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MBA Applications and MBA Success

Interview with Bill Ridgers


Bill Ridgers is the editor of Which MBA? and business education editor for The Economist. He is also responsible for the The Economist's full-time MBA ranking. To help you better understand the MBA admissions process, Mr. Ridgers took time to answer a few of the most asked questions about MBA applications and the MBA experience. Here's what he had to say:

What should students consider when applying to schools at the beginning of the MBA application process?

Well, there are some obvious things: does the school have a good track record placing students into the sectors in which I am interested in working after the degree? Does it have decent courses in the subjects that are of most interest? What is the reputation of the school in the wider world? What about the students -- are they of a similar caliber to me (or, ideally, just a spot cleverer and more experienced)?

Then there are less tangible things, such as a school’s culture; will I fit in, is it a competitive or cooperative atmosphere? Do I want a small, collegiate program or a large one with lots of resources. And, of course, how long do you want to study for -- one year or two, full-time, part time or at a distance.

How can students increase their chances of getting accepted to their school of choice?

Knowing exactly what you want from the program before you apply is essential. Admissions officers like to know that you have a plan and that their business school is a carefully considered part of that plan. Leave yourself plenty of time for the process -- preferably a year. Make sure that you practice your GMAT. GMAT has become an arms race, scores are going up every year -- not because the candidates are getting better but because people prepare for it more thoroughly. There are some fantastic tools out there (not least the GMAT prep course that the Economist is currently trialling!).

Also, don’t apply to too many schools. Perhaps a couple at the top of your aspirations and a couple more realistic ones. Make sure you take the essays seriously -- no duplicated, cookie cutter answers please. And (this may seem obvious) make sure you have no grammatical or spelling errors. Check, double check and also get a friend to edit once you have done.

If a student is admitted to several schools, which criteria are most important when deciding which business school to attend?

The main thing is to decide which will offer you the best path to your future career, whatever it may be. Don’t get too hung up on prestige, but do bear it in mind: you want a degree that will continue to open doors around the world into the future.

How important is school ranking?

It is both important and unimportant. Before even looking at the various rankings be sure that you understand the methodologies (each will measure something different) and decide whether it is relevant to you. Do not choose a school just because it is a couple of places higher in the FT or The Economist.

At the same time, they are a useful tool. You cannot be expected to have a detailed knowledge of the standing schools around the world, so use it as a guide. They may even make you consider a school that had not previously been on your radar. Bear in mind, too, that the rankings are also the means by which the outside world often judges the prestige of a school.

Most importantly, make sure they are only one part of your consideration, and a pretty small part at that. The types of things I mentioned in answer to the first question are more important

What about students who didn't get an acceptance letter? How should they move forward?

Work out why. Were you aiming to high? Was there a particular aspect of the admissions process that held you back (GMAT, interview, essays etc)? If you want to apply again, then adjust accordingly, try not to get downhearted, and try again. Schools say they like it when a candidates reapply having addressed past concerns. It shows them to be considered and resourceful.

How should students prepare for their first year of business school?

Clear the diary! You will have no time for friends, family, football or whatever it is that currently occupies you. Other than that, work out if there are any areas in which you are particularly weak (calculus, say) and think about some remedial classes before you start. A month into the program is no time to find out you are out of your depth. Some people find it useful to set down clearly their goals before they start; it can be helpful to refer to them when you are in the maelstrom of the course.

What are three things students should do while they are in business school?

Firstly, make sure you enjoy it: particularly the academic experience. It can sometimes be forgotten that it is an academic qualification as well as a vocational one. Revel in the atmosphere of knowledge. Secondly, take the time to make plenty of friends. Join (or start) a club, socialize as often as your workload allows. If for no other reason that friends made on the program might be prime contacts in a couple of years. Thirdly, try and get some international experience. Take a course abroad, do an overseas consulting project or some philanthropic work in a less developed country. Experiencing other culture will always broaden your mind and an MBA is the perfect opportunity.

How can business students maximize an internship opportunity?

Sadly, this has become such a competitive affair that many students feel they must start looking for internships almost as soon as they set foot on campus. The reason for this is simple: it is the most effective route into a post-MBA job. So having clear goals will help you focus your efforts and also encourage firms to take you on. Use every contact you have, and do not rely on the school careers office to find you a placement. Having said all that, don’t get spooked into accepting the first opportunity that comes your way. Hold out for a position that you really want.

Do you have any other advice for business school applicants?

Make sure you have considered all the alternatives. An MBA is great, but it is not for everyone. Don’t just apply because you think you ought to. It is tough; make sure you are fully committed to it.

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