Admissions Spotlight: Timelines & Planning

‘Tis that time of year again. No, not the time when most of the well-intended New Years Resolutions begin the long limp to failure, but rather a new crop of b-school hopefuls gearing up to make a run at their choice programs. To help prospective b-school candidates get a jump on their preparation and make the most of their efforts, we thought we’d share some guidance on how best to plan for the upcoming application year.

Between the GMAT, the essays, the recommendations, and everything else, it is easy to feel overwhelmed when trying to apply to b-school. Your best asset when starting this process is a timeline. Include events and deliverables including GMAT practice tests and courses, application essays, scholarship applications, recommendations, and school visits. Once you figure out what needs to be done first, your priorities begin to align themselves!

Below we’ve included a standard timeline that outlines the bigger picture events you should plan for:

The road to the promised land of GMAT and application glory is long and arduous. To help you retain your sanity, and make this the rare resolution that comes to fruition, keep in mind a few key tips:

  • Start Early – As the timeline indicates, prudent planning should provide six months to prep for the GMAT. If you knock the GMAT out early, great! If not, this allows you time to deal with unexpected interruptions to your prep (they almost always happen) or setbacks, or simply the need for more time to get the score you want. The plan also provides time to focus squarely on applications instead of having to split time two ways (and usually more if you consider most people have full-time employment to deal with, not to mention family and other obligations that come with having some semblance of a life). The bottom line: budget room to have more time, not less, to make your prep a less stressful endeavor.
  • Have a Plan…but be Flexible – As we mentioned above, unanticipated events always arise. Having a plan does wonders for streamlining prep and staying on task, but don’t become too beholden to any one path. Don’t limit yourself to a single approach, a single mode to prepare for the GMAT, or an arbitrary deadline for achieving scores you need on the GMAT. Have a plan and modify as needed. Just think about the “plans” you had for yourself in high school. Have those plan manifested themselves? For most people the plans change. This realm is no exception.
  • Be Tenacious - Your goals are imminently achievable. The path is winding, it is difficult, but it has an end, and it’s the end you want. But to reach that end, you have to stick to your goals. Don’t be dissuaded by setbacks or delays. Don’t let your expectations undermine your commitment or motivation. If you want it, it’s there for the taking. All that’s needed is dedication and prudent preparation.

Happy New Year and best of luck with your GMAT preparation and b-school applications!

For more on how Bell Curves could help you improve your preparation, visit us at gmat.bellcurves.com. Sign up for a free Bell Curves demo account to practice with computer-based materials. Join us for a GMAT Sample Class to experience our fantastic teachers, materials, and approaches to the GMAT, and see firsthand how Bell Curves could help you Get Ahead of the Curve today!

You’ve Taken the PSAT, Now What?

Thanksgiving marks not only the start of the Christmas season but also the beginning of the college process in earnest for many Juniors. Before December brings Santa down your chimney, it will bring PSAT results back to your high schools. The College Board will be sending your score reports back to your schools in the first couple weeks of December, which means you should have your scores in your hand just in time to put them under the Christmas tree. In this post, we’ll break down what the PSAT tells you about the SAT and if it impacts your future SAT score. (You should also check out “What Is The PSAT?” to learn more about what the test is and how it’s used. )

Christmas Miracle

This message was originally posted in 2009, but alas is still relevant today!


Every year about this time I get a few “Christmas Miracle” phone calls. The callers don’t see it that way, but that’s in essence what the calls are. These calls (or sometimes emails) usually start rolling in around mid-December, when people are nearing crunch time for second round b-school application cycles and frantic that their GMAT scores haven’t progressed to a point they feel will give them a reasonable shot at their schools of interest. Let’s take a look at the particulars of a couple such cases from this month.

So, how do you get started preparing for the LSAT?

The good news about the LSAT is it can be prepared for. It can be prepared for effectively and scores can be increased significantly. The catch is that it takes time and effort, hard work and analysis. It might even take money, and it certainly takes resilience. Michael Jor­dan said it best “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.”

Here is a quick pre-LSAT training camp plan:

October 2012 PSAT Vocabulary

Check out this great word cloud using words from the October 2012 PSAT. If you click a word it will take you to the definition. Give it a moment or two to load!

 

Enjoy

GMAT and B-school Volume Up Big

GMAC recently released GMAT testing volume data for the 2012 testing year (July 1 2011 to June 30 2012) that shows significant increases in both the number GMAT tests taken and the number of score reports sent to graduate management schools. Some of the key figures:

  • The 2012 testing year saw more than 286,000 GMAT tests taken, up nearly 11 percent from 2011.
  • About 831,000 GMAT score reports, a historic number, were sent to almost 5,300 programs in 2012.
  • Testing numbers outside the U.S. continue to skyrocket, with the number of tests up 19 percent from 2011 and comprising 59% of all tests taken.
  • The percentage of tests taken by women has jumped to a new record as well, comprising nearly 43% of all tests taken.

