As everyone will tell you, if you don’t know already, How to Get into the Top MBA Programs is more or less the bible of getting into business school. Richard Montauk, the author, runs an admissions consulting firm and has written books on college and law school admissions as well. The most common criticism leveled against the book is that Montauk has no b-school experience, which is true, but I don’t think it diminishes the value you will find here.
The book starts from the very beginning, explaining why people get MBAs, what kind of programs are out there, and what school rankings are available (and what they mean). From there the book turns more personal and addresses how to maximize your credentials (for those organized enough to read the book 6mo-1yr before applying), and how to choose schools that fit you. It then covers the admissions process and financing your MBA.
The second section of the book discusses the meat and potatoes of the application process. The author does an excellent job of explaining the marketing effort you must undertake to produce an outstanding application. He also explains, in detail, essays (there is an appendix with lots of sample essays), recommendations, and interviews. Montauk includes many different exercises intended to help you in the process, from brainstorming to timetable planning. I only did what I thought would be helpful, but often (after a failed essay attempt) I would go back and do it his way and the results were usually better.
The final portion of the book addresses what to do after you get your decision and how to get the most out of business school. Possibly because my copy was outdated, I didn’t find this last section particularly relevant. Perhaps someone else can comment on the new edition.
All in all, I found this book to be absolutely essential to the application process. Several features in particular were really helpful. The chapter on marketing yourself spends time discussing a positioning statement. This is a simple paragraph (unrelated to any essay in particular) that sums up the themes you will be using in your application. A random reader should be able to read your positioning statement and then name the same 2-4 themes that they would get if they read your entire application. It was a very helpful exercise that clarified my thinking. In addition, I kept that list of themes next to my monitor as I typed all my essays.
Montauk’s book also has a valuable section on essay topics. He takes about 20 common essay topics and evaluates why each is asked, the way a typical applicant responds, and then a better way to respond. Although not all topics you will see on an application are covered, reading this chapter teaches you a different way to think about essays in general, and you can apply these principles to other essays.
Combined with BW’s Guide to the Top Business Schools, How to get into the Top MBA Programs is probably all you need to go through the application process. It is thorough, comprehensive, and indispensable.