How To Secure an Acceptance Letter
Applying to business school takes more than strong academic and exam performance. For many, strengthening your application requires multiple steps.
Ilana Kowarski, a reporter at US News, recently discussed 10 ways applicants can strengthen their application and secure an acceptance letter.
1.) Take time for introspection
Understanding your strengths and weaknesses is crucial to building a strong application, experts say. Although it’s one thing to know those strengths and weaknesses, it’s another to convey them effectively to admissions committees.
Chad Losee is managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid at Harvard Business School. Losee tells US News that understanding how you make decisions is crucial to acceptance.
“We don’t feel that people need to come in with a life plan already mapped out, but we do like to get a sense for how people think about the decisions that they make,” he says.
Conveying this understanding is helpful in interviews. A strong interview evaluation can often make the difference between acceptance and rejection. The best way applicants can have this understanding is by taking the time to have introspection and self-awareness regarding their decisions.
Soojin Kwon is the admissions director with the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor. Kwon tells US News that the applicants who stand out in interviews are the ones who offer an introspective reflection on their career.
“It’s being able to have perspective about the things that you’ve done and the import of those things, because there’s value in everything that an applicant might have done in their career,” she says. “It’s knowing how that translates into something that will be valuable in your business school experience, in life and in work.”
2.) Prove your potential
Self-awareness and introspection is the key first step to acceptance. Once applicants understand themselves, the next step is to prove to admissions committees that they have the potential to succeed.
Proving potential comes from evidence that backs up a resume. Stacy Blackman is a contributor at US News and founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, an MBA admissions consulting company. Blackman says leadership experience can help an applicant stand out.
“To stand out in the eyes of the admissions committee, you need to provide hard proof that you made a difference,” she says. “But it’s not about the scale of your achievements – rather, it’s the fact that you made your mark.”
3.) Know your dreams and those you admire
If you know what you want to accomplish in your career, it can also be helpful to understand those you admire.
Blackman says it’s helpful to think about whose job you wish you had.
“When you think about envy, it probably means you’re thinking about people doing things that you wish you were doing,” she says in a US News blog post. “Ask yourself, ‘Who is this person? What about them would I like to emulate?’ That can help you define your goals in many ways.”
4.) Know your contributions and how you’ve learned from them
Strong academic performance and stellar exam scores are important to acceptance, but it’s also crucial to highlight positive contributions you’ve made and how you’ve learned from them — especially if your application lacks strong grades and exam scores.
Direct finance or consulting experience is also attractive, but not necessary for acceptance, experts say.
“You don’t need that,” Barbara Coward, a Maryland-based MBA admissions consultant, tells US News. “Every work experience you have can be extremely valuable. It’s how you present it and what you’ve learned from it and what you’ve accomplished.”
5.) Take on challenging projects
Growth comes from perseverance and determination through difficult challenges and admissions committees love to see applicants who continuously challenge themselves.
S. Michael Sury is a lecturer of finance with the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas – Austin. Sury tells US News that applicants with a wide array of talents are attractive to admissions committees. He says applicants should push themselves to tackle challenges that allow them to cultivate new skills.
“Taking part in industry conferences, speaking engagements, teach positions or volunteering activities can propel an otherwise average candidate into a more competitive one,” he tells US News.
6.) Address your weaknesses
Taking on challenges is directly related to addressing weaknesses. Often times, if an applicant lacks key skills such as leadership, taking part in activities that forces them to develop such skills is useful.
“Leadership experience and potential is highly prized at business schools but doesn’t come easily for everyone,” Blackman says. “Think of weaknesses as opportunities for growth.”
7.) Demonstrate academic versatility
Well-roundedness is a key factor in sticking out. For many applicants, this can mean showing interest outside their direct field of study.
For example, Sury says, engineers can demonstrate academic versatility by participating in extracurricular activities unrelated to engineering.
“Likewise, if the candidate is a more traditional business major, he may consider taking up vocation skills like programming or a second language,” Sury adds.
8.) Take entrance exams early
Timeliness is key to application season and experts say it’s a good idea to take a diagnostic exam for both the GRE and GMAT. Once you’ve decided which business school entrance exam you’ll be prepping for, it’s best to take the exam as soon as you feel ready. Doing so, experts say, will free up time later on to focus on application materials such as interviews and essays.
Shaifali Aggarwal is founder and CEO of the Ivy Groupe admissions consulting company. Aggarwal tells US News that applicants who wait too late to take their standardized test will have to balance both test prep and writing admission essays.
9.) Take time to polish and edit application materials
Taking your entrance exams early can allow you ample time to ensure your application is polished and error-free.
David Simpson is admissions director of MBA and masters in finance programs at the London Business School. Simpson says that one of the worst mistakes applicants can make is rushing to write application materials.
“Take time to consider how every sentence makes you sound,” he says. “Not just the essays, but the main application as well.”
10.) Allow time for recommendations
People are naturally business. That’s why it’s important to remember that your recommenders need ample time as well to write quality letters. Waiting to ask for recommendation letters last minute can not only lead to poor letters, but can also come off as rude.
Simpson tells US News that it’s unlikely recommenders will endorse candidates enthusiastically if they aren’t given the respect of time to properly write a letter.
It’s also important to allow time to establish a strong relationship and understanding of your strengths and weaknesses with your recommender. Doing so can allow your recommender to make a strong argument for your acceptance.