Answering Those Quirky MBA Applicant Questions
Maria |
August 3, 2022

If you’re an aspiring MBA applicant who’s been to different forums, from Reddit to Quora, you will find this episode of Business Casual interesting.

Our hosts John, Maria, and Caroline will discuss the following questions that John has collected from different forums;

  1. What is a better option for a student –  to become a doctor, a certified accountant, an MBA, or work in any IT field?
  2. What is the average number of candidates shortlisted for interviews by top b-schools like Harvard, Wharton, and Kellogg?
  3. Should I refuse to go to Harvard Business School as I don’t want to work 70 hours a week?
  4. What percentage of applicants get admitted to Columbia Business School?
  5. Is a top business school like Harvard, Wharton, or Stanford worth going to?

And one personal question from John:

What do you think Trump learned at Wharton?

Episode Transcript

[00:00:07.390] – John

Welcome to Business Casual, the weekly podcast of Poets and Quants. I’m John Byrne with Poets and Quants, and I have my co host in the studio with me. Our virtual studio, that is, is Maria Wich Vila, who is the founder of Applicant Lab, and Caroline Diarte Edwards, the co founder of Fortuna Admissions and the former head of admissions at INSEAD in beautiful Fountain, Blow and Singapore and Dubai, places all over the place and San Francisco. Now, for that matter, one of the things I do in this, I’m going to tell you, is a guilty pleasure of mine is spend time on two platforms in particular to keep in touch with the MBA market at kind of a different level. I spend time on Quora, which is a platform where people are able to ask questions and get them answered. And then I spend time on the reddit board for MBAs. And on Sunday morning, it was a rainy morning here in Charlottesville, Virginia, and I spent a few hours on Quora answering questions, and I thought it would be great fun if I could get the greater wisdom from my two colleagues here, Maria and Caroline, on these questions.


[00:01:27.540] – John

Now, some of them, admittedly, are either misinformed or uninformed, but they’re kind of interesting, and I think a lot of people would be interested in the answers. The first one I answered, and this is kind of interesting to get Maria and Caroline’s take on, is what is a better option for a student to become a doctor, a certified accountant, an MBA or any IT field? Now, I basically said the question is better answered by you don’t choose      a field because you’re going to make more money in it, tap into your interests and passions and choosing what you would be good at. But I wonder, Maria, what would you make of a question like this?


[00:02:13.450] – Maria

I feel so sad for whoever asks that question because it’s really, first of all, those are such radically different paths that you could follow in your life. And second of all, you’re going to an anonymous internet message board where it’s half the time or 95% of the time, it’s the blind leaving the blind. I think you really need to assess what it is that you value and what you want out of life and oh, my gosh, okay, I will take a stab at it. I think, first of all, you have to assess what do you enjoy doing? What sort of problems do you want to solve? I think that that’s the fundamental question. What sorts of challenges do you enjoy solving? What sorts of puzzles do you enjoy putting together? If it’s somebody’s health, then maybe you should become a doctor. And if it’s debits and credits and depreciation, maybe you should become an accountant. I will say so instead of just bashing this poor, genuine, earnest question, ask her. What I will do is I will think to myself, okay, what if my younger brother were asking me this question, or if my son were asking me this question.


[00:03:20.030] – Maria

And I think accountants, I suspect that the accounting field is going to become increasingly automated over the next several decades. So I’m not saying that no one will ever need human accountants, but I do think that that is probably something that I would not advise someone to go into if they’re looking for long term a long term career stability. I also think that you have to have a very certain type of mind to enjoy accounting, right? It’s because some people call it would find it very boring and repetitive, whereas other people would say, well, this is actually they would find comfort in that sort of this lack of variability. Relatively speaking, I think medicine is an interesting one because there used to be this idea that medicine was the way to riches, and that can still be true. But my understanding is that with the health insurance companies, my understanding, and of course I’m saying this is a complete outsider with no basis for making this payment, but I’m going to do it anyway my understanding is that the health care industry is one in which the health insurance companies are the ones making all the money and doctors are making less and less.


