Business School Admissions: Now What?

business school is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor. tuition and fees often top $100,000 and at full-time programs, students may forego a salary for up to two years. so how do people decide when, whether and where to go?

the wall street journal put the questions to m.b.a. hopefuls jonathan pan, 28, and ben shellhorn, 29, both currently awaiting their admission decisions. also joining the discussion was chad troutwine, co-founder of admissions consulting firm veritas prep.

edited excerpts from the conversation follow:

wsj: jonathan, you have some offers and are all still waiting to hear from some schools. which way are you leaning right now?

joe schram/the wall street journal

jonathan pan

mr. pan (senior consultant at ernst & young llp, former army officer, married with one child. applied to 14 schools this year. last year was rejected from three schools and waitlisted at one.): i'm questioning the entire process! at this point, i'm just collecting offers. what really interests me is entrepreneurship, but do you need to get an m.b.a. if you want to be an entrepreneur?

joe schram/the wall street journal

chad troutwine

mr. troutwine: there is nothing that requires an m.b.a. if you think you're ready to start a business right now, then maybe [an m.b.a.] is not the right choice. if you want to be an entrepreneur, but you don't know what that entrepreneurial idea is, the time that you spend in an m.b.a. classroom, using that as your laboratory to try things out, could be enormously helpful.

wsj: there are two different costs associated with business school, the financial cost and the opportunity cost. how much is finance a factor for you?

joe schram/the wall street journal

ben shellhorn

mr. shellhorn (operations manager at br guest hospitality. applied to 17 j.d./m.b.a. dual-degree programs this year. last year was rejected from the four m.b.a. programs to which he applied.):it's definitely a consideration. it possibly would be a deciding factor if i'm forced to choose between two schools that are equally appealing. but considering the things that i want to do, [school] is definitely worth it for me.

mr. troutwine: if it gets down to a choice between a couple of programs, there's nothing wrong with speaking with your first choice and – as long as this is genuine – say[ing], "i've got an offer from another program, but i don't like it as much as yours. they're offering me half tuition and you're not offering anything. are there any scholarships available?"

wsj: do schools make admissions decisions to protect their yield?

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mr. troutwine: the admissions committee want[s] to attract the best applicants and lock them in. yield matters. they have to evaluate, "is this the kind of person who is likely to show up here?" it's not uncommon for a candidate to gain entry to her top choice and get a shock rejection from what she considered a safety school. they evaluated [her] candidacy and thought, "she's not going to come, why waste one of our valuable acceptance letters?"

bloomberg news

the stanford graduate school of business is a top choice of mr. pan and mr. shellhorn.

mr. shellhorn: i was waitlisted at duke [university's fuqua school of business]. they [asked me for] more supporting material. i submitted an essay of why i really want duke, then 24 hours later, they were like, "hey, come to us."

wsj: jonathan, what are your top three schools?

mr. pan: the top three [university of pennsylvania's wharton school, stanford graduate school of business and harvard business school]. being a consultant now, the only industries that i could get higher wages in are the ones that recruit primarily from the top three.

mr. troutwine: if you think you have a chance at one of the top three, why apply to 14?

mr. pan: i don't think i'll get a straight acceptance from the top three. i'm competing with other veterans. it might be that [a school has] five army guys, and now they want two marines. i can't control that.

mr. shellhorn: for me, stanford [university]'s number one, even though it's not accelerated. [university of] pennsylvania is there because it's a quicker program. columbia [university is third], even though it's expensive.

wsj: if someone gets rejected from 13 of 14 schools, at what point should they [give up]?

mr. troutwine: often it's just poor applications, but sometimes it's a non-competitive applicant. sometimes we can be that splash of cold water, that reality of how far they are from getting into a school.

wsj: ben, did you ask schools for feedback after you were rejected last year?

mr. shellhorn: i did. tuck and yale both gave me tremendous feedback. i have a media background but i work in hospitality, and that's not the norm. i didn't translate my experience to make it seem like i was equipped to be in business school.

you get a lot of advice in the admissions cycle to stand out. but on paper, i already stand out. originally, i was like, "look at me, i'm really unique." and they're like, "yeah, we can see that on your résumé. but why would you actually be a good candidate?" for me, that was revelatory.


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