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September 15, 2014

MBA Admissions Tip: Word Limits

With applicants for the round one deadlines putting the finishing touches on their applications, the question of how strictly applicants need to adhere to word limits is perhaps more popular than ever.  MBA candidates naturally have a good deal of information they want – and need – to convey in their materials, and getting the important ideas down under restrictive word counts is a difficult task.  While it might be tempting to run a bit beyond the guidelines to slip in that one extra thought, it’s important to keep the reasons for word limits in mind.

In addition to being a forum for explaining your goals and sharing your story, the essays also serve as a test of the applicant’s ability to communicate clearly and concisely, not to mention follow directions and answer a question.  Because business schools and post-MBA employers place a premium on all of these elements, adhering to word counts ultimately works to the candidate’s advantage.

The other consideration is the reader’s time.  Because of high application volume and the need to give every applicant fair and thorough consideration, schools are forced to limit the amount of information in each file.  If you consistently extend your answers beyond the suggested limits, you are essentially asking the reader to give you more time than they are devoting to the other applicants.  In other words, if you were to ignore the word limits and overshoot by 30% throughout, this might imply that you consider yourself to be 25% more interesting than everyone else who applied.

That being said, there is some leeway.  For the vast majority of programs, it’s generally acceptable to exceed the word limit by 5%.  There are, of course, a few exceptions:

Caveat #1: If a school gives you a range (e.g., 250-750 words), you should ideally stay within that range.
Caveat #2: If a school gives you a page limit (e.g., 2 pages), you should stay within that limit – without excessive margin manipulation or font size reduction.

In terms of the other end of the length issue, it is likely unwise to consistently fall more than 5% below the word limits, as this is valuable room in which to share further information about your candidacy (and might signal a lack of effort, experience, or accomplishments).

Best of luck to all those working on their application essays!

About Clear Admit:

Ivey Consulting is proud to partner with Clear Admit to provide comprehensive admissions information and consulting services to business school applicants. Learn more about Clear Admit here.

September 10, 2014

Another Admissions Myth in the New York Times

There's a myth out there that you have to do a lot of fancy internships and extracurriculars in order to be attractive to admissions officers at elite schools.

That is FALSE. 

Yes, that deserved all-caps. Why? Because that myth might prevent people who come from more modest backgrounds, people whose parents aren't well off or well connected, or people who have to work to support themselves, from bothering to apply to elite schools. And that's a terrible outcome.

Here's an example of that myth in action:

A column in today's New York Times talks about how high school students are shying away from "grunt" jobs, like waitressing, flipping burgers, or folding shirts at the Gap, because that would take them off the fast track to fancy colleges. 

Here's the problem though. That article interviewed a former Yale professor about why students might be working fewer of those jobs:

Mr. Deresiewicz [author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, which I reviewed here] told Op-Talk that admissions offices don’t give any weight to the kind of low-wage part-time job that Ms. Waldorf performed or that Mr. Ruhm and Mr. Baum studied. Instead, extracurricular activities and internships are a staple among applications and consistently impress admissions officers.

That simply isn't true. Ask any current or former admissions officer of an elite school and you'll get an earful. And from personal experience, I can tell you that when I was an admissions officer, I would always have preferred the person who worked at McDonald's over someone who did an internship that had been lined up by dad calling in favors with his golfing buddies. That's all else being equal, though, which it rarely is. But show me otherwise decent qualifications? No brainer.

Deresiewicz doesn't have any real admissions experience. He should stick to things he knows about, and it's a pity that the New York Times offers up his assumptions about elite admissions as authoritative. 

I'll end on a happy note. Years ago, I was advising someone who wanted to go to a top graduate school. She had worked her way through college (where she had done remarkably well) by managing a fast food restaurant. She, too, had reservations about listing that job on her resume. Would admissions officers look down their noses, she wondered? Would it look bad that she hadn't had time to do lots of fancy extracurriculars?

Instead of hiding the fast food job, I persuaded her to showcase it, because of all the great things it demonstrated about her: she knew how to balance her work schedule with a demanding academic program; she knew how to manage and train people who, in many cases, were older than she was, and whose English skills were limited; she was trusted with a sizeable cash till and with payroll; she was willing to push up her sleeves and work a decidedly unglamorous job in order to reach her long-term academic and career goals.

