Wharton Admit: What I Wish I Knew Before Applying For An MBA

What I Wish I Knew Before Applying For An MBA

Since I got into the MBA program at the Wharton School, I’ve received messages from friends, colleagues, and even people I’ve never met, all asking the same question: How can I raise my chances of getting into a top program?

I was an amateur applicant. I didn’t sufficiently ask that question. There is no shortage of MBA admissions pages or advice. I hope this one can be helpful and differentiated. At a minimum, in hindsight, here is what I wish I knew:

  • Why matters more than ‘what’
  • So much of your application is about your story. Who you are. What you do. Why you do what you do. I found the Stanford Essay to be the best place to start. I could then apply that message to the other essays. 
  • It is easy to get stumped staring at your laptop. Go on long walks or do whatever gