Here’s Why You Were Dinged

3. Failure to understand and connect with the DNA of the individual school. And now we get to the big one. A certain specialty of ours has become working with elite candidates who “somehow” got dinged at every single school the year before. This is a group of Type A people who have worked hard and strived to make it this far and so they typically do okay on the first two bullets (although not always and almost never to perfection – there’s a reason we have a firm that grows every single year; this stuff is not easy).

It’s the third bullet that kills them.I will ask a 3.7, 720 PE guy to send me his four dinged files and I’ll open them up to find that Wharton and Kellogg have the same leadership stories inside and that HBS and GSB feature the exact same tone and approach. Dings, for sure – or at least at two of the four. (If it’s not clear why that’s the case, I would say again, that’s why we have a business.) I see people who *should* get into Booth, for instance, but they didn’t share their capacity for risk. That tells Booth, “I’m probably going somewhere else” at worst and “I don’t understand your culture and therefore am giving you no idea whether I am a fit there or not” at best.

I see people who do not showcase readiness at INSEAD, who put risky career goals in a Columbia essay, who fail to touch on the four principles at Haas, who don’t write about global focus at Wharton, who ignore the “think, feel, say, do” element with MIT, and on and on and on. And these are just the easy parts. A good application – a set of essays that will transform a reader from a mere gatekeeper into your advocate – knows the DNA of the school in question, taps into it, and then uses it to say “I am one of you!” to the reader. A failure to do this invites massive risk, even for the best candidates, as you go into admissions committee “naked,” which is to say, without someone fighting for you. At that point, anything can happen – bad demographics, a test score 10 points too low, a C in a class, a low quant split, bad luck, you name it. And even though it seems cruel and unfair, the same candidate can experience bad luck 3, 4, or 5 times in the same round.

Time after time, I review a file and explain “this is what is wrong with the goals,” “you could have been more interesting and personal throughout,” and – most of all – “you just didn’t tap into the DNA of these schools.” It almost never fails. This is why I’ve taken to calling it the Ding Triangle. Almost every ding features each of these three sides to it, forming together to generate that result. I’m happy to say that all three can be address and improved upon in almost every case and that we’ve had great success in doing so. Therefore, if you have been dinged, don’t give up hope, but instead, be honest with yourself – or, better yet, find someone who can give you an honest appraisal in these areas. Then, get back after it.

Adam Hoff

Adam Hoff

Adam Hoff is a Principal of the Amerasia Consulting Group and the architect of the firm’s renowned school-specific Strategy Memos.


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