I knew admissions officers would be very impressed, and I was right. She ended up going to a top graduate school.

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founder of Ivey Consulting. She and her team help college, law school, and MBA applicants make smart decisions about their higher education and navigate the application process. She is the author of The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions and How to Prepare a Standout College Application, and also serves on the leadership team of the non-profit Service to School.

September 9, 2014

What Can Janeille Do For You? Take a Look

A great testimonial from one of Janeille's clients:

Janeille is phenomenal! I went into the law school application process worried that I wouldn’t receive an offer of admission from a top-twenty law school. Although I graduated summa cum laude from college, I struggled on the LSAT. Janeille never stopped having faith in my abilities and helped me prepare a strong application.

So much of the law school application process involves soul searching. Janeille helped guide me through this process and enabled me to highlight strengths I had overlooked. I went through nearly five different topics before I found the perfect topic for my personal statement. I then revised my personal statement over ten times. Janeille was always a phone call or email away if I ever needed her. She could have easily advised that my application was good to go after the fifth or sixth draft, but she was invested in my success and was patient throughout the process.

I am currently at a top-five law school, despite the fact that my LSAT was nearly ten points below my law school’s 25th percentile. I truly would not be at my law school today if not for Janeille. I have excelled in law school, and I attribute most of my success to Janeille. The skills that Janeille taught me were not just useful in the law school application process, but in law school and job searches as well.

September 8, 2014

MBA Admission Tip: MBA Application Data Forms

With MBA programs’ R1 deadlines past or just around the corner, we wanted to offer some words of advice about an often overlooked element of one’s file: the application data forms.  All too often, we see candidates leave these online application forms for the last minute, even rushing to enter all the required information from work on “deadline day.”  The truth is that a weak effort on these forms can do serious harm to one’s candidacy, as it might reflect poorly on the applicant’s professional polish or commitment to the application process.  This being the case, here are a few tips for those who are in the midst of completing this component of the application:

1) Don’t be lazy.  We know that many applicants feel “burned out” from their essays and that it’s tempting to zip through the application data forms and provide a bare minimum of information.  While it’s fine to use your resume as a starting point, make sure that you think beyond this ready-made content and consider other information that might be of interest.  In many cases, the forms are a great opportunity for you to list outside activities in depth, offer a quick explanation of a bad semester, share the significance of some professional awards you’ve received, and so on.  In fact, your application forms will often be the starting point for the admissions officer’s review of your file, so it’s important to put your best foot forward.

2) Follow instructions.  If a school asks you to list activities in order of importance to you, then do not list them chronologically (as you may have done for another school).  If the school asks for a contact person, title or the number of hours/week, do not leave these fields blank.  As attention to detail is very important, spell-checking is another important step in this process.  In fact, many admissions officers have stated that they use the application forms as a way to see whether or not candidates have the ability to follow instructions and show attention to detail.

3) Make everything clear.  The last thing you want is for your reader to have to play detective in understanding your career progression, making sense of gaps in employment, or evaluating your undergraduate performance.  If your listings are not clear, the reader may assume you are hiding something – a conclusion that could seriously damage your chances.  By the same token, you should avoid using industry jargon and be sure that all of your statements will make sense to a reader who is not familiar with your industry or function.  Given the level of competition in the applicant pool, the admissions office can afford to dismiss files that are confusing or difficult to follow.

4) Don’t go overboard.  Admissions officers typically review several files in a sitting – devoting much less time than you might imagine to each file.  With this in mind, avoid listing 18 activities, 22 awards and 17 publications – especially if some of those items date back to high school (or are more than 10 years old).  Stay focused on the elements of your background that are most relevant, while following the instructions that have been outlined.  Remember that the application process is an exercise in marketing, and that the schools appreciate applicants who are discerning about what details to share and know how to present themselves most effectively.

As always, best of luck to those of you who are applying!

About Clear Admit:

Ivey Consulting is proud to partner with Clear Admit to provide comprehensive admissions information and consulting services to business school applicants. Learn more about Clear Admit here.

September 2, 2014

Out After Curfew — Do You Have to Disclose?

Our friends at Blueprint Test Prep sent along this question from one of their students:

Three days before my 18th birthday, I was caught being out at night after curfew. There was no drinking or anything like it involved. The police made me wait for my parents to come get me, same with my friends.

The told me they were giving me a warning, but I never received any type of documentation so was led to believe it was verbal. I was also under the impression that since I was turning 18 in three days, that warning would be taken from my record anyway. Is this something that needs to be disclosed [on my law school applications]? And how do I find out if it was actually a written warning? Thanks

Because each law school words its disclosure questions differently, you'll have to read them very carefully to determine whether you have to disclose this incident on your applications. You might have to disclose for some schools but not others.

Many applications ask whether a particular incident happened — that's different from asking whether it's on your record. So don't assume you can ignore it on your applications just because you were under 18, or just because it may have been expunged, or just because it may have been an oral warning versus a written one.

Look for any language in the disclosure questions that creates an exception for juvenile incidents (under age 18), or any exceptions for incidents that were expunged from your record. Also look for any language that distinguishes between convictions and charges, and any language that distinguishes between felonies, misdemeanors, citations, and warnings.

Questions for you to research: Was the warning ever in your record? If so, was it expunged? You'll have to find out exactly what happened and exactly what's in your record by contacting the police department that caught you and issued the warning. Keep records of whatever they confirm one way or the other (even if it's just to confirm that there is no record at all). You'll likely need that information again when it comes time to apply for the bar.

For applications that do require you to disclose this incident, this one is pretty small potatoes, and I doubt very much that it will stand between you and a law school acceptance. If you fail to disclose something when you should have, on the other hand, there can be much more serious consequences. So if in doubt, go ahead and disclose.

You can read more advice on these kinds of topics here:

Good luck!

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founder of Ivey Consulting. She and her team help college, law school, and MBA applicants make smart decisions about their higher education and navigate the application process. She is the author of The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions, which is downloadable as an e-book.

September 1, 2014

MBA Admissions Tip: Know Your Audience

As Round 1 deadlines approach fast, applicants are coming to understand that applying to business school is an incredibly demanding process.  In addition to taking the GMAT, assembling academic transcripts and providing recommendation letters, candidates are required to draft multiple essays, job descriptions, lists of activities and more.

With the obvious incentive to save time wherever possible, it’s understandable that many applicants simply cut and paste content from an existing resume and write about their work in the manner that comes most naturally.  However, in doing so, countless candidates each year assemble their materials without ever asking a fundamental question:

Who will read my application?

While the answer to this question may vary from school to school, one thing is certain: It is unlikely that the person reading your file will have an intimate level of familiarity with your specific industry or job function.  This being the case, if you use industry-specific jargon or assume prior knowledge of your field on the part of the admissions officer, you undoubtedly will lose your reader.

It’s also important to keep the big picture in mind; many applicants become so mired in the details of their own work and role that they fail to provide sufficient context for a company outsider to understand the importance of one’s efforts to the department or organization as a whole.  The solution is to write about your experiences in a way that the average person will understand.  While this is easier said than done, it underlines the importance of sharing your materials with an unbiased advisor (ideally not a work colleague or family member) to make sure that you aren’t off-base with some of your assumptions.

To learn more about who will actually read your essays at the various schools, or to inquire about our application editing services, simply contact Clear Admit with your CV/résumé and sign up for a free initial assessment.

About Clear Admit:

Ivey Consulting is proud to partner with Clear Admit to provide comprehensive admissions information and consulting services to business school applicants. Learn more about Clear Admit here.

August 26, 2014

How To Use Practice Tests In Your LSAT Prep

Today’s advice comes from our friends at Blueprint LSAT Prep. Blueprint students can enroll in live LSAT prep classes throughout the country, online LSAT courses from the comfort of their own home, or self-study with Blueprint’s new Logic Games book

Practice tests are (and should be) an important component of any LSAT study schedule, but they’re also commonly misused. Sure, anyone who takes dozens upon dozens of practice tests as quickly as possible will improve simply by virtue of increased familiarity with the LSAT. But that person likely won’t improve as efficiently or to the same extent as someone who uses practice tests more strategically. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the right and wrong ways to use practice tests when studying for the LSAT.

