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Round 1 & Changes in the Application Process

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Published: July 27, 2023
Episode Description:

Carl Prince and Fernie Martinez discuss the timeline for applying in Round 1 as well as new changes in the application process.


Mastering MBA Admissions with Fernie Martinez

In a candid conversation with Carl Prince, Fernie discusses the complexities of the MBA admissions cycle. Is there a strategic advantage in applying during round one versus round two? What are the latest changes in the admissions landscape? From Columbia Business School's shift from early decision to traditional round applications to UC Berkeley's introduction of video essays, the episode provides updates that could make or break your application.


  • Round 1 vs. Round 2: Apply in Round 2 if your GMAT score needs improvement. Fairness is ensured across rounds.
  • Application Updates: Columbia switched to traditional rounds, UC Berkeley added video essays.
  • GMAT Focus Edition: Shorter, more relevant test coming, but confirm school acceptance first.
  • Interview Tips: Practice storytelling, weave cultural background into your narrative.

Elite Admit can help you transform your MBA dreams into reality!


Admissions Cycle, Round 1 Applications, Application Strategy, Interview Preparation, Video Essays, TOEFL Vs. IELTS, GMAT Focus Edition


Carl Prince: Welcome to Episode 35 of Insights. This is the podcast of Elite Admit, the number one consulting firm in Southeast Asia. Today I'm joined by Fernie Martinez, our Senior Partner. How's it going, Fernie?

Fernie Martinez: I'm doing very well. Excited to be back in the thick of things for Round 1.

Carl Prince: Fantastic. And I should introduce myself as well. I'm Carl Prince. I'm the Country Manager. So, Fernie, things are heating up for Round 1, so I thought it might be a good idea if we can do a couple of things. Number one, talk about new things in the admissions cycle this year, but also maybe questions that we commonly get at this point in the process. How does that sound?

Fernie Martinez: Great. Sounds perfect.

What is your advice on helping your clients optimize the rounds to get best results?

Carl Prince: Fantastic.

I'm going to start. I've got a burning question, and I spend at least an hour on this every day. A lot of people who are ready to go in Round 1—they've got all the scores, they've got everything they need. Their profile is ready. What is your advice on helping your clients or advising people on optimizing the rounds to get the best results? Do you have a particular strategy that you use?

Fernie Martinez: It's a fantastic question, and it's probably, as you mentioned, the question that comes up the most right around this time. The biggest concern is whether one round has a higher percentage of helping their chances to get in. There's no difference between Round 1 and Round 2 in terms of—does one or the other improve their chances of getting in? Schools do a very good job of splitting the rounds and splitting the amount of admits that come in to each round.

Applying in round one, it's not going to make it easier for you to get in than if you wait for round two. Then, the question becomes—what are the pros and the cons between applying in round one and applying in round two? And the honest answer is, it all depends, and it depends on preparedness.It really is a client by client decision, and, it really is dependent on where they are in terms of readiness to apply.

One of the biggest factors in the application process is the GMAT score. If the current GMAT score is not where they want it to be, where I know that it can get to, some people are very satisfied with their score and they think that that's the highest that it's going to get. And there's a lot of anxiety about taking the test over and over again and they just want to put that behind, then that's fine. If that's what they decide and that's the score that they want to move on with then perfect. We'll take that score and we can get things moving in round one. However, if we know that there's room for improvement, if they feel that they can improve, if I think they can improve, if they've only taken it once or twice, then the recommendation is to spend this extra time and wait for round two, and improve that score because that's going to open up a lot of those doors. That's the primary concern between round one and round two.

For the most part. there are other pros and cons. But again, it's a case-by-case basis. So, the pro in round one is that you kind of find sort of a foundation as to where you are. You can do a mixture of maybe some of the reaches, maybe some of the schools that match your current score. And once you get an acceptance out of the way, then it really does alleviate a lot of the pressure. Now, if you get into a school that's number 12, number 13, then in round two, you're free to apply to number eleven and above because now you know what your floor is, and you can just concentrate on everything that comes above it. That's a nice perk.

Another perk is if for some reason something doesn't go exactly the way you want in round one, you kind of have that safety net of being able to wait until round two. The pros in round two is time, and time really is valuable. Time to improve your achievement, improve the things that you're doing outside of the workplace to make the world a better place. Time to improve your scores, whether that be the GMAT, the TOEFL, the IELTS, whatever the case may be. If you have a bad university grade, maybe here's a time to perhaps take an online course to help offset that. So, time really is valuable and waiting for round two can help, a lot of the time. But, yeah, there's no easy answer. It really is just a case-by-case basis and it's up to the client, obviously with our confession. But together we realize what's the best choice for them.

