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MBA Admissions Clinic: The Future Consultant

In the MBA Admissions Clinic, the Fortuna Admissions team of former admissions directors and associates from Wharton, INSEAD, HBS, Chicago Booth, UC Berkeley Haas, IE, NYU Stern and London Business School evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of MBA applicants and provide advice for improving the chances of getting in. The profiles are based on real people, although details have been changed to protect their identities.

Becky has solid academic credentials and is doing well in her career, but does she stand out from the crowd enough to win over Kellogg?

The Applicant

Becky, 25, is a Consultant at Deloitte, one of the leading professional services firms. She has an undergraduate degree in Economics and French from George Washington University, with a 3.7 GPA.  Becky has a busy life outside of work: she is a member of the National Asian Business Group and is also actively involved in the Washington Humane Society. Her 690 GMAT score places her in the 94th percentile on the verbal section and 74th on the quantitative section. She plans to apply to Kellogg, and is also considering Tuck and Yale.

Why an MBA?

Becky wants to become a top-tier strategy consultant and recognizes that an MBA from a top business school is essential in helping her achieve this goal.

The Background

Becky has been with Deloitte for four years, joining them as a trainee accountant directly after graduating. She qualified into an audit role a couple of years later and more recently moved across to Deloitte’s consulting arm in their Strategy and Operations area, and has been working on a number of business and operating model transformation projects. She has had opportunities to lead projects and small teams, and has been assigned to two international engagements; one in Europe and one in China. After four years with Deloitte, she is now keen to move away from the operational side to more of a strategic consulting role, potentially within her company, but preferably at one of the top strategy consulting firms such as McKinsey, Bain or BCG.

Becky’s first choice business school is Kellogg, renowned for one of the strongest recruitment rates into top consulting firms after the MBA. Having spoken to a couple of Kellogg graduates, she is convinced this is her best fit due to the emphasis the school places on team skills and collaborative working, and how the student community seem to be highly engaged in campus life, which is exactly the kind of experience she is seeking.

Becky has a solid working relationship with her manager, an INSEAD MBA alum, and has discussed her career aspirations with her openly. She considered applying to INSEAD but really wants the two year full-on student experience where she can take complete advantage of all the extra-curricular opportunities and potentially an international exchange program. As a valued employee, Becky’s manager has persuaded her to consider returning to Deloitte post-MBA and they are in discussions with HR about potentially securing sponsorship. She is unsure about this, however, as she knows how many doors will open following her MBA and doesn’t want to feel obliged to return to Deloitte, given the standard lock-in period.

The Assessment

Becky has a strong academic record from a good school and is progressing well in her career at a highly reputable company. She has worked with some high profile clients and has some international experience which will work in her favor. She has a lot of support behind her decision to attend business school and will be able to secure convincing recommendation letters that emphasize her highly engaged nature, excellent client relations, strong team ethic, and budding leadership skills. Her GMAT score is below Kellogg’s current average of 708, so she will need to demonstrate her ability to handle the academics, particularly on the slightly weaker quant-side. One of the main areas Becky will need to focus on throughout her application, is ensuring she shines amongst the masses of other aspiring consultants, demonstrating she has what it takes to secure a role in a top-tier strategy consulting firm, that she has something unique to bring to the table, and that she has a strong connection and fit with Kellogg.

The Recommendation

Kellogg is renowned for recruiting well-rounded individuals with outstanding interpersonal skills and a very strong team ethic, but they are also looking for future leaders. It will be essential for Becky to use examples throughout her application that highlight these skills and that really get across her character and values well enough to allow the admissions team to understand who she is and that she will fit well at Kellogg.

The Kellogg essays look to understand Becky’s level of self-awareness and resilience, with a question about dealing with a challenging situation and her learnings from that experience, and also an essay about what she has learned about working with and motivating others from a professional experience that required her to influence others. Becky has had a few challenging experiences, particularly during her international engagements, as well as opportunities to lead and influence others, but she should think carefully about which examples to focus on in the essays – perhaps discussing her ideas with her Kellogg alumni connections. She should also sit down with her chosen recommenders to discuss how best to illustrate her strengths in their letters, ensuring what they say compliments and reinforces what has already been said in her application and essays. Kellogg’s video essays may be the perfect opportunity for Becky to demonstrate her passion for giving back, for example with her involvement in the Washington Humane Society, as Kellogg will like to see that Becky is an engaged citizen with a meaningful life outside of work.

Becky will quickly need to immerse herself in some in-depth Kellogg research and start making some personal connections with the School. She has had a head start with her Kellogg alumni connections, but she should attend information sessions, and ideally visit the campus to witness for herself the close-knit Evanston community, forty-five minutes from downtown Chicago. She could also sit in on a class and speak to the admissions team if possible, so she really gets to know the spirit of the school, and so they get to know her.

While it may seem like a logical step to move from operational consulting at Deloitte to strategy consulting at somewhere like McKinsey, it’s actually an incredibly competitive path and Becky will need to demonstrate her awareness of the need to take a stepping stone approach to reach her ultimate goal. It will be good for Becky to mention that her firm wants to retain her and that they are willing to sponsor her studies (even if she is not intending on returning) as it not only demonstrates that she is a talented professional who they hold in high regard, it also acts as a back-up plan in the event she does not secure a role with her target firms, which will make the admissions team feel more comfortable about her aspirations.

