBA. There's no asterisk after your diploma or after your title on your resume. That being said, there still are some, like Wharton's in particular, Wharton's program requires the GMAT and the GMAT average for EMBA applicants is very close to that of regular MBA program. So there are even differences and distinctions among the EMBA program. That is kind of the downside of the EMBA.

The upside, obviously, is the part-time format that allows you to continue working. The other upside of the EMBA format is that you tend to be attending class with people who are much more advanced in their careers, and if you are more advanced in your career, the ability to learn from those people, network with those people is very valuable to somebody who is usually in mid-30's to, perhaps, mid-40's, even late-40's. So you have to weigh that up.

The other programs you might want to consider if you have the qualifications for them, and you can take the time off, which I assume you can if you're weighing the choice between the EMBA and the MBA, are the Sloan Fellows programs. Those are immersive one-year, full-time programs either at Stanford, MIT or London Business School for more advanced executives. Again, they are full-time, one-year programs for people who are more advanced in their careers and any of our clients who have gone to them have been absolutely thrilled. So you may want to check those out too if you have, let's say, 10 years of experience and are willing to take time off from work.

Miriam Berlin: Excellent. Thank you, Linda. We actually have a similar question regarding the differences between a one-year and two-year program, specifically for someone who is a career-changer. So could you talk about that a little bit?

Linda Abraham: That's also an excellent question. In general, for career changers, internships really, really facilitate that career change. Now, if you take, let's say, INSEAD's one-year program and you start it in January, there is time for a six-week internship in the middle of that program. So it also depends on how the program is structured whether you can get that internship in. I know that INSEAD also, like if somebody wants to go into investment banking, for example, financial services, they sometimes will facilitate an internship at the end of the program if somebody starts with a September intake, or they used to do that.

So an internship is very important for career changers, but I've interviewed many of the European one-year programs in particular, and they say that they facilitate career change just like two-year programs do, just with much lower opportunity cost, and I think lower tuition cost also. That is a good question. In the United States, probably the three leading one-year programs are Kellogg's program, Cornell's accelerated program, and Columbia's J-Term program. Cornell's is for people coming from a technical background who usually have already another Masters or another advanced degree. Kellogg's is for people with a business background, and Columbia's will take people with business backgrounds, but it specifically says it prefers not to be taking career changers because it knows that they will not have the summer internship.

So, again, that's a very good question, something that you are clearly and wisely thinking about. We also, by the way, have on the site, a page devoted to career change and you might want to check that out.

Miriam Berlin: Great. Frieda asks, "Should I use the optional essay to explain why I was laid off?" Similarly, we also have some questions from other applicants asking about other weaknesses and how to address those. For example, we have a few applicants who asked about being an older applicant. So maybe we should start with the first one about being laid off and then move on to older applicants.

Linda Abraham: Okay. In terms of being laid off, it depends how long you were laid off. If you were laid off for a month, I'm not even sure I would address it, especially if you quickly get another job. If you were laid off for three to six months and are currently working, I think you would address it by saying how you used the time. Did you use the time to volunteer, to acquire new skills, to travel, perhaps, a bit? That can be kind of hard when you have a job. So you want to be able to show that you used the time effectively to enhance your qualifications and get obviously a new job that is perhaps better than the old one you had.

The other thing is, if you are currently unemployed or your lay off is extended, you might be wiser to wait until you get a new job to apply because applying when unemployed, especially if that unemployed status is extended, can be really difficult. It can be a red flag and it can even affect your ability to get a job after the MBA, which would be really sad to spend all that money and time and then, because you were unemployed when you went into the program, have that hurt your post-MBA job prospects. That would be difficult. So it might be wise to postpone your MBA application until you're actually working.

Now in terms of being an older applicant, there are a few things older applicants can do. There are a few options. First of all, when we talk about older applicants, realize that most MBA programs, there are some differences among the programs, Stanford tends a little big younger, for example, Kellogg, INSEAD, IMD tend to older. So you want to look at the school's average amount of work experience in particular and average age of matriculation and see what the range is, especially, again, that 80% range. There'll always be a few outliers and the schools kind of like to tout, "Oh, we had a 40-something year-old or a 50-year-old," but those are outliers. So where are most of the applicants falling in terms of age and experience? If you're above the 80% range, then you are getting in that area of experience–it's more experience level than age - where the schools will question whether you can benefit from the program and benefit from the career placement.

So there are a few things you can do. If you really want the traditional MBA program, then one thing you can do is let the school know that while you need the education provided by the MBA, you have the career contacts and connections to get a job afterwards or maybe you even already have a job. Maybe you're going to be returning to your company. That will tremendously reassure the school that you're not going to be an unemployed graduate at the end of the program. The other thing you can do is apply to programs that are friendlier to older applicants and more experienced applicants. Apply to those programs that have higher average ages of matriculation because those program tend to value experience more.

