Confronting The College Application’s Scariest Word

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You’ve been invited to a Halloween party. You know there’ll be plenty of interesting people there and the food and drink will be top notch. The invitation is appropriately spooky; it’s even been sent through the mail, with a fall-themed stamp and envelope – the McPhersons really know how to do things! It’ll be from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. – a good time for a party, just after the young trick-or-treaters are finished and before the older kids really get down to TP-ing the high school principal’s house.

You’re all ready to RSVP when you see the words that send a chill through you, like a stake through a vampire’s heart: “Costumes optional.” Suddenly, you feel clammy and nervous. Maybe you have something to do that night after all. The upholstery needs shampooing. You need to have your wisdom teeth out. It’ll probably be hailing.

Your anxiety comes not so much from the idea of wearing a costume, which, truth be told, you’d rather not, but from the fact that it’s up to you whether or not to wear one. If you go all in and show up as Cap’n Jack Sparrow or Cruella DeVille, will you be laughing it up with Leatherface and the Bride of Frankenstein or will you be batting your heavily made-up eyes at Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan from down the street? If you decide adults dressing up in masks is too juvenile, will you end up being cold-shouldered by the Hunchback of Notre Dame and the Wicked Witch of the West?
Imagine, then, the fear inspired in every high school senior by the word “optional” on a college application. You don’t need an interview–it’s “optional.” You may submit your Subject Test scores, but they’re “optional.” There’s one more short essay, but it’s…”optional.”

Paranoia mixes with anxiety as you try to parse the meaning of the word. What’s behind it? What does the school mean by “optional”? It’s OK not to do it, but will I somehow be punished for not doing it? If I do it, will I look foolish, even though I’m being honest and doing my best to complete the application? If I don’t do it, will that count against me, even subliminally? Will the admission people think I’m not really going to be a good student because I only did the required pieces? Will they think I’m a brown-noser because I did the optional stuff?

And what about all my competitors? If I’m the only one who doesn’t do the “optional” piece, I’ll really look terrible. But maybe a lot of them won’t do it; then I should be OK. But what if no one does the “optional” piece and it’s just me? And anyway, how much effort do I need to put into an “optional” part of the application? The “prisoner’s dilemma” at work here can drive applicants, parents and college counselors mad.

The easy answer is to assume everything that’s “optional” is really “required.” If an interview is “optional,” then practice your handshake and eye contact. If an essay is “optional,” get cracking. There’s nothing wrong with doing the extra work and you don’t have too much to lose. For example, many if not most, “optional” interviews are non-evaluative and therefore don’t really count. They’re provided as much to keep alumni connected to the institution as they are to get a look at you. Even so, why not have the conversation? You don’t really have much to lose. Same for the test scores and essay(s), although I’d say keep the bad scores to yourself and report only the good ones if you can.

But as hosts of this party, colleges should consider taking “optional” out of the equation. It just causes a lot of unnecessary panic. Are admission officers going to pay attention or not? If so, then there’s an advantage to those who do the optional work. If not, then why ask for it? Right now, applicants just worry themselves into a lather trying to decide what to do. And if you declare an essay topic to be “optional,” perhaps it should be less substantial than this example:

Duke University seeks a talented, engaged student body that embodies the wide range of human experience; we believe that the diversity of our students makes our community stronger. If you’d like to share a perspective you bring or experiences you’ve had to help us understand you better-perhaps related to a community you belong to or your family or cultural background-we encourage you to do so. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to Duke.

If I don’t address this topic, am I less likely to be understood and appreciated? (To add insult to possible injury, applicants are limited to describing their perspective in 250 words or less.)

To be fair, Duke also has an optional topic that can rightly be treated as such:

Duke’s commitment to diversity and inclusion includes gender identity and sexual orientation. If you would like to share with us more about either, and have not done so elsewhere in the application, we invite you to do so here. (Also 250 words.)

Admission officers say they truly don’t favor the doer over the avoider, but it’s only human nature to give an advantage to the doers, however subtle or even unconscious that may be. If my invitation says “costumes required,” at least I know I won’t be embarrassed if I show up in full gear and I can choose not to go at all if I don’t like to dress up. And the stakes aren’t that high. But for college applicants, the pressure is already high enough. Eliminating “optional” where possible from applications’ vocabulary would make them at least slightly less gloomy.

4 Frequently Asked Questions | College Coach

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At the start of this year’s application season, we released a series of articles on what to expect with the 2014-2015 Common Application. In response, we received many great Common App questions from our readers and thought it might be helpful to share the most frequently asked questions to help you put the finishing touches on your applications.

