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Managing Your Application: Acing the First MBA Test

handsArguably, one of the most challenging things about business school is clearing the first hurdle: completing the application. Admissions applications require quite an expenditure of effort, time and resources.  To match your laborious efforts, the Texas MBA Admissions Committee is equally committed to a meticulous, holistic review of each and every application.  So, as we head into the Fall 2014 admissions season, here are some general tips on how to master your first test as an MBA – your application.




  • To Study or Not to Study: If you are gainfully employed, the thought of studying for a test again may seem like the last thing you want to do at the end of a long work day, but our advice is that studying is well-worth the effort.  Be sure to take a formal GMAT/GRE prep course and take a few sample tests to get a feel for pace and content.


  • Well, that didn’t go very well: Take your test early so that if your score isn’t what you’dtesting hope it would be, you will have time to re-take it before your target admissions deadline. While the Admissions Committee only considers your highest score as a key determinant of your academic propensity, it is just one aspect of a holistic review process, so don’t get too hung up on your score.


  • GRE vs GMAT:  As for which test to take (GRE or GMAT), admissions has no preference. scale However, in case you might want to pursue Investment Banking or Consulting, some of the top companies in these industries require the GMAT for recruitment purposes, so taking the GMAT for both admissions and reusing your scores for the recruitment process may be a way to kill two birds with one stone.  For more information on choosing which test to take, check out our GRE versus GMAT blog


pathNo minimum number of years is required, but we strongly recommend two years of full-time post-baccalaureate work experience.  Generally, students do better in the program with real-life work experience and can participate in classroom discussions with real context to draw from. The admissions committee considers how your skill set, leadership positions, teamwork and responsibilities relate to your intended course of study as well as your short term and long term career goals, so make it easy for us to follow your journey!


workingUnless you write in a daily journal or diary, sitting down to write about yourself can seem like a completely foreign concept and inspires nothing but a bad case of writer’s block.  Your best bet is to answer the question directly, use concrete examples, and illustrate your voice and personality, background, goals and intentions for acquiring an MBA.  The optional essay is a good opportunity for you to address anything not conveyed in the rest of your application: such as academic performance or test scores, or perhaps a personal event/circumstance that you think has an effect on your MBA candidacy.


Your resume should be professional and fit on one page unless you have more than 15 years of experience.  Don’t get too creative with formatting either to squish stuff in there (8-point font is hard to ignore…), make sure your work experience is listed in chronological order, includes months and years in the date ranges, and has comprehensible titles and descriptions of duties.  Also your resume is a great place to put your honors, achievements, extra-curricular activities and volunteer organizations.


This section is pretty straightforward.  We will see your major/minors, cumulative and major GPAs, and transcript grades on your online application.  However, it’s important to take advantage of the personal essays, optional essay, and interview (if one is granted) to explain any moves between schools/majors.  Also, if you already have a Master’s degree, be prepared to answer how you currently use it and why you think getting another one is a value-add for your career.


awardThis information is used to provide some personal character to your application.  We ask ourselves, what does this applicant do outside of their professional life?  How did they spend the hours during undergrad when they weren’t spent in class?   Highlight your personal honors and achievements, any non-professional leadership positions in the community and any extra-curricular activities you were involved with in undergrad.


The first step to acing this part of the application is to pick the right people.  After that, hopefully they will write a stellar letter on your behalf (if the wrong person is chosen, this can seriously backfire.)  We think the best letters are written by current or previous supervisors (team lead, director, manager, etc.) or someone with supervisory oversight of your work.  Their title isn’t as important as their experience in evaluating your performance as a professional.  If you are self-employed or work for a family business, try and avoid asking Mom to write your letter.  Instead, some good alternatives are a client, a professional mentor, accountant or trusted co-worker.  Try and avoid faculty recommendation letters since they tend to focus more on your ability to show up for your class and submit homework on time and don’t really give us the insight we need.


If you are an international student, you’ll undoubtedly have questions about your TOEFL/IELTS score submission.  And yes, we do grant waivers if you meet one of the 3 criteria:

  1. You have lived and worked full-time in the U.S. or in a country where English is the official language for at least two of the past four years (see country list here).
  2. You hold a masters degree from a college or university located in the U.S. or from a country where English is the official language (see country list here).
  3. You were educated solely in English for your undergraduate and/or prior graduate degree.