[00:04:17.740] – Maria

And also to become a doctor, you now need twelve years. You need to specialize, and then you need to do all these different rotational things. And I remember in my old neighborhood, there was a doctor who lived across the street from us, and she was something like $700,000 in debt or something. And so you’re like, wow, she will eventually make that back. But also, I just don’t think you shouldn’t go for like an MBA if you’re not interested in business. I think I’ve told this story before. I’ve got a good friend from college who was a humanities major who went to work for one of the elite business consulting firms out of college and could not give two cent two shakes of a labs tail. What, I don’t know. She couldn’t care it less about business. And so she didn’t do well because she didn’t care. She hated it. So if you want some sort of overarching opinions on some of those different paths, but just sort of look inside and please don’t ask the internet, and please don’t go with just what your parents want.


[00:05:21.380] – John

Yeah, very good. And let’s face it, so many people wash out on the pre med courses in college, like biology and things where they just don’t do well, and they basically enter wanting to be a doctor, and it never really happens. And you’re right, it takes a very long time and a very big investment of yourself to even become a doctor. You’d be earning a lot of money out of an MBA program long before you ever see any real money as a doctor. And let’s face it, I’m just going to say this. I may be wrong, but in terms of just hard work and even intelligence, doesn’t it take more to be a doctor than it would be to get an MBA degree? Not that all doctors are smart, because, believe me, I’ve encountered a good number of them and I wondered how in the world, if they get the diploma, they hang on their wall. But, hey, it’s true. I would assume, Caroline, that you pretty much agree with what Maria said.


[00:06:31.730] – Caroline

Yeah. I wonder if the person asking that question was Indian, because it sounds like the sort of discussion some of my Indian friends would have around the dinner table. Often parents are looking for their kids to get a profession and head in one of those directions. And I would definitely agree that it’s important to pursue the path that is most interesting for you. I could never have contemplated becoming a doctor. I’m far too squeamish. I’m hoping that in my family, one of the next generation will pursue that path, because my sister is a doctor and it’s very useful having someone in the doctor. Someone in the family is a doctor. I have to say, I’m often on the phone to her about something or other, so definitely we’re going to need doctors, so let’s not discourage people from going down that path. But yes, certainly in the US, in particular, it’s an incredibly expensive proposition to pursue medical studies. My sister did most of her education in the UK and didn’t have to take on any debt at all to qualify. A very different picture in the US, for sure. As regards accounting, I know quite a few people who did accounting because I started my career at Arthur Anderson, where a lot of people had accounting backgrounds or were pursuing the accounting qualification.


[00:07:54.270] – Caroline

That wasn’t a direction that particularly interested me and I focused on the consulting side. But I can certainly see how it gives you a really good education to start your career. If you’re interested in working in business and gives you an understanding, a lot of the financial fundamentals, which is very useful. Right. And those principles remain true. So whether or not you continue a profession, continue accounting, I think that sort of educational background can be very useful in a lot of different capacities in a career in business.


[00:08:34.390] – John

There are a lot of people who are doctors and a lot of people who are accountants and software engineers who end up getting MBAs. Right?


[00:08:42.220] – Caroline

Yeah, absolutely. As you know, I’m a huge fan of the MBA, and for me, I think it’s something that just gives you a lot of options in a way that many other postgraduate degrees might not give you. There’s just so many different directions that you can go in after doing an MBA. And the wonderful thing as well about an MBA is that you don’t have to redo it at a specific point in time. Right. Some people do it very early, in the early to mid twenty s, and some people come to it later on. It might do an executive MBA a bit later on. So I think there’s a lot of options with the MBA that it’s something that you can turn to at different points in your career. And once you’ve got that, it’s a great platform and gives you a fantastic educational, fantastic credential, and a fantastic network that can take you in a lot of different directions. And in an economy where people will need to invent themselves and reinvent themselves probably many times over, that sort of flexibility that a postgraduate degree can give you I think is incredibly valuable.