4 Common App FAQs
Q: Can a recommendation from one teacher be sent to multiple schools on my list?

A: Each teacher can write one letter of recommendation for you, and this same letter gets sent to all of the schools to which you have assigned him/her on the “Recommenders and FERPA” section of the Common Application. If you decide to apply to more schools later on in the process, your teacher’s letter will be sent automatically to those schools as well, as long as you have assigned him/her as the recommender for those new institutions.

Q: If I report my SAT/ACT scores on the Common App, do I still have to send the official scores through College Board and the ACT?

A: Yes! After requesting that your official score reports be sent out, it can take 3-5 weeks for colleges to receive them. Be sure to submit your SAT/ACT requests early so that your scores get mailed well before application deadlines.

Q: Will it reflect poorly on my application if I don’t self-report test scores via the Common App?

A: Not at all! Feel free to leave the test section blank on the Common App. Most colleges will only use official test scores sent by the testing agencies and will not focus on your self-reported scores on the application.

Q: If I submitted the Common App to one school for Early Decision/Early Application, how to I make changes to my application before I send it to my regular decision schools? Do I need to create a separate version?

A: There’s no need to start from scratch. Once you submit the application to your ED/EA school, you’ll be able to edit any section of the application before you submit to the other schools on your list. Just be aware that you are only allowed to make changes to your main essay a total of two times before the Common App “locks” you into your third and final version of the essay.

Discussing: Scholarship Renewals, College Essays, and the New Common App Prompts

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Beth Heaton returned as host for this episode of Getting In: A College Coach Conversation, incorporating a wide range of timely topics. Covering information about scholarship renewal, the new Common Application essay prompts, and how to begin the essay writing process, this episode is packed full of great information!

Renewing College Scholarships

Did you know that not every scholarship is necessarily good for all four years of college? Cheryl Hunt joined Beth for her inaugural Getting In: A College Coach Conversation show to discuss this tricky subject. Cheryl is a 27-year college finance veteran, including work at both Azusa Pacific and Chapman University in California. In this segment, Cheryl walked listeners through the questions they need to ask now, at the time of the award offer, in order to make great decisions. Spoiler alert: there are many scholarships that might last for just one year, or need to be renewed each year—tune in to learn how to handle these!

Common Application Essay Prompts for 2017-2018

Lauren Randle joined Beth in the show’s second segment to discuss the recently released and updated Common Application essay prompts. Going prompt by prompt, Lauren and Beth highlighted the updates and analyzed the new prompts. Students applying in the 2017-18 application cycle will reap the benefits of these updated (and additional!) prompts, but only if they’re prepared to scrutinize the questions and attack them in the way they were meant to be written. Tune in to hear Beth and Lauren share their expectations for how students might address the old, updated, and new prompts—and to decide which prompt might be best for you!

Starting the College Essay

Finally, in the third segment, Mary Sue Youn joined Beth to discuss getting started on your college essays. With such a daunting task, where do you even begin? Beth and Mary Sue shared their “go-to” methods for helping students pick a topic and choose their writing angle. They also shared valuable insights for students who are feeling really stuck—make sure to listen to the full segment to hear all of their tips and tricks.

Don’t Overlook These Three Important Sections of Your Common Application

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Will it require more effort from students to enhance these sections of their applications?

When students sit down to begin working on their college applications, most are intensely focused on just a single aspect of the process: the college essay. After all, top grades and test scores alone are never enough to gain admission into the nation’s more selective colleges and universities. It’s the essay that helps students distinguish themselves, right? While it’s true that stellar essays are critically important to colleges that evaluate their applicants holistically, there are three additional components of the Common Application that provide exceptional opportunities for students to stand out. Will it require more effort from students to enhance these sections of their applications? You betcha. But when thousands upon thousands of students are vying for a limited number of seats, it’s worth it.

1. Activities Page: Club Descriptions

For every club listed on the Activities page of the Common App, students are required to write an overall description of their involvement. This commonly includes leadership positions/titles, one’s role within the organization, and/or a brief overview of the club’s purpose. But here’s the catch. You only have 150 characters (approximately 20 words) to accomplish this task. Given these constraints, most students end up providing middling, nonspecific descriptions of their clubs—perhaps believing that (a) activity descriptions are an unimportant piece of the Common App, and/or (b) 150 characters isn’t enough room to creatively capture one’s commitment to a club. Think again! When reading applications for Bennington, Barnard, and Connecticut College, I always appreciated the student who took the time to write pithy, detailed, or entertaining descriptions. Tell me—which summary for “Hospital Volunteer” below impresses you more?

  • I perform community service at Mass General, including paper deliveries and children’s crafts.
  • It’s never a dull moment at Mass General. From delivering morning papers to creating crafts with the children, I love serving as a teen volunteer.

