Go to a better blog!

You can find a better version of my blog at http://www.adammarkus.com/blog/.

Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

July 31, 2007

MBA Admissions Interviews: There Are No Secrets

While other parts of the admissions process may not be fully transparent (though most of it is), the MBA interview most assuredly is.

The Clear Admit Admissions Wiki contains frequently updated interview reports by applicants to Berkeley Haas, Carnegie Mellon Tepper, Chicago GSB, Columbia Business School, Cornell Johnson, Dartmouth Tuck, Duke Fuqua, Harvard Business School, Michigan Ross, MIT Sloan, New York Stern, Northwestern Kellogg, Pennsylvania Wharton, Stanford GSB, UCLA Anderson, UNC Kenan Flagler, Virginia Darden, Yale SOM, INSEAD, London Business School, and IESE, Spain. These are up-to-date and sometimes very complete reports.

Accepted.com’s MBA Interview Feedback Database includes even more schools.

Both of these sites include not only specific reports on individual schools, but an inventory of the kinds of questions that interviewers ask.

I have no professional relationship with either of these companies and can’t comment on the quality of their one-to-on MBA counseling services, but I think both companies should be praised for making information free and helping to demystify the interview process.

In addition to interview reports, both sites provide information on essays (including essay analysis) and deadlines. From my viewpoint, any MBA applicant would be well served by reviewing these sites closely. When combined with other publicly available sources of information (school websites, blogs, and Businessweek), most applicants will find that they can best direct their precious financial resources to test preparation, individual counseling, school visits, and/or application fees.

-Adam Markus

July 29, 2007

GMAT, GRE & TOEFL Preparation: Do What Works For You

This will be the first of a series of posts where I discuss GMAT, GRE, and TOEFL test preparation from the viewpoint of someone who first taught TOEFL and TOEIC in 1995, marketed test prep worldwide, and has worked with applicants as they struggle with test preparation. (For more about my background, click here).

Disclaimer: My views are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization that I have been affiliated with.

When you apply to graduate school there will be many people who will offer advice about test preparation. Some will offer their advice and/or instruction for free and some for fee. I think it is ultimately important that you determine what will work for you. After all, the are many possible right ways to prepare. Anyone who tells you differently and say they have the best way or the only way is making this claim based on (1) their own experience; (2) the fact that they have only mastered one method or a limited number of methods to assist you; and/or (3) they have prioritized their own desire to sell you something over your specific interests.

Everyone has bias. In my case, my bias is based on the fact that I don't have any financial stake in how anyone does their test preparation and hence believe that the key issue is determining what method will work for you.

People have different learning styles when it comes to preparation. Each person has their own learning needs which will not be equally addressed by all the different options for test preparation.

Essentially test preparation consists of mastery of the material being tested on and test taking techniques (some specific to the test, others more general). Whether you consult a standard guide, take a course at a test preparation school, take a course by distance (online or video), buy software, use a book, or study with a tutor, all of these methods will consists of some combination of mastery of the material and test taking techniques. The exact combination that you need is something to try and determine as quickly as possible.

To what extent have you already mastered the content? If you are very weak at math, you may find that the pacing of a live class to be too fast for you and would be better off with a tutor or self-study. If you are a non-native English speaker with advanced level skills, but want to get a very high score on the TOEFL iBT Speaking Section, you may find that most classes are too slow. Some international applicants will, in fact, find that studying GMAT or TOEFL in their own native language a help, others will find it to be a hindrance. I don't know what will work best for you, but if you are honest with yourself, take the time to try out different methods (use trial lessons,online demos, look at books in bookstores), and you will find the best way(s) for you.

Are you a good test taker? Many applicants are very good at test taking while others are just awful at it. Sometimes the reason goes back to the fact that the applicant had very little experience with test taking. Depending on the country you live in, the frequency and significance of such tests varies. Individuals without significant test preparation experience may find that mastering test taking techniques as adults to be a more difficult task than they anticipated. Depending on your background, you may spend as much or more time on mastering test taking as on mastering the test content.

Don't forget about the GMAT AWA and GRE Analytical Writing Sections! I know that anyone preparing for TOEFL will not forget about this, but native English speakers sometimes get bad scores on the writing sections due to not taking such writing tests seriously enough. Some applicants buy a book and take a diagnostic test and realize that they will have no problem with the multiple choice sections of the test, take the exam, and find themselves with a substandard writing score. Take the time, and, if necessary, spend the money, to prepare for the entire test!

If one method does not work, try another. If you have given a test preparation method your full effort and still are not getting good results, try another method. In the process you may discover something more about your own learning style, a valuable lesson that you can apply long after you have finished with test preparation.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com
-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス

July 27, 2007

Relationship between MBA school ranking & free pens?

