The MBA application for MIT Sloan – embodying the institution’s innovation ethos – eschews the conventions of its M7 peers. It’s a beast of an application, and successfully tackling it requires a different strategy than any other business school.
The standard fare for most top business schools include the application data, a standard one-page resume, essays and letters of recommendation (typically two). By contrast, MIT Sloan doesn’t require written essays, nor will it let you get away with recycling your standard MBA resume. Instead, you’ll be asked to create and capture several materials that no other school asks for.
Unique or uncommon to MIT Sloan:
- Cover letter
- One-minute video introduction
- Uniquely formatted resume
- One letter of recommendation, with contacts for two supporting recommenders
- Organizational chart
- Pre-interview reflection
MIT’s application process is a puzzle, and your challenge – and opportunity – is three-fold:
- Convey a deep understanding of MIT’s core values and your fit for the program (self- and situational-awareness).
- Demonstrate your unique value add, which needs to be both resume-specific and personal (your personal characteristics, traits, values and a sprinkle of more self-awareness).
- Use your limited real estate to build a coherent narrative for your candidacy, and, while doing so, make sure you’re not repeating yourself. (This juggle across the various components of the application is the hardest part for many applicants; you need to do an excellent job of spreading the love on this app. Otherwise, it will fall flat.)
As a coach with Fortuna Admissions, and a former member of admissions teams at Wharton, Princeton, and Johns Hopkins, I’ve honed a methodology for tackling unique applications that require applicants to think and present information about themselves in new ways. I’ve applied this to the Sloan application and my work supporting many successful MIT Sloan candidates. You’ll find my best thinking on what works in the advice below.
YOUR STEP-BY-STEP STRATEGY FOR TACKLING THE MIT SLOAN APPLICATION
First, tackle the less strategic components of the application first:
- The online application data
- The org chart
- The resume as per Sloan’s requirements
Start with a high-level review of what you can present in the application data, org chart, and resume and identify what you convey to the committee across these elements. There’s not much wiggle room for creativity or storytelling, so I suggest completing them, taking note of the traits and accomplishments you’ve conveyed, and move on! (For insights on navigating the org chart requirement, view this article on by my Fortuna colleague, Heidi Hillis.)
The following parts of the Sloan application require more time and attention. This flow may not be intuitive, but it’s extremely effective in terms of strategy.
- First, the video introduction. This may not be where most people start but hear me out: Some stories are best told live and or can’t be conveyed in 200 written words. Certain stories work here and won’t in the cover letter. Start with the video in mind and brainstorm ideas best suited to the medium. Aim to go off resume by sharing a personal story that sparks real resonance in the viewer.
As detailed in my previous post on how to Ace the Video Statement for MIT Sloan, take a risk to be vulnerable – the objective is to offer a genuine glimpse of who you are. You only have 60 seconds to deliver a response that’s memorable, meaningful, and coherent. A powerful approach is to elaborate on one, specific experience that illuminates an important part of who you are. Everyone has stories to tell. Are you the only one in your family who can get your grandfather to talk about his health? Or is your crooked smile so infectious that you’re known around your neighborhood for lighting up other’s days? Don’t be afraid to tell those stories.
- Next, the cover letter. How do you act in line with MIT Sloan’s values? Remember, MIT values individuals who act to make a difference, and you can often best demonstrate that you understand these values through work or extracurricular experiences. After you show them how you’ve already started to live out these values, you should make clear why the MBA is vital to get where you want to go next (career goals). You can weave in a brief “why” MIT line if it’s fitting, but they don’t want to read anything regurgitated from their website – they know their own program.
- Finally, the (pre) interview reflection. This prompt is about diversity, which means articulating what you uniquely bring to the table. Please take note of a central theme that extends across the entire application: MIT Sloan values individuality so don’t be afraid to be unapologetically you. Like the video intro and the cover letter, your savvy deployment of illustrative examples is key. When have you worked to create or better a community that is welcoming, inclusive and increasingly diverse? Choose a single answer and tell that story. Summon your courage and authenticity, and as you also persuade – whether it’s through your love of MotoGP or chess or charity work – show them you already have developed this capacity and then make clear where you hope to parlay it while at MIT. And, this bears repeating: save the “why” MIT for the actual interview or post-interview email follow-up, which is the best place to fill in gaps of this sort.
As illustrated by the application components themselves, MIT is far more interested to learn about how you think and act – how you came up with an innovative solution, navigated a difficult decision and what makes you memorable. While they clearly value quantitative skills, MIT Sloan also cares about the very human aspects of your personality, and the values, integrity and commitment with which you lead your life. Allow its unconventional prompts to fuel your creativity and avoid the temptation to make yourself fit the profile you think Sloan may want. Focus on where you can stand out – because no one is more qualified than you to tell your own unique and authentic story.
Brittany Maschal is an Expert Coach at MBA consulting firm Fortuna Admissions and a former member of admissions teams at Wharton, Princeton & Johns Hopkins. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.