Carl Prince: I think it's also important to point out that during that break, they've already done their profile, their essays are done, everything is out of the way. It's like those extra three months in there, man, you can focus on the things that you really need to focus on, as you mentioned, right? Improving your achievements, improving your interview technique. But you know what? Here's what I notice in the people who do split their schools. They'll usually go through our group interview, right, during round one because they've got to be ready for those interviews. And then they sort of walk away from it. They think they're done. Then they come to me and do a mock for a round two school and they're like, holy moly, what happened? You can't rest, right? You got to keep going, and you got to really take that opportunity to make it better. Don't just sit back and say, well, I got into one school. Let's see what happens next. I guess you could do that if you got in, right. But you want to really aim high. You can't give up. At least you got all the hard stuff out of the way.

Fernie Martinez: Yeah. I think you've referred to it before as like, a boot camp, where it's very intense for a brief period of time, but it's necessary. As you mentioned, you think that boot camp is over and you just forget the strategies. And then you come back four months later and it's like, what happened? It used to be spot on and you kind of have to get re-immersed into the environment.

Carl Prince: That is a very good point. You get rusty. Here's an interesting question. We see this with the UK schools. There's five rounds for UK schools, right? So, you've got two in the fall, and then three and four first part of the new year, and then, of course, five. NYU does the same thing. Is there any advantage there? So, for example, Cambridge this year has the first deadline that I know of. Their round one is like August 26, which seems kind of early. What is your view on that? Like, for, NYU and the UK schools with more than two rounds, do you have any advice on that?

Fernie Martinez: It does give a tiny bit of a safety net, especially if you're able to do round three. However, for some of the international students, some of the very late ones are too late because of the visa process. So, for students that are from the UK, round four and round five are completely feasible but it does become somewhat problematic for international students because they miss the visa window. It really does just depend on the date. But if you can squeeze one of those latter deadlines, like a round three deadline, then, yeah, it just gives you just a little bit of an added safety net if those are the schools that you're targeting.

Most clients do not split into two rounds when applying for schools.

Carl Prince: And have you ever had a client that's done all six of their schools in round one? Or do you find that most of them do split into two rounds?

Fernie Martinez: I've had both. And, honestly, the splitting is not too common. I think people kind of want to get everything out of the way. So, if they do save some schools for round two, it's usually just two schools. It's usually like a four school, two school split. but I do find the vast majority of the people that apply round one are just very enthusiastic about getting it out of the way and just going all out and maybe even doing eight or nine schools, doing a couple of schools on their own.

Carl Prince: Of course, that's an important part, too. So, you're never done with round one. I mean, if you don't get what you want, you just go back to the well, right, in round two and apply for more schools—for as many schools as you need to. All right, fantastic.

Fernie Martinez: Absolutely.

Carl Prince: What question do you have for me?

Columbia has abandoned the early decision process for admissions.

Fernie Martinez: I have a great question for you. Part of our job is, staying on top of things. So, schools are doing a fantastic job of, continuously modifying their applications and the application process. Part of our job is to keep up with all the trends that the schools are doing. Sometimes it's two years before school changes. Sometimes they make a change in between rounds. What are some of the big changes that you've noticed for this particular year that weren't evident before?

Carl Prince: That's a fantastic question. I'm going to start with the news. That's good for me, actually I think it's good for everybody. It's got to be Columbia, right? So, this is probably the most consequential decision or change, especially for Thai people, because Columbia is a very popular school for Thais, as you know. We got nine admits last year—was it nine or twelve? It's a great school for Thais. Everybody's very tuned in to what's going on with Columbia.

What they've done this year is they've abandoned the early decision. They've gone to more of a traditional model, like the schools I'm assuming it's gone back to. So, it'll be three rounds with firm dates. This date is going to be the first round. For Columbia this year is going to be January, September the 13th, and it's J-term as well. So now it's not a matter of getting it in as soon as possible. A rolling admission. Now it's all about just getting the deadline. 11:59 New York time is when it has to be submitted. They won't look at it anything before then, but then, that's when the application becomes due.

So, early decision is gone and what I like about that, very few of our clients, I think, ever did early decision. The people who did want to do that two-year program, we would have to sort of strategically decide when to submit the application so we wouldn't send the wrong signal that we didn't want it bad enough to apply for early decision. We sort of play a little game there. I'm glad that's been taken away now, that sort of gray area. I think that also puts a lot of people at ease now that knowing that, okay, I've got to get it in right now. The sooner I get my application in, the better. And to an extent that is true, but also the thing I didn't like about the early decision is as soon as you submit your application, you're probably going to get an interview within like, two weeks.

Fernie Martinez: Right.

Carl Prince: In our cycle, that's not good news because you haven't gone through the interview coaching preparation that's so important to the success of the interview. I'm a big fan of the change that they've made. I can't think of any ED clients that I've ever had. Obviously, a lot of J-term that's been rolling. Have you had any ED for Columbia?

Fernie Martinez: Yeah. And the thing about the ED is that you have to commit to the school. So, it's a yes or no, and if they accept you, that's it. You're going to that school and you're in. Having more traditional deadlines is fantastic because it alleviates a lot of that pressure. As you mentioned, the timeline of prepping for the interview, that's huge. But it was such a concerning issue that rolling admission. I need to get through it right away because I don't want to miss my spots, which is a very valid concern. It was very nerve wracking for everybody because people were applying—not necessarily 100% before they were ready—but obviously, the more time you have, the better prepared you can be. It did put, a lot of burden on everybody to get things done. But now with that gone, that is a huge relief.

Carl Prince: It was our job as consultants to slow walk it, even though the client really didn't understand why, or the person we were understanding why they wanted that in right away. And we're like, that's not the best thing. You're going to be in the safe zone as long as it's by such and such a date. But we don't want you to be exposed to the interview process without any sort of preparation for that, because that is very nerve wracking. It's possible. It's doable. We've done it before. We'll do it again. We do it every year, so that's not a big deal. We can get you in but going through the interview process, or our group interview process is a huge benefit, not only for working with us, but just for acing the interview. Right?

Fernie Martinez: Yeah, absolutely.

Another big change that I saw are the video components

Carl Prince: Another big change that I saw so far is the video components. That's changing each year, more schools are jumping on board. The one that I've noticed so far, probably the biggest one that will affect our clients is Berkeley. So, Berkeley introduced this this year. Now they have a video component; it's more like a video statement. Okay. So, it's not really an MIT situation where they can record it in advance 100 times, and we help them select the one that is best. That we like the best. This is more like a Tepper, maybe, or Booth where you know what the question is going to be. And so, for Berkeley, it's essentially their leadership question.

Fernie, you might recall, before, this was essay question number two was a written question. They've made it a video. The question was—they have four leadership principles. I forget what they are at the moment. So, it's a leadership question, basically based around that, either professional achievement or a personal achievement as well. So that's what the video is about. We know what the question is and we can help you prepare in our video essay classes. But the trick here is, because it's recorded live, it means that it has to be perfect, right? You know what the question is. So anytime you know what the question is, it's got to be perfect and it's got to finish on time, but they do allow you to retake it, which is quite generous. A lot of schools don't let you but here, you can choose to discard the first one, but if you choose to discard it, it's gone forever. You're stuck with the second. You don't get to choose and here's the other thing: I'm not quite sure because this is the first year, I don't know yet the submit times. So, let's say Yale, you do it in advance. Kellogg, you do it after. I'm not sure yet how Berkeley is going to do it. It's not the application itself. So as soon as we have clients start going in and registering, then I'll find out exactly how they're going to be managing. That's a new one for Berkeley this year. It's their leadership and what they replace the actual application with is going to be a goals essay. They never had a goals essay, so that's a cool addition. We love goals essays. We know exactly what goes in that space and we know how to sell that. So, I thought that was pretty cool.

Fernie Martinez: It's quite interesting. The video essay component has changed every year. For the last maybe three or four years, it's just continuing to evolve. It used to be Kellogg and MIT. Kellogg was blind questions where you'd have a few seconds to look over the question, few seconds to answer. Then they gave you one prompt ahead of time, then they gave you two, then they gave you three. Now it's a mixture in every school. It used to be only a handful of schools. Now it seems like every school is doing some sort of video essay component. It's becoming a bigger part of the process and we've taken that into consideration. It's now a huge part of our strategy. I think UT Austin last year had a crazy one where it was like 15 minutes of a self-interview. It was five or six questions, all bundled into a giant 15 minutes as opposed to a two- or three-minute answer. They continue to evolve, but we continue to prepare and make sure that, all of them are perfect, no matter what format they throw at us.

Carl Prince: Yeah. And I suspect we're going to continue to see more. I don't know if you realize this because I just found out about this round two last year. Berkeley Haas also has a video interview. So, the people who are on the waitlist who are getting interviewed were actually having to go not to a video statement, but to an actual video format. So, they're doing that this year as well. Now, I didn't know that option was available, but if you apply later and you get an interview and they've already finished interviewing, they will send you to a video interview and you do the whole 30 minutes interview online in a video interview format.

Fernie Martinez: Interesting.

Carl Prince: Similar to how McCombs does it as well. I suspect with AI the way that it is now, this is an opportunity for schools to actually talk to more people. And find out who the best candidates are that might have fallen through the cracks otherwise.

Fernie Martinez: Yeah, that might be true.

Carl Prince: Unfortunately, video is not the best way to do that. For me, that would be the worst way to show off—by a video talking to a blank screen. But at least it's there, right? At least that option is there. So maybe they can see more people and let somebody get in that might have slipped through the cracks otherwise.

Fernie Martinez: I think that that was the purpose of the UT Austin one. And I think they stated that somewhere that this new format allowed them to look at more applicants than ever.

Carl Prince: That makes sense.

Fernie Martinez: I think last year was kind of like a beta test, so maybe they'll tweak it somewhat because it was a very strange format—a 15 minutes self-interview is kind of strange.

Carl Prince: Right. There were five questions and maybe a 90-second response time, something like that. So, yeah, it was different. I can't remember exactly what it was, but I know it's nerve wracking. I had worked with three people who were going through that last year, and it's a whole different set of preparation that we have to do.

How to tell a wonderful story in 60 seconds on a computer screen.

Fernie Martinez: Yeah. When you have three minutes, that's nerve wrecking in and of itself. But at least you have those little bridges in between those little pauses.

Carl Prince: And especially when you've got a great story to tell. How do you tell your wonderful story to this computer screen in 60 seconds or whatever the time was? Right. It's insane, right? So, yeah, it does require a little bit of preparation.

Most schools take both IELTS and TOEFL

Here's the other big thing: TOEFL. Wharton has always required the TOEFL. Most schools, actually, all schools will take either the IELTS or the TOEFL and Wharton was the last holdout.

Fernie Martinez: Now they changed. They said that they are now accepting the IELTS, which is great. A lot of clients needed to take the TOEFL just for Wharton, if that was on their list. Now they've opened it up, they take the IELTS. Most people consider the IELTS to be a little bit easier, especially in the rating segment. It's just great that you don't have to take an extra test. A lot of the times, if the clients had to choose one or the other, we would always point to the TOEFL if Wharton was on the list, just so that they wouldn't have to take both. Now that Wharton accepts both, everybody can take the IELTS. It really does make things easier.

Carl Prince: Agreed. It makes things a lot easier. And something interesting about the IELTS is that the higher your score is, the easier it is to get an even higher score. Whereas TOEFL is kind of like the GMAT in that there's a diminishing return to it. The higher your score is, the harder it is to get bigger gains. They just become incremental at a certain point. IELTS is a little bit different. You can really blow it out of the park towards the end there. I think the IELTS has a better format and it is in person. The TOEFL was integrated. You're looking at three different sources or whatever and having to put them all together. I think that's a good move for IELTS on Wharton's side. Good move for Wharton to be able to do that.

Here's the interesting thing about, language scores. We do this every year, and it happened last year as well. A lot of people think they get their 7.5 or their 8 or whatever score, and then they're done. They push it aside, and they said, okay, I met the minimum requirement. I'm done. And that is so wrong, because usually these people, most of our clients, the people that we work with, work in a Thai environment and they're not speaking English every day. My advice to anybody listening today is start today, spending 1 hour on practicing English. I don't mean just watching Netflix, but actively speaking. Because the score is not good enough. The score will get you an interview that meets their minimum requirement, but they're judging you on everything but that score. Once you get the interview, they're looking at the videos, they're listening to you in the interview. And if you can't have a conversation and tell your stories in a conversation, if they see that you have to memorize it, that's a huge red flag. And people who are uncomfortable with the language, they tend to fall back on memorizing their script. The weird part about that is the Ad-Com can kind of follow along with you as you're reading. Right. And we don't want that.

Fernie Martinez: Absolutely.

Carl Prince: It's okay to be able to tell a story that the Ad-Com knows but you're actually telling it in a conversation. I always tell the people that I'm working with that you have got to have an English hour every day. Not just listening, it's got to be speaking, because you're using that other part of your brain for speaking.