If you’re taking an LSAT prep course, some practice tests are likely built into your study schedule. For instance, Blueprint LSAT Prep students take six proctored practice tests throughout the course. You’ll want to take additional practice tests on your own, but it’s best to ask your instructor when you should start doing that. We recommend waiting to self-administer practice tests until all of the new material in the course has been covered; until then, it’s a better use of your study time to focus on mastering the new concepts.

If you’re self-studying for the LSAT, the general philosophy behind using practice exams will be similar. You want to take a few strategically placed tests throughout the early phases of your studying in order to test your understanding of the concepts you’ve already learned. Your timing will likely be a total mess, and you shouldn’t stress the question types you haven’t covered yet; instead, take a close look at the question types you have learned (and that you had time to attempt). If you notice an area you’ve already worked on that you’re still struggling with, you should take some extra time to go back and review that concept. In other words, your early practice exams should be used to make sure that you really have learned the things you think you’ve learned.

As you get closer to Game Day, you’ll want to ramp up taking practice tests. However, even at that point, there’s such a thing as too many. If you do practice test after practice test without taking the time to learn from them, you’ll continue making the same mistakes, and you won’t see much score improvement. It’s paramount to review each practice exam before you take the next one.

Here’s the general review strategy you should be using: 

1) As you take a practice exam, make a note of any questions that you guess on or are unsure about.

2) After you score the test, go back and thoroughly review the questions you got wrong, and any questions you marked in Step 1. When I say “thoroughly review,” I mean that you should be able to explain the question to someone else - both why the answer you chose was wrong, and why the right answer is right. Furthermore, you should think about what tricked you the first time around, so that you can avoid being similarly tricked in the future.

3) Once you’ve completed Step 2, analyze the questions you got wrong to determine if there were any trends. For instance, perhaps you stunk at implication questions (e.g. “which of the following is most strongly supported…”); perhaps you struggled with question types that require you to identify flaws in the argument, like Flaw, Strengthen, Sufficient Assumption, etc.; perhaps Logic Games were your weakest section.

 4) Once you’ve found that weakness, take some time (like, at least a day) to drill it. You should be doing question after question of that type until you understand them all inside out, upside down and backwards. You should become a merciless Flaw Question Terminator (or whatever question type you were drilling). Then, and only then, are you ready to take another practice test.

Wow, that’s a lot of steps between each practice test! And when people use practice tests the wrong way, they often skip at least one (if not all) of those steps. The simple act of taking a practice exam is not enough to really improve your performance on the LSAT; it’s important to learn from each test as well.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the tests you’re taking should be in strict test-like conditions. One reason that people often underperform on test day relative to their practice exam scores is that they weren’t strict with the timing or they always took their tests in their whisper-silent bedroom with their favorite smooth jazz playing in the background. You can avoid those pitfalls by setting a timer for each section and following it religiously (or using an app like the one found on the Blueprint website to keep track of time for you), and by taking at least some of your practice tests in an area with some light ambient noise, such as a library.

Lastly, you should save the most recent practice exams for closer to test day. The LSAT has subtly evolved over time. There’s still a lot to be learned from the older tests, but more recent tests will give you a better sense of what your test will be like. So take the older tests earlier in your prep, and save the newer ones for your final weeks of studying.

Prep tests are necessary but not sufficient for success on the LSAT (see what we did there?). So use them, but make sure you’re using them wisely. By the time the big day rolls around, you’ll be taking full-length LSATs like a champ.

For more study tips from Blueprint visit their LSAT blog, Most Strongly Supported.

August 25, 2014

MBA Admissions Tip: Declare Your Love and Explain It

With Round One deadlines for a number of programs just around the corner, it’s the time of year when many applicants are working hard on their application essays and learning more about their target programs in the process of rounding out their “why MBA/why school X” discussions.  Keeping this important component of the admissions process in mind, we wanted to take the time today to offer some advice on how to polish this element of one’s file and get the most mileage out of this section.