Now what if you are, let's say, 35, again, most programs are aimed at three to eight years of experience and you have 12 and you are definitely an older applicant and probably in that range of experience that's going to have a hard time getting accepted to a full-time MBA program. I would then suggest that you consider EMBA's or I mentioned the Sloan Fellows program. There's also a TRIUM program. I think that's HEC, NYU and LSE. See if those programs, which are aimed at older applicants, Harvard has a program for people in health care that–it's not an EMBA. I've forgotten, again, the exact title of it, but, again, it's for older applicants and it may just be a much, much better fit for you. You would be taking classes with people at your level of experience who it would be easier for you to learn from. The classes would be geared for people at your more experienced applicants and you would simply belong much better. I think that took care of the laid off and the older.

Miriam Berlin: Thank you, Linda. Yes. We actually have another excellent question here from Persona. He said, "What can applicants do who have not had a chance to exhibit leadership in their jobs? Not all of us would have gotten a chance to be leaders."

Linda Abraham: Great question, first of all. The best thing you can do is grab opportunities to be a leader off the job and you might have had such an opportunity in college. This is, by the way, a very common issue for people in their early to mid-20's. It's not normal, not typical, that you get major leadership responsibility on the job unless it's your company.

However, in volunteer positions, that's where if somebody's willing to take responsibility and it's a community service position, people are more than happy to give it to you because they need people who are capable of taking responsibility, taking charge, managing, organizing and leading. So there's your opportunity off the job to show leadership, as well as to show community involvement beyond yourself, a habit of leadership, etc., innovation, all kinds of things that business schools value. So that would be my suggestion. It can also be in a sports setting. It can be in an art setting, leading a band if that's what you're interested in, a play group or whatever it is, church. It can be all kinds of things.

Miriam Berlin: Okay. Thank you, Linda. Here's a quick question, from Christine. She asked, "Is LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a common designation? Can I just write "LEED" in my application or should I spell that acronym out?" Am I'm just going to take that question and make it a bit broader because we had another question too about using jargon or specific terms that are related to your career that not everyone else might understand. How do you use that in the application?

Linda Abraham: All right. In terms of LEED, what I would do is write it out the first time, then put the acronym in parentheses after that first usage and then use the acronym later on and for the rest of time in your essay. I'm personally not familiar with that acronym, and I bet that many people in admissions are not. So that's how I would handle that. However, that, I think is a formal designation. I don't think that would go under the category of jargon.

In general, you want to minimize use of technical jargon. My sons, they like to give me stuff. If I can understand it, they feel that it's probably okay for a general audience. So if your mother understands it, it's probably okay for a general audience. But if your mother is technically minded, then try your grandmother or your aunt or your father or somebody who is not technically minded and see if the jargon is such that they understand it or don't. If they don't, then you have to use something else. You should get rid of it.

Folks are applying to business school, so if you are using jargon and technical terms that most business people will not understand–I'm not talking about techies. I'm not talking about biologists. I'm not talking about engineers. I'm talking about business people–then you're making a mistake.

You want to talk in terms that your reader will understand. You just have to figure out a way to express what you're trying to express without the jargon, and if you can't express it without jargon or without very technical terms that lay people are unlikely to understand, then my suspicion is that you are writing an essay that is not going to be effective in a business school context because you're talking about technical achievements, and not the kind of leadership management, teamwork skills that business schools value. So big warning there on jargon.

Miriam Berlin: Yeah, that's an excellent point, Linda. Thank you. Ashatosh asks, "Should I mention my volunteer work in my SOP, statement of purpose?"

Linda Abraham: Right. Well, that depends. It depends on a lot of things, Ashatosh. What was your volunteer work? What did you achieve in it? How does it relate to the rest of your SOP? What is your SOP about? Does it fit? Does it belong there? You certainly want to mention it somewhere in your application. Whether it belongs in your statement of purpose, or your goals essay, or an MBA application essay would really depend on the whole thrust of the essay, the other essays you may be writing, and what you actually did and accomplished in your volunteer work.

Miriam Berlin: Great. Thank you, Linda. Now Salmak is asking a question that I think we definitely touched upon before with regard to Mohammed's question. He writes, "I'm 34. I have over 8 years of experience. Which MBA is a better fit for me, a full-time or executive program?"

Linda Abraham: We did touch on it with Mohammed, and I'll just briefly recap: We also touched on it a little bit with a question about older applicants. The advantage of the executive MBA is that you can continue working. You don't have to take time off, so the opportunity cost is much less. You also will be attending school with more experienced students so the networking, the classroom discussion will be more geared towards your level of experience. The networking will be more geared to you.

The disadvantage is that the EMBA program still suffers from the reputation of MBA-light that they're not quite as rigorous as the full-time MBA program, and because they're part-time, even though you definitely do network, they aren't as valuable from a networking perspective as the full-time MBA. There also are, and I mentioned this a minute ago, the Sloan Fellows programs, which are one-year, full-time, immersive programs for people usually with a minimum of ten years of experience. You're not quite experienced enough for that, though if you wait a year or two you will be. They are very rigorous programs, very well regarded at Stanford, MIT, London Business School. You also have the TRIUM program, which I'm pretty sure HEC, NYU and LSE and is, again, an immersive, full-time program that you might want to consider.

