mba admissions

Guest Post By Matt Symonds, Fortuna Admissions

A college friend once confided that her dad – at his emphatic insistence – wrote all of her undergrad admission essays. Given that she was a physics major with near-perfect grades at a top 10 undergrad institution, this parental intervention struck me as irrational (not to mention unethical).  Given the news we’ve all heard this week about parental overstepping to a criminal extent, I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked by my friend’s confession.

From rescuing to over-praising, we’ve been warned of the perils of helicopter parenting and its implications for children. Yet when a child expresses their intent to apply to a top business school, there’s plenty you can do to help without overstepping your bounds.

While it may be tempting to co-pilot your child’s business school process, the MBA application process is quite different than undergraduate. As most applicants have three to five years of work experience under their belts, this is a time for them to get introspective about what they want to pursue professionally and personally in the next important stage of their lives.

At Fortuna Admissions, my colleagues and I have witnessed many well-intentioned parents cross the line from supportive to prescriptive. “While I was at Wharton, I did have parents attend MBA fairs on their student’s behalf, and also insist on being copied on all correspondence,” says Fortuna Co-Founder Judith Silverman Hodara, Wharton’s former head of MBA Admissions. “For most MBA admissions offices, being overly involved in your student’s process signals that the student may not have the maturity or time management skills to tackle this on their own, and sends up a red flag regarding the candidacy.”

Consider these do’s and don’ts, gleaned from my Fortuna Admissions colleagues, who are seasoned MBA admission professionals and former gatekeepers at the world’s top business schools:

Do: Tap your network. Connecting your son or daughter to people in your network who have an MBA – and encouraging them to do the same in their own networks – offers up a great starting point. Then, make yourself available to discuss their impressions and interactions throughout their decision-making process. That said, don’t expect the second cousin who gained his MBA in the mid-60s to provide insight on innovation incubators, big data, or the latest b-school career trends. Do consider trusted individuals who may have recently completed an MBA or know others who have.

Don’t: Micromanage the process. This means allowing your child to own the process; avoid accompanying them to school events and information sessions or asking all the questions that your 26-year-old is capable of posing themselves. Also, curb your enthusiasm for contacting the school in hopes of nudging your child into the program. While your intent may be supportive, the impact may reflect negatively on your student by implying they can’t make important life decisions on their own.

“I had parents who would contact me and ask me to pass on advice to the daughter (who was in her late 20s), and also ask that I not let on that the advice came from mom or dad,” says Fortuna Co-Director Caroline Diarte Edwards. “The irony was that the young lady in question was incredibly professionally accomplished and mature, and the parental involvement was completely unnecessary.”

Do: Invite introspection and offer encouragement. The opportunity here is to reinforce your confidence in your student’s abilities and encourage their self-reflection on what matters most to them. It’s laudable, for example, to encourage your child’s ambitions while providing a balanced and thoughtful sounding board throughout the process.

“In encouraging self-reflection, it’s helpful for parents to identify core strengths and weaknesses, as these could be very different from what candidates presume,” says Fortuna’s Melissa Jones, former Assistant Director for the MBA Program at INSEAD. “Also, parents can help recall stories and personal anecdotes from when their student was young, which can sometimes be interesting to weave into an application.” Sometimes, qualities that are obvious to a parent are overlooked by their offspring. “For example, when you were eight years old, you went to gymnastics five times a week, training for three hours at a time, and were doing competitions until the age of 15 – this shows remarkable discipline,” adds Melissa.

Don’t: Get hung up on the rankings. It can be tempting to rely on MBA rankings in narrowing down a short list of schools. However, be aware that each ranking – from the Financial Times to the Economist – has a unique methodology for identifying the top schools, and those criteria may or may not be most relevant to your student. Instead, encourage your child to identify the qualities and characteristics that are most important to them – from cost, ROI, and career opportunities to location, size, and management curriculum. This will help you both compare the pros and cons – and be objective about – each school.

Fortuna’s Emma Bond, former Senior Manager of Admissions at the London Business School says, “Parents should try and let go of their own preconceptions of what the ‘right’ school is and let the student do the choosing by fit and feel.” She also suggests that “parents should encourage their kids to get out and experience an international program, particularly if their undergrad has been done in their home country.”

Do: Inspire them to plan ahead. Applying to business school can be a lengthy and arduous process. Application essays can’t be dashed off overnight like a term paper, and most candidates spend a few months preparing for the required standardized exams (the GMAT or GRE). The preparation and research required to apply for an MBA typically takes a lot of effort over several months, which is a difficult juggle alongside a demanding job. Encourage your child to map out a simple project plan, and to let you know when you might provide some helpful input to their process.

While it’s best for parents to let MBA applicants own the process, take heart that few people are better poised to offer the kind of moral support that will buoy an applicant in critical moments. “It never hurts to have a cheerleader (or two!) on your side,” says Fortuna’s Brittany Maschal, former member of Admissions teams at Wharton, Princeton, and Johns Hopkins. “Unlike the process of applying to college (in the U.S., at least), applicants might only apply to a handful of schools. There may be less “safety” or “likely” schools in the mix, therefore, you might not have any acceptances to buffer a number of rejections; this can sting, and quite frankly, rattle many high achievers!”

Although it may be hard for parents to “let go” – and the outcome is inevitably uncertain – heightened self-awareness is a profound side benefit for candidates who commit themselves to the introspection and decision-making the MBA application process demands.

About the Author

Matt Symonds is Co-Founder and Director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions. Fortuna Admissions is composed of former admissions directors and business school insiders from 12 of the top 15 business schools.

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