October 2012 SAT: Something to Do on a Saturday

To make sure we can keep you informed about the impact of the security changes and test day experiences we send our teachers in periodically to take the actual SAT. This report was filed by Bell Curves’ own Aimee Slater, resident Jeopardy champ (in our hearts), office redhead, and SAT teacher.


Background – In a few years you won’t remember and no one will care

I took the SAT several years ago (20 still counts as “several,” right?).  I was trying to remember my test day experience and my clearest memory about the test is “My high school made me take it 3 times.”  (Editor’s note: Aimee attended Haverford College on a  generous scholarship and doesn’t remember her SAT scores, but says they were just a bit better than average). I asked some high school friends what they remember, and that was their strongest memory too.  My other memory is of the word “nadir.”  I didn’t know what it meant,  I wrote it on the label of my shirt so that I could look up the definition later (Editor’s note: these days, writing on your clothes might get you kicked out… don’t do it!).

So armed with fuzzy memories and the teaching experience I have obtained through Bell Curves, I sat down to take a modern day SAT on October 6th.  I joined a few dozen area teens very early on a Saturday morning to take the test in Brooklyn.


Registration: Longer and More Annoying than You Think

Before I talk about test day, let me say a word about registration.  Registering for the exam is at least a 25 minute process wherein you pretty much lay bare anything and everything you have been, currently are and will ever be.  I had to upload a picture for my test ticket, which I had to carry with me on test day (even to the loo). The system, it turns out, is really picky about the photos it’ll accept, in fact, I had two perfectly lovely photos rejected before it accepted one I had a colleague take.  The photo is not currently a requirement, but will be required starting with the Jan 2013 test.  I also had to answer questions about my ethnicity, GPA, class ranking, parents’ level of education, indicate my college preferences (size, location single-sex, programs).  It was 3+ pages of questions, many of which are optional, but they are mixed in with the required ones so it’s not immediately obvious which are which.   It’s worth noting that “I don’t wish to respond” is one of the choices for all required questions, but still that’s a lot of work on my part without much in return.  College Board will then sell my information to schools or publish it in studies.  You’re welcome, College Board.  You should send me a piece of that financial pie.


Test Day

I dutifully showed up by 7:45am, number 2 lead pencils in hand and calculator (TI-86 was my calculator of choice) at the ready.  I was assigned a seat in a classroom with the 19 or so other kids who have R-Z last names.

Here’s some stuff I noticed:

  • No one cared that I was old and taking the test.   I didn’t even get a double take.
  • Three, 5-minutes breaks are not nearly enough.  Powering through that last 1 hour and 4 minutes (sections 7-10) is rough .
  • Kids were eating candy and drinking Red Bull early in the AM and at breaks.  This lead to a lot of crashing in the middle or toward the end.
  • A girl fell asleep, twice (probably due to a Red Bull crash).  The proctor was nice enough to wake her up, but I think that was above and beyond what’s listed as duties in the proctor guidelines, and some proctors would have just let her sleep through the test.
  • I am still not a fan of coordinate plane geometry but as usual there were about 5 questions.
  • No section asks 40 questions, and yet each section on the answer sheet has 40 bubbles.  I find this vexing.
  • I miss analogies.  The College Board removed them in 2005, and in doing so, took away the fun portion of the test (if there is such a thing).
  • I did not have to write an essay the first time around, and was excited to do it this time around.  I went in knowing that I was going to use The League of Nations and Game of Thrones.  As we tell our students – the question hardly matters.  Pick a position, have some examples at the ready, and write!

I know some old timers have gone back and taken the test in recent times and had negative experiences.  I’m less negative about having to take a test, than about what it’s actually testing.  Sitting through long exams is something I had to do in college (3 hour finals!) so I don’t think taking a test is too much to ask of students who want to go to college.  The content of the test?  Well, let’s just say that I have some disagreement with what and how things are asked.  But that’s for a different blog post.  For now, this is the system we have, and if our kids want to go to college, we need to work within this system to ensure as many of them as possible are prepared for the test, the admissions process, and college success.

