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A significant portion of my MBA admissions consulting applicants come to be with little to no extracurricular experience since their undergraduate days.  While this is a problem that can be addressed, it can show a lack of proper planning over the long term.  A lot of applicants don’t think about the impact of their actions on their applicant competitiveness when the graduate from undergrad.  To a certain extent, even I was the same way.

What I like most about some of my clients is the the way some of them are way ahead of the game we call the MBA application process.  Those that have been planning since day 1 to go back to b-school tend to be distinguishing yourself from your peers out of the gate and these habits show when constructing the business school application.

This is what I tell those who have graduated and are planning to apply to business school in a few years:

  • Make sure you find a mentor at your employer.  This does not have to be formal but it always helps when someone can show you the ropes.  This person should be senior and be respected in the office.
  • This mentor will also be able to make introductions for you around the org.  This will help when it comes to recommendation time.
  • Adcoms will consider your tenure and the ratio of leadership experience to overall experience at your work.  Work to maximize this so that you can write about it eventually in your essays.
  • Make sure you are asking for leadership responsibility.  It does not matter if it is leading the charge with organizing the company holiday party or asking for more work when on a project.  It’s called managing your manager and it works wonders when its time for a promotion.   Do this and more opportunities will arise.  You may get to pick and chose your project work…..
  • Stepping up also helps with respect to your eventual recommendation when your manager is asked for how well you rank against your peer group.
  • Seek out those in the organization who have MBAs.  Get to know them.  Eventually, ask them to lunch and get to know how they liked their MBA experience.
  • Get involved with extracurriculars at work.  Assume a leadership role as well as I have alluded to above.
  • See what pre-MBA mentoring programs are available to you.  I know UCLA Anderson has the Riordan programs.  This is a great way to gain exposure.
  • Join several other organization types:
  • Toastmasters International –
  • A young professionals organization in your city – these orgs have social and business elements that will help you network.
  • – look for groups on meetup that have business or philanthropic goals that align with your interests.
  • As you get within a year of applying, go to open houses and MBA tours.  Get your name and face out there.  Adcoms have an uncanny way of remembering who you are.

For international experience to be significant it has to be something that you can write about at length and appropriately in a b-school essay.

  1. Can you articulate how you lead a team in a multi-national or cross border environment?  This is what the adcom would want to see if you were writing an essay.  A lot of applicants have worked occasionally overseas.  More important is what you learned, how it changed your perspective, how you overcame an obstacle and how you produced a positive team outcome.
  2. That is, what you got out of it and what you can put down on paper is what will set your experience apart from other applicants.  That is where I consider the line drawn with respect to whether or not an experience is significant.
  3. With respect to any extracurricular international experience (start-up, professional volunteerism, etc.), if you can write about it effectively as part of your positioning then it’s significant and should be considered for an essay topic.  So yes, this could fall under international experience as you interacted with others with perhaps different operating norms and value sets.
  4. Remember, I always tell my clients “WWACD” or “What Would the Adcom Do?”  Keeping that perspective help put a reality check on a lot of questions that pop up during the admissions process.

Pay paticular attention to the question that every b-school application asks:

  • What Other Programs Are You Applying To?

The reason is this:

  • B-schools are keen to know who they are competing against.  They want to know how applicants view the correlation between programs but also if you are using the school as a backup or safe school.
  • For instance, on the UCLA Anderson application, if you list that you are applying to Stanford and Haas, in addition to Anderson, the admissions committee will pretty much know you are using them as a backup.

Why is this an issue?

  • If you do not make compelling reasons for “Why Anderson?”, then the effect is magnified.  It becomes even more apparent that you are using UCLA Anderson as a backup.
  • A good test is this; if you can unplug the UCLA Anderson name from the essays and plug back in any other business school, the adcom knows and can see right through it.
  • Programs with “pull through” issues or low acceptance rates of extended offers know that they are going to get dinged in the rankings.  They are keen to see that you are serious.

What should you do?

  • You have to have clear reasons why you need an MBA, your short and longer term goals and why you need to get that MBA now as opposed to a year from now.
  • If you do not have clear reasons, the adcom will see through it.  They review thousands of applications, they have a BS detector.  You will sound as if you have not clearly thought through your future career.  It’s certain death to your application.