Fernie Martinez: The immersion is 100% necessary. Scores are not enough. Scores are, as you mentioned, just an indicator but it's your ability to convey the message you want to convey and tell good stories. That's what's ultimately going to get you into the school. It is very important to keep up with all the skills, listen to some podcasts, find some friends to speak with, even if it's just for an hour a day, as you mentioned, it's very important.

Carl Prince: Yeah. An hour a day makes a big difference. Especially if you're in an interview and you get interrupted. You're not thrown off your game. You can answer the question, go back to where you were or whatever. When you memorize, there's so many things that can happen, right?

Fernie Martinez: We absolutely do not want to rely on memorization because it sounds false. But also, as you mentioned, if you get interrupted during a memorized script, then you forget where you left off, and then it throws the whole thing off and you start to panic. If you're only telling a story because you remember what sentence comes after the last one, as you just said, then you lose your place and the whole thing's done. It's very important to know what the story is about, but you've got to be able to tell it conversationally. That is key.

Carl Prince: And same thing with video interviews, right? We call it a crash landing. You never want to freak out, lose what you're going to say, and then have to bail out of your interview. That never looks good.

Fernie Martinez: That's one of the tough things about the video essays. You don't have that person in front of you to have feedback from. Even if it's nonverbal feedback. You can tell how much a person is invested in your story just by looking at them. And when you're doing a video essay, you're literally staring at a screen, staring back at yourself, and you don't get the feedback that you need and it does result in the story not told as well as it can be. It does result in some crash landings. But all these things we consider, and we prepare for, so it's not an issue, once you're done with our boot camp.

Columbia always did a “backwards interview.”

Carl Prince: I also wanted to talk about another thing. You and I, last year, we made this observation, right about at the same time about the way that the interviews are structured. Typically, all interviews sort of follow the same general pattern. You're going to talk about your resume, you're going to introduce yourself, you're going to talk about a few things in your resume, talk about your accomplishments, go to your goals. It follows this whole thing. Columbia always did what we call a backwards interview. And then you and I noticed something different this year. What was that?

Fernie Martinez: It used to be such a rarity that we would spend a little bit of time to prepare for it, just in case it came up. If I had to put a number on it, 5% of the time, you'd have what's called a backwards interview. We knew Columbia did it, so if clients were interviewing for Columbia, then we would prepare them for it.

Backwards interview just means that, you would have to start with goals. And the very first question that you get asked about, is “what are you doing once you get a degree from our establishment?” And launching with goals is a little problematic, because we like to base our goals on something that the client has accomplished already in the workforce. Something that you've done is going to ground you in, making sure that this is completely possible.

It makes it a little strange when you have to kind of work in reverse, and start with the lofty goals that always have great ambitions. You're going to, come back and lead great things, but, without the proof, it's kind of difficult to convey how feasible it's going to be when you come back. However, what we saw last year is that probably the first 15 interviews or maybe twelve out of those 15 started with goals. So, then we just pivoted our strategy. We definitely took more time to build upon that. And it has paid off because the trend just continued growing. The first twelve were like that, but then it never stopped. So, during round one and round two, it just became more and more standard for schools to ask about goals.

Carl Prince: First, and foremost, it's no longer an outlier. Yes, we have to prepare for both. They have to be comfortable with both right.

Fernie Martinez: And we had multiple strategies, so that was kind of nice. We gave our clients a choice in how to approach it. Two or three different strategies and then based on whichever one they were most comfortable with was the one that they ended up implementing. Definitely a huge change from before. I don't know if that trend will continue this year or not, but, we've definitely included it as part of our training for this year.

Interviewing with a Thai vs a foreign interviewer.

Carl Prince: Yeah, we're definitely going to be prepared for it.

Here's another question. I'm kind of jumping all over the place, and I get this a lot too. We're kind of early now. It's not what we would get asked now. But here's a good question for you. As a Thai person, is it better to interview with a Thai interviewer or with a foreign interviewer? What advice do you give on that one?

Fernie Martinez: It's a fantastic question. And there's pros and cons to both. There's a comfort level in speaking to another Thai person. A lot of the times, if you are going to be interviewing with another Thai person, those tend to be done in person. So that in and of itself has merit, I believe. I always feel that an in-person interview is better than an online interview, just because there's so much subtlety that you pick up in person that you don't get in a video setting. Things like body language, mannerisms. pleasantries are much more comfortable face to face than they are on video.