We don’t publish an average TOEFL score since it is such a small statistical subset.  However, the TOEFL score is simply one measure we use to gauge English proficiency ESL course along with your personal essays and in-person interview (if one is granted.)

We hope you find these application tips helpful!  Remember, we are here to help, so please reach out to the McCombs Admissions Committee at or 512-471-7698 for questions or advice on your application.  Happy Applying!

Letters of Recommendation: How to Leverage the “Third” Person

If you’re like me, asking your supervisor or your colleague to write a letter detailing your virtues makes you feel incredibly uncomfortable.  “So, tell me again how I’m amazing?  And don’t spare any details!”  But a glowing letter of recommendation for your MBA Admissions application is oh-so critical.  Here’s how you can leverage your personal testimonials.

Sure, you’ve worked hard over the past few years and have earned a good praising, but why must you have to ask for it, and in writing? Well, the answer is easy: as an Admissions Officer, I need perspective on your business acumen, your personality, and your leadership and teamwork skills to confirm your claims of awesome-ness from someone other than yourself. Think about it, you have complete control over every aspect of your MBA Application, except for the letters of recommendation.  You’ve already written essays, submitted a resume, took your tests, submitted your transcripts and you may have also been interviewed. Now it’s time for a third party to weigh in and offer us a new perspective that will hopefully add depth and value to your overall application, but most importantly a good recommendation will provide a CREDIBLE corroboration of your positive attributes.


The best letter of recommendation will come from a Direct Supervisor or equivalent. Nobody knows your capabilities in the business world better than the person supervising you in your current role.  This person should have some sort of oversight or supervisory involvement in the work that you do.  Even better if they write your performance evaluations!  This means they are used to thinking about you and your skill set.  This person should be able to come up with clear examples of these skills, so therefore first-hand knowledge of your measurable success is also crucial. 

There are of course some exceptions when asking your Direct Supervisor isn’t the best bet. Perhaps you’re new to the position or your Supervisor may be new to the organization or role. This could be bad news if you or they haven’t been in the role long enough to speak intelligently about your skill set and abilities.  Sometimes, it’s conflict of interest that prevents you from asking your Direct Supervisor for a recommendation letter.  For example, if your Supervisor is also your mother in the case of a family business. (See next section for advice on who to ask instead.)

Lastly, there may be another situation that complicates you asking your Supervisor; they could be opposed to you leaving your position for an MBA (if you’re applying to our full-time program), or in rare situations, you may not have a healthy relationship with your supervisor or you may feel that asking them for a recommendation to business school would jeopardize your opportunity for promotion or a raise.

All of these are valid circumstances you may want to include in the Optional Essay, to give us context and reasons for why you didn’t ask your Direct Supervisor.


Other good letter of recommendation options would be a former Supervisor at a previous job, a Project Manager, or a professional colleague. You may also consider a business client, lawyer, accountant, industry mentor or other peer professional if you’re in a family business setting or in a consulting or advertising role. Remember that whoever you choose needs to be able to discuss with us in detail your qualities, skills, and virtues. Also, don’t just pick the CEO or President of the company.  Just because they know your name and you have shared an elevator ride with them doesn’t mean they know you well enough to recommend you for b-school.  We’ve read enough letters of recommendation to know when somebody knows of you, and when they know you.


Make sure to let your recommenders know way in advance you are going to request their help. I would even suggest letting them know a good three months ahead of time if possible, so that you are not rushing them if they haven’t completed it a month out, and you start getting concerned they won’t submit the letter on time. It is also a good idea to meet with them, let them know what your short and long-term goals are and why McCombs is the best school for you, and offer them a copy of your updated resume. That way they can talk about their belief in your direction and goals with some background.


Most importantly, make sure to ask someone who actually likes you. Sounds obvious, but you would be surprised how many candidates have letters of recommendation submitted by people who write just a few words (“She’s really great.”), come up with poor examples (“One time we had a problem with a client, and she handled it well.”, or clearly just don’t think that highly of you (“She performs equally well when compared to her peers at a similar level.”  Yikes.  You might as well have asked a perfect stranger to write it and it probably would have come out better.