Note: This post does not offer practical admissions advice, but it raises a serious marketing question about pen based brand promotion to potential applicants.

Adam's General Rule #1: There is an inverse relationship between MBA school ranking and free pens.

This is a general rule based on my experience attending MBA Tour, World MBA Tour, and other admissions information related events in Tokyo and New York City since 1999.

I began to notice that the highest ranking schools gave nothing but their brochures, while lower ranked schools gave pens, and the lower the rank, generally the better the pen.

INSEAD is an exception to this rule because it is both highly ranked and often gives good pens.

Ranking is not everything, nor is it always the best indication of school quality. However, you will usually find the best and most plentiful supply of pens at lower ranked schools' events and fair booths.

And several top schools, do sometimes give pens, but they are often of dubious quality or in limited quantity. I have been reassured that Duke and Georgetown give pens, but I have never seen them. The one LBS pen I have left me unimpressed as well.

That said, one wonders if pen based marketing is really effective. Do potential applicants decide which school to go to because they got a free pen? Does it even impact their decision to apply? What is the ROI?

I will not attempt to answer these marketing questions, but if you have a professional or scholarly answer, please let me know. Someone has probably written a dissertation on this and maybe it is the subject of an HBS Case Study.

If you are an attendee at MBA admission events, see if my rule is real or not. If it is not, send me proof. If I am shown to be wrong, I will send you a great pen, but not one from INSEAD* because green is my favorite color. And don't worry, I will not run out of great pens because I have lots of them and know where to get more.

*Speaking of ROI, INSEAD has it.**
**This is not a paid endorsement for INSEAD, but it is an endorsement.***
***INSEAD Alum: I know I did not get the right shade of green here. I'm sorry, but you know I love you.

-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス

July 25, 2007

Inside Information on Professors

Many applicants will discuss faculty in their statement of purpose (goals essay). This is less true for MBA and some other kinds of professional degree programs, but for more research based degree programs, faculty selection is a critical component of your reasons for applying. Even some MBA applicants will state that they wish to study with a specific professor.

But how to learn about professors?

First, a story about me. When I applied to graduate school in 1990, I had the good fortune of having excellent admission advice from a very good friend who was doing (and did) his PhD at the University of Chicago. While he did all the standard things you would expect, such as giving me feedback on my statement of purpose and writing sample, the most important advice he gave me was to research faculty at the schools I was targeting in order to identify and then contact faculty. I did as he instructed. I read articles and books and narrowed my selection of schools based on the faculty I thought that I wanted to work with. I sent letters (email? Not back in the stone age) and then made phone calls to the professors I wanted to study with. I was accepted into the two schools where I had the best conversations with the professors. For those pursuing degrees in the arts and sciences, this is still a great way to figure out where to apply to.

But now there is an additional way, www.ratemyprofessors.com. Now it is possible to read what the students think about each and every faculty member at most major universities. Of course, when looking at this material, please keep a few things in mind:
1. Caveat Emptor (Buyer beware), which should be obvious. Hell hath no fury like a student mad about his or her grades.
2. Some faculty are actively manipulating the content. Sometimes for their amusement, sometimes for well, other reasons (like getting tenure).

For applicants, I think this site is quite useful because you can determine, at least in some general way, what students think of the faculty member you want to study with. If you are in a program where laboratory work, a thesis, and/or dissertation will be required, you may find it necessary to spend huge amounts of time studying under the direction of your adviser. Select this person carefully. Use ratemyprofessors.com as one such tool. I have heard too many horror stories about bad advisors, so why not do some research first?

I checked the best and worst professors I had in graduate school at Wisconsin-Madison. The best, Patrick Riley, received really high marks and comments that I could say, based on having been his student, research assistant, and grader, were mostly accurate. The worst, still received remarks that reinforced my own view.

Finally, NEVER quote from ratemyprofessors.com in your essays, interview, or any other aspect of the application process. Instead use it to help you select who you are interested in studying with and then do some further research on them. Read their websites, blogs, scholarly work, and syllabi sufficiently to make any admissions committee think you know what you are talking/writing about. This is especially important if you plan to communicate or meet professors before you apply.

Any questions about this post? Leave comments or email me at adammarkus@gmail.com.

July 21, 2007

Ethical Graduate Admissions Counseling

You can find out about my work as a counselor by reading http://www.japaninc.com/mgz_autumn_2006_ghostwritten_mba_applications . I have copied parts of the article here:

"Out of this unique environment sprung an industry of counseling services for Japanese applicants. Many are individual Americans who have graduated from reputable western institutions and offer their services through online advertisements or word of mouth. Others are small organi-zations composed of a few application consultants. The most prominent and largest graduate school service provider, which covers close to 80% of the Japanese market, is Princeton Review Japan, providing a compre-hensive offering of test prep as well as application counseling. Every year, on average, 1,600 file into its two-floor Shibuya (Tokyo) office, taking test prep classes and essay classes.

