[PaGaLGuY Special] The Matt Symonds Column: Is recession a good time to get an MBA?

Starting this month, we shall feature a fortnightly column on International MBA by Matt Symonds, Founder and former Co-Director of the QS World MBA Tour and author of ‘Getting the MBA Admissions Edge’. Matt shall write on researching internation…

Starting this month, we shall feature a fortnightly column on International MBA by Matt Symonds, Founder and former Co-Director of the QS World MBA Tour and author of 'Getting the MBA Admissions Edge'. Matt shall write on researching international b-schools, acing the GMAT and TOEFL, writing effective essays and help you make sense of impactful events in the MBA world. This month, Matt tries to figure out how the present economic crisis is affecting MBA applications in top business schools.

Im delighted to have been asked by the PaGaLGuY.com team to submit a column on the admissions process to business schools. Eight years ago I co-authored a book to help candidates better understand and successfully manage the admissions process to the worlds top MBA programmes. Sponsored by Goldman Sachs and McKinsey, The Edge coincided with a surge in demand for business school, and became a best-seller around the world. At the same time, Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, Wharton, INSEAD and other top b-schools were reporting record applicant numbers, that reached a peak in 2001-2002, immediately after the dotcom bust. Securing your place at one of these MBA programs was an immense challenge.

Sounds familiar? The current global financial crisis, a recession in the US, the demise of Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and distress of AIG, Wachovia and others has encouraged many young professionals from New York to New Delhi to return to school to get their MBA. There is a feeling that a business school could be a good place to wait out the bad times for a couple of years. In an interview with the New York Times Stacey Kole, deputy dean for the full-time MBA program at the University of Chicagos Graduate School of Business explained, Its a very predictable and reliable pattern. When theres a go-go economy, fewer people decide to go back to school. When things go south, the opportunity cost of leaving work is lower.

But beyond the economic turmoil there are other factors at work that will make the admissions process intensely competitive in the coming years. The Admissions Director at Stanford GSB, Derrick Bolton, feels that demographics are a much bigger factor. In the last six or seven years US undergraduate programmes have been overwhelmed with demand from the so-called Generation Y, and this group are now reaching business school age. And the 22 pc rise in international test taker registrations for the GMAT admissions test this year is led by demand from Indian and Chinese candidates whose economies require internationally trained managers.

Against this backdrop, we thought it would be a good idea to break down the admissions process by the various components. So each month we will look at one of the following areas:

Researching the schools demonstrating to the school that you have done your homeworkGetting the timing right you need to think ahead to navigate the three rounds of applicationAcing the GMAT and TOEFL master the standardized tests to emphasise strengths or compensate weaknessesWriting effective essays a powerful opportunity to demonstrate your values, goals, and show that you fitLetters of recommendation who to ask, and how to secure a great letterMastering the Interview the chance to bring your application to life, if you are well preparedTo be sure, those admitted to the top schools have demonstrated to the Admissions Committee who they are, what they have done, what they can contribute to the school in question, and how the MBA will contribute to their personal goals. Self-awareness is key, as you share academic, professional and personal achievements, discuss your potential for future success and explain how the MBA will contribute to that future.

Judith Hodara, Admissions Director at Wharton explains Those that stand out are those that are able to express to us where they are in the path to the MBA; what are the decisions that have led them to consider Wharton, and how do they see themselves becoming valued members of our community, both as students and beyond?

Judith has ready many MBA applications from Indian candidates and I asked her prior to beginning this column for PaGaLGuY what advice she would have for future applicants. She replied with her characteristic enthusiasm and lucidity, Those students who do well in our process are those that understand how to share information with us in a manner that shows self awareness, and a full picture of their experiences. While its tempting to use as many examples as possible to illustrate a point, sometimes its better to be shorter on the story teller and more detailed on the learning or growth opportunity that emerged as a result. We really do want to know what YOU think as an individual; this is one of the most important parts of the application, and shows a lot about how you are able to let us understand who you are and how you are in the world.

Each month, Judith and other friends who are responsible for admissions at the top schools will provide insights on the various components of the MBA application. I hope this will help you to make your application the strongest possible, and get you the admissions edge.

Matt Symonds is the Founder and former co-Director of the QS World MBA
Tour. His best-selling book on applying to the world's top business
schools, 'Getting the MBA Admissions Edge' was sponsored by Goldman
Sachs and McKinsey. Matt sold his business stake last year, and has recently begun a world
tour with his family. His first stop is India, where he is volunteering
at a small school in rural Karnataka.

Matt continues to write about the MBA and business education for a
number of international publications, and will be writing a regular
column for PaGaLGuY on the admissions process to business school, as
well as current MBA trends, news and views.