Good luck in selecting your recommenders! We look forward to reading these glowing professional love letters soon.

Understanding the 2015 Essay Questions

Each year, like most business schools, we update our application essay prompts in an effort to better glean important information from our candidates.  The essay is a great opportunity to do a few things: one, it shows your writing skills; two, it gives us a glimpse into your personality; but maybe most importantly, it helps answer a few very important questions that we need answered to best determine if you are right for McCombs.  Instead of giving you a vague open-ended prompt, there are actually a few burning topics we need you to be sure to cover, namely having to do with why you want to attend McCombs, who you are both professionally and personally, and what goals you want to achieve while in our program and beyond.  You have some work to do to convince us that we are the right program for you, and I’m here to offer some advice to help you get started on this process.  

Below, you will find our new essay prompts with just a bit of guidance to help you get started. The first essay is virtually the same as last year.  I will still offer some best practice guidance to help you put your best pen forward.  The second essay consolidates what used to be multiple essays into one taut question.  Take a moment to review my suggestions, and in the end, if you still have more questions, please email us at


Imagine that you are at the Texas MBA Orientation for the Class of 2017.  Please introduce yourself to your new classmates, and include information you feel relevant to both your personal and professional life.  Select only one communication method that you would like to use for your response. 

  1. Write an essay (250 words)
  2. Share a video introduction (one minute)
  3. Share your profile

AO Advice:

Be creative!  And please read the prompt.  The operative word in the first sentence is “imagine”!  We have had so many candidates simply write a paragraph about themselves, no imagination employed in the process.  If you do that, we can only assume that you either did not read the prompt, or are simply recycling an intro essay you used for another school.  We ask that you imagine you are introducing yourself to your new, fellow students, at your New Student Orientation.  You would not introduce yourself by starting out, “Plato once said…,” and therefore any essays that start as such have missed the mark. 

Also, what makes you interesting and unique are both your personal and professional interests and attributes.  Therefore, an intro that only discusses work experience, or only discusses previous life experience, is incomplete.  Give us a rounded mix, so that we better understand who you are in a more complete sense, and not only in one facet of your life. 

Finally, the choice is yours: written essay, page, or video.  We have seen significant success in each platform.  Therefore, choose your strongest suit, just make sure you use the medium well.  If your skill is in writing, focus simply on the essay.  If you have a knack for creative flare, color, design and photos, then have fun with the  And if you want to create a video, and rely on your voice and/or any video editing skills you might have, then we’re excited to meet you that way as well.  Either way have fun, and do not take this essay for granted—it can go a long way to setting the stage for your application.     


In the Texas MBA program, we promote a diverse and collaborative community by providing opportunities for growth in an academically rigorous environment.  Please discuss why McCombs is the right program for you, what you hope to gain from your time in the Texas MBA Program both personally and professionally, and how you will contribute to your classmates’ experiences. (500 words)

AO Advice:

Here we are getting to the nitty-gritty.  This is your chance to really convey to us your passion, excitement, personality, and experience, while also conveying how that experience relates to your MBA and career goals.  By the time we read your essays, we have already seen your resume and scores.  Here we need you to expand upon the bare facts, and convey to us why you are the perfect student for our program. 

I have gone in depth in a previous blog post on how to convey your personality in an essay, so I will not go deep on that topic in this post.  Instead, I am going to focus more on approach and framework, and less on content. 

First, this essay is complex, and yet we expect it to be concise and to-the-point; how do you do this in one 500 word essay?  Once again, I recommend you start first by reading the prompt carefully.  We are not asking you to be flowery and to tiptoe around the cores subjects.  We are looking for a few things, and it is in your best interest to let us know specifically what we are looking for.  I’ll map it out for you by taking apart our prompt:

