Inspired by KV's blog, I added a global visitors map on my blog a few days ago. It's great to see how many visit this blog from so many places, I didn't expect to have so many people visiting from places like Ghana, Indonesia and Egypt, amazing! Unfortunately I also feel really guilty since I have this information, I'm sure some hopeful LBS applicants come here looking for useful information and end up reading about the best shoe stores in Madrid and my holiday in Uzbekistan, sorry guys ;-)! So I think it's time again for a real "LBS application blog", especially since the R3 deadline is coming up next Friday!
Let's go through the application. I made sure to get all those things out of the way very early that usually take a long time because they're not under your control . So even though R1 deadline was in October, I already organized my official transcripts and two letters of recommendation letters in August. This was lucky because it turned out one of the letters of recommendation got lost and I had to ask my referee, a busy partner of my company, to write it again. The problem with the recommendation forms is the way they're made your referee is likely to fill them in by hand, which causes problems if it gets lost. Try to convince them to type their answers in word so they can easily access them in case something get lost. Also, the second time I asked the referees to give the letters of recommendation to me in a sealed envelope and I sent them together with my application to ensure they don't get lost again.
The next big step was taking the GMAT, in my opinion a very important part of the application, despite what schools say. I won't write much about the GMAT, as there is so much information out there. If you don't have time, I think the most important thing is to download the two sample tests from the official GMAT website and buy one of the books for revision. I bought the Princeton Review (Cracking the GMAT) and was extremely satisfied with the book, it helped me to review all the forgotten concepts of geometry and offers lots of small tricks, helpful formulas and shortcuts. After reading about how the GMAT works and reviewing formulas, I took the first of the two official practice tests to know how much more I had to study. It turned out I got 99% in verbal and only 75% in quant so from then on I studied only maths, no verbal questions, which significantly reduced what I had to study. So these diagnostic tests are very helpful to focus your efforts. About one or two weeks before the GMAT I panicked a bit and bought Kaplan's GMAT800 and visited the gmatclub website, but I think they made me more nervous than anything, so I actually think it's much better to focus on the basics and sleep well before the test. One thing I wish I had known was how many probability questions would come up (they are hardly touched upon in the practice tests and books). I read that they are reserved for the highest scorers and even then you would only get one or two of them, so I didn't bother studying probability problems very much, but it turned out I got 4 pretty complicated probability questions, most of which I was unable to solve because I didn't know the necessary formulas and they were a bit too complex for me to solve them by logic alone. There is quite a good review of probability problems on the gmatclub website. Many people also recommend using the Official Guide to the GMAT. Unfortunately I didn't know about that so I never used it, but based on the material I read afterwards I would suggest everyone to go for Princeton Review, The Official Guide and gmatclub website. Recently, a new website has been set up, it's called beat the GMAT and also looks very helpful!
Another word of advice on the GMAT (maybe this is only relevant for the overly ambitious and impatient like me :-) ) . Apart from preparation and your brain, the third very important factor is your health and fitness on the day of the test. If you don't feel well, definitely reschedule the appointment for the next available date, even if it means having to apply in R2 instead of R1. In my case, I was too stupid to do that. I had quite a serious head injury four days before the GMAT (I was overly tired after 16h of work and ran into the corner of a shelf in my office, creating a little hole in my forehead and forcing me to go to hospital for the night). Still, I was determined on taking the GMAT, since otherwise I would have had to apply for R2, and I just wanted to know if I could go to LBS before X-mas. Though I scored okay, I had a strong headache for the second part of the GMAT and in the end rushed through it to get home fast. I scored about 50 points lower than I had scored on the practice tests and than what I thought should be a realistic score for me. I'm not saying reschedule it if you have a bit of a cold, but if you have fever or feel very tired in any way or have a headache, make sure you only go if you feel your performance won't be affected. In my case, it worked out fine, but there is a big difference between a score of 690 and a score of 660 (think about the shape of the bell curve!).
A very small part of the application is adding your CV, and I think this is the most underrated part. I don't think it's about how you present yourself so much as what you have done in your life. People always worry so much about the essays and what they should write and how and when they should call the adcom, while I believe the most important thing is what grades you got at school and what you did in your life in terms of internships, extracurriculars and work experience. Especially at LBS I think it is important to show you have international experience, so don't forget about your CV while worrying about essays. This always makes me think about very good networking advice I once read on the web. It was buy a networking guru who complained about friends who would call him saying "I just lost my job and need to start networking now, how do I do that?" - his answer would be "networking is what you should have been doing for the last two years while you still had a job!". Basically, what I want to say that essay writing and CV compiling is not really the activity that decides if you get into business school or not. What matters most is what you have done for the last 5 years, and if you have done well, writing the essays and compiling a convincing CV will be much easier.
The essay questions are all pretty straightforward, such as why do you want to do an MBA, what do you want to do afterwards and so on. I didn't really have a great strategy there but just answered them very honestly. One thing that helped me a lot though was having the essays checked by an alumna who had just joined my company a month earlier. She was happy to help me to promote LBS, so she reviewed my essays, corrected a bit of grammar and gave me very useful hints on how to make my answers more concrete. The only essay I had a big problem with was the one about "which social event do you see yourself initiating"? Browsing the LBS website, it seems like every club already existed, every event already existed, and I could hardly say "I think the women in business club is a great thing and I want to participate", that wouldn't be original! So I actually had the whole application done, the GMAT out of the way etc. but couldn't send my application because I was so uninspired. I was trying to think of something very meaningful or impressive, which made it even harder to even start. In the end, a colleague rescued me. We were going back home on the plane on a Friday night, all tired and foolish, and I was telling him about my drama with this essay questions. He said he would just write something completely absurd and exaggerated, making the adcom think I was either really funny or really stupid. So in the end I just forgot everything about rescuing the world and thought of an event that would be really fun and make people laugh, and from then on it was very easy to write the essay. In fact, I would really like to set up this event at the beginning of the school year, let's see!