Getting Accepted: The Best of Jon Fuller

Darth Vader

Strategies For Impressing Adcoms

“I’m oversimplifying a bit, but there are three broad elements that most adcoms consider when reviewing an applicant – academics, professional profile, and extracurriculars, activities,hobbies/etc.

While the person reading your materials is going to review your application in its entirety, there is often a bit of an order of priority, and it’s usually in that same order as what I just wrote. So, if you don’t have academics that are competitive and/or give the adcom confidence in your ability to do well in the classroom, you’re in a hard spot regardless of the quality of your work experience or ECs. Similar situation w/professional profile…you might have the academics, but if you don’t also have a quality professional profile, then having the best ever ECs aren’t going to get you in. With these considerations, you can see why ECs can often fall by the wayside – candidates know that they have to invest a lot of time to do well on the GMAT, knock it out of the park at work, etc., and ECs can end up being more of a “let me just make sure I have something” priority.

…Here are the suggestions that I always emphasize with extracurriculars, and it sounds like you’re planning to subscribe to them:

Depth in a few is better than dabbling in many. And depending on your situation,            not everything you do might warrant a mention in your app.

Good to show consistent, active involvement over time

Group-oriented activities are usually better than solitary ones. Simple example – being a dedicated distance runner is fine but doesn’t show much sociability. Participating and/or leading a running group would be better.

The most ideal ECs are those that show that you’re engaged with a community and/or show leadership skills. It’s also great to have activities/hobbies that can be extrapolated to the MBA community through student clubs/orgs that are also tied to that activity/hobby. This provides the adcom with some insight into what you have to offer the program and your classmates

There really isn’t a recipe or metric to assess how you’re doing on the EC front, but I don’t really think that there needs to be one either given how this profile element is leveraged in the admissions process. Being involved and using those experiences to make you a bit more interesting and memorable suffices for many!

You mentioned the idea of trying to start your own volunteer organization …wouldn’t be a bad thing, but I don’t see it as being necessary. I think it would make more sense to get involved with an existing organization that resonates will with you. After a bit, see if you can secure a leadership/junior board member-type role. Keep tabs on how your involvement has benefited the organization and the mission it supports. Doing that successfully can certainly help to elevate this aspect of your profile over lots and lots of other applicants out there.”

Value of Undergraduate School and Employer Prestige

Will a middle-of-the-road undergraduate program doom your chances for the Top 10?

“…The name/reputation of a school (or employer) can be beneficial at times since if it’s generally understood that it’s difficult to get into school X or get hired by company Y, then being successful with either subtly tells the adcom something positive about you. It can be a bit of a plus factor, but I don’t see it as a make-or-break factor.

Yes, some top MBA programs have the reputation of being focused on a set of undergrad programs, but that one data point isn’t a reason to cross a school off your list. You just need to take it into consideration when you consider your overall competitiveness. Say you’re hypothetically considering HBS and there’s no precedent for HBS admitting someone from your undergrad business program . . . and they haven’t admitted anyone from your company in corporate finance and/or from your company. That’s the sort of situation where you might want to take a hard look in the mirror and wonder if it’s really worth applying given finite time, resources, etc. But if you still really wanted to apply, fine by me, but just be honest with yourself.

Regardless, I don’t recommend addressing your selected undergrad program in an optional essay. You might be asked “why did you go to school Z for undergrad?” in an interview but that question shouldn’t put you on the defensive. The interviewer usually asks that sort of question to try to get some insight on your thought process.”

Am I at a disadvantage if my employer or industry isn’t very prestigious?

“I wouldn’t say that [schools] OVER value the title/industry/prestige, but some schools focus on it a bit more than others (HBS and Wharton being two of the schools where you see it more often). For example, getting hired by and working for a top-flight PE firm automatically tells the adcom something positive about you and your ability to make it through a competitive selection process. Of course, you also have to be a good performer in your role, but you get the point. There is a similar logic when they look at undergrad institutions.

However, with your particular example with Wharton and other top programs, a PE background could actually complicate matters for you a bit. Relatively speaking, Wharton gets a lot of applicants with that sort of background, so they can afford to be picky and focus on candidates who work for those companies that are considered to be the best of the best, candidates who have even higher GMAT scores, etc. If you work for a PE shop that Wharton hasn’t heard of/has no experience with, then when they compare you to other PE applicants, they’re more likely to be excited about ones who work for the top firms. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t apply as long as the rest of your profile is healthy, but you’ll want to incorporate all that into how you think about your own competitiveness.

This could still be a bit of a factor when with the other programs you mentioned, but probably not to as much of an extent. Take a look at applicant pool and class profile data to get a sense as to how large the industry constituent groups are . . . if they’re relatively low when it comes to PE (or consulting or whatever), then that could help your cause.”

“…long story short, I wouldn’t be too concerned about the industry you’re in – as I’ve pointed out before, schools are going to be more interested in what you’ve accomplished at your company, the impact that you’ve made, the responsibilities you have, progression you’ve made, etc., and it sounds to me like you’re going to be able to paint a pretty quality picture for the programs you mentioned. Those programs also tend to not get as hung up on brand name employers/backgrounds.”

DON’T MISS: HOW A TOP BUSINESS SCHOOL SIFTS THROUGH A PILE OF MBA APPLICANTS

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.