However, what ends up happening a lot is that you fall back on the Thai language a lot. Whether it's during the pleasantries at the beginning, or once the “official” interview is over. Everything at the end goes back to Thai. So, it turns it into this area of sort of informality which could go either way. If you build a great rapport with your interviewer, then fantastic. If you spend another 20–30 minutes after the “interview is over” and you gain additional insights or you kind of build a nice relationship, then that's great. That is going to reflect well.

On the other hand, there is that level of formality when dealing with a foreign interview. It's kind of set in a very, structured environment where you know exactly what's going to happen going in and you know what you're going to get out of that interview. So that in and of itself provides a comfort level in that nothing is out of the ordinary. You're going to talk for 20 minutes, cover these areas, and then the interview is over. There is merit to both.

Carl Prince: I agree with everything you said. Just to kind of throw a wrench in there, we encourage the people that we work with to emphasize their Thainess to an American reader or whoever's looking at the application. That's an interesting part to show who you are, how culture affects the things that you do, whether it's working in teams or reporting to people who are above you. It's a little bit more difficult for a Thai to pull that off with another Thai the way they could with the foreigner. Because to a foreigner, it's very interesting to hear these things that are going on behind the scenes, things that an American interviewer or a British interviewer would not pick up on.

However, if you're doing that to a Thai, they're going to be kind of like, okay, what are you talking about here? Of course, it's not surprising to them, it's not unique to them, and it might even seem a little bit inauthentic to them. Depending on how you tell your story or what your story is about, you might have to make some adjustments. I'm trying to think of a better expression than preaching to the choir. Somebody who's already familiar with that. That's why I like to go with the foreigner, because you, get to really sell it. You can play up your Thainess and now that's becoming more important than ever to show how distinct you are, and especially the cultural backgrounds and how that contributes to who you are and where you're going. It works both ways. It's pros and cons.

Fernie Martinez: One of the greatest things about the storytelling element is the element of surprise. If you're able to surprise the reader, surprise the listener, it's great. It's just going to draw the attention and improve the engagement. You have a very good point in that a lot of the times you interview with a Thai person, and they might already be familiar with that story. Maybe they worked on that same project in an earlier time, or maybe their company had a previous partnership where they're already familiar with some of these elements of your story. And in that sense, you do lose a lot of that element of surprise, which can hurt the engagement just a bit. So that's a fantastic point.

Carl Prince: And then one more small thing to add on to that is the small talk. This is where when I'm working with people who are doing mock interviews, they're very uncomfortable about those first 60 seconds. You're showing your id or whatever. What do you talk about during that time? As a culture, and I hate to generalize, but small talk is not a big part of how they interact right in the beginning. So, there's always that weird, awkward moment. I think that makes a lot of people uncomfortable about, speaking to a foreign interviewer. So that's something that I always try and do when I'm working with people. What are those first couple of things? Just two things you need to talk about. How's the weather in Maine today? And that actually helps relieve a little bit of the stress rather than having that formal introduction right at the beginning, because you're going to do the formal thing when the interview starts. Right when the clock starts, that's when you're going to say the full name and get into all that. So, what do you do in that little 30 second window right when you're just staring into the camera? I think that's a big thing that can help relieve people's anxiety is just a little bit of small talk to sort of ease into the interview.

Fernie Martinez: Yeah, completely agree.

Waivers were a huge part of the application process last year.

Carl Prince: One more thing. I kind of got off track a little bit. I was going to talk about waivers very briefly because waivers, as you know, last year were a huge part of the application process. This all happened during COVID and we went through three years of all these waivers. They got really generous with them. Everybody basically got to apply to the school that they wanted to apply to because everybody just got their waivers granted. Now, that's pretty much gone away. And it's a question I keep getting now: “are they still doing COVID waivers?” So, COVID, waivers basically went away last year. MIT was the last school to do it this year. I've noticed MIT, they're still doing the waiver.

So, waivers still exist. However, your circumstances have to be very persuasive. It's not a free for all like it was. And as a matter of fact, I would think in the three years that we had the COVID situation, I can recall one person that actually got in with a waiver. I'm sure there were more that we've worked with, but I'm bringing up one, but it's a nonstarter now. Don't just get the waiver out of your mind. You got to have the score. That's what they're looking for. Unless you do have an extenuating circumstance and then at that point, they're going to go through every line of your transcript to see how you performed on those quant. You have got to be prepared and you have got to be strong. In every other aspect.