1. Make it personal.  Schools look for applicants who seem genuinely excited about their program, and the best way to bring this across in your essays is to come right out and say it.  Many applicants are well-researched but present their findings in the form of objective facts.  The adcom will already know whether their program features a flexible curriculum, is very strong in marketing, or offers an international focus.  What they don’t know – and what you should be explaining in your essays – is what you find exciting and appealing, and why.  Stating your interest in a school by connecting its offerings to your goals and interests is a great way to help the adcom understand (and ideally get them to agree with) your opinion that you would be a good fit with the program. 

2. Cite your sources.  In addition to hearing about your impressions of the program, the adcom will also wonder how you arrived at your conviction that their program is right for you.  Did you attend an information session or an MBA tour?  Visit the campus?  Sit in on a class?  Contact the heads of student clubs?  Speak with alumni in your current or target field?  Comb through student blogs and other online sources of information?   Sharing the steps you’ve taken to familiarize yourself with the school will showcase the effort you have put into learning about the program and will also add credibility to your comments about your commitment.

3. Keep it tailored.  Just as it’s important to mention aspects of the curriculum or community that make a particular school unique in comparison to others, it’s also essential that you highlight how your own interests and goals guide your discussion of school-specific elements.  This approach will not only have the benefit of showing off the research you’ve done on the program in question, but will also help you to stand out from other applicants by virtue of your unique goals and interests.  Sure, it’s reasonable to mention the core curriculum, as this is an important aspect of the business education, but because this could be a draw for any applicant to a given program, you would be better served by focusing on those classes that are most relevant to your particular educational needs.

Of course, arriving at in-depth knowledge is the first step in this process, and those applicants who are looking to gather key facts for their essays may want to use the Clear Admit School Guides as a starting point.  Good luck to everyone who is hard at work on this challenging element of the application process!

About Clear Admit:

Ivey Consulting is proud to partner with Clear Admit to provide comprehensive admissions information and consulting services to business school applicants. Learn more about Clear Admit here.

August 25, 2014

Top 15 Law School Recommendation Tips

  1. Assume that schools prefer academic recommendations unless they specifically request a professional one. An academic recommender is someone who has taught you in a college classroom environment, graded your papers, led your discussion sections, etc.

  2. Law school recommendations are not meant to be character references; they should focus on you as a student. Any thoughts they share about you outside the classroom are just bonuses; they are not required or expected. Recommendations are also not expected to discuss other parts of your application, like your extracurricular activities while in college.

  3. Less is more. Have good reasons for submitting more than the required number of recommendations.
 In fact, have a good reason for submitting anything as part of your application that isn’t required.

  4. Use LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service to submit your recommendations for your applications. When the online system asks whether you’re submitting a “recommendation” or an “evaluation,” select “recommendation.”

  5. The longer you’ve been out of school, the less admissions officers expect to see an academic recommendation, and the more appropriate it is to submit a professional one. Keep an eye out for the exceptional schools that do prefer a professional recommendation; they will tell you so in their application instructions.

  6. The recommender’s job title is never more important than the closeness of the relationship. The Teaching Assistant might have more meaningful things to say about you as a student than the name-brand professor does.

 Recommendations from famous people, politicians, or other VIPs are useless; don’t bother.

  7. Recommendations should be mainly backward-looking, offering an opinion on you as their student (or employee, if a professional recommendation).

 Recommenders are not expected to predict how you’re going to fare as a law student in particular, or as a future lawyer, but they are expected to know your past academic work in their class well enough to assess your academic qualities.

  8. Anecdotes and stories make a recommendation memorable. A bunch of adjectives, even superlative ones, do not.
 If a recommender invites your input or guidance, ask her to give examples that back up her opinions. It also helps if she can put you in the context of the other students she has taught.

  9. Never ask to see a draft. If recommenders ask for you input, it’s great to give them input. If they show you a draft, you are absolutely allowed to see it even if you’ve signed the waiver on the application form.
 But never give recommenders the impression that you expect to see what they have written about you.

