What does it take to tailor your killer MBA application from Round 1 to a fresh batch of business schools in Round 2? Once you’ve done the hard work of reflecting on where you’ve been, where you want to go, and how an MBA is going to get you there, it’s tempting to plug your winning story into play for each program on your list. I mean, if it’s good enough for Chicago Booth, it’ll be equally compelling for Columbia or London Business School, right? Now that you’ve got your story straight, can’t you just cut and paste?
Alas, no. It really, really doesn’t work that way.
During my eight years in admissions and recruitment at London Business School, I read too many applications from candidates who’d done just that – either the MBA essay was an obvious cut-and-paste from another application, or they weren’t really answering the question. What’s worse, many of my Fortuna Admissions colleagues have encountered applications from careless candidates who hadn’t mastered find-and-replace, professing their love of Yale SOM to the admissions committee of Kellogg. Ouch.
Every school wants to know that they’re your number one choice. Of course, schools know that you’re applying to other programs – that’s the sensible thing to do and they expect that. But to win their acceptance, you’ll need to show the love. That means going the extra mile to demonstrate you understand their unique values and culture, and that you’ve given serious consideration both to what you’ll gain from and how you’ll contribute to their community.
The last thing you want to do is undermine your incredibly hard work by submitting an MBA application that reads as generic. So, make the effort now to customize each application to your target schools. Below are seven essential tips for customizing your MBA application for Round 2 programs, culled from my colleagues at Fortuna Admissions.
7 TOP TIPS ON CUSTOMIZING YOUR MBA APPLICATION FOR ROUND 2
- Do your research.
Research each school to understand what makes them distinct. Go beyond what’s explicitly stated on the website and probe for the heart of their values and differentiators. This level of detail and awareness can and should come through in your application. Cite specifics that are relevant to your MBA career vision and goals – electives, specializations, clubs, and the plethora of opportunities that will be available to you. As there are many different elements you can mention for every school, ensure you pick ones that are genuinely relevant to your future, and to what you personally want to get out of the experience. In reviewing your application, you want to inspire the MBA admissions reader to think, ‘Ah, this person really understands the culture of our school.’
- Make meaningful connections and look for ways to contribute early.
Make an effort to build relationships within the community at each of your target schools. Explore your existing network to seek out students and alumni or reach out to a school’s admissions team to ask to be put in touch with someone who has a similar background to you. Ask thoughtful questions that help you understand what the school is all about and what it’s looking for in an MBA candidate. It really shows when someone has had a few conversations with students and alumni, and you can even name drop within the application.
If you’ve got your career goals and your overarching vision figured out, and you know how this school is going to help you get there, you’re poised to make connections that are going to reinforce this journey. For example, if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, you’ll want to get in touch with the entrepreneurship club. Perhaps you discover the head of the club is running an event, and maybe you could help them with some contacts. It’s not too early to start getting involved, even before you’ve joined the business school, to demonstrate that you really have a passion for an issue and that you’re the kind of person who will make positive contributions.
- Reference specific conversations, insights, and events.
In the application, take the opportunity to reference that you had great conversations with ‘this student from this year,’ talking about all the wonderful club opportunities, for example, and what that led to in the context of your interests and aspirations. While each application is different, and every school has its own process, there are always clever ways to imply how much research you’ve done. Not just by writing your essays with depth and detail, but literally mentioning you’ve ‘been to this or that event, participated in X webinar, or met this member of staff.’ Schools will take note of the amount of effort you’ve put in.
It’s effective from the staff perspective, too; seeing your name and recalling, ‘ah yes I remember that person, I met them in San Francisco at an MBA event,’ helps connect the dots. It was always gratifying for me to hear that someone enjoyed our conversation and found it valuable enough to mention in their application.
- Become acquainted with faculty.
For a deeper dive into the areas of specialization and expertise that your business schools offer, acquaint yourself with the faculty. Especially at top schools, many professors are publishing ground-breaking research and making headlines within their field of study. Try to follow the research of an individual faculty member, a book they’ve written, and/or opinions they’re advancing on the issues. This is yet another way to go beyond those course lists on the website.
- Solicit input from trusted connections.
If you’ve cultivated trusted student or alumni connections, ask if they’d be willing to read your essays and give you some constructive feedback. It will be invaluable given their first-hand understanding of the school’s culture and what makes it unique. Invite their frank feedback, so they might say to you, ‘no, this essay isn’t coming across as truly Columbia,’ (for example).
- Brief your recommenders.
Your recommenders are a vital element of your strategic positioning. Sit down with your recommenders and talk to them about your goals, your career vision, and how this school in particular is going to help you get there. Set your recommenders up for success by emphasizing the importance of depth, details, and anecdotes to address specific situations and your contributions. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to write a detailed and glowing letter of support. (For a deeper dive on MBA recommender strategy, view this related article by Fortuna’s Jessica Chung.)
- Be sincere and convincing.
“Business schools are well aware that some candidates apply in round two because they weren’t accepted by their top choice MBA program in round one,” says Fortuna Director and former INSEAD Director of MBA Admissions, Caroline Diarte Edwards. “Given this reality, it’s vital to be even more convincing.” At this time of year, too many candidates can be half-hearted in their Round 2 efforts when they’re hoping for good news from their Round 1 schools. As mentioned, each program wants to feel like your number one choice. Convincingly conveying that you’re both motivated and well-informed and that you’ve endeavored to understand their unique culture and visualize your contribution to it, is essential.
At LBS, like the other top schools, we had no shortage of high GPAs, strong GMAT scores, and impressive profiles with fast-track professional performances. This means your ability to convey your sincere and ardent commitment to each target school is part of your unique differentiator. You want the admissions committee member to feel, ‘wow, this applicant really gets us. Let’s invite them for an interview.’
For more tips on preparing a stand-out round 2 application, view this related article by Fortuna Admissions Director Caroline Diarte Edwards.
Amy Hugo is an Expert Coach at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former Senior Manager of Degree Programs at the London Business School. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.