2. College Supplements: Optional Essays

Let me be direct about this: “optional essays” should not be considered optional. Do students technically have the ability to leave these essays blank and still submit their applications? Sure they do! Is this a wise decision? Absolutely not. Curious to see some examples of optional essays? Take a look at the questions below.

  • Why do YOU want to go to college? We know it is an excellent path to a career, but we want to hear more specifically about what you are hoping to gain from your time in college. Tell us about yourself and your experiences that have led to this decision. (George Mason University)
  • What do you do? Why do you do it? (Lafayette College)
  • In 300 words or less, help us understand what aspects of Northwestern appeal most to you, and how you’ll make use of specific resources and opportunities here. (Northwestern University)

Students who elect not to complete these optional questions are essentially telling colleges: I’m really not that into you. Admissions officers often reason that students with a genuine desire to attend their college will want show their sincerity and excitement for that school by taking the time to draft a thoughtful essay. While this rationale seems logical, I admit it’s a tad unfair that some colleges call these essays “optional” if they actually place a significant amount of weight on those responses. But from the college perspective, it would be unfortunate if a terrific student chose not to apply simply because they didn’t have the desire/time/energy to complete the optional essay. Colleges don’t want to discourage students from applying, but they can (and do) value those who take the extra step to answer those additional prompts.

3. College Supplements: Required Essays

As an admissions officer who has evaluated thousands of applications, I can’t tell you the number of times I felt wildly impressed after reading a main Common Application essay, only to be let down after reviewing a bland and generic supplemental response. Students often place so much emphasis on the main personal statement, they can lose steam when it’s time to tackle supplemental essay questions.

When Georgia Tech asks “beyond rankings, location, and athletics, why are you interested in attending Georgia Tech,” how will you respond if you are primarily attracted to their strong reputation, vibrant urban setting, and infectious school spirit? The single most important step students can take to prepare for school-specific questions is to research!

Go online; read up on the school’s philosophy and mission; check out details pertaining to your prospective major; find specific class titles that interest you; locate a study abroad program that excites you; identify academic opportunities that are unique to that school; determine which clubs on campus you’d most like to join; take a virtual tour (if one’s available); scan the student newspaper online for hot issues on campus; and talk to current students (or alumni) if possible. Then, after you’ve conducted your research, take the next step and show an authentic connection between the school and you. How do those facts fit with the sort of person you are and the type of college experience you desire?

Much of the Common Application is common. Every student who applies must submit biographical information, a family background, and an educational history. It’s the personal aspects of the application—including the Activities page and the supplemental essays — that will allow you to shine. Best of luck!

10 Biggest Changes to the 2017-18 Common Application | Part 2

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What the 2017-2018 Common App Changes Mean for You – Part 2

Welcome back to Part 2 of our blog that highlights ten of the biggest changes to this year’s Common Application. In Part 1, we revealed tips on who exactly needs to complete the new Courses and Grades section of the application, and the dangers of using Google Drive when transferring your essays from Google Docs into the Common App. But now, let’s turn our attention to six additional Common App changes.
5. Sex/Gender Clarifications

To be more sensitive to those students who do not comfortably fall into the male-female binary, the Common App no longer asks students to indicate their “sex assigned at birth” during the account creation process. Rather, on the Profile page of the application, students will be asked to bubble in either a male or female sex and then immediately be given the opportunity to clarify their gender identity in the space below.

Common App Changes

Insider’s Tip: Students have 100 characters (including spaces) to provide details about their gender identity on this optional question.

6. Two New Activity Headings

There are now 30 different activity types available on the Activities page of the application, thanks to the addition of internship and social justice options on the dropdown menu.

Common App Changes to Activity Headings

Insider’s Tip: Think critically about whether your volunteer efforts would best be categorized as community service or social justice on the dropdown menu. Picking up trash in your local park or spending time with seniors in a nursing home are prime examples of community service. Raising money for new immigrants in your community or serving meals to the homeless illustrate a commitment to human rights and equality.

7. Easier Activity Removal

Staying right here on the Activities page, students will notice a little trash can icon in the bottom right-hand corner of each activities listing. If you need to delete an entire activity, simply click on the trash can. (You might be wondering how this is an improvement on last year’s application because it seems so basic, right? Trying to explain the old method would take far too long, so let’s all just be glad that this process has been streamlined!)

Common App Changes Activity Removal

Insider’s Tip: Once you delete an activity, you cannot get it back. None of the information you previously entered will be saved, so think twice before you remove it.

