As I embark on my new journey as an MBA student…(aka spend the summer at my mother’s lakehouse or with my boyfriend in Spain)…I look back on the hustle that over the past two and half years.
I always knew I was getting an MBA – I majored in business, my mother has one, and about 1 year after school I realized with a panic that social media was neither going to satisfy my cerebral nor pecuniary needs. So B school was inevitable.
Getting into a good business school reminds me of sorority recruitment.
I rushed freshman year, and was only invited back to two sororities I didn’t like, so I decided to “defer” a year, and “reapply”, or rush again the next year. (I ended up going to China for a full year and never re-rushed.) Now, older, wiser, and, dangran, more wordly I can share the qualities that get you into your choice sorority and business school.
1. Get Smart
Most sororities have GPA requirements; All business schools do. While I tend to think people are born smart or not, anyone can work the deriers off and get good grades or test scores. GPAs and GMATs are the first filtering criteria for business students. With a low GPA, say bye-bye to top schools. Same with a low GPA, unless you have a compelling story or daddy owns Chile.
2. Have Money
When you’re a freshman girl, having money is probably a matter of circumstance. Your parents had it, or they didn’t. Hopefully though, like with preparing for business school, you planned ahead. Summer jobs, high school savings, a campus job, you’ll need it.
Here, I will make a slightly unseemly parallel the reader may forgive: There are unmentionable ways attractive young ladies in school earn extra cash or Prada bags, which in a down economy, have become more popular. These type of “occupations” are a great way to get you blackballed from any sorority.
Just like refined young Greek ladies, business schools care where you work. From the moment you leave school, you are typing lines, blank or full, on the resume you will submit to MBA programs. The nine months you were “looking”, the first job that didn’t work out, the one you hated…or the well-known firm you interned at, the managerial job that gives you experience other students didn’t have. The company names matter. Titles matter. What you accomplished, yes that matters too.
3. Do Your Research
What is the culture like? What are the requirements? What is the “word on the street”? Yes with business schools there are a ton of rankings, but there are many other things the school is known for, just as sororities have their national standards, as well as the more unwritten campus reputations. Finding out which one best fits you, or you can best assimilate to will help you not only in targeting the place you’ll fit in, but in being able to speak to students/admissions counselors about why you would fit.
4. Get to Know Them
In Greek culture, “dirty rushing” is when a member actively recruits another member before official rush. This can also occur after rush has begun, by soliciting the potential recruit away from regular activities, offering bribes, intimidation, inviting them to private parties, etc. In business school rushing, dirty rushing is highly legal.
I’m not sure whether I would have gotten in as a regular candidate, but I like sure things, so before I “rushed” I began talking to current students at all schools. I took a part-time course at one of my choices. I talked to multiple professors, and obtained references.
5. Go to the Parties
Which brings me to the next one…go to all the parties. In sorority recruitment there are scheduled parties, and you have to be invited back to the second round, third, and so fourth. In business school recruiting, there are lunches, cocktail hours, meet and greets, class visits, pre-interviews, one-on-one with students, school tours and more.
Then there are invitational only events, like weekends for top GMAT candidates, diverse candidates, (women, military, minorities), and top recruits. There are welcome weekends after you’ve been offered admission, but not yet accepted, accepted student happy hours and webinars.
Let me add – there are also non-recruitment events. Let’s call this the “private parties”. Things like a Women in Business “what to wear” happy hour with the women’s group. Women in Leadership conferences on campus. Even informal events, if you’re lucky enough to live in the city your choice school is in, like Meetups, where you know current students will be out in bulk.
Go there, be cool and…
6. Be Confident and Charming
The sisterhood, or network, you’re joining is going to be extremely close with you for the next two or three years…and after. This network is for life. You need to be seen as someone who will be friendly, connects with the others, has common goals and interests, and is all around fun.
Being this type of person is more than just for the sisters personally enjoyment. Sororities need to continually be able to recruit new members; So do business schools. They need to be able to get the “best frats” to party with them; Business schools need the best companies. They want to be associated with popular, pleasant, successful people; Doesn’t everyone?
7. Learn the Cheers
There are actual songs and cheers for sororities, as there are for universities. There are also the “cheers” the admissions marketing team came up with: slogans, brochure language, top reasons to attend. Know why a school considers itself awesome, just as you would a sorority. Everyone wants their “outstanding attributes” recognized. Being able to gush over what they already told you is awesome shows you listened, believed it, and are ready to put on your letters with pride.
8. Make Friends
Know from the moment you show up at your first event, be it a luncheon, a table at a fair, a party or real recruitment session, you are being documented, and watched. Working in digital marketing, I was well aware the data tracking that goes on with individual records. Did they sign up for webinar? Skip the event they signed up? Tweet about us? Who in the office actually knows them?
If you are the girl surrounded by happy other sisters and rushees, you will immediately be seen as popular, likeable, and going to fit in. If you have the opportunity to do an admissions weekend for a school you will be similarly observed. Don’t worry about winning…(yes you’re an alpha)…worry about being liked, teaching the other students something, chatting up current students, and being the kind of “team player” who will strengthen the group.
The current students also are watching you….and will also be there to vouch for you. Connect with them whenever you can. If you know them outside school, even better. In my case, I’d made friends with people from schools I never applied to early in my search. When I did select my schools, I took advantage of this with a personal note from a student who volunteered for my club. I also put in a good word for a student I’d spent time with socially. And I know for a fact it mattered.
9. Widen Your Net
This advice is something I’d like to give myself in retrospect. I’m picky – there are certain things I like, certain people I’d like to associate with. You’ll remember I didn’t complete rush because I didn’t like the chapters I received invites from – but I went to their parties. My friend however, didn’t want to rush at first, did, and ended up at one of the sororities I rejected. She was thrilled; The girls had made a great choice in her.
For business school, during your research you should be open and talk to graduates from very different schools. I was told by a top school grad I was “undervaluing” myself with my choices. I found out another school was too snobby for me. Another one, honestly kind of racist. By talking to people I found out the “unwritten” culture, and my choices changed.
My biggest regret is not applying to more schools: I applied to three and was accepted to all. I received enough money and it was easy enough that I wish I had applied to a few “reach” schools. Getting rejected isn’t that bad – more so it tells you where your “limit” is or some parameters of where you fit in.
10. Second Round
A this point, my girl friends received our first “invitation” back to the second party. Depending on how we presented ourselves, clicked with the members, how we fit, we may or may not have the opportunity to keep going.
In business school admissions, your first “invite” is the interview. (If they aren’t interviewing you, either you’re an ibanker with a 775 GMAT, volunteer activities, a legacy, 3.9 GPA, and career goals to go back to banking….or admissions criteria is ridiculously low.) The interview signals that “hey, we like how you look! give us a chance to get to you know better.”
This is when you want to go back to the “know the cheers” and be ready to rattle off how awesome the school is. You’ll also have a well rehearsed speech about why you want to go back. The most important thing about this speech is that it sounds reasonable, rational and achievable given your abilities and experience. In my interview for a part-time program the admissions counselor leveled with me, “As a career changer going part-time is going to be very difficult. You won’t be able to interview”.
I somehow convinced him I could do it slaving away, getting a new job closer to finance, networking like a mad woman…but his advice made a lot of sense. It impacted me enough that I decided a full-time program was a safer, and way more fun, option.
Now congrats, we want you!