I should probably call 911.
There’s dead silence on the other end of the phone. I’ve been speaking to a client, Arik, for the past 30 minutes advising him on which community service to pick up in anticipation of his business school application. We’ve reviewed his long list of suggestions, from working as a Fellow for a Presidential Candidate to starting a Sunday reading program at the local Children’s Hospital.
I advise him to choose whichever one he’ll be passionate about and where he’ll excel. This advice does not sit well with Arik. “Yeah, but which is the right one?” he asks. “Which one will get me in?” I give him the advice I give all my clients, “It doesn’t matter what’s on your resume, as long as you excelled at it. Be the best, the rest is out of your hands.” That’s when Arik falls silent.
Now, before you assume I’m saying anyone can get into business school if they just really like what they’re doing, think again. Those who are admitted did well in college, had great test scores, were involved in their community and had varied interests that helped shape who they are. They also have resumes filled with things they were passionate about, and they excelled at them.
The dean of admissions doesn’t care what you did, but he or she does care how you did at it.
It sounds so simple, but when you’re in the middle of applying to business school, it’s hard to imagine a top school might be equally interested in a strategy consultant, a teacher, and a small business owner, but in many ways they are. To the school, the candidates are the same. If they excel and rise to the top of their chosen careers, they all show an ability to work hard and persevere, with passion and fortitude that might make them an exceptional CEO or Managing Partner, which is exactly what the top schools are looking for. They’re looking for future leaders, not future workers.
So as you consider how to position yourself to be a competitive candidate and earn a spot in the business school of your choice, don’t turn your life into a calculated business school audition. Instead, choose your path thoughtfully and do your work exceptionally. There is no right internship nor is there the perfect community service opportunity. There is only a path where you can be authentic and where you can stand out.
If you want to know how to impress a dean of admissions, be the best. After all, that’s really what they’re looking for.
An MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Stacy Blackman founded Stacy Blackman Consulting in 2001 and has helped thousands of MBA applicants gain admission to the most selective business schools in the world. The Stacy Blackman team, comprised of MBA graduates, former admissions officers and expert writers, editors and marketers, helps clients develop and implement a winning marketing strategy. Stacy’s previous confessions story.
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