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AIGAC 2013 Survey Results – Prospective MBA Students

Ben Franklin statue at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia

Ben Franklin statue at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” — Ben Franklin

It’s appropriate that this year’s Association of International Graduate Admission Consultants (AIGAC) Conference was held in Philadelphia, the city of Benjamin Franklin who was a huge advocate for the importance of education and a successful businessman in his own right.

Among the most useful things to come out of Day 1 of the conference were the results of the 2013 AIGAC MBA Prospects Survey and a spirited discussion of one of the more interesting — and ethically problematic — findings that 38% of last year’s business school applicants were asked to write their own letters of recommendation. More on that in a moment.

First, here are some of the findings from the survey that I think will be most relevant to you as you prepare for your own MBA admissions process.

Time Spent Applying to Business School

The average applicant spent 90-140 hours applying to business school during the last admissions cycle. That’s a lot of time. Even if you take GMAT preparation out of the equation, those numbers only drop to 70-110 hours. It’s important to note that many of the survey respondents were applying to the top MBA programs, suggesting that they took the application process very seriously, but nevertheless the business school application process is time-intensive and requires a significant amount of work.

Here’s a rough breakdown of how you can expect to allot your time throughout the process (in hours):

  • GMAT counseling and/or prep (21-30)
  • Assistance with essays (16-20)
  • Selecting schools to apply to (11-15)
  • Interview prep (11-15)
  • Admissions strategies (6-10)
  • Resume evaluation (6-10)
  • Evaluation of candidacy prospects (6-10)
  • Career counseling (6-10)
  • Strategies for soliciting letters of recommendation (6-10)
  • Financial aid planning (1-5)
  • Waitlist assistance (1-5)

What Students are Looking for in a School

How do you choose what business schools you’re going to apply to? Are reputation and rankings most important to you? Where do cost considerations come in? What about the city where you’ll be living and the community you’ll have with your classmates?

Ultimately you’ll make your own determinations based on your own criteria, but you may be interested to know the top 3 factors amongst your peers in three crucial areas of consideration:

What are students looking for in terms of ACADEMICS

  1. Quality of faculty
  2. Course curriculum/focus
  3. Academic rigor

What are students looking for in terms of STUDENT LIFE and CAMPUS

  1. Quality of student experience
  2. Team-oriented environment
  3. Campus community

What are students looking for in terms of CAREER and SCHOOL REPUTATION

  1. Impact on Career
  2. Reputation
  3. Alumni network

Ethical Considerations

As noted above, one of the findings from the survey was that 38% of last year’s business school applicants were asked to write their own letters of recommendation. When you look just at international students, that number was over 50%. None of the admissions consultants in the room were surprised at that finding, with many suggesting that the numbers might actually be a little low; meanwhile, many of the admissions directors in the room (including from Georgetown and Columbia) were shocked by those findings, and a bit disturbed by them.

Given that there are clear guidelines on most business schools’ applications against such practices, it’s a reality that nevertheless still exists for numerous reasons. In some cases, it’s a language issue — especially for international applicants. Oftentimes international supervisers are incapable of writing recommendations in English, for example, and so they ask their English-speaking applicant to write their own recommendation that they’ll sign off on later. There also appears to be a “culture” within the investment banking industry in particular that supervisors ask their employees to write their own recommendations as a matter of course. In many cases, however, it’s simply a matter of the recommender not having the time or inclination to put in the effort to write a full recommendation for numerous different schools, which is an issue of some concern.

A concrete solution to this challenging issue didn’t materialize on the spot, but several helpful thoughts were advanced:

  • Shari Hubert, Associate Dean at the McDonough Business School (Georgetown University), suggested that this issue actually presents a great opportunity for the applicant to separate him/herself from an ethical standpoint in the application process. When asked by your recommender to write it yourself, you might consider saying, “Unfortunately then I can’t use you as a recommender because I can’t write my own letter. However, if you’re open to it, would you be willing to talk on the phone with the admissions department to speak on my behalf?” Then call the admissions department and explain the situation — you’ll shine through!
  • If your recommender doesn’t speak fluent English, have him/her write the recommendation in his/her native language and then you can pay the small fee to get in translated. Then, submit both versions of the recommendation with your application. Several of the admissions officers in the room even said that their schools would pay to have the recommendations translated if necessary. The important thing, of course, is to make sure that the recommendation is in the recommender’s own words.
  • A move toward a standard letter of recommendation form across most/all business schools would decrease the burden on recommenders to craft numerous different recommendations in multiple different formats and therefore increase the likelihood that they’ll be willing to write their own recommendations. This is something the admissions officers in the room said they would work on.

Post-MBA Expectations

Why are you bothering to go to business school in the first place? What are you expecting to get out of your time and financial investment post-MBA? The answers varied across respondents, as you might expect.

First, the survey showed that the top 3 industries MBA students are hoping to take jobs in are Consulting, Technology, and Finance/Accounting, in that order (see the figure below).

MBA Graduates Targeted Industries

Perhaps more interestingly, respondents had very high expectations for salary increases after getting their MBA. In fact, 26% of applicants expect to double their current salary upon graduation! More specifically, for respondents currently making less than $49,000, they expect their salaries to increase by 75%. Of greater issue is applicants in the $100,000 – $150,000 range whose mean expected increase remained at 15%. They clearly equate business school with higher prospects in terms of their career goals and future salaries — whether that’s reality or not.

Miscellaneous Considerations

AIGAC Survey 2013 FindingsOver 57% of respondents used an MBA admissions consultant in some capacity during their application process, which may be a good thing in light of a funny anectdotal story told by Ann Richards, the Sr. Associate Director of Admissions at Cornell’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management. In response to the survey finding that a number of applicants trust the admissions advice they find on social media and other online MBA forums (see figure above), Richards explained how last year she “lurked” anonomysly on one of the more popular online MBA forums on the day that acceptance notifications were being released. Someone asked, “How do I find out my results?” Richards anonymously responded that she should just call the admissions office to get her questions answered. Immediately 15 other random forum participants who clearly didn’t have the expertise or credibility of Richards chimed in that she was crazy, that under no circumstance should the questioner call the admissions office, and so forth and so on. That response was absurd, of course, and Richards’ point was that you need to be careful who you trust for MBA advice. Certainly consider using a MBA admissions consultant, but when in doubt, call the relevant admissions department directly.

For the full 2013 AIGAC Survey results, click here. You can also track the rest of the AIGAC Conference for live updates by following me on twitter and Facebook. Enjoy!