The topic is 'pragmatism when applying to schools' or my take on 'should I apply to school X?'
This post is a result of my many responses on the web, questions sent by applicants to me by e-mail, questions I've answered on phone and my own journey from preparation to my admit to INSEAD. The usual disclaimers apply.
Applying to business schools is an expensive process. You want to spend that money and time meaningfully so that it yields a satisfactory result. The approach to applications must be pragmatic - not oblivious to reality.
One of my pet peeves is 'false encouragement' without giving a reality check. This is a business school application process where your destiny is mostly out of your control (except GMAT score) because it depends on what you did in the past and how you fare against thousands of other applicants. When you are ready to apply, or are planning to apply, see if you have asked yourselves the right questions.
When you tabulate your answers, a picture emerges if it makes sense to apply or not. In some cases, the school might not be the right fit for you, and in some cases, it will be extremely unlikely you will make the cut. A focused, realistic approach to applications will be both more productive and also reduce your misery. In evaluating chances, I have three lines
- Competitive - You actually stand a good chance of getting in
- Ambitious - Give it a shot, there might be a chance, 'reach' schools
- Stupid - Waste of time, waste of money. Wasting time here might affect the effort you can put into better quality applications for a school you actually stand a chance.
When I say 'stupid' I don't mean you are stupid - I mean it's stupid to apply.
Unfortunately, many people fall into the stupid category for certain schools and few tell them that. Those who say it like it is get flamed by others for being rude and obnoxious - but like Jim Cramer says "I'm not here to make friends, I'm here to make you money!" or rather "I'm not your mother, I'm here to tell you what I really think!"
I fell below the 'stupid line' for Stanford. Why? my composite when compared to what the school looks for, has such a large gap that it's nothing but a waste of their and my time to apply. Same would apply to Harvard. I thought I had a chance in Wharton ('ambitious') but Wharton failed the test of my 'is the school right for me'? It wasn't - because of cost and my family conditions.
Ultimately, INSEAD was the perfect fit for my experience, cost needs and I put a lot of effort into creating the right application instead of worrying about filling 15 random applications and spending thousands of dollars.
How do you know if you fall beyond the stupid line? Evaluate the school 'admission chances' questions and how you fare against the general trend. If the school GMAT average is 710, has stellar applicants and high rejection rate, small class and values diversity - and if you have a GMAT of 640, nothing distinguishable in your application (e.g. I wrote code for 6 years and I have no hobbies), you are a Chinese or Indian IT from a no-name school and you have a bad GPA - you really fall below the stupid line. Really. No number of cheerleaders or 'Paula school of feedback' (see American idol?) is going to get you in. Might as well spend that time and money where you can make it through.
If one aspect of your candidature is weak compared to the school composite, you are doing OK - but if you're below in almost all, better look elsewhere.
I know I'm going to draw flak for this about this post. That's Ok, all of us have opinions. When it comes to identifying schools for applications - do due diligence, be ambitious but don't waste time and money.
For those curious on how I evaluated my chances -
a) Stanford and Harvard - stupid to apply. No chance.
b) Wharton, Columbia and Chicago GSB - fancied my chances, ambitious, but financial and personal situation (family, 2 years, and not US resident, visa hassles..) kept me out from applying to US 2 year programs.
c) INSEAD and IMD - great fit, in my mind Columbia, Chicago, INSEAD were roughly similar so that left me with INSEAD. I preferred INSEAD over IMD and I got into INSEAD earlier so I never applied to IMD.
d) Oxford - next. Thought I had a good chance but dropped it for later after INSEAD results
e) ISB - initially in the race. I dropped it after evaluating if the school was a good fit for me.
I'm no rankings hater. I pay attention to rankings and that did influence my application decisions.
Good luck - prepare well, prepare with focus, create high quality applications instead of 15 boiler plate bore-them-to-death submissions.