After years of living in West Los Angeles, I decided to compile my list of favorite dive bars and maybe a few dive restaurants. Having lived in the Midwest for almost 10 years I feel qualified to know and judge the real dive bars in my hood. I have also come up with a ranking system to determine the” realness” factor associated with each dive bar. Each bar below with be ranked in “Old Dudes” at the bar at any one time, with 5 bald heads being the max. As any dive bar aficionado knows, a legit dive bar is often empty with only a handful of “Old Dudes” in the place at any one time with as many as half of them asleep at any one time.
Here goes:

1. Philly West (

The food at Philly West is awesome. I recommend the chicken sandwich and the cheeseburger. The kitchen is open until 11 PM and the fries are great. Brian is the mainstay behind the bar. I miss Kim, one of the old bartenders, who left a few months ago. One thing is the free Christmas Eve spread that the owner Mark puts on for the regulars. It’s really a place where everyone knows your name. You would be surprised by some of the conversations that go in there; everything from post WWII occupied Japan to Marcel Proust.

“Old Dude” Rating – Full 5 Bald Heads

2. The Joker (

This place is also pretty “real” with respect to it’s dive barness. The only bartender I have ever seen in there is some older gentleman with a heavy English accent. I think it’s English. Do not try and bring the TV remote into the bathroom if you happen to have it on you (which I am not sure why). I almost saw the bartender drop some B’s on a patron for doing that. Also, I would not order food at this place. There is a pool table in the house as well.

“Old Dude” Rating – Four Bald Heads

3. Del’s Saloon (

Okay, if you click on the link, and view the pictures on the Del’s Saloon website, you might get the impression that this place could be filled with young, attractive 20 somethings. This is not the case. This place is divey and is great. Let me put it to you this way, if you want to eat at this place, you can bring your own food. They also open at 6 AM, which coincides with their happy hour, which is hardcore for LA.

“Old Dude” Rating – Four Bald Heads

4. San Francisco Saloon (

This place is a little more on the nicer side of diveyness, if that is indeed possible.  While the SF Saloon may be a good place to start off the night at happy hour, it’s not really a place you want to end up at the end of the night, unless you are heading off to 4Play, located a few down.  The inside is old skool and everyone is made out of wood, expect for the TVs.

“Old Dude” Rating – Two and 1/2 Bald Heads

4. Karaoke Bleu (

This place is the best Japanese dive/karaoke bar in existence. It is hit or miss. Some nights it is packed, other nights the only thing going is some older Japanese gentlemen chilling and smoking cigarettes. It’s like something out of an old movie. The crowd is a mix of students and people from Japan. The drink pricing seems random and weird. The decor looks like something from an early 1980’s Miami dance club. There is something about this place though I love. Maybe it’s the wasabi peas.

“Old Dude” Rating – Three Bald Heads

6. Backstage (

Okay, this is where the realness starts to end. There are simply too many young people that frequent Backstage to warrant a true dive bar rating. This place is always packed though and has the typical dive bar set up. It also has what I consider to be one of the greatest inventions since the Internet, which is Karaoke. This place is fun, packed and everyone is there to have a good time.

“Old Dude” Rating – No Bald Heads

7. New Japan Also Takeout (

I love the signage above New Japan. Not only does it say “New Japan”, it also has in cursive just below the name the wording “Also Takeout”. This place underwent a massive overhaul in 2004 that saw the replacing of its aquarium-like decor with a sleek all black look. The old cracked projection TV was also replaced which reduced its divey-ness but allowed you to actually, well, watch TV. This is also the only dive restaurant to make the list. If you want American chow, try the Delores diner down the street. It’s also divey.

This is pretty much all I can think of at this minute. I did find a good resource that I hope can also help point you in the right direction: The My Dive Bar Website

And: The World Dive Bar Tour Website

I guess we have some homework to do.

If made, this is going to be one sweet movie ala “Wall Street”, “Boiler Room” and hopefully the upcoming movie “Money Never Sleeps”.


“Based on the true story of John D’Agostino, “Rigged: The True Story of an Ivy League Kid Who Changed the World of Oil, From Wall Street to Dubai” is about an Italian kid from Brooklyn who matriculates at Harvard and lands on the Merc Exchange. After establishing himself, the protagonist hooks up with another young trader and a mysterious Middle Easterner to engage in a dangerous scheme to revolutionize the oil trading industry.”

I tell my clients up front that they have to waive their right and that it is not really an option to not do so.

Not waiving your right could tell the adcom that you don’t trust your recommenders.  It  could tell them that you are paranoid or overly anxious.

It could tell them that this applicant is a liability.  What happens if he doesn’t get in?  Is he going to go after his recommenders for throwing him under the bus?  Is he going to create more headaches for all involved?  Is the applicant going to create reputational risk for the school?

The adcom would rather just not deal with it.