8. Two New Personal Essay Prompts (and Three Revisions)

We love the two new essay choices available to students on the Common App, especially number six, which reads: Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? To learn more about the changes to this year’s essay options, and to determine which one might be the best choice for you, be sure to read our blog and take this quiz.

9. Advisor Account

Students who would like a trusted adult (such as a mentor, college counselor, or teacher) to review a copy of their application now have two options. As in previous years, students can opt to share their Common App username and password with the advisor, or—thanks to a new feature of the Common App this year—students can invite the adult to create an advisor account via the Recommenders and FERPA page of the application. There are pros and cons to both of these options. While some advisors prefer to proofread applications by directly logging into their students accounts, be aware that by giving an advisor your login credentials, you’re essentially granting them full and unrestricted access to the application itself. If they make any changes to your application or mistakenly delete an entry, you’ll need to review and potentially correct those errors yourself. On the other hand, by allowing an advisor to see a read-only version of your application, they won’t be able to conduct a line-by-line review of each Common App page and catch potential omissions.

Common App Changes Advisor Account

Insider’s Tip: Students can invite up to three advisors at a time to review a read-only version of their application, and this invitation can be revoked at any time by clicking on the trash can icon.

10. Word Count Limits

Thank you, Common App, for developing this oh-so-simple tool for showing students the minimum and maximum word counts for all essays. Sometimes colleges neglect to inform applicants of a suggested word limit (leading to frantic questions of “how ‘short’ should a ‘short paragraph’ be?”), and at other times the text box actually provides more room than the essay instructions would imply. Now students can easily see both the high and low end ranges for all text box entries.

Common App Changes to Word Counts

Insider’s Tip: Just because a text box may allow you to exceed the recommended maximum word limit, don’t be tempted to go overboard. “Roughly 250 words” can comfortably mean up to 275 words, but submitting an essay of 300 words may be pushing it.

The Common App has done it again! Every year they continue to make practical and useful enhancements to their platform that all seek to enrich the user experience. And students can expect to see continued improvements year after year, especially now that there’s another major player competing in the college application market—the Coalition Application. But one million students can’t be wrong. Thanks to the dynamic versatility of the application, the wide range of colleges that accept it, and its easy-to-use interface, the Common Application continues to be our number one choice for students applying to college.

10 Biggest Changes to the 2017-18 Common Application | Part 1

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What the 2017-2018 Common App Changes Mean for You

The Common Application, which is accepted by nearly 730 colleges and universities across the country and around the world, underwent a bit of a makeover this summer. Students who created a Common App account prior to August 1 will notice several enhancements to the application as they navigate their way across the online platform over the next few months. Some of the changes are minor, perhaps better viewed as timesavers or user-experience upgrades than major developments. But some of the modifications are significant and provide students ever greater opportunities for self-expression and reflection. Below are our picks for the 10 biggest changes to the 2017-18 Common Application.

1. Courses & Grades

Chapman University ● New York School of Career and Applied Studies (a division of Touro College) ● Ohio State University ● Purdue University ● The George Washington University ● University of Southern California ● West Virginia University

Students applying to at least one of the seven colleges above will be required to complete a brand new section of the application titled Courses & Grades (C&G). Located just under the Writing section on the application menu, C&G is essentially a self-reported transcript. Students (a) who have access to their high school transcript, (b) whose transcripts provide final grades, and (c) whose school operates on a traditional semester, trimester, quarter, or block schedule will be prompted complete detailed course information for all classes taken in grades 9-11. The first time you enter the C&G module, you’ll be taken through a Course Assistant Wizard. Here you must indicate:

  • the grading scale used by your high school 100-1, A-F, etc.),
  • the frequency which your grades are reported on your transcript (semester, yearly, etc.),
  • the level of the class (standard, honors, AP, etc.),
  • the number of credits you earned in each class (usually 1.0),
  • and, finally, the course titles and grades themselves.

As long as you have a copy of your high school transcript close at hand, completing the C&G section is relatively straightforward. Of course, there are always special circumstances that slightly muddle the process, such as students who attended more than one high school during a single academic year, or students who earned high school credit while still in 8th grade. Not to worry, for the Common App’s Solutions Center has you covered! You can learn more about the nuances of completing the C&G section by watching these YouTube videos or searching for “courses and grades” on the Solution Center’s homepage.

Common App Support Courses and Grades

Insider’s Tip: If you are not applying to any of the seven colleges listed above, do not waste your time filling out the C&G section. Colleges that do not require C&G won’t even be able to see the completed form on your application, so you can’t submit this self-reported information even if you wanted to.

2. Google Drive Integration

Students who utilize Google Docs to write and edit their essays may be pleased to learn there is now a process to transfer the contents of their Google Docs directly into the Common Application. Anywhere you’re asked to respond to an essay question, expect to see the Google Drive icon in the header just above the text box itself. After granting the Common App permission to access your Google Drive account, you’ll be able to transpose the text of your Google Docs into text fields of the application.