[00:09:58.300] – John

Yeah. In fact, on Friday, I went to Washington, DC. And interviewed three executive MBA students. One was a pharmacist, one was a doctor. So there you go. Here’s another interesting question. I kind of like this question, even though it may seem not all that relevant to the applicant. Although, just for the sake of curiosity, I’m sure that everyone wonders what the answer to this question is. And here it is. What is the average number of candidates shortlisted for interview by top b-schools like Harvard, Wharton and Kellogg. So this person wants to know what percentage of the applicants actually get an interview. Now, Maria, do you have any data on that?


[00:10:46.120] – Maria

Well, I would defer to Caroline here, but I thought the general rule of thumb is that on average, if you get invited to interview, there’s roughly a 50% chance of getting in. So just take the acceptance rate and double it. And that would be my back of the envelope way. But Caroline, what do you think?


[00:11:00.430] – Caroline

Yeah, that’s what I would say as well. In most cases, the vast majority of candidates are being weeded out pre interview. So if you’ve got to interview stage, they consider that on paper you are potentially very good fit with the score. So your chances of getting in a dramatically shot up if you get to.


[00:11:21.500] – John

Interview stage, what percentage of the applicants do you think are interviewed at top schools? Is it roughly 20%?


[00:11:30.040] – Caroline

Well, it depends on as Maria said, it depends on what the admissions rate is. But post interview, I would agree that it’s probably roughly one in two.


[00:11:46.350] – John

I said that. Look, in a typical year, Harvard Business School gets just under 10,000 applications. And the scuttlebutt is that about 1800 candidates are invited to an HBS interview by the admission staffers every year. So that’s about 18% of those who apply. And then, as Caroline and Ridge has said, roughly 50% to 60% of those candidates are actually admitted. And I think these numbers would really vary from school to school. Larson dependent on yield, right? Because if your yield is lower than some other schools, it typically is other than Stanford, you’re going to need to interview more people and you’re going to need to admit more, so the percentages would change. Do you guys agree with that?


[00:12:35.260] – Caroline

Yeah, absolutely. So schools will plan how many people they want to interview, taking into account what they expect, what they forecast for their yield. And yields will vary a little bit year to year for any given score. But in most cases, it won’t vary dramatically unless you have something like the pandemic. Hopefully we’re not going to see that again in a hurry. They will make their own assumptions about their expectations for their yield and then calculate the number of candidates they need to interview accordingly.


[00:13:12.390] – John

Now, here is a question Maria has to ask, because I mean, it has to answer, sorry. Because Maria is an alum of Harvard Business School, and this is a question that’s going to make you laugh out loud. Should I refuse to go to Harvard Business School as I don’t want to work 70 hours a week?


[00:13:32.190] – Maria

Yes, please don’t apply. I mean, what kind of a weird question is that? It’s like saying, Should I refuse to marry George Clooney? Because I don’t feel like traveling all over the world. I’ve seen you guys. It’s just not good enough for me. So sorry, George. What kind of a question is that? I don’t want to go. Okay, again, let me put myself in more charitable shoes. I think that there is a misconception that if you want to, that business school dooms you to a life of 100 hours work weeks and this sharp elbowed capitalistic rat race, and it certainly can. If that’s what you want, the MBA is a great way to get that. But I also think that the MBA gives you a ton of flexibility, as Caroline was just mentioning. And even you, John, you just said that you had met some executive MBAs who are doctors and pharmacists. It just gives you so much flexibility to try to pursue the kind of life that you want. And for example, right now, Caroline and I are entrepreneurs. But perhaps later in our careers, when our kids are a little bit older, we may wish to try to go back into some sort of a corporate setting.


