Having a Coach is Critical

By Hubert Silly, Founder of The MBA Center

Deciding to do an MBA is an important moment in a person's life and is not to be taken lightly. Firstly, there is the cost of following such a life-changing programme as an MBA. This does not just involve the price of the course itself, but also the fact that the student will be taking one or two years off work to follow the course. Secondly, there is the time involved in preparing the application itself. Business schools are looking for outstanding candidates who show great promise and potential.

Applicants have challenging requirements to fulfil before a school will even consider seeing and interviewing a student. The GMAT, which is compulsory for all the top business schools, is a challenge in itself, as are the essays and - all being well - the interview that follows. It is not a case of waking up one morning and saying 'Hey, I'm going to do an MBA' - or if you do, at least take the time to think things through very carefully before deciding.

There are many factors to weigh up when choosing which schools to apply to and advice from an expert can really help. You should consider where you would like to study - in the States or in Europe - or even in Asia. Remember that most US programmes take two years, whereas in Europe many last a year. Consider your age and experience - are you more suited to an Executive MBA or a full-time one? And then there is the programme itself. Which course is most adapted to your short-term and long-term goals? This is why having a professional to guide you all the way can be an important part of preparing for an MBA, from choosing the right school to getting into one of the schools you have chosen. You will of course choose your dream school and then a back-up school. Just as a sportsperson needs a personal trainer to up his or her level, so an MBA candidate needs a coach to navigate the application process, which is very much an obstacle course.

A good coach will help a student from the word go by identifying the schools that fit their needs and, more importantly, they will be there to assist students in conveying the right information. Though it might appear to be an expensive luxury at the beginning, investing in a coach might very well, in the end, turn out to be a small yet rich investment compared to the other costs of a top MBA. The choice of business schools can be overwhelming. Not everybody will get into the top ten schools, and this is always an issue, since most students automatically want to go to Harvard, LBS or INSEAD. These are of course great schools, but a coach's job is to match the right student profile to the right school. A good school is not just a high-ranking school; it is a school with a programme that best suits the applicant. It is not unheard of for a student to be accepted at both LBS and ESADE and choose to go to ESADE as they feel the programme and small class sizes are more adapted to their needs, despite most other people choosing LBS for its brand name and higher ranking. Another student might choose Manchester over Oxford because the post- MBA careers service impressed them more. Before deciding, the coach will have encouraged the student to visit the schools and ask the right questions prior to making the final choice. In a similar way to shopping, the student is customer and has to weigh up cost, value and need. Therein lies the first part of any coach's job: advising the student on a selection of three or four schools to apply to, and encouraging them to visit the schools and make a decision based upon first-hand experience. A determining factor is, naturally, the student's potential GMAT score, and it is only fair to advise students accordingly. It is not worth starting an application until the student has taken a diagnostic GMAT test and his or her potential has been assessed. If a student is unable to achieve the required GMAT score there is no point applying to schools requiring high GMAT scores. Of course, the GMAT score is not the be-all and end-all in an application but it is important and it is not worth spending a fortune on applying to top schools that are out of reach. There are plenty of mid-ranked schools that are excellent and more adapted to certain students, and many of these schools are getting better by the minute. Once the potential of the student has been assessed and the schools chosen accordingly, a timetable can be established setting out deadlines for obtaining GMAT and IELTS/ TOEFL/PET scores where necessary, and submitting applications. Once a plan of action is decided upon it must be respected, and the student will start preparing for the GMAT and thinking about the essays. A coach will essentially help the student to keep up with the plan.

Essays are every bit as important in an application as the GMAT - even more so as they can make up for a lower score. A good coach does not write essays for the student - this is unethical and business schools are sure to know if an essay does not reflect a student's level of English. However, schools do expect students to send in well-worked essays without silly mistakes, and a coach should ensure that essays really do reflect the student's personality. This, after all, is the whole point of the application - a good application reflects the student's strengths, paints a faithful portrait and emphasises his or her strong points. A good coach can help get the right information out of students and guide them along the way. Editing essays is no easy task and sometimes trying to edit your own work, as any author will tell you, is a painful process. This is where a coach's input is priceless. Students can of course ask their friends for help - but they are friends and will not always tell you the truth.

Coaches will spend a lot of time at the beginning just talking through a student's past experiences to find out which experiences illustrate which questions most appropriately. It is an exciting process, in which students find out a great deal about themselves and are often pleasantly surprised by how much they have accomplished in their lives. A coach shows students how to leverage their past accomplishments to strengthen their applications. Students often enjoy the process and comment on how they have started to remember things they had almost forgotten. In the right hands a student will realise just how much he or she has to offer an MBA programme. Coaches are also there to point out student weaknesses and suggest ways to remedy them. Schools are looking for a truly diverse pool of applicants, and therefore it is necessary to stand out from the regular student. Highlighting your personal and professional achievements is the first step in helping schools identify a potential candidate. Citing involvement in outreach programmes is also important to demonstrate students' propensity to give back to society, especially to the underprivileged.

We all need help in whatever we do. Businesspeople have coaches to help them manage their teams more efficiently and coaches help students make a thorough application. Coaching is an all-inclusive and individually-tailored MBA preparation service for people who want to maximise their chance of admission to top and mid-range business schools in the US and Europe. A strong application will make the difference and help the student stand out from his or her peers.The whole application experience should be exciting and should not be looked upon as an unpleasant task. It is an integral part of doing an MBA and it is normal that it is hard, because it is the first step for schools in testing a candidate's motivation and potential. Schools know their application processes are challenging and that the harder the challenge, the better the school. This said, we all need encouragement and if a student does start to feel a bit overwhelmed coaches are there to provide support.

Unfortunately, many students are of the opinion that they have to get into a top school or not do an MBA at all. This is not always realistic. If you are intending to do an MBA solely for the brand name, you will have to get into a top-ten school. However, if you are attending for self-improvement, there are many midranked schools providing excellent programmes and networks. Some say that the smaller, less well-known schools will look after you even more post-MBA. Some students even undersell themselves and rule out the option of applying for a top school. In these cases a coach can encourage them to up their goals by applying for a top school. Many students have discovered that had the coach not pointed this out they would never even have considered applying to a high-ranking school. It is true that top MBA schools such as Harvard and LBS are great institutions. It is important to remember that there are other MBA programmes that are not recognised but yet have a strong network, however. Ultimately, the success of an MBA is not based on the school but the individual who sets his/her goals. Moreover, with the number of applicants rising so rapidly, student standards are also increasing in all the schools. This means that competition is now rife, even in some lower-ranking schools. No school is easy to get into anymore.

A good coach is someone who listens to the student and can find the right schools for each student to apply to. A coach must be highly critical but encouraging and always available for the student. He or she will listen carefully and keep the student focused on his or her objective. The coach must ensure that the student can convey his/her achievements both personally and professionally and to do this there must be a 'connection' between student and coach. So perhaps the first step in applying to a business school is to find the right coach. The number is growing every day and the best way to find the right one for you is to meet a selection of coaches and choose the one you feel understands you best.

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