Becky scored a 690 on her first attempt at the GMAT, which is not a bad score, but it’s highly likely she’ll be able to bump this score up a notch on her second attempt. Our advice to all applicants is to always make sure to apply with a score that reflects your abilities – and with one that is above, or at least in line with the School’s average, if possible. Even if you don’t manage to increase it by a big margin, a lot of schools will appreciate seeing that you at least tried to raise your score as it shows your level of commitment to pursuing an MBA.

While Becky will be focusing her efforts on Kellogg, she must also ensure she does thorough research on her back-up schools and that she submits well-researched, thoughtful applications to all of them.

Can you get in to a top b-school? To be considered for analysis of your MBA application profile, post your profile and b-school ambitions below and the Fortuna Admissions team will provide their assessment and recommendations.

4 Responses to “MBA Admissions Clinic: The Future Consultant”

  1. Mary

    Hello! I would like some advice on what I should do within the next 1-3 years to be prepared to go to a top MBA program. I just finished my bachelors last May and am currently working for Aon Hewitt in HR Outsourcing. I am on a small operations team handling HR operations for a client on the Workday platform. I’m also part of Aon’s college graduate leadership development program. I’ve already taken the GMAT (690) and GRE (161 Verbal and 162 Quantitative), and I do have some volunteering going on outside work. Currently my top choice for an MBA would be Cornell so I could do the dual degree program with MILR as well, but I’m also considering Vanderbilt and similar programs where I could concentrate my MBA towards HR.

    I already know that I need to switch to a more impressive client and/or role at work and that I need to ramp up my extracurriculars. However, I have some major doubts as to if this is enough. Here are my thoughts: should I try to move to a new business unit (since HR Outsourcing isn’t really the most appealing industry right now) to better align with a traditional consulting role? or should I veer towards a more technical role with Workday since it’s the hot product right now and may look impressive? What kind of volunteer experiences should I aim for – should I do something business-oriented (like become a Board Member) or would more traditional volunteering (helping with events, administration, etc.) be enough? Lastly, should I consider taking the GMAT again? I am (was) satisfied with my score based on the schools I am considering and the test is expensive, but does it always look better on an application to take the test twice?

    Any help you could give would be much appreciated!

  2. Krystal Brooks

    Hello, Mary! We are delighted that you are preparing to attend a top MBA program in the near future. Congratulations on making a commitment to invest in yourself. It sounds like you are being very thoughtful about your future and your MBA plans. That is a great first step to success.

    In general, I would advise you to take steps to advance your career – for your personal and professional growth. I wouldn’t make career moves specifically to bolster your applicant profile. If you are taking steps to grow your career and you’re doing it with an eye on your future goals, the admissions piece will take care of itself. The MBA is not a destination – it is a link between where you are now and where you want to go for the future. I would suggest reflecting on your career goals – what is it that you really want to do? – and take steps that will bring you closer to achieving those goals.

    The GMAT question is always a difficult one – congratulations on taking it and getting it out of the way. You certainly have earned a GMAT that is in the range of many top schools. That said, on average, candidates who retake the GMAT earn a score that’s 30 points higher. How much preparation did you do before you took your first test? Are you scoring higher on practice tests? In addition to being part of the admissions criteria, GMAT scores are an important consideration for scholarship committees. The question of retaking can really best be answered by you.

    We have many resources at Forté to support your MBA aspirations. I would recommend checking out the MBALaunch for Women program: This is a 10-month preparatory program for women targeting enrollment in MBAs the following year. It provides a wonderful opportunity to structure your preparation, learn from expert coaches in the field, and cultivate a network of supportive women who are embarking on the MBA journey together. Our pre-MBA webinar series is also a great way to hear from experts on admissions and career topics:

    Best wishes to you in your career and MBA applications. We hope that Forté will be an important resource to support your MBA goals.

    Warm Regards,
    Krystal Brooks
    Associate Director, College and Early Career Women
    Forté Foundation

  3. Anika Sharin

    Hello! I would like some advice on what I should do within the next 1year to get into a top MBA program. I finished my Master’s on Dec’13 and am currently working for Maxim Integrated. I am working in the Quality Engineering department for more than 1 year. I’m also volunteering at a non-profit organization for high school education. My top choice for an MBA is UC Berkley and I would like to focus on operation and strategy.

    I have not taken my GMAT and I know my job experience is not very long. In this situation what should be my steps toward preparation.
    Anika, 2015

  4. Matt

    Hi Anika, Congratulations on getting a head start for the road to business school. By the time you apply to UC Berkeley Haas and other top programs in the fall you will have already been at Maxim Integrated for close to two years, and the admissions office will be looking for evidence of your personal and professional development in your role in the Quality Engineering department. In particular the school is looking for individuals with strong leadership potential (arguably true of all the top b-schools) but they place an emphasis on leadership based on strong values such as questioning the status quo, leading without attitude, and leading responsibly. They are also committed to the notion of community, rather than a heroic individualistic approach.
    So the next 9 months are the opportunity for you to demonstrate both at work and in your volunteer commitments that you bring fresh ideas and are committed to making a positive impact. Ideally your recommenders will be able to speak to these ideals, and provide specific examples based on your performance in the coming months.
    Haas is among the most selective of all the schools, and they will expect a competitive GMAT score including a very strong quant score, so you will also need to set asked time to prepare for the test.
    You can also use the next few months to reach out to Haas students and alum, and possibly visit the campus to get a much deeper and richer understanding of the school, and explore your own career goals in operations and strategy.
    The Fortune team that wrote this original Admissions Clinic article would be happy to follow up with a free consultation to talk through some of the other things you can be doing to give yourself every chance of admissions success – our website link is in the intro to the article.
    Best, Matt