  10. It’s always a good idea to prep your recommenders. You can help them understand your motivations for pursuing law school (you want to signal to them that you have thought through this big decision, and that you are not applying to law school just because it’s the path of least resistance). Help them understand in broad strokes how you are positioning yourself in your application.

  11. When requesting recommendations, give your recommenders an “out.” If they express any hesitation, move on and find someone who is enthusiastic about writing you a meaningful letter.

  12. Do not write your own letter, even if a recommender asks you to (“draft it and I’ll sign it”). Admissions officers would not consider that ethical or useful, and even if it were, self-written letters tend not to be very good. (Try writing one sometime. Unless you are a narcissist, it’s hard to say truly stand-out things about yourself. And you can’t read your recommender’s mind or write in his voice in any event.)

  13. Be mindful that you are asking recommenders to spend some of their reputational capital on you. Don’t abuse that courtesy.

  14. The most important thing for you to do is pick the appropriate recommenders and guide them as requested. After that, it’s out of your hands. Give them a deadline to submit their letters — at least six weeks before you want your applications to be complete (four weeks for them to write the letter, two for LSAC to process it). Your LSAC account will show when each letter has been received. Follow up with any tardy recommenders as soon as possible after the deadline you have given them.

  15. After you know where you will be starting law school, follow up with your recommenders and thank them. They are part of your network, and they actually care about your success. Stay in touch.

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founder of Ivey Consulting. She and her team help college, law school, and MBA applicants make smart decisions about their higher education and navigate the application process. She is the author of The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions














August 18, 2014

MBA Admission Tip: The Optional Essay

We realize that the questions of whether to answer an optional essay and, if so, what to say are ones that loom large for many b-school applicants at this time of year.  While we’ve been offering a great deal of school-specific essay advice over the past few months, we wanted to take some time to suggest a few considerations that applicants might want to take into account when making this call.

Is it relevant?
Perhaps this goes without saying, but the only information worth sharing in an optional essay is that which will make a material difference in your candidacy.  Whether you wish to comment on an exciting leadership role you’ve just taken on or explain that you were overextended extracurricularly during that one bad semester in college, make sure to think carefully about whether this information will affect and enhance the reader’s perception of your business school candidacy.

Was it requested?
Most schools do request that applicants use an optional essay to address certain issues, such as a failing grade in a degree program or the absence of a letter of recommendation from one’s current direct supervisor.  In spite of the technically optional nature of the question, it’s very important to follow directions and provide this information if a school requests it.

Also along the lines of what information is requested, it’s wise to think carefully about a school’s other essay questions before deciding to use an optional essay or provide additional information, as each of these topics affords applicants a chance to introduce the information about their background and interests that they consider to be most important.  Your objective should be to provide as complete a picture of your candidacy as possible within the framework of a school’s required essays (as these are a good indication of what a given program is most interested in hearing about) and to only introduce information in an optional essay that you could not have covered elsewhere without sacrificing something more essential.

Is it constructive?
Once you’ve decided that a detail is relevant to your candidacy and merits mentioning in an optional essay, the next step is to think carefully about the way this information might be perceived and make sure that the impact it makes on your chances of admission is a positive one.  For instance, an essay that simply alerts the adcom to a serious medical condition might help its author stand out from other applicants, but it could also leave the reader wondering whether this person could handle the demands of a rigorous academic program.  On the other hand, a few details about this applicant’s strategies for achieving success in spite of some kind of disability and commitment to supporting others with a chronic illness or impairment might make him or her seem like a very valuable addition to the business school community.

Is it concise?
It’s always a good idea to keep in mind that by answering an optional essay, you are creating extra work for the person reading your file.  While this should not dissuade you from addressing a topic that you have deemed important based on the considerations above, it’s very important that you demonstrate good judgment by limiting your comments to the most relevant information and keeping your response as direct and concise as possible.

We hope that these general guidelines have helped to clear up some confusion and shed some light on the optional essay issue.  For more tailored feedback on your personal situation, feel free to contact us for a free initial consultation.

About Clear Admit:

Ivey Consulting is proud to partner with Clear Admit to provide comprehensive admissions information and consulting services to business school applicants. Learn more about Clear Admit here.

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