Wow. That was close. But let’s start at the beginning.

You must know, that IESE waived my TOEFL requirement. I got accepted without ever having to take an English language test such as the TOEFL or the IELTS. The fact that I worked for four years on cargo and passenger ships, where the working language is English only, was sufficient to make that claim. The general IESE rule is that you can get exempted from taking the TOEFL if you spent a minimum of 2 years in an English speaking country. For my special case, however, I had to conduct a short, informal telephone interview with a person of the admission team on January 1st, just after New Years Eve (yay). Anyway, it worked out, and one of my main concerns was gone. I was not worried about the test itself, but was under immense time pressure. I was about to board the MS “HAMBURG” end of January and just barely managed to get GMAT, application essays, and admission interview in Barcelona done in time. There was no way to take the TOEFL as well. Actually, I took a flight to Asia just five days after the interview took place.

Now I discovered an unsettling piece of information: If you want to take part in the MBA Exchange Program, the respective partner schools might request to see your TOEFL score – they certainly all have it as a requirement. I contacted IESE to get advice how to proceed, and learned, that the partner schools have trusted IESE’s criteria regarding the English proficiency until today. To meet all criteria and to be on the safe side though, they advised me to take the test if I wanted to do a summer exchange. I definitely want to go and so the decision was clear: I had to take the test after all.

I would have preferred to take the IELTS as it seems to be better suited towards my strengths. But I had only 2 weeks in Germany and not enough lead time to get an appointment, so I had to go with a last minute TOEFL booking.

All slots in Hamburg, where I live, were taken already, but I luckily got one of the last ones in Hannover, which is a 2 hour drive away. As the test was scheduled for 09:00 AM on a Saturday morning, I had to start my travel quite early.

I started at 06:00 AM and arrived well in time at the test center. The drive was a piece of cake and requires no further elaboration. Yet, what was to follow, could have turned the day into a disaster.

Together with me, there were around 40 other people in the waiting area of the test center. The atmosphere was calm and quite relaxed initially; people were chatting about their reasons to take the test and discussed career options. But when there was no sign of an attempt to register the crowd after 09:00 AM had passed, people started to question what was going on. We should learn soon: Two student girls appeared and told us, that they could not get the entire system running, had no way to contact their superior and did not even reach the TOEFL administration in the U.S. All they said was to wait for further progress and that they would give us an update every half hour, yet, they did not look optimistic. You can imagine that people started to worry – many others had traveled far to take this test and had appointments for the late afternoon.

After one hour of waiting, many discussions, and a few affirmations from the girls, that they had no clue how to get the system running, there was finally hope. They reached the U.S. administration and were able to get eight computers running. So eight persons could take the test, and as you can already guess, I was one of them! What an incredible luck! I was picked because they chose people alphabetically and my last name starts with a C.

But what about the others? They had to wait another hour until they were released with bad news: no test today for them, as the system remained inoperable! They all had to drive back home, many with important deadlines to catch. I feel with them, something like that can really ruin your plans. They will get a refund and the opportunity to take the test on another date, of course – but what about their travel costs and missed deadlines? I’m sure ETS (the TOEFL makers) have clauses that will set them free from any such claims, but I did not check.

It would certainly have caused me some trouble if I were not so fortunate to be granted to go through with the test. Even though I did not prepare an awful lot for the test, I did go through the general setting and the different assignment types. I practiced each section (besides the writing section) at least once and had a rough idea how to tackle the questions. With my return to the ship already fixed I would have had to take the test in the short period between the end of my contract on board and the beginning of the MBA instead. As I have a lot of things to do in that time frame, spending time again to prepare and take the TOEFL would really not have been helpful.

So nice that it turned out this way!

How to respectfully decline an MBA admission offer

As a dedicated MBA applicant it is quite normal to apply to several schools at once. The risk of being rejected and remaining empty handed is just too high to only send your application to one school.

Consequently it is possible that you find yourself with more than one admission offer on the table. And even if you’d like to attend all the schools at the same time – you have to pick one and let the others know of your decision.