[00:14:43.790] – Maria

Who knows? And so the MBA does give you that flexibility. I can say we talked a couple of episodes ago to someone who had given birth during business school and had a child. I think a lot of women do ratchet down their careers when their children are at a certain age. And so there certainly is no it’s not like you graduate and they’re like, okay, we’re not going to hand you the diploma. Are you going to work at least 70 hours a week? No. Okay. We’re pulling it away from your hands. Like, what? So I can understand where that stereotype can come from. And there are certainly people who do work 70 hours a week, although I do think that eventually, even the most ambitious person, eventually age starts to take over and your brain and your body are unable to support that much longer. But yes, please don’t think that getting an MBA necessarily requires you to work a zillion hours a week.


[00:15:38.740] – John

Yeah, and working long hours is not a they’re directly correlated with an MBA from Harvard Business School. All MBAs at almost any school are going to put in good number of hours. You’re going to work hard because if you’re smart and ambitious enough to get into a major MBA program, I would think that you’d want to throw yourself into your work and would greatly enjoy it and it becomes less work and more, frankly, fun and personally fulfilling and an opportunity for you to grow on every level.


[00:16:12.090] – Maria

It’s almost like a chicken and an egg thing where business schools will accept people who have that passion and that drive to begin with. So if you apply to Harvard Business School and you’re like, well, the one thing I don’t want to do is work on anything, it might not work out for you admissions wise.


[00:16:27.070] – John

And for what it’s worth, we had published some research on how many hours MBAs actually put into their jobs. These are largely newly hired MBA, so you have to take that into account. At BCG, for example, the MBA average average is 63 hours a week. At Bain is 58. Incidentally, at places like General Electric, Pepco for three MBA are working 45 to 43 hours a week. And if you want to know who works, MBA is harder than any other firm, it’s Goldman Sachs. People responding to the survey from Goldman Sachs with an MBA claim they work 86 hours a week on average.


[00:17:10.270] – Caroline

Gruesome. I think you’re right that there. Are seasons for everything, and if you’re passionate about what you do, there will be times when you are happy to work long hours. Right?


[00:17:22.320] – Caroline

There’s something you just really want to get done and you have energy for that. I don’t particularly have the energy or the time to do that anymore, but I’ve been there and done that and I would have to do that at the time. I think also that an MBA, as you said, just gives you options. So from my sample of acquaintances and former colleagues and friends and so on, I do think that people who have MBAs are generally more satisfied with their careers because they are able to make choices. And if they’re not happy with what they’re doing, they move and they go and do something else. If they’re working Goldman Sachs or somewhere and they’re doing ridiculous hours and they’ve just got to the point where they don’t want to do that anymore, then they have other opportunities, right? There’s lots of other things that they can do. So people don’t get stuck in situations in jobs that they’re not happy with. And I think perhaps sometimes they do, but I just see that happening much less frequently amongst friends who have former colleagues who have MBAs than people who don’t, because it gives you the option value that you can switch.


[00:18:34.130] – Caroline

And I think that means, as an end result, that people are generally more likely to be happy with their lifestyle and how much they’re working.


[00:18:43.810] – John

Very true. Now, here’s a question that on the surface seems, well, kind of obvious in terms of what the answer might be, but it’s less than obvious for sure what percentage of applicants get admitted to Columbia Business School. Now, you think if you go and look at the class profile and you just do the percentages, you’ll find the admit rate, right? But in fact, Columbia is a school with two different intakes. They take in their largest number of full time MBAs in August, and then they have a smaller cohort that enters in January for an accelerated program. Now, what’s interesting is the overall rate of acceptance at the school is quite low. In fact, it’s 18.6%. But if you look at the admin rate for those who apply for the August entry, it’s down to 15.7%. And that, incidentally, is the rate that Columbia Business School gives to US. News and World Report. So when you look at the US News and World Report numbers, it’ll be the lower number, 15.7, not the higher overall rate of 18.6%. So now what’s interesting is, okay, well, if the overall rate is higher than the August rate, that means that the January cohort must have a much larger acceptance rate.