  • …why McCombs is the right program for you…: Focus here on the words McCombs and you.  A word to the wise: never, ever submit this essay if you have not given us specifics!  Make sure at some point in the essay you discuss why McCombs, specifically, is the right program for you.  Classes, concentrations, organizations, professors, unique opportunities, there is so much going on at McCombs.  If you can’t outline in easy terms why you are interested in our program in particular, then you will not be competitive.  So before you write your essay, I recommend you map out in specifics why McCombs is right for you.  Then, when you write out your essay, make sure these specifics are mentioned at some point, so that we see your passion and dedication to our program, and do not assume you just reused the same generic essay you used for another MBA program. 
  • …what you hope to gain…personally and professionally…: Once again specifics!  The primary difference between this portion of the prompt and the previous is here we are asking you to connect, in clear terms, how McCombs will help you achieve your career objective.  Therefore, my recommendation is that you create a 5 and 10 year career plan, and then see what classes, organizations, and opportunities that we offer that specifically speak to this career plan.   Then connect the dots.  Once you write your essay, you should be able to easily speak to these connections.  We should not be left wondering why you, with your specific career goals, would want to come to McCombs.  This is your opportunity to convey in no complex language why we are right for your career growth.
  • …how you will contribute to your classmates’ experiences…: Lastly, as you are mapping out your reasons for attending our program based on specific course and organization offerings, also remember that we pride ourselves first and foremost on our collaborative and diverse community.  We work very hard to find individuals excited about being a part of this community in particular, so in what ways will you contribute?  What student organizations will you support and why?  Will you start a new student organization?  Will you contribute in a special way to your study groups?  Are you excited to be an active alumnus?  Convince us that you are indispensable to our community, and you will have done yourself a great service in developing a strong application. 

Those are my suggestions for mapping out your answers before you begin to weave it all together in a cohesive 500 word essay.  Now you have the challenge of putting it all together, and here is where you get to be creative.  I do not have any specific advice for you here, as I am looking forward to reading your unique responses and to see your own voice come forth in the essays.  However, if you employ standard, strong writing techniques, you should be fine.  One way or another, avoid convoluted sentences, going off topic, name dropping, vague or confusing goals, citing inaccurate classes, professors, or student organizations, or calling us by any other name besides McCombs or the Texas MBA (a common mistake for people who reuse essays).  Also, DON’T REUSE ESSAYS!  We can tell.

That’s it for my advice to you!  As always, please email us at if you have any other questions.  Get started early and edit, edit, edit!  Your essays can really send a strong application into orbit, so good luck, and happy applying! 

Acing It: GRE vs GMAT

Life is all about choices.  Lease or buy?  Diet versus regular? GRE or the GMAT? But when personal preference for aspartame doesn’t immediately establish you firmly in one camp or another, it’s time to stop and think what the choice says about you.  When it comes to choosing between taking the GRE or the GMAT for your MBA application, how do you choose the right test for you?

In this post, I won’t address the logistical implications of each exam (such as the GRE is cheaper and offered at more locations and the GMAT is accepted at more business schools so it’s more bang for your buck.)  Nope, not going to go there.  You can Google yourself silly with all of their basic differences. Instead, I will address choosing the test from an admissions perspective, assuming you’re planning on submitting an application to the Texas MBA Program sometime soon.

Basic case in point:  the Admission Committee doesn’t care which test you take.  Ultimately it’s up to you.  We don’t believe intrinsically the opinion that one test is better at demonstrating your preparedness for b-school than the other because we believe that standardized test scores are not the only thing on your application that illustrate your academic abilities.  If it were used alone, perhaps the more traditional approach of using the GMAT would suffice, but it’s not.  We use many, many other things.  But that’s a whole other post.

Much like other choices you make on your application, if you choose wrong you can put yourself in a position of unnecessary disadvantage.  We realize the tests are different and applicants choose each for varied and valid reasons, therefore we couldn’t have a preference at face value.  However, what we DO prefer is that you think hard about which test you need to take within the context of your overall goals.



The GMAT is required for most Consulting and Investment Banking companies because they use your score as a baseline qualifier for the recruiting process.  If Consulting or I-Banking are in your sights, this means that the GMAT is the best choice because you could take it once and use your score for both your Admissions application as well as your career recruitment profile.

Additionally, some recruiters outside the I-Banking and Consulting space may not have a strong preference either way which test you take, however they may have more experience assessing skill set based on the GMAT.  If you choose to take the GRE you should understand that it is less common and therefore makes it more difficult for recruiters to compare these results against the majority of applicants that take the GMAT.