I admit that my stakes are relatively low; I don’t have my admissions decisions or financial aid riding on my 2012 performance, although the College Board will be sending my scores to my high school guidance counselor so that person, whomever it is now, can go over them with me (I didn’t have an option to opt-out).  I’m looking forward to that phone call.   It was a long day, but most students seemed to sail through (aside from Red Bull Crash Girl.  Airheads candy is not the breakfast of champions, chica!), and I think that anyone preparing for the November or December administrations should remember to

  • review the content – get comfortable with how questions are asked and what information they are looking for
  • take practice tests under real-test conditions (timed, with only the breaks given on the real test)

For test day:

  • for Math, strategies like plugging in were still awesome and time-saving and helped me avoid mistakes on at least 7 problems
  • for the Critical Reading, remember to answer the questions (all the questions) in your own words first (Click here to read up on how to Avoid Looking at the Elephant)
  • bring brain-food snacks like trail mix, carrots, peanut butter crackers etc.  Avoid caffeine highs which can lead to crashes, and go for hydration – water, seltzer water etc.
  • UPDATE: check out this list of vocab words from the October 2012 SAT

Good luck!

850+ Test Optional Colleges: A Closer Look at the Famous List

As a 20 year veteran of test preparation, I’ve been enamored with the FairTest list of SAT/ACT optional schools for what seems like a decade now. I am sure many of you as parents, educators and students have also been impressed with such a list; it’s seemingly a harbinger of a radical shift in admission policy that will minimize the impact of standardized tests which have historically put low income and minority students at a disadvantage. I’ve seen the good and bad of testing for years and find it commendable that a school would be brave enough to defy convention when it comes to standardized test scores, forgoing both the benefits and the drawbacks, to weigh students on their broader merits.

Sweet Deal! Taking Advantage of College Visits

 

 

Visiting colleges and universities in person is one of the most important – and fun – parts of the admissions process. At this step in the process you don’t have to study for exams, write essays or do paperwork.  You simply get to visit a beautiful campus, talk to faculty, eat in the dining hall with students, and learn more about a college and your place in it.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: Changes in MBA Application Essays

Today’s guest post is from Nicole Lindsay, who holds a JD/MBA from University of Virginia and is a former MBA admissions officer at Yale School of Management. Nicole Lindsay is the Founder of DiversityMBAPrep.com, an online community that supports women and minorities in applying to MBA programs.

 


 

Earlier this summer, a few MBA programs sent admissions insiders into a tizzy when they decided to revamp their application essay questions. Who knew that a move from four required essays to two could be so disruptive!

Business schools experiment with their applications every year and receive little notice from national media.  This year is different because the changes came from the “Big Three” (Harvard, Wharton, Stanford). Application shifts also came from Kellogg, UVA Darden, Columbia, MIT Sloan, and Iowa (which seems to experiment every year.  Last year the school got national publicity when one essay question sought a 140-word tweet response). Ultimately, all MBA programs are looking for better ways to get the most pertinent information with as few hurdles to applicants as possible.  Business schools want to receive more applications so a lot of thought goes into their application process. Many pundits speculated that this year’s application changes were an attempt to outsmart admissions consultants.  I disagree – the formula for gaining admission to business school is no different than in years past.

MBA applications are trending toward reduced essay requirements, either by requiring fewer essays or lowering maximum word count. These changes signal to me that schools are adapting their application components to more closely align with the real weight that each is given in the admissions decision. Transcripts and GMAT directly tie to a candidate’s academic readiness so they are given significant weight. In the same manner, the resume (work experience) and recommendations link to career and leadership potential, which are critical admissions elements. Over the years, essays have become a catch-all without a specific connection to the factors that drive the admissions decision. Going forward, expect that schools will use essays to (a) learn about your career goals (some will ask this in the application form as a short-answer question) and (b) assess your school fit (examples: questions around teamwork, ethics or exploring a statement or video).

Here’s how I suggest that you approach your MBA applications:

  1. Schools want you to submit strong applications so understand what each question is really asking you. On school and other websites, look for tips and suggestions from the Admissions Committee on the application components, particularly the essays. Feel free to get the opinions of others, but remember, they are simply speculating, while Admissions Committee members actually know.
  2. Take a holistic approach to the application –most of this year’s application changes have come in the essay component. Most schools are opting for shorter essays – this just means you need to get to the point faster. Essays are just one of several parts of an application; you must use every inch of the application to communicate your story. If you are afforded fewer words in a career goal essay to discuss your background, use your resume to highlight accomplishments that relate to your future aspirations.
  3. Don’t sweat new application changes – all applicants are required to complete the same application for admission, so don’t worry about what previous applicants had to do. Nothing has really changed in the admissions process – business schools admit candidates that are academically prepared, with tremendous career and leadership potential and are a fit for their MBA programs.

Good luck with your applications!

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