You can't say across the board which one is better than the other. You have to determine which one is best for you and your goals for your MBA. So thanks very much for the question.

Miriam Berlin: Thanks for the recap, Linda. Christina asks an interesting question. She wrote, "For essays asking to discuss several moments or examples, is it okay to break up the essays into separate sections or should it always be one body of text that pulls all the examples together?"

Linda Abraham: You know, first of all, a lot of the essays asking for an example are very specific that they want one example. "Tell us about a time when . . ." That is one kind so I just want to give that caveat right now. If, like Harvard for many years–didn't have it this year–but for many, many, many years it had something like, "What are your three greatest achievements?" Many applicants, and you certainly can, just break it into one achievement, two achievements, three achievements with no connection between them.

I felt it was a more effective essay if you could tie the three, or the examples, together effectively into a coherent essay. It doesn't mean you can't do it the other way, and I wouldn't do handstands to try to tie them together if they don't go together, but I think the ideal would be to tie them together. It's not a necessity, but it would be better. So I hope that helps, Christine.

Miriam Berlin: Yeah, great. Thank you, Linda. Christina actually had another question. "For many schools, they've asked to indicate within the essays if we wish to be considered for a certain scholarship, such as the Forté scholarship. Do you have any advice on how to approach this and where to fit this in?"

Linda Abraham: I don't think there's any harm in responding yes to that. Forté is a merit scholarship, so I would just check the box. I'd also contact Forté to see what you have to do or whatever organization is referencing to see what you have to do to be considered for that scholarship and make sure that in submitting another essay or whatever that you do it. There's no downside to applying for a merit-based scholarship award.

Miriam Berlin: Great. Thank you, Linda. Erin asks an interesting question, "How should she choose a topic for the multimedia essays?" There's a lot of new technology that's been introduced into the application this year. I know Rotman has their video, the short, little interview video.

Linda Abraham: Yes, well that's a little bit different because you can't actually prepare for that one because you get the question on the spot.

Miriam Berlin: Right. I was going to say, maybe we could address Erin's specific question or if not as specific, but how to choose topics and then just in general about what the adcom are looking for, what's the difference between preparing for something that's with multimedia and audio or video, or something like that versus, let's say like the interviews or the essays?

Linda Abraham: Right. Okay. I think the basic question in terms of how to choose topics for the essays is a great question and let's start with this one. So you want the different essays to complement each other and when put together, you want them to present a very comprehensive and impressive picture of you, so you don't want all the essays to talk about work, for example. You want the one about work to highlight–they should answer each individual question, but that's kind of the premise–you want them to reveal different aspects of your experience, different achievements.

So if you're writing about work, that's great. Write about the most impressive thing you did at work. Write about what you most want the committee to know about, what you're most proud of. And then if you have another question, maybe about failure, you might choose to write about work again and about a time when you learned from failure or a bump in the road or when you showed some resilience. But the key thing is that the essays should complement each other.

Now getting to Erin's question about the multimedia or the other types of questions, so you wrote out the two or the three required essays and you know what you've written there. Probably you have not yet written about your love of photography or baking or the band you played in or perhaps the work you did as a missionary, or–I don't know–any number of things that are really still important to you have not yet made it into that application. Those other things, those fun things might be perfect in those four PowerPoint slides. They might really introduce another dimension of your background and your personality and a way that you can contribute to the school and that would be really, really interesting for the admissions committee to know about.

So I would tend to use those multimedia essays, PowerPoint slides, whatever, to introduce and highlight other aspects of you. Let's see, I think we've just about used up the hour. I'll be checking in on our facebook page if anybody wants to post a question there after the Q&A. I really want to thank you for coming. I hope you found it helpful.

Before we close, I'm going to give away a copy of "MBA Admissions for Smarties" to the person who tells me the three steps that you need to go through to choose a school well. Anybody want to do it? Three steps I outlined. Before choosing a school, what do you have to do? I'll give a free copy, either Kindle or paperback.

  1. Know your goals
  2. Research schools
  3. Evaluating your qualification so the school's going to want you.
That's right SC, so we'll be sending you a copy of "MBA Admissions for Smarties."

Again, the three things that you should be looking at when you're choosing schools are, one, what are your goals? Does the school support your goals? You have to research your school to make sure it supports your goals. It's what makes you want the school. Then is the school going to want you? And there's the Venn diagram I showed you earlier. We'll go over it real fast and then I will bring this to a close.

The school you want to attend, which is driven by your goals, versus the schools likely to want you, which is determined by your qualifications. The intersection of those two circles, those two universes, that's where you want to apply

So with that, I want to, again, thank you very much for attending. If you have additional questions, I'm more than happy to take them on our Facebook page. Have a good day.

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