Success Stories: Application Insights From Elite MBAs

After applying to Harvard Business School and the Wharton School in Round 1 and Stanford Graduate School of Business in Round 2, Piyush Pratik was dinged by all three. A year later, after reapplying to all three, he was accepted to all of them — as well as Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Courtesy photo

Ipshita Agarwal took the Gradate Management Admission Test later than most applicants, and only spent a little over a month altogether on her business school applications. She gained admission to Harvard Business School, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford Graduate School of Business, three of the hardest B-schools in the world to get into.

Ed Redden was dinged by two of those schools, Harvard and Stanford, after rushing his applications, which led to an approach that was “too generic.” Reapplying a year later — though he made no changes to his career goals and did not retake the GMAT — he got into both schools.

Ray Temnewo realized soon after getting his undergraduate degree that an MBA was essential to the career trajectory he had envisioned for himself. He applied to just three schools, aiming for the vaunted H/S/W triple crown; boosted by the fact that he took the GMAT early and was able to spend more time on essays and other elements of his applications, he gained admission to all three. Temnewo will join Stanford this fall.


Jerome Fulton. Courtesy photo

Poets&Quants publishes a lot of success stories about business school applicants who earned the vaunted “triple admit” to Harvard, Wharton, and Stanford, as well as other elite B-schools in the United States and globally. We are particularly drawn to those who overcame huge personal, professional, cultural, or financial hurdles to achieve admission to the schools of their dreams. Their insights are as varied as the candidates themselves — because while there is no one-size-fits-all key to open the doors of graduate business education, these stories of successful admits and their strategies do offer clues for current candidates to parse.

And if nothing else, they offer lots of inspiration.

Jerome Fulton overcame extraordinary personal tragedy at a young age to earn admission to six top-10 business schools, including Harvard, Wharton, and Stanford. Last fall he joined Harvard’s MBA Class of 2023. Piyush Pratik was dinged by all three of the Harvard-Stanford-Wharton triumvirate. Taking time for serious reflection, he made major changes to his approach — overhauling his applications’ presentation, packaging, and storytelling — and a year later earned the H/S/W triple crown.

And Anchor Ebanks, an H/S/W admit whose B-school journey was delayed by coronavirus, used that time to pivot to a new job function and give his graduate experience an entirely new arc. Ebanks starts at Harvard this fall.


Richard Williamson, Georgetown McDonough: “I was able to become more than just my resume and application essays, but a prospective student who was driven to make positive organizational changes during his MBA tenure and beyond”

P&Q talks to so many of the Best & Brightest MBAs and other elite MBA students through our Meet the Class series that we would be remiss not to ask them for advice on “how to get in.” Many of those stories from current MBAs, including those on the cusp of graduation, are collected here. See below for a select few others.

“I oftentimes think that when applying to MBA programs applicants try to tell the admissions committee what they think they want to hear, rather than showcasing what really matters to the applicant and what they are passionate about. Kellogg really values unique experiences and people who are passionate about their interests. I think my least compelling applications were when I went to the program’s website and looked at what I thought they were looking for and tried to force fit my background and experiences to that mold. Be yourself — Kellogg specifically looks for interesting, unique, and passionate applicants.” — Phil Fairleigh, Northwestern Kellogg School of Management

“I was part of both the Management Leadership for Tomorrow MBA prep program and MLT Professional Development. Being a part of a group of 300+ historically excluded students was critical to building my network and forging strong relationships with students across MBA programs. My coach, Jon Fuller, really supported me in building a strong application and solidifying my personal story and my motivation for applying to business school. Through MLT PD, I was also able to successfully secure a full-time offer from Bridgespan. I am incredibly grateful to have been a part of this program and community.” — Andrea Madu, Penn Wharton

“I believe the one thing I did during the application process that gave me an edge was communicating early and often to current Georgetown MBA candidates. I took it upon myself to establish relationships with both students and faculty alike very early in the application process. I wanted the McDonough community to know that I was extremely interested in the program and wanted to learn as much as I could prior to submitting my application. I took every opportunity to request Zoom and phone chats to ask specific questions about McDonough’s culture, student-body clubs of interest, and application essay reviews.

“During my application submission window, I was currently living just north of Austin, Texas, and expecting my first child. I even decided to drive two hours to Houston, Texas to meet Shelly Heinrich, the Georgetown Associate Dean of MBA admissions for a coffee chat. My overall goal was to share my story of why I wanted to join this MBA program and how I would generate impact for the community at large. By taking these steps, I feel that I was able to become more than just my resume and application essays, but a prospective student who was driven to make positive organizational changes during his MBA tenure and beyond.” — Richard Williamson, Georgetown McDonough School of Business

Chris Poldoian, INSEAD: “Chat one-on-one with students. These conversations offer a level of specificity and candor that you’ll never get in a school sanctioned info session.”

“It’s OK if your path is not linear; it’s about the development and evolvement of your passions that really speaks volumes. What could you read about for hours or debate about in any conversation? Show that story. And if you’re unsure, allow yourself to explore and be a beginner – something we often forget to do as an adult.” — Ragini Bhattacharya, MIT Sloan School of Management

“The advice I would give to any prospective student is to not try to play the role of a member of the admissions team. Don’t waste precious space on your application telling them what you think they want to hear. The application process is a great opportunity for you to learn more about yourself and what drives you. Let it shine. Use the excitement that comes with being accepted to CBS to motivate you to put together the most complete application. Engage with the CBS community throughout the process and demonstrate that you are passionate about getting your MBA from CBS. The rest will fall into place.” — Edward Patterson, Columbia Business School

“INSEAD is a unique school with an equally unique application process that includes two alumni interviews and a myriad of short and long answer essays. It’s easy to lose the forest for the trees; to me, the through-line of your application should be a commitment to a global perspective through international experiences. Make sure it’s clear in your interviews and essays that foreign immersion is what you really want – not just a touristic jaunt. Be ready to talk about your formative moments abroad, instances of culture shock, and the ways you handle change.

“Chat one-on-one with students. These conversations offer a level of specificity and candor that you’ll never get in a school sanctioned info session. I’d also recommend speaking not just with current students but also with alums at different stages of their career. An MBA means different things to you when you’re one year out of school versus when you’re one-to-five years out versus when you’re ten-to- fifteen years out. Your degree (and whatever debt you accrue) is with you long after you graduate, so it’s good to think about this as a long-term investment.” — Chris Poldoian, INSEAD


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.