Adam Markus, the Associate Director of Admission Counseling at Princeton Review, also an experienced counselor himself, sees a clear and absolute distinction. “Crafting the essay is a process of looking at someone’s content and analyzing it and telling them honestly whether or not it is effective,” Markus explains. He says that he helps his clients better convey their goals, visions, and their strengths, as well as understand their audience. The typical Japanese did not have the opportunity to express themself in terms of goals, visions and plans. No one has probably ever asked them to really think about, like Stanford does, year after year, what they are most passionate about in life and why, and then expect them to demonstrate that passion in every single stage and aspect of their lives, or like Oxford, ask them to demonstrate their depth of character by talking about a world/current event, a book, or play that has helped form their worldview.

Indeed, for many Japanese applicants, the hardest part of writing the essay is to know what the questions are really asking, or what qualities the admission officer is looking for: “A Japanese applicant does not share the same set of cultural assumptions that an American admission officer does,” Markus explains, “My role as the admission advisor is to give feedback. I help them see their own experience and communicate it in a way that could be impressive to the admission committee.”

Markus gives an example with defining leadership: “Leadership is a fundamental MBA essay question,” he says, “However, Japanese typically have a very narrow definition of leadership as the guy in charge. So helping someone understand that they are a leader, that their leadership came as a result of showing initiative, making a difference, having a new concept that the organization bought into—even if they were not the official leader, can be mind opening. It’s not like I am making up stories at all—they just don’t know how to express that and know that it’s a story of value.” Instead of writing about the genuine achievement story at work that they may have had but did not realize, Markus often gets first drafts of leadership essays about them being leaders of the tennis club because that was when they were officially coined the captain. “Now, that’s a boring story,” he understates.

Another example is helping clients understand the importance of writing about the individual in their essays, “The Japanese tend to have a hard time expressing themselves. So I often read first draft essays, and they are talking about the organization or the group—which is not what the admission is looking for. The admission wants to learn about the person. So, I think it is very legitimate to say to somebody—‘hey, this essay is not focused on you’. I teach them the rules. That is not ghostwriting.”

In fact, helping his clients coming to that realization, Markus believes, is an ethical, legitimate process.

....Besides large thematic problems, counselors also often help clients better convey their ideas through simple changes in language structure. In the Japanese language, the verb comes at the end of the sentence, denoting that the most important idea comes at the very end. This type of narrative structure is often reflected in their essay as well, and they may take a long time to get to the actual point of the story. A counselor’s job also includes telling his/her client to reverse the sentence and narrative structure in order to work well with a western admission officer, “I tell my clients, ‘hey, you take way too long to get to the point—your reader will lose interest,’ ” Markus says. “Or, ‘you need to reverse your sentence so the main idea comes first.’ That is not unethical. It simply makes the essay more logical to a western audience.”

In fact, Princeton Review Japan does not usually edit their clients’ English, because they believe it is not in their interest: “Essays don’t need to be in perfect English because it should reflect the actual English ability of the person,” explains Markus. “We constantly tell our clients not to use rewriting services because it is not in their interest. It should be clear, coherent, and free from spelling errors, but for example, they shouldn’t use big words that they do not understand.”

-Adam Markus


July 20, 2007

Ghostwriting and MBA Applications

Below are my public comments regarding ghostwritten applications.
Disclaimer: My comments, "For further information about the views of Adam Markus," are my own and do not represent the views of any organization I have been affiliated with.

I made the following comments:
I appreciate really having had the opportunity to present my views regarding graduate admissions counseling to the readers of JAPAN INC. I think the problem of ghostwriting really extends far beyond Japan and, in fact, is a worldwide problem. It connects more generally into larger problems such as the stealing of intellectual property, academic plagiarism, and the misrepresentation of credentials. This is not to say that these are new problems, but actually the internet is both an enabler of and defender against such practices. It is both easier to cheat and easier to detect cheating as result of the rise of the internet.

People will no doubt continue to ghostwrite applications, but I think given the scope of the problem, such behavior is likely to result only in admission to lower tier schools. I think the days of effectively using templates, recycling your friend's (in Japan, your Sempai's) essays, or otherwise getting around the act of doing hard work to obtain admission to top schools is likely to end as a result of (1) the utilization of google-like technologies to find recycled content (2) the use of content analysis software to compare submitted essays with the GMAT AWA or other standardized test written essays and (3) greater scrutiny on the part of admissions committee's as a result of pressure from faculty and other interested parties who will demand the applications become as scrutinized as student's class essays. This will not eliminate ghostwritten applications, but it will no doubt reduce their effectiveness.

-Adam Markus
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