Fernie Martinez: COVID was such a unique situation that I'm curious to see what remains and what goes back to “normal”, in the next year or two. Obviously, interviewing on Zoom became the only choice during COVID but I do wonder if they'll get back fully to the in-person interviews or if this is just a thing that remains forever. Now I can see both.

Carl Prince: My bet is that it's forever. It's technology, right? They can do more people, it's more convenient, but who knows? Let's say some schools will do hybrid, right? You can choose whether you want to do in person or not. That might be the direction that they're going with. Some people are much stronger in person as opposed to being on a video screen. That's terrifying. You don't know what the other person is doing. You only can see their head. There's so much more going on that you can pick up on and feel the energy from and thrive off that you don't get in video.

Fernie Martinez: Right. I always advocate for in-person, so it's my preference. I think you can get a lot more accomplished.

Carl Prince: Another big question I'm getting is about this GMAT. This is a big deal, right?

Fernie Martinez: Everybody's hearing about it, everybody's excited about it.

Carl Prince: This is a big deal because for many people, GMAT is, the biggest pain point of the entire process.

Fernie Martinez: Correct.

The new GMAT Focus is coming out. This is a big deal.

Carl Prince: There's so much mental energy, there's so much time devoted to this. I guess you could argue it's either interview or GMAT, but I know GMAT for a lot of people is the absolute worst. So, this new GMAT Focus is coming out. It's called “Focus Edition,” and they introduced it a couple of months ago and more information is coming out. They've kind of changed their rollout plan, but essentially, they've simplified the whole thing. The most important thing they've done is they've shortened it, so now there's only three sections and they're each 45 minutes long.

There's Quantitative Reasoning, there's Verbal Reasoning, and now there's also Data Insights. What they've taken away are two things that I think are going to make a lot of people happy. No more essay—that's completely gone, and then no more sentence correction. You hear about sentence correction all the time, everybody hates it. I even hate sentence correction. I'm pretty good in English, but yes, that part is completely gone.

Essentially what they've done is they pared it down. They did these consultations with all the schools, so it's much more relevant to the modern business environment. Especially with the data component. A lot of focus is going to be on interpreting data and applying data. The rumor, based on initial tests, is that the verbal is going to be a lot easier, but the quant might be a little bit more difficult. I think the takeaway is that it's going to be so much shorter that not as much time is going to be needed to be spent preparing for it.

Fernie Martinez: That's great.

Carl Prince: It's good news. Now, the question is, what test do I take? Right, so you've got two tests out there initially and they won't release the Focus format until the 29th of August. For most people, that's going to be too late for round one.

However, if you're doing the split strategy, you could go back and take the focus edition in round two. Or if you're applying in round two, you could take that and use that for your round two schools. But however, a lot of schools have changed…for example, Harvard said, okay, we're going to take both. Round one, obviously, it's too late. You won't be able to. It's coming out too late. Round two, you could do whichever one you want. And then they walked that back. And I think they walked it back because now they're comparing apples and oranges rather than apples and apples. If you do want to take my advice—to those listening—if you want to take the Focus, just make sure the school accepts it before you go take it and submit it, because the school might not. It's still kind of early. Most schools don't really finalize things until the end of July. Whether it's essay questions, deadlines, or whatever. I think a lot of schools are still trying to figure that out. But my guess is that it won't be fully rolled out or accepted by the schools until the next cycle. Just so it's fair and they can compare a little bit better, but we don't know that yet.

I continue to watch and see if there's any news on that. But the good news, the takeaway is, yes, a new GMAT is coming. Hopefully it will relieve a lot of stress, because let's face it, when you're focusing on the GMAT, and you and I do this all the time. Okay, go get your score. See you in three weeks. Just focus on getting that score up. Now, they don't have to do that as much. And they can start developing the other parts of the profile that are just as important, because as we tell everyone, it's a holistic process. It's not just about the GMAT. There's so much more that has to be considered and you need to spend as much time on that as well.

What is the part of the process that people neglect the most?

Okay, so just a couple more questions before I let you go. I'm going to put you on the spot here. what do you think is the part of the whole process that people neglect the most?

Fernie Martinez: This would be before we've actually started the group sessions where we discuss interview strategies. The great thing about those is that people start to see how everything comes together and that everything is just one giant jigsaw puzzle where they've previously only been seeing one piece here, one piece there, and not necessarily known how everything fits together. It's kind of like in the movie Karate Kid, which might be a dead reference for our listeners, but he's doing all these things.

