Pro tips for getting into a great MBA program from a consultant who charges thousands of dollars for advice

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Harvard Business School students at graduation.
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Reuters

It’s less than two months to go until the round-one deadline at the country’s top MBA program.

Harvard Business School (HBS) has the earliest application deadline with round-one applications for Fall 2017 entry due on September 7.

Business Insider caught up with Stacy Blackman, the CEO of a leading MBA-admissions advisory firm, to get some advice on how applicants can get into the program of their dreams.

With the GMAT, application, essays, references, and interviews, it can be a pretty daunting process.

Here Blackman reveals her top tips for MBA applicants on how to stay ahead:


Research all types of programs.

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Insead Singapore campus
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Wikipedia

Business schools are changing leadership, revamping programs and reinventing themselves. International programs are blooming and there is an option for everyone. Do your research to determine what is best for you. Applicants should visit campuses and speak with faculty, current students and former students to determine if a particular school is the right place for them.


Consider taking the GRE.

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Udemy

More and more schools are accepting this in lieu of the GMAT, and since GRE scores are not currently reported out, schools may be more likely to take a risk on a low GRE score.


Choose your references wisely.

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Just because you passed JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon in the lobby once, doesn’t mean he is qualified to write your rec.
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JPMorgan Chase shareholder letter

Choose a recommender for the MBA applications who knows you well and is supportive of your application, as opposed to a prestigious “name” who has little insight into your personality and skills.

Many applicants treat recommendations as a “drop-off-and-forget” part of an application or ask the wrong person to participate. An applicant should select a person who knows them personally and then share his or her essays and other information, to help them best support the applicant in a recommendation.


Use fresh eyes.

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US President Obama with an adviser.
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Pete Souza (Official White House Photograph)

Engage the help of a “reviewer” to review the B-school application. Even when not working with a consultant, a friend or a colleague can provide a fresh perspective on an application. Leave time to incorporate their feedback.

Having too many people review and comment on an application, however, is a mistake. Applicants should pick a few trusted advisers and work with them, or their essay could be become a watered-down “essay by committee” and show less about them as an individual.


Show leadership.

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Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
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Reuters

Choose to highlight stories that demonstrate leadership and impact, as opposed to simple involvement. Stories can come from work or any number of experiences outside of work.


Be real.

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It’s OK to fail.
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DaMongMan/Flickr

Don’t hide failures and mistakes. Provide an explanation and lessons learned, using these experiences to demonstrate resilience, growth, and self-awareness. Failing to address obvious weaknesses, such as low test scores or a blemish on your academic record, is a mistake many applicants make.

No one is perfect, and admissions officers often are interested in what an applicant learned from a mistake. If an applicant does not proactively explain, admissions officers will come to their own conclusions.


Discuss the why.

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Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design/flickr

Discuss the WHY behind your stories, not just the WHAT. Why you did certain things or made certain choices is much more interesting and will help the admissions committee get to know the real you.


Practice out loud.

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Flickr

Prepare thoroughly for the in-person admissions interview, including practicing out loud.

Anticipate questions, and practice. Many elite business schools are also introducing the online video essay, where applicants have 60 seconds to answer a question via video.


Be professional from beginning to end.

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Maybe don’t do that.
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YouTube/LAHWF

Remember that EVERYTHING counts – every interaction or lack of interaction with your target schools will be considered. Be sure to manage your entire process with professionalism.


Specialize.

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Guam’s Ricardo Blas Jr. actually specializes in Judo. You don’t.
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REUTERS/Darren Staples

Don’t wear too many hats. Admissions officers sometimes wonder how applicants have time to develop a PowerPoint presentation in between the oil painting, tutoring, skiing, sky diving, Farsi speaking, flower arranging, foreign-film watching, blogging, environment saving, meal delivering, judo-ing, and overseas traveling he or she “supposedly” engages in every week.

MBA programs want a well-rounded class made up of specialists – emphasize a couple important aspects of your background rather than trying to be master of everything. Good admissions officers can spot a fake a mile off. It’s important that an applicant show his or her true self.