[00:20:08.630] – John

And indeed it does. Last year, there are only 267 applicants admitted out of a total of 502 candidates. But that comes to an acceptance rate of listen to this 53.2% versus the 15.7% in August. Big difference, more than three times the acceptance rate in January as opposed to August. I wonder if there’s similar changes like that, like an INSEAD, which also has more than one intake.


[00:20:44.560] – Caroline

Caroline yeah, I’m surprised there’s that bigger difference. So at INSEAD, there is a slightly smaller applicant pool, typically for January than September, but then the yield is higher for January than September because people are less likely to be applying to other programs at the same time because there are a few other options to apply to if you’re looking for a January entry. And so the admissions rate works out to being almost exactly the same, the offer rate. So I’m surprised. I expected that there would be some difference at Columbia. I would also say that they probably see a more targeted pool for that January intake and perhaps a more better qualified poll because it’s not such an obvious choice. And people are perhaps very carefully thinking through their options and why they’re applying. If they are choosing that specific intake, it’s a little bit different from the obvious choices if you’re applying to business school. And therefore, I think people might have thought through their choice a little bit more carefully if they’re applying for that January entry. Than some people who are applying and throwing their hat in the ring for September entries.


[00:22:04.850] – Caroline

And so I would suspect that the January intake, Paul, is on average, slightly better qualified than the September intake.


[00:22:14.090] – John

Now, I’m going to not throw out to you some of the other questions that I answered. For example, what did Trump learn at Wharton? What factors does hospitals will consider when reviewing the applicants? How is the master’s in management at London Business School? I’m not going to bore you with these ones, or is it possible to get into work business school with a 3.2 GPA? But I am going to ask the two of you this question. Is a top business school like Harvard, Wharton, Stanford worth going to? Now, we are true advocates for business education and of course, we think, absolutely it’s worth going too. But Maria and Caroline, what do you think?


[00:23:02.630] – Maria

Maybe an interesting question to examine would be when would it not be worth going? Perhaps that’s the way to look at it. Yeah, I think it would not be worth going if you are really not passionate at all about business and you don’t plan to apply the lessons that you learn if you go to business school and then you decide to become, I don’t know, a psychotherapist, but even then you would use the MBA to build your practice. The general management degree is called general management because it’s generally very useful to know. But, yeah, I guess if you don’t really plan on doing anything with the degree, then it wouldn’t be worth it. But again, it’s just so useful. In my social circle, I’ve got friends who are screenwriters who have MBAs and doctors who have MBAs and all kinds of people who have MBAs, and even if they’re not using the MBA knowledge every day, it’s still such a solid background to have. But I do think, like, look, if you’re just doing it because you want to check a box and then sit around and watch Netflix all day, then maybe you could do that without going 200 grand into debt.


[00:24:14.510] – John

Caroline yeah, I agree.


[00:24:17.460] – Caroline

It’s not obvious in what scenario wouldn’t be useful, because generally schools are pretty good at weeding out people who apply where their motivation isn’t particularly strong. Right. I mean, that’s part of the evaluation process. They’re looking at why you want to do the program and what you’re going to get out of it and how you’re going to use it in the future. And they want people who are going to make the most of it. So you’d have to assume that someone has sort of pulled the wall over the eyes of the admissions committee going to go there and they’re not going to get any value out of it. I would say that I’ve seen a few people go after business school who have gone because they’re sponsored by McKinsey Baine or BCG and they’re not terribly enthusiastic about it. But they see it as sort of a stepping stone in their career that is expected of them. And I think that’s a bit of a shame because perhaps that place would have been more useful for someone who is truly motivated and really comes to the experience wanting to suck every last I owe for value out of it.


[00:25:23.820] – Caroline

And I have seen some people who don’t embrace the opportunities as much as others because of that factor and also some people who are going because they’re from a very wealthy family. The Trumps of this world had going because daddy’s paying for it and they don’t necessarily have to get that degree and they don’t necessarily going to use the knowledge that they gain because everything’s kind of been given to them already. So there are some scenarios where people will not use that degree, perhaps a great deal and sometimes those people do still get right.


