2021 Will Be A Competitive Application Year: Here’s How To Stand Out

2021 Will Be A Competitive Application Year: Here’s How To Stand Out

2021 is expected to be one of the most competitive application seasons yet.

With MBA applications seeing a surge, admissions will be more selective. But what can one do to stand out in 2021?

Business Insider recently spoke to experts about how applicants can make their application more compelling in a competitive application year.


Many B-schools have shifted in-person admissions to be virtual in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With coffee chats and admissions Q&A events being virtual this year, experts say it’s even more important to be engaged and present.

“The best thing to do is listen, learn, and identify the aspects of the program or business school that resonate with you so that you can authentically talk about them in your application or interview, should there be an opportunity to do so,” Soojin Kwon, managing director of full-time MBA admissions and program at The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, tells Business Insider.

Being personable, whether in-person or online, is still one thing that makes a candidate stand out.

“Keep in mind that admissions officers — even at the most selective business schools — work in a high-pressure environment with deadlines and constant demand,” Barbara Coward, founder and principal of MBA 360 Admissions Consulting, tells Business Insider. “If you can lighten up the conversation with a witty comment or something that makes people laugh, that gets remembered.”


This year, many B-schools announced that they would waive test requirements in response to in-person GMATs being cancelled.

Yet, experts say, B-schools still value quantitative skills. And for applicants who opted out of standardized testing, it’s even more important to highlight quantitative competency.

“While MIT Sloan School of Management, for example, promises that they will review application material ‘without negative inferences,’ it won’t hurt to submit other proof points such as certifications or online coursework, such as HBS Online’s CORe program, edX, or MBAMath,” Coward tells Business Insider.


2020 presented challenges for everyone. But rather than skip over what hurdles came your way, experts say it can actually be helpful to show how you overcame the barriers of 2020.

“Unlike test scores, undergraduate GPA, or letters of recommendation, the essay section gives candidates complete control — and a chance to stand out with a unique story,” Eric Askins, executive director of full-time MBA admissions at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, tells Business Insider. “The essays that are the most memorable for us are ones where candidates are willing to show us their true self — and particularly with COVID this year, that might include showing a vulnerability, a weakness, or a moment of growth.”

Admissions officers want to see how you’ve overcome adversity in your life. And 2020 presents a key opportunity to showcase the challenges that you faced and how you grew through them.

“Ignoring the elephant in the room may be a missed opportunity — especially if you’ve used this time in a meaningful way,” Hillary Schubach, Founder and President of Shine MBA Admissions Consulting tells Business Insider. “We’ve heard school after school say that they are extremely understanding to your life circumstances right now, whatever they may be.” “The key however is: What have you been doing with that time to advance your professional goals, skill set, or instill values into the world?”

Sources: Business Insider, The Wall Street Journal, P&Q, Business Insider

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