The MBA Field Guide: How To Get In & What To Expect at the World's Renowned Programs

By Alex Chu

Price: $30

eBook (.pdf) format

520 pages

ISBN: 0-9738418-0-X

6 x 9 inches

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  • 20 sample essays
  • Sample information package sent to referees and sample recommendation letter
  • Waitlist strategy and sample waitlist letter
  • Sample resume
  • Post-MBA career profiles

. . . and much more!

Chapter-by-Chapter Summary


This introduction summarizes why the book was written, how it differs from other “how-to” admissions books, and what the book is about.


Chapter 1: Which School is Right for You?

By outlining the key factors that a reader should be looking for when selecting a program, this chapter complements the voluminous statistics and marketing materials available in other publications and websites that can help the reader make more informed decisions. In short, this chapter shows the reader how to properly research schools.

Chapter 2: The Admissions Process: From the Other Side

The business school application is designed to help admissions officers evaluate people, not statistics. This chapter outlines the five components that admissions officers look for in candidates: demographic profile, academic ability, career progression, clarity of career goals and leadership potential. In addition, by profiling the backgrounds of admissions officers and the logistics of the admissions process, the reader develops a comprehensive understanding of how admissions officers evaluate candidates.


Chapter 3: Affinity Group

Business schools strive to build an incoming class of diverse backgrounds. As such, the applicant is competing against other applicants who are the same gender, ethnicity (US citizens only) or nationality. Therefore, knowing who the competition is can help the reader determine how best to differentiate himself or herself in the admissions process. This chapter provides analysis and advice by gender, ethnicity, nationality, and age group.

Chapter 4: Pre-MBA Professions

Business schools not only seek diversity by affinity group, but also by pre-MBA profession as well. This chapter characterizes pre-MBA professions into three categories. First, a profession is analytical if the job is primarily about processing, analyzing and applying knowledge, such as junior level positions in banking, consulting, engineering, law, medicine or corporate. Conversely, a profession is social if the primary responsibility is communicating with people, such as junior level positions in sales, the military, entrepreneurship, the arts, public service, athletics, teaching, or writing. Analysis and advice specific to each of these professions within these two categories are covered. Lastly, since business schools do admit a small cadre of college graduates with little to no work experience, this chapter provides analysis and advice for this segment.


Chapter 5: Getting Organized

Preparing a business school application is very time consuming especially since most applicants are balancing a full-time job and personal commitments as well. One business school application alone consists of GMAT scores, undergraduate (and graduate) transcripts, 10 – 20 pages of forms, 2 - 7 essays, 2 - 3 letters of recommendation, a resume, and an admissions interview. Submitting business school applications on time can therefore be a logistical challenge. Since most applicants apply to multiple schools, putting together a timetable can help pace the workload. This chapter discusses what the optimal time is for submitting applications, when to begin researching schools, when to take the GMAT, how much time to budget for essay writing and soliciting recommendation letters, and when to schedule and prepare for interviews.

Chapter 6: Test Scores and Grades

This chapter covers the most misunderstood aspect of the application. Unlike other graduate school programs, academic performance is only one of many components (as shown in Chapter 5). However, an applicant’s test scores and grades that are used to evaluate academic ability are still vital to the admissions process. Since there are no cut-and-dried academic criteria, this chapter helps readers understand what range of GMAT scores are acceptable. In addition, what admissions officers look for in undergraduate and graduate grades is discussed as well as how applicants can address a lower than average GPA in their application. Lastly, there is a short section on how the TOEFL exam results are used by admissions officers to screen non-native English speakers.

Chapter 7: Essays

Essays are the heart of the business school application and the one aspect that applicants will spend the most time on. Most schools require anywhere from 2 to 7 essays totaling 2,000 to 3,500 words covering an applicant’s values, accomplishments and goals. This is often the most difficult section that applicants will struggle with because it is these essays that can reveal a person’s integrity, maturity, leadership ability and aspirations – all of which are vital factors for admission that no resume or application form can provide.