And this part is important. You came a long way: took the GMAT, crafted application essays, facilitated the work on recommendation letters, brushed up your CV, reached out to your target school’s admission team, possibly visited campus and finally interviewed with a school’s representative. Don’t think you’re done now. Academia is a small world and not finishing this endeavor respectfully can hurt you later on. You are likely to come in contact with faculty or students from the respective school in the future. Don’t destroy your reputation and good impression that you worked so hard to make on the school’s staff.

Business schools know that students apply to different programs and hence count with a few offer rejections. Declining an offer is your good right (you are the customer!) and you should not have any hard feelings about it. You invested a lot of effort into presenting your best side while the schools maintained the high position throughout. Now it’s your turn. The staff is paid to evaluate candidates and create leads – so don’t get the impression that they did you a favor in reviewing your file. However, there is no discussion about the tone to use in your rejection email.

It’s up to you how much detail you put into your message. You can formally decline in a two sentence mail or briefly explain your reasoning. Of course the admission team will be curious which program you are going to attend; decide for yourself if you want to share that information.

Here are two example rejection letters:

Detailed Rejection Letter

Dear Sir or Madam,

Thank you for offering me admission to the <SCHOOL NAME AND PROGRAM TYPE> MBA Program. I greatly appreciate the time and effort that you devoted to reading and evaluating my file.

However, I regret to inform you that I will be attending a different program in the <e.g. fall 2016>. As a result, I must decline your offer of acceptance and withdraw from my seat in your incoming class. Please contact me if you need further information to complete my withdrawal.

The decision between schools was close and not easy to make, and I am sure that also your excellent institution would have supplied me with a world class education and opportunities. The emphasis on <e.g. great people, collaboration and individual support> really made an impact on me. Thank you for your time spent, consideration and your excellent care throughout the application process. It was truly a great experience and I hope to get in touch with <SCHOOL NAME> and it’s students even though.



Brief Rejection Letter

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing in response to your letter of acceptance to the <PROGRAM TYPE at SCHOOL NAME>. I appreciate the opportunity to enroll at your excellent institution, but I regret to inform you that I will not be accepting your offer of admission. Thank you for your time and consideration.



You are free to mix those two and pick the parts that best fit your needs. Make sure to adjust your style according to how intense your overall contact to your admission officer was.

The ambiguity is over: IESE ‘2018

iese_1The choice has been made! I will attend the IESE Class of 2018 and spend the next two
years on the Sarrià-Sant Gervasi Campus in Barcelona.

I am super excited to start this chapter of my life. It will surely be a transforming experience.

Since the school decision is history, I can finally concentrate on the administrative things that are coming up:

  • Research and apply for scholarships
  • Find housing in Barcelona
  • Get a moto
  • Arrange tuition payments and check for possible tax deductions

We’ll see what else I’ll have to add to this list – I’m sure there’s more to come.

IESE South Campus


A few days ago I received my IESE admission e-mail and am now in the fortunate position to choose between the two schools I applied to: IESE and ESADE.

I am reading anything I can find on those two schools and am trying to make an educated decision. However, I find that both schools have their individual pros and cons and have to figure out how to weigh those.

Today I spoke to an ESADE Alumn who came from Consulting and was confronted with the same choice. He was happy with ESADE and mainly used the collaborative and teamwork character, that the school represents, to build his argument for the school.

Basically it boils down to the following differences:


IESE: Traditional and conservative

ESADE: Collaborative and pluralistic


IESE: Central in Barcelona, short ride by moto from anywhere in the city

ESADE: Distant in St. Cugat – 1 hr by train and min. 30 min by moto


IESE: Recently dropped in the FT 2016 ranking, but consistently ranked in the world top 10 over the last years

ESADE: Always below IESE but still safe to consider Tier 1, well known as a Business School because of its various MSc programs

Professional Focus

IESE: Strong in Finance and Consulting

ESADE: Equal spread of different profiles, strong in tech and innovation. Most graduates go into industry.

Number of students

IESE: 297 students and your team remains the same for the whole program

ESADE: 180 students and teams are changed after each term (3 teams total)

And another interesting fact:

2015 Acceptance rates

IESE 25% out of 1951 applicants

ESADE 61% out of 555 applicants