“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” –Oscar Wilde
“How do I get into the top business schools? What can I do to stand out from the competition? Is there a ‘formula’ that will help me get accepted into the MBA programs of my choice? My friend/colleague got into [fill in the blank] by focusing on [fill in the blank] on his/her apps – should I do the same thing?”
I often get asked these questions from clients and prospective clients seeking an edge in the business school application process, and of course, I understand what is prompting these questions. The MBA admission landscape has never been more competitive; for example, Harvard Business School’s acceptance rate is ~11% and Stanford’s is ~7%. Given such tough odds, how does a candidate shine in a pool of very qualified applicants?
Here’s the answer: by being authentic.
So what does it mean to be authentic? Simply, as Oscar Wilde so aptly stated, by being yourself. Here are three ways in which to come across as authentic in a business school application.
Draw upon your unique experiences and perspective
What you have experienced throughout your life – in school, personally, at the workplace – is what makes you YOU. There is no other single person in this world who has walked in your shoes, had your exact experiences, and seen the world from your eyes. As a result, what may have helped a friend/colleague gain admission to a business school will most likely not work for you. Think about the experiences that have shaped you into the person you are today and jot them down. Talk to those closest to you to get their thoughts and make sure you are capturing the full picture. Are there common themes that emerge from those stories? Remember, Admissions Committees want to understand the living person beyond the two-dimensional application.
Talk about the why
Business school applications are really more about the why than the what. Anyone can talk about his/her experiences and accomplishments, but what really sets an application apart is providing color on why something has been instrumental in shaping you or why something means so much to you. This interpretation – for example, the impact that you have had, the obstacles that you have overcome, the lessons that you have learned – is what makes you authentic. Your diverse insights will help you be a meaningful contributor to your class; therefore, it is imperative that the why comes through in your applications.
Convey your voice
While business school essays are formal pieces of work, they should be written in your voice. If you have a certain style of writing, don’t be afraid to let that shine through! Although you may get feedback from family members, friends, (and yes, MBA admissions consultants!), it is extremely important that you make the ultimate call when it comes to your essays since they represent you, your accomplishments, your perspective, and your values.
All the pieces to create a compelling application are within you; by drawing upon your unique experiences and perspective, talking about the why, and conveying your voice, you will be well on your way to crafting an authentic application.
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Ivy Groupe is a boutique MBA admissions consulting company founded by Shaifali Aggarwal, who received her MBA from Harvard Business School and undergraduate degree from Princeton University. Shaifali’s philosophy focuses on authenticity and storytelling to help clients craft compelling and differentiated applications that stand out. With this approach, Shaifali’s clients have gained admission to top-tier MBA programs such as Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg, MIT, Columbia, Booth, Tuck, and Yale, among others.