Whether your story is one of failure or success, admissions offices are looking for candidates capable of dissecting their experiences, and of accounting for the impact of their own strengths, weaknesses, and (in)-decisions on the final result.
2. Diversity is very important, but you need to be “diverse with a purpose”
You’ve heard how important diversity is in admissions. We don’t need to tell you that. There is at least one entire page devoted exclusively to diversity on the websites for Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Sloan, Booth…you get the point.
However, what few applicants grasp is that business schools do not desire diversity solely for diversity’s sake. The elements responsible for an applicant’s “diversity” need to afford him/her a special set of skills and perspectives that add uniquely to the classroom and beyond. Let’s explore this further…
Are you from Samoa? Guam? Did you check all of the “underrepresented minority” boxes on your application? If so, you certainly have a claim to diversity, but you nonetheless need to explain why that diversity is relevant to your qualifications for business school. More specifically, you need to articulate why that diversity is relevant to your qualifications to the particular business school(s) to which you are applying. In short, candidates tend to think of diversity as being an end in itself, when it is really part-and-parcel of a broader qualification. That is, diversity comes in a million different shapes and sizes. What is important is not how diverse you are from a rigid racial, religious, socio-economic, or geographic perspective, but instead why your diversity will contribute to the best Class of 20XX that a business school can assemble.
To put this in mathematical terms:
Diversity ≠ Qualifications
Diversity –> X –> Qualifications
Where X is a positive, unique contribution to a business school class, classroom, alumni network, and society.
The takeaway point: Always remember that admissions officers are employees with bosses. Their bosses judge the quality of admissions officers’ work on the quality of the class they put together. Admitting students merely because they were born on a remote island would be a promising way for admissions officers to lose their jobs.
Thus, you need to communicate not just that you are diverse – but why an admissions officer should take your diversity into consideration. How will your diversity improve the overall persona of the class you’re part of? If you are expounding upon your diversity without a convincing reason as to why it is relevant to an admissions officer, you will accomplish nothing.
3. Working at a premier consulting/financial group or company is not the credential you think it is
Every year, business schools are overwhelmed with applicants from the best investment banks, consulting groups, and private equity firms. Take Harvard Business School, for example: exactly 50% of its Class of 2015 worked in one of those sectors prior to attending business school. As a percentage of individuals who applied, chances are that this figure is even great. What does this mean for you?
First, if you’ve been working in consulting or finance for the past few years, you should approach your applications with the understanding that your job(s) will likely not be enough to get you into a competitive business school. You will be competing against thousands of other applicants who have the exact same employment history. Assuming you are a “shoo-in” based on your job is a surefire ticket to disappointment.
Second, if you are one of these applicants, your application strategy should account for the following pieces of advice.
A) Explain why you’re different. How are your experiences at your employer different from everyone else’s? Imagine that you are competing against thousands of applicants who went to the same undergraduate school, and worked in the same industry. Why are your experiences different or better? What have you done that others have not? In short, demonstrate how the experience inspired you want to seek more skills and understanding of the power of collaboration and teamwork. You should at least have a credible answer to this question.
B) Explain why else you’re different. What is the extracurricular or personal activity that contributes to your overall profile and sets you apart from your most comparable peers? Did you start a small company? Do you volunteer at a nonprofit or teach karate on the weekends? Whatever it is you do in your spare time, explain how and why it compliments your other attributes and an emerging business professional.
C) Don’t discuss the incredible training you have received at your job. The admissions officers already know about your training. Decades of applicants before you had the same training. Perhaps worse, focusing on your training gives the impression that your most impressive credentials or qualifications are the mandatory training sessions that all of the other applicants have also had. Tell admissions officers what you did with that training; this way, they can be confident that after you graduate, the list of most impressive things you’ve done won’t just be the list of classes you took while at business school.
There is no set of rules for applying to business school. The best applicants are those individuals who know who they are and where they want to go and can clearly and concisely articulate why business school is the best vehicle for achieving those
John Lyon is the former Director of Admissions at Wharton and Stern Business Schools, the former Assistant Director of Admissions at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and an Admissions expert at InGenius Prep.
Ellen Skinner is the former executive director of the Yale School of Management, a graduate of the Yale School of Management, and the head of MBA advising at at InGenius Prep.