Although specific questions differ by year and by school, there are essentially three kinds of essay questions. The first kind of essay question asks you to reveal your values (“Who Are You?). The second type of essay asks for accomplishments and challenges you have faced in your professional and personal life (“What Have You Done?”). The third and most important essay theme relates to your future goals (“What Do You Want?”) and how an MBA is the vital link between who you are, what you have done, and what you want. There are 20 sample essays included that illustrate all the major sub-themes within these three types of essay questions.

In addition, there is an extensive section on effective essay writing. In order to write effective essays, many applicants have to “unlearn” the bad habits of working and communicating in a jargon-laden workplace. Numerous short examples of bad writing and effective writing are juxtaposed to show the importance of clear communication.

Chapter 8: Application Form & Expanded Resume

Business school application forms ask for demographic information, family information, GPA and GMAT scores, and lists of awards, extracurricular activities and referees. In addition, the forms will ask the applicant to list his or her employers, duties, salary information, dates worked, and reasons for leaving. Some schools may ask for a resume as well. In short, the application form summarizes the facts of an applicant. The essays, interviews, recommendation letters and interview all provide color to the facts provided in this form. Preparing the application form that is clear and consistent with the other aspects of the application is therefore crucial. This chapter covers what each component of the application form is used for. Writing effective resume copy is covered in the chapter, with a sample resume included.

Chapter 9: Recommendation Letters

Most schools require applicants to submit two or three recommendation letters. Since the choice of referees is up to the applicant, there is often confusion about who to ask. This chapter covers how recommendation letters are evaluated while providing a detailed timeline for managing referees who often have to write three or four letters that are customized for each school. Selecting the appropriate mix of referees based on individual circumstances is also discussed. A step-by-step process for ensuring that the letters are customized, substantive and submitted on time is covered. Providing a concise set of information that helps a referee write the letter is discussed, with samples provided. A sample recommendation letter is included at the end of the chapter.

Chapter 10: Admissions Interview

In keeping with the theme of people over statistics, all the top business schools have the admissions interview as an integral part of the process. Virtually all admitted students had to pass a screening interview either with an admissions officer, an alumnus or a current student. This chapter provides advice on how to prepare for an admissions interview. Sample questions organized by theme are covered. In addition, social norms and physicality are also discussed since a strong interview is as much about presentation as it is about the content of the responses.

Chapter 11: Waitlist

Business schools often waitlist candidates who have enough strengths to merit serious consideration, but who also have aspects in their application to generate sufficient concern. This chapter discusses what a candidate can do to improve his or her chances to get off the waitlist. A sample letter written to the admissions committee that addresses a waitlist situation is included at the end of the chapter.

Chapter 12: A Note For Re-Applicants

This short chapter addresses those readers who were rejected from their choice schools in previous years and are considering re-applying. Showing how to evaluate their previous applications as a starting point for putting together their re-application package is covered.


Chapter 13: Academics

This chapter covers three main areas of the academic experience at business school. First, the teaching methodologies are different than what many students may be accustomed to in other academic programs. Schools often use a combination of the Socratic style case method, lecture, guest speakers, simulations and field projects – all of which are discussed. Since many business school course descriptions have a tendency to be jargon laden, this chapter describes business school subjects in plain English and more importantly, why such subjects are relevant or how such knowledge is applied in the workplace, which are not included in course calendars. The third hallmark of the academic experience is the collaborative environment and emphasis on group-oriented work at virtually all the top schools. This chapter provides insight on how a team-oriented environment impacts learning.

Chapter 14: Recruiting

Recruiting is the central priority for the overwhelming majority of students at any business school. Jobs, jobs, and more jobs tend to be the primary conversation piece in many business school gatherings. This chapter complements what is found in the glossy recruiting reports published by each school. Many schools will provide tons of recruiting statistics, lists of companies recruiting, starting salaries and any other relevant data in various machinations. By providing some context for the recruiting process and how it actually works, readers can understand how students conduct their job search. On campus recruiting, conducting an independent job search, and responding to job postings are all discussed in detail.