Specifically, when an applicant waives their right to see the rec in legal terms it bascially means that you voluntarily and intentionally relinquish their known right, claim or privilege to view the rec at any time.  Also, with this and when an applicant is admitted, they will still not be able to see this rec if they waived their rec.
I have never heard of a student actually viewing their rec once they got it (waived or not waived).  They got in and most are satisfied with that.
Keep in mind, I do not consider not waiving to be a deal breaker.  It looks bad to the adcom but it only part of the whole applicantion package.  An applicant can have compensating factors that made up for your “non-waive”.
At a high level it is important to remember that an applicant is competing against a subset of applicants when they apply to b-school.  If you do anything to differentiate yourself in a negative way from these demographics (like not waiving), the adcom will notice the red flag.

One of my admissions consulting clients wrote me recently about his essays.  He wanted to know what was the right way to Grab the reader’s attention in the first few sentences with engaging content.”

My high-level advice was one of caution:

“I agree to a certain point.  It has to grab the reader but I always remind everyone to look at things through the eyes of the adcom.  They see so much cheesy BS that what most applicants think is a good intro is really cliche.
Here are some good examples for your viewing pleasure (that I just made up):

  • In the Fall of 2005 I was tasked with leading a project team that was attempting to solve an issue that had never been addressed before……..
  • As the youngest engineer leading a team of 55 employees within an industrial plant I was used to coming up the curve quickly, however in the Summer of 2006, I found my organization confronted with an engineering obstacle we had never faced before…….
  • In the traditional industry of management consulting there are often not many examples to deviate from established procedures and project plans.  However in the Winter of 2003, my IT management firm was contacted by a large institutional bank under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission…..

You see how it grabs the attention of the reader by creating a sense of urgency by establishing what the “situation” is?  Some writers go overboard and use cliches.

  • Avoid sports references like “My coach always told me that a man’s innate worth is how……..”
  • Avoid references to other tired family references “My daddy used to tell my mom that….”
  • Don’t try to be funny like “Four score and 17 minutes ago……”
  • Don’t be weird like “As I looked into my bosses eyes and watched the veins pop out of his forehead I could tell that it was time to turn up the heat and roll up the sleeves………”

Get the point?  Let me know.”

A significant number of my clients are from India (non-US citizen). In my consulting conversations with them, the one thing I bring up with them is their status as an over-represented applicant group.   That is, there are a lot of applicants applying from India, probably more so than any other group.  Applicants to business school are not necessarily going to be compared against the whole pool but rather a subset.  Additionally, a majority of my clients  are from the IT consulting and operations arena within India, further reducing their opportunities to distinguish themselves from the pack.  While you many never hear an adcom talking about this phenomena, any grade, GMAT, work or extracurricular activity not up to snuff is a dealbreaker.  The Indian undergraduate institution is of particular importance to the adcoms as well.

This is why I spend devote extra time to the school selection process with my Indian clients.  If a particular client is “running with the pack” a good way to separate themselves is to detail at length their school fit and deep knowledge of a particular MBA program (in the essays).

Some adcoms or other consultants may argue with this point.  Think about it this way though, adcoms are seeking a diverse student body.  Indian applicants bring a lot to the table and it usually includes a high GMAT and GPA.  Anything less and you don’t get in.

As an MBA admissions consultant I often have to take a step back with my clients.  Over the years I have learned a lot from my clients and have come to realize that the definitions of proper interview dress or attire varies by region, country and even culture.

This is the deal, and I dissuade anyone from thinking anything to the contrary:

  1. Wear a dark colored suit (Grey, Black, Charcoal) with a white or light blue shirt.
  2. Wear a tie that has as little design or pattern in it at possible.  Solid colored ties are good.
  3. Wear shoes that are polished with dark socks.  By shoes I mean dress shoes with dark laces, not “comfort” shoes, timberlands or Uggs.  By dark I mean dark blue or black.
  4. Do not wear anything that is tight-fitting or shows body parts excessively.  This is an interview not a club.
  5. Cut the tags off your clothing.  Nothing says Men’s Wearhouse $199 special than tags still sewn onto the sleeve of a jacket.  Don’t laugh too much, I have seen this as an MBA admissions interviewer.  It tells me the applicant is clueless at worst or knows a good sale when he sees one at best.
  6. Get a shave and a haircut……shower.

Airplane Crash – Safest Seat – How to Survive Plane Accident – NTSB Data – Flight Records – Popular Mechanics

A few weeks ago, aboard an American Airlines flight, the left engine blew out on take off and I almost had a heart attack and the plane plunged towards the ground for a few terrifying seconds.

So that got me thinking, “what is the safest place to sit on an airplane?”  Well, I found an answer for all you road warriors.