He's painting the house, painting the fence, doing all these chores, not really realizing why he's doing it. And then in the end, he's taught that repetitive motions are all part of the martial arts training. It's similar here. We're saying: this is what the story structure needs, this is what needs to be said in an essay, this is what needs to be said in a resume, this is what goals have to align with. And all these little puzzle pieces are out there in the ether, but the clients don't necessarily know how they're connected yet. Once you start going into those weekly sessions, there are those “aha!” moments, those “I get it now” moments. If I get asked this, then, I'm prepared for it because there's that element already in that story. But before the group sessions, they're not quite seeing it yet and no matter how much we try to tell them to trust us, we're big advocates of show don't tell, but a lot of the things we're doing is telling and not showing yet. The showing does come later in those group sessions and then everything comes together and the clients finally have those “aha!” moments. It's greatto see that light bulb moment come, when they realize that, “oh, yeah, now it totally makes sense.” Getting that buy is fantastic.

Carl Prince: Yeah, I'm chuckling here because when you said, “trust me.” I find myself saying that at least three times a day—it's going to work out, you just have to trust me right now. Hang on and it's all going to come together.

OK, today is the 26th, so we're almost a month away from our first deadlines, which in this whole process, that's an eternity. But if you're doing this process in a vacuum, it's just right around the corner. I'm constantly telling people to just relax. There's a reason and there's a method to this madness. It's all going to come together. Everything is going to be perfect if you just follow these instructions. We have that conversation a lot.

And then the closer you get to deadline it does start to make sense. Also, they start meeting each other, that's one of the really good things about group interactions. Now they get to start interacting with one another. Now they're sharing concerns, they see the things that they're anxious about and worried about. Everybody else around that table has the same exact feeling. So that makes them feel better. They see that they're not an outlier and that what they're going through is completely wrong.

Fernie Martinez: And it also has the opposite effect where—the few times where people are lagging behind—they realize that others are already there. I got to do some writing tonight on my essay.

Carl Prince: Yeah, that happens a lot, too. It works both ways.

Fernie Martinez: Yes.

What is your favorite part of being an admissions consultant?

Carl Prince: Okay, so listen, we're getting a little bit long. I'm going to put you on the spot one more time with a feel-good question to close this out. I want to know from Fernie Martinez what the best part is about being a consultant and helping these people.

Fernie Martinez: The results, seeing people get into their dream schools just never, ever gets old. And it makes everything worthwhile. It really does. People say that all the time, you have to go through the process, but 1000% makes everything worthwhile. There's a lot of super late nights. You and I will be working at three in the morning on various nights, but it really is always worth it. The end result is always worth it. I love making people's dreams come true.

Carl Prince: Absolutely.

Fernie Martinez: Being a part of that is so rewarding. It'll continue to be my favorite part of the process and, whenever there is a struggle, whenever there is tension between a client or those late nights, you got to remind yourself that tough love sometimes is necessary.

Carl Prince: And then they see how it all works out. Right? I don't want to say they come back and say, yeah, you were right. But they definitely know everything was done for a reason, right?

Fernie Martinez: Yeah.

Carl Prince: And the really cool thing about it, talking about these group sessions, my favorite part is, I love when we start and at the end of the cycle, to see how everybody has grown. Every round, they come in, they're shy, they're scared, and then in a matter of months, literally. That's one reason why I like to refer to it as a boot camp. You come in, you go in as one person, and you literally come out the other side as a totally different person.

Fernie Martinez: Very true.

Carl Prince: With new skills, with new confidence, ways of relating with different people and things that you'll use for the rest of your life. And I was having dinner the other night with some friends, and I was talking about—we work, Fernie, with some really cool people. I mean, these people are young, they're smart, they do amazing things in their job, right? They're about to go off to the school, come back, change the world. And I always think to myself, Thailand's got such a great future. When I think about the people that we work with and the things that they're doing, the things that they're going to be doing…that's not to say Thailand didn't have a bright future before, but just knowing that these people are going to be the ones who are going to be making a difference, that's what I like most about it.

Fernie Martinez: I agree it really does. It's very comforting, as two of us who are getting older, to know that we're in good hands, that the future is in good hands.

Carl Prince: In very good hands.

Fernie Martinez: Yeah.

Carl Prince: Great. Okay, so I think that's a great place to leave it. So, Fernie, thank you so much for this. I thought that was a great hour to spend getting people ready for round one. I'll see you in a few days, wherever that might be. But yeah, we'll be in touch. I'm getting back to it right now. Thank you everybody for listening and we will see you next time.

Fernie Martinez: All right, thanks, Carl. Good talking to you.


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