Common App Support Google Drive

Insider’s Tip: Please note that any formatting features in your Google Docs that are not supported by a basic text field (such as colors, hyperlinks, charts, etc.) will be removed when the text is transcribed into the Common App. And sometimes, paragraph breaks or spacing issues appear during the transfer process. You will absolutely want to double-check your essay’s appearance in the preview screen of the Common App to ensure that the appropriate formatting has been preserved.

3. Preview Button for Supplements

Nothing helps a student spot application typos more readily than a careful review of the Common App’s preview screen. And up until this year, preview screens were only available on the six main pages of the Common App. Now, however, thanks to feedback from Common App users last year, the application’s developers have included preview buttons on all school-specific questions and writing supplement forms.

Common App Support Preview

Insider’s Tip: The preview screen will only work after students have answered at least one question on a college’s supplement.

4. More Convenient Resend Button for Recommenders

Let’s imagine that you virtually invite a teacher or coach to complete a letter of recommendation on your behalf via the Common App, but they insist they never received the email. Instead of having to search for the original request deep inside the Recommenders and FERPA page of the application, students can now easily access a simple request button right on the main screen of the Recommenders page.

Common App Support Recommendations

Insider’s Tip: Before you click resend, however, be sure to confirm that the email address you initially entered is correct. It’s possible that a mere misspelling (and not a hyperactive spam filter) is the reason for the missing email.a

Write a Graduate School Essay that Will Knock Their Socks Off

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Your graduate school personal statement may initially get only five minutes of an admissions officer’s attention

Writing an amazing graduate school essay is probably far more straightforward than you might think. Graduate school admissions officers aren’t looking for gimmicks. They’re looking for passionate, motivated, and prepared applicants who are ready to hit the ground running in their program. Read on for more details in creating your best graduate school essay. If you’re looking for one-on-one assistance, check out Topadmit.com.

Know what the admissions officers are seeking

Don’t make assumptions about your graduate school personal statements. Many programs simply ask you to submit a personal statement without any further guidance. Other programs will tell you exactly how they want the essay structured along with word count limits and formatting requirements. Review the prompt thoroughly and plan your essay before you begin writing to ensure that you create an essay that will be an effective and persuasive addition to your application package.

What should you do if the program doesn’t give you any specifics? With greater numbers of applicants to graduate programs, the trend is toward shorter essays. This is especially true of graduate programs in the STEM fields. Unfortunately, longer essays tend to be skimmed rather than read thoroughly, and most any admissions officer will tell you that the best essays that they’ve read are always shorter essays. Think about what is absolutely essential, and write about those aspects of your experience with passion.

Personal, personal, personal

Did we mention personal? Some graduate programs will ask you to write an additional essay about an issue within your chosen field. However, your personal statement should be about you as an individual. Write about issues only if they relate specifically to your personal experiences. For example, ‘In Africa, a child dies every minute. This stark statistic prompted me to join an NGO aimed at providing nutrition and healthcare for children in Namibia.’

Keep your anecdotes focused on your life after you began college

It is common for graduate school applicants to start their personal statements with an anecdote about something that happened during childhood or high school. On the surface, this makes sense because that event was what started the journey that has culminated in an application to the program. However, graduate programs are for professionals, and writing about your childhood is more appropriate for an undergraduate essay than one for graduate school. If you feel that you absolutely must include something from your childhood, use it as the starting sentence of your concluding paragraph.

Know your program and make connections

Securing acceptance into a graduate program is more about being the best match than about being the most highly qualified. Among applicants who meet the program’s minimum requirements, they’ll choose an enthusiastic and informed applicant over one with higher test scores and a better GPA who doesn’t seem to know much about their program.

During your graduate studies, you’ll likely do research, and graduate programs want to know that you can both participate in ongoing research as well as find a mentor for your own project. In your essay, write about professors in the programs whose work interests you and why. Also, there is life outside of the classroom. Does the school have a close-knit traditional college campus? Is it located in the heart of the city? Especially if you will be moving with your family, show the admissions officers that you will thrive in their environment.

Finish with a strong statement about why the school is your top pick

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the school is your only pick. However, generic essays have no place in the graduate school application process. Form letters aren’t persuasive, and generic essays won’t help your application package. If you can’t sincerely write that the school is a top pick, then why are you applying there? Instead, focus on creating stellar essays for the ones that actually interest you. Help the admissions officers understand your overarching vision for your future career and how your time at the school will prepare you to realize these goals.