Chapter 15: Student Clubs

Student-run organizations are one of the core aspects of student life at business school. These clubs in many respects provide you additional learning opportunities outside the classroom and more importantly social bonds and memories that remain long after graduating from business school. Close friendships (and even marriages) are formed within these circles. At any business school, clubs run the gamut of activities. This chapter covers the many kinds of clubs and their associated benefits that an applicant can expect at any business school.

Chapter 16: A Typical Week

This chapter is structured as a diary of a business school student over the course of a week. Reading what this student does in seven days gives the reader a clear, detailed and personal account about life in business school. By reading a diary, readers get additional insight into the business school experience no third-person account can provide.

Chapter 17: Making the Most Out of the Business School Experience

Unlike the other “How To” books out there on the MBA admissions process, this chapter is essentially an essay written from the perspective of an alumnus on what really matters in business school. There is often a lot of hype and misinformation about life in business school. This chapter attempts to deconstruct the neuroticism of business school culture and the group norms that can affect an individual student’s perspective on school-life balance, recruiting, academics, and the social environment. Having this perspective during the admissions process can help an applicant identify and assess group cultures that may differ between schools, thus helping the applicant write a more compelling and focused application for each school he or she is applying to.


Chapter 18: Organizational Hierarchies

Business schools often reject applicants who hold unrealistic or unclear career goals. Understanding the kinds of career options available to MBA graduates and alumni not only helps the applicant form realistic expectations, but also allows them to communicate such expectations in their applications. Business schools not only want accomplished individuals, but informed professionals as well. Moreover, post-MBA career decisions take up as much attention in an applicant as the applications process itself because both are so interrelated. This chapter outlines the kinds of reporting structures found in many organizations, which is important for understanding the various career paths being discussed in subsequent chapters in this section.

Chapter 19: Front-Line, Revenue Generating Roles

There are three kinds of jobs in this world - those who “sell it”, those who “make it” and those who support the sellers and makers. While every industry has knowledge and circumstances that are unique, the nature of these three job functions do not change. This chapter profiles the kinds of jobs available to MBAs that are directly related to selling or making a product or service. In other words, these jobs are revenue generating roles within an organization.

The five revenue generating, business-oriented job functions that most MBAs take throughout their careers are within financial services, consulting services, sales, product management and consumer products marketing. These five job functions and their subcategories are profiled, which include job descriptions, promotion paths, frequent firm hires, perks, downsides and exit options.

Chapter 20: Cost Center & Support Roles

Those who are not directly involved in selling or making a product or service are considered cost centers. These jobs provide a supporting function to the revenue generators especially in a large, complex organization that has a lot of administrative activities. These jobs are also an equally popular route amongst MBAs since they provide many benefits that revenue generating functions cannot provide.

The six kinds of cost center job functions covered in this chapter are corporate development, non-consumer products marketing, corporate finance, human resources, investor relations and rotational programs. Similar in format to the previous chapter, these six job functions and their subcategories are profiled, which include job descriptions, promotion paths, frequent firm hires, perks, downsides and exit options.

Chapter 21: The Road Less Traveled

A significant minority of business school students and applicants now view the MBA as a means to jettison the corporate career track. This chapter covers certain career paths chosen that are no longer rare amongst business school graduates. Careers at an agency, starting a business, working at non-profit or government, returning to a family business, or becoming an academic are covered in this chapter in the same format as prior chapters. Job descriptions, promotion paths, frequent firm hires, perks, downsides and exit options for each career path show that the MBA can be a very valuable asset in finding fulfilling career paths outside the corporate realm.


In keeping with the theme of context and perspective of the book, the epilogue provides career advice for business school applicants, many of whom are focused on their careers. Sometimes life's maxims are often forgotten or disregarded by many business school applicants who only end up disappointed because of their unrealistic expectations of what a top school and the potentially lucrative career can and cannot provide.


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