Sometimes, the GRE is the best choice for those applicants who are pursuing their MBAs in conjunction with another Masters, like in our Dual Degree programs.  Once again, taking only the GRE allows you to apply to both programs separately with one score, a convenience factor that most Dual Degree applicants very much appreciate given how much more paperwork is required to submit applications for two programs.


Don’t qualify as an applicant pursuing Consulting/I-Banking/Dual Degree?  There are still some key differences in the tests that may have some bearing on your decision for which to take.  A little history lesson: MBA programs only started accepting the GRE as an alternative to the GMAT over the last few years.

Alumni and hiring companies are more familiar with the GMAT and its score scale.  With the GRE new on the scene, they may need clarification regarding what the GRE score actually means and how the quantitative and verbal score sections may translate to the GMAT scores they are used to.

MBA Admissions Officers are also new to the GRE setting.  However, many of us have worked with the test and have recruited amazing candidates to our programs since we started accepting it a few years ago and are more comfortable assessing verbal and quantitative skill sets based on those scores.

So ultimately, which test is best?  Our advice is to choose wisely using your academic and career goals and knowledge of each test’s reputation in both the admissions context and the professional world to make the best choice for you.  If none of the above circumstances speak to your situation, then truly you are free to pick the exam you prefer.  Either way, we say “good luck!”

Catching Up With Mario Barrett, MBA ’14

sockwork-newWe had the chance to chat with Mario Barrett (MBA ‘14), a West Point graduate and veteran, about his new venture, Sockwork: Socks With A Purpose. Mario started Sockwork with his wife, Tina Longo, in April of 2014. Mario recently graduated with the Class of 2014, so we wanted to catch up with him to learn more about this exciting new business now that he’s finished the program.

Tell us a little about Sockwork: Socks With A Purpose.

MB: At Sockwork: Socks With A Purpose, a sock subscription means more than never having to remember to buy socks. The venture is a sock of the month club with a great twist, in that customers get to help support this veteran-owned company and be part of creating ongoing funds to organizations that assist military veterans. Sockwork sends our customers two high-quality pairs of socks each month and allows the customer to customize their order between fun and professional styles.

In the short-term, we want to build our subscriber base to a point where it makes sense to manufacture our own line of socks here in the USA. For the long-term, we want to do two things. First, we want to create a community effect with our socks. Our socks mean something and the people that wear them not only love great socks but support a worthy cause. Second, we want to pioneer a new business model for other veteran-owned businesses to follow. This will help ensure that needed money reaches veteran charities even during times when war and the needs of people who served may be less visible to the public.

What key things do you want prospective customers to know about Sockwork?

MB: We supply socks from Richer Poorer, a brand known for high-quality and fashion appeal. Having these socks delivered serves as a personal convenience or thoughtful pampering gift for a loved one. Premium socks last and add comfort to daily life, and they’re a product that everyone uses.

Mario and Tina

Mario, and his wife Tina, co-founders of Sockwork: Socks With A Purpose

In addition to the time and money savings, a sock subscription allows people a simple way to devote some of their dollars to support people who served their country. Sockwork supplies a percentage of the money from its sock of the month subscribers to a rotating selection of veteran charities. As the network of veteran entrepreneurs grows, the volume of their donations will increase, a tried and tested method for creating lasting change.

As shoppers look for ways to make socially-conscious decisions, this company has created a hassle-free option for making a difference. Buying socks has become easier and more meaningful, thanks to the heart-centered monthly sock club, Sockwork: Socks With a Purpose.

How has your education in the Texas MBA Program influenced or helped your approach to running Sockwork?

MB: Coming from the Army, I didn’t know much about finance, accounting, or just about anything in the business world. If we had started this business two years ago, I wouldn’t have thought about tracking the cost of every variable, pricing, building a marketing plan, or how to differentiate ourselves from the competition.

The Texas MBA program provided me with the skills of how to evaluate a business model and understand if it is viable or not. I’ve learned about the importance of margin and breaking down costs to the most granular level to track profitability. My marketing classes introduced me to the basics of brand awareness and my strategic management classes taught me how to apply a Five Forces analysis to differentiate our company from competitors and execute more effectively. All in all, the Texas MBA program gave me the tools to approach this business in a much more cautious and methodical manner.

To learn more about Sockwork, visit

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