Master the GRE

After you’re finished with your graduate essay, study for the GRE the right way with Peterson’s Master the GRE book, and get your best score.

HOW TO USE YOUR MEMORIES TO FIND THE PERFECT ESSAY TOPIC

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So you’re working on your college applications and just can’t seem to come up with a good topic for your essay! You hate all of your ideas and you know a good topic is the foundation for a fantastic essay! Don’t panic! Your predicament is quite normal and you’re one of many students sweating your essay topic right now!! The good news is we can help! Here are some tips for using your memories to find the perfect topic:

  • Go through old photo albums (or your Instagram feed) and brainstorm using pictures as your triggers.
  • Look around your bedroom – what items jump out to you as things that have meaning? Do this exercise in any place you spend a lot of time. The locker room. The school bus. The library. Your best friend’s house. Your favorite ice cream shop.
  • Try and jog your memory for the most meaningful events in your life thus far. Think about birthdays and anniversaries. Special visits from long lost friends. Competitions you won (or lost).
  • Take your nostalgia for a ride. Up to this point in your life, what have been your most cherished memories and why? You might not end up writing about your seventh grade science fair, but you could unearth a smaller, more significant story to tell.
  • Don’t be afraid to consult mom and dad. Even if you’re wary of letting your parents in on the brainstorming process, they often remember details you don’t remember or bring up stories you have totally forgotten. (Ours remember many we would like to forget.)

Your golden idea might be right in front of you. Maybe you see the blue ribbon pinned on your bedroom wall that you earned after competing in your swim meet while battling the nastiest cold you’ve ever had. Maybe you want to write about being a team player and a hard worker. Perhaps your dad loves the story of the time you fell flat on your face while dancing on stage at your annual talent show. Perhaps that was the exact moment you realized that performing was your dream and that maybe you shouldn’t wear four inch heels while trying to whip and nae nae. The perfect topic is somewhere in your brain, you just have to know where to look.

Need some help? Contact us via service@topadmit.com

What Should I Write About in my MBA Personal Statement?

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What should I write for my personal Statement?

One of the biggest questions that gets asked about MBA personal statements is what the author should include when it comes to main content points and what can be left out. A common misconception is that every piece of content in an essay of this sort has to focus on nothing but business accomplishments. That’s simply not true. An essay that is single-minded in that way will not flow well, nor will it make an impression on the reader; in fact, it could make a negative impression, making you come across as cocky or self-absorbed. You’re much better off telling some stories.
Many of the most effective and compelling MBA essays are created when the author builds the piece around anecdotes, stories about things that have happened to you in the past. MBA essay prompts are ideal in this regard, as they often specifically ask you to describe a situation from your past. As you respond to prompts of this sort, remember that it’s equally important to connect the story to you and explain why the story is important, telling, and applicable to your overall plans/goals. Don’t just tell a story for storytelling’s sake. Your story still needs to connect to your overall motivations and plans.

If you want some expert advice, focused and specified on your particular essay and story, make sure to visit TopAdmit today!

Tell a Compelling Story in your MBA Statement

In addition to telling a story, avoid getting bogged down by trying to mention every single thing you think is important from your past. You’ve certainly done a lot already, and there’s simply no way you can cram it all in to your set of essays. The sooner you accept that, the easier time you’ll have with the writing process. Rather than trying to fit everything in, spend some time listing what you consider the most important elements from your professional career to this point and ranking them as best you can.

Also consider whether any of those elements will be covered anywhere else in your application and whether they can be left out of the essays, or simply mentioned in passing. Once you’ve done this, you can build your essays around the most important items on your list.

As you brainstorm and ultimately write, keep the overall purpose of these essays in mind. And what is that purpose? Simple: to give the reader a better, more personal understanding of who you are as a person, businessperson, and applicant.

Be Personal and Honest

And lastly, remember to be personal and honest. You’re a unique individual with a unique set of experiences and plans; don’t try to fit in or somehow make yourself into a candidate that you think the admissions committee will approve of. Your individuality is your greatest strength as an applicant and if anything, you should be playing it up, not hiding it.

Along those same lines, don’t lie or stretch the truth. You’ll probably be caught, and there’s no faster way to torpedo your candidacy than to be discovered as a fraud. Besides, you’re interesting enough without embellishment!

An MBA: Will it earn you more money?

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MBA degrees enjoy great prestige in Asia, with the lure of bigger salaries and a passport to a new, high-flying career – but is a postgrad degree just the new normal?

The Master of Business Administration (MBA) brand is steeped in tradition and prestige. It’s a brand that has been built over 107 years, since eight people received the world’s first MBA degree from Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration in 1910.