[00:26:12.630] – Maria

One thing that did occur to me a second ago, as I thought about the question a little bit more is that we do have friends who right out of college were able to fit into a career that was what they were passionate about, what they were very good at. For example, we have friends who are investment bankers or who went to McKinsey or who ended up, in our case in the film industry. And these were very bright people who would have easily gotten into Stanford, the Harvard Wharton and INSEAD, had they applied. But they did the calculation and they realized that two years in the workforce would propel their careers forward more than taking two years out and then starting at a post MBA position. So I do think that if you are a young person who has graduated from college and you are already in a businessy type of job and your trajectory has already been very strong, then you may not need the MBA. Because now that I think about it more, I do know several people who, for example in banking spent those two years instead just climbing the ladder and so they were able to get jobs in private equity or what have you that much faster, right?


[00:27:27.750] – John

And obviously they’re going to be always exceptions in general. I think we all would answer the question in the affirmative. It is worth going though. Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, INSEAD. Any top business school. My sense of it is, look, you most likely enter a field you actually want to enter and get the job you really want as opposed just another job. You’ll be more professionally fulfilled and do more meaningful work. You’ll get to know other smart and ambitious people and create enduring friendships with them. You’ll learn not only the fundamentals of business, but also the frameworks that allow you to make challenging decisions with confidence, even when the underlying data is ambiguous and you will make more money and are less likely to be unemployed during your professional career, which all the research and data shows. So those are all really good reasons why it is a no brainer to attend to Harvard, Wharton or Stanford. That said, Maria’s point is well taken. There are some people right out of Undergrad who get a job that they love, they throw themselves into it and they do exceptionally well, and that’s where they want to be. And an MBA isn’t going to make much of a difference to their life or their career.


[00:28:41.070] – John

So obviously there are exceptions. And what do you have? Now? I’m just curious. Now I just got to ask, what do you think Trump learned at Wharton? Maria?


[00:28:55.290] – Maria

Oh, my gosh. Thanks for setting up this wonderful minefield, John. I really appreciate that. I’m not being asked to provide any sort of a controversial opinion. No, I mean, I am going to say I’m pretty sure that I read somewhere that some of his professors were like, he didn’t really go to class and he didn’t really do a whole lot. And also, I think his father pulled some strings to get him in and so he might not have taken it very seriously. But I also think I’m trying to be charitable. I think sometimes people’s mental health may impact decisions that they make later on in life. And so maybe if you’re younger and you go to business school, you might learn certain things and have a certain experience and grow in a certain way, but then later on, if there are certain issues that cloud your judgment, then maybe we shouldn’t judge the business school based on someone who went there 50, 60, whatever, years ago.


[00:29:51.750] – John

Very true. Caroline, you want to venture an answer?


[00:29:55.360] – Caroline

Yeah, I suspect, as Maria said, that probably he was coasting along and having a jolly good social time and not engaging very much at all in his studies. So I don’t think he can hold anything against Water for what he has done since then. Right. So I’m sure he had great academic opportunities given to him and I suspect that he didn’t do much with that.


[00:30:21.450] – Maria

Caroline, people are saying that he was the best student ever. That’s right. People have said to me that I was the smartest person they’ve ever seen. They’re going to rename the school after, sorry, my impersonation isn’t very good, but.


[00:30:35.520] – John

You go, yes, he did very loudly say that he graduated first in his class.


[00:30:42.550] – Maria

Oh, God.


[00:30:43.440] – Caroline

How do you define that person at all?


[00:30:46.200] – John

Like many things that come out of that man’s mouth. All right, hey, well, thank you for being game on this. I think we had a little bit of fun with this one and I also think we’ve some enlightened answers and perspective on what some people are asking out there about the MBA in business school. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. You’ve been listening to Business Casual, our weekly podcast.


Answering Those Quirky MBA Applicant Questions
Maria |
August 3, 2022


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