Today the MBA is among the world’s most popular and respected postgraduate degrees and people are enrolling in ever-increasing numbers at the thousands of business schools across the globe.

Last year, Harvard’s MBA program enrolled 1859 new students from 9543 applicants. At a cost of more than US$200,000 over two years for tuition, room, fees, board and other associated costs at the Boston campus, Harvard is one of the most expensive places to get an MBA.

Add to that the lost income from taking a two-year hiatus from your job while you study full-time and, unless you can land a scholarship, that Harvard MBA could cost you in excess of US$300,000.

However, for many people, the significant time and financial investment is well worth it for the boost up the corporate ladder and higher earning power an MBA delivers.

At least, that’s the perception.

How much of that higher earning power can be attributed to having the three letters behind your name, and how much is due to the drive and dedication of the person willing to pursue an MBA is difficult to measure.

A growing market

What is known is that the MBA is a huge global business. It’s a market that is rapidly evolving and there’s no sign the growth is slowing.

In Australia, the MBA market is worth A$500 million, according to MBA News Australia, with 20,000 students currently studying at more than 30 Australian schools. The average MBA program in Australia costs about A$47,500.

In 1991, there were only nine MBA programs in China; now there are 236. The China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai is the top-ranked business school in Asia on the Financial Times (FT) ranking system.

Five Chinese schools are listed in the FT top 50, as well as two in Singapore, three in India and one, Sydney’s Macquarie Graduate School of Management (MGSM), in Australia.

Two other Australian schools make the Top 100 – University of New South Wales Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM), ranked at 54, and Melbourne Business School, ranked at 76.

Globally, FT ranks INSEAD, which has campuses in France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi, as the world’s best.

Salary surge for graduates

Like many of the ranking systems, the 2017 FT list is based on surveys of the business schools and their 2013 graduates. Career progression and salary growth are among the criteria, and the ranking system suggests the school you choose can bring significant advantages.

Stanford Graduate School of Business alumni report an average salary of about US$195,000 three years after graduation compared to those from Incae Business School in Costa Rica, whose average salary is the lowest on the Top 100 table at about US$90,000.

However, it pays to look deeper into the statistics before making a decision on which school is right for you. Those at Incae may earn less on a dollar figure, but it represents a 142 per cent salary increase compared to what they were earning before their MBA. That ranks the Costa Rican school at number five in terms of value for money compared to Stanford’s 74th place with a 95 per cent salary increase. Stanford is the number one school for career progression but Incae still fares well in seventh place.

Asia setting MBA benchmarks

MBA News Australia founder and editor Ben Ready says Asia is driving a lot of the growth in MBAs through heavy investment in its business schools. That investment, he says, has lured excellent students and achieved great results.

“Asia is setting the benchmarks for what a great MBA should be,” says Ready. “Within a decade or so it could well be challenging some of the old global favourites and elites that have held the crown for so many years.”

Ready warns it can be easy to get bogged down by the status of a business school and suggests looking for the school that best fits in with your life and offers prime value for what you can afford.

The INSEAD campus at Fontainebleau in France offers the world’s highest ranked MBA.
The INSEAD campus at Fontainebleau in France offers the world’s highest ranked MBA.

“Ultimately, the prestige of the school you got your MBA at will only be one part of the decision to hire you,” says Ready. “Sometimes people put a little too much credence on the school; [more] than is warranted. An MBA shows you have the enthusiasm and desire to further yourself in your career and demonstrates you can commit to the work involved to achieve your MBA.

“It is a clear statement of your intent to your current or future employer that you are ready to take your career to the next level.”

The Australian Institute of Business (AIB) offers one of the cheapest accredited MBA degrees in Australia. Its Agile MBA is all provided online at a cost of about A$26,000, compared with the more than A$80,000 you would pay at any of the three FT-ranked Australian universities. It’s also the largest MBA school in Australia, with more than 4300 current students and in excess of 4500 global alumni.

AIB’s joint CEO Joel Abraham says while there are no guarantees, evidence does show an MBA increases your chances of success.

“It’s a table stake,” says Abraham. “It’s showing how seriously you are taking your profession and your career.” The MBA, he says, is a marathon that requires hard work over a substantial period of time and “only those with the true belief to achieve their desire will see it through”.

He says people will determine prestige on many different factors – is it the highest fees, or the one with most PhD holders on staff, or the one with the best research reputation? Abraham suggests outcomes are what matters most.

Attempting the triple jump

Some people choose to study their MBA because they believe it will help them in the global career market. Others hope to change industry or improve their salary through career progression. A smaller number want to make the triple jump – changing sector, salary and geography all in one bold move.

The MBA is considered a generalist business degree for those with a specialist trade – whether you’re an accountant, a lawyer or a hospital administrator.

“As you develop you get more skills and, as you become middle or senior management, you use less technical knowledge and the skill set required for those roles changes,” explains Ready.

“As a lawyer you might need to learn more about the finances, if you are in finance you may need to know more about the law, and if you are in human resources you may need more business strategy. An MBA takes you into all those areas.”

A survey of AIB’s alumni in 2017 found 40 per cent of alumni have changed job function since starting their MBA; 22 per cent have changed industries; 47 per cent received a pre-tax annual income increase within 12 months of graduation and an average annual income growth of 11 per cent after graduation.

In addition, statistics from the Graduate Management Admission Council’s 2016 Year-End Poll of Employers Report found nearly eight in 10 employers plan to hire MBA graduates and 71 per cent of employers found recruiting graduates with a business masters program was a priority in their hiring plans.

Where MBAs don’t rate so highly

However, for Hudson’s accounting and finance recruitment specialist, Barry Hodson, the MBA is rarely part of his key selection criteria.

He says jobs in the finance sector are hotly contested and employers are looking for professionals with relevant industry experience as well as soft skills such as adaptability, critical thinking, the ability to influence, and communication skills.

Hodson says while there are many CFOs without an MBA, very few would be without a CPA designation or equivalent. An MBA, says Hodson, is for those who want to extend out of their area of expertise and move into broader roles in the business world.

“Ultimately, the prestige of the school you got your MBA at will only be one part of the decision to hire you.” Ben Ready, MBA News Australia

Higher education researcher and policy analyst at the University of Melbourne, Dr Gwilym Croucher, says almost 40 per cent of people aged 25 to 34 now have a bachelor degree, compared to 25 per cent of the total working population. In the 1970s that bachelor degree percentage was about 3 per cent.

Just as there has been phenomenal growth in the number of tertiary-qualified people in the workforce, the number of postgraduates has also ballooned.

“International evidence shows having a bachelor degree is extremely beneficial over the course of a working life,” says Croucher. “The 2011 [Australian] Census confirmed that having a degree increases your income by A$1 million to A$1.5 million, or more, over the course of your lifetime, compared to if you just completed Year 12. Postgraduates get more than that again, but not at the same rate.”

Croucher says the increasing proportion of workers with university qualifications means saturation point is approaching, but it will take many years before that filters through to the labour market.

The MBA’s golden age

If an MBA is no longer rare, does it still hold value? Has the exploding number of schools offering an MBA meant a decline in teaching standards?

According to an article in the Financial Times (FT) this year, salaries commanded by MBA graduates after three years back in the workplace increased by the largest amount in a decade.

It reported the highest paying sector for MBA graduates from schools on the FT Top 100 list was financial services, followed by e-commerce, and says the past three years have been “a golden age” for MBA jobs, as sectors not traditionally associated with hiring from business schools now seek out candidates with business qualifications.

However, an article in The Economist in June 2016 says the number of MBAs awarded by business schools in the US has increased seven-fold since 1970, and the employment market is struggling to keep up. It suggests other Masters-level degrees may serve some people better in their search for an executive-level job.

Taking the alternative route

Networking, global study opportunities and broadening of perspectives are among the sought-after MBA offerings. However, as technology brings the world closer together, these opportunities are readily available through non-MBA routes, including online networks and forums, as well as workshops and conferences.

While there is some evidence the brand of an MBA school can propel you further, it’s not the only consideration. An MBA can be valuable for developing skills such as negotiation, diplomacy and personal branding. Most MBA graduates surveyed by FT report a high level of satisfaction, regardless of the school they attended.

“There’s no golden ticket for going to a prestigious university,” says Croucher.

What’s important when selecting a school, he says, is ensuring it links to your area of specialty and that the course content draws on research, knowledge and understands contemporary practice.

Ready rates subject matter, teacher quality, sharp content and access to networks as among the features to look out for.

He says one of the real values of an MBA is the strong friendships forged under pressure.

“The strategy or finance theory might be outdated 10 years on, but you’ll always have those relationships,” he says.

Ready believes the MBA’s future remains strong. The last four years have indicated a trend towards the emergence of specialization, but Ready claims much of it is driven by marketing from business schools trying to differentiate themselves.

“There was a bit of a lull after the GFC [global financial crisis] because a lot of people get a company to fund their MBA, and a lot of companies had tightened their belts,” says Ready.

“So there was a little smell around the MBA at that time, but it has taken the mantle again as the postgraduate business degree to have.”

Does an MBA still help you climb the corporate ladder and give you higher earning power?

“Those three letters are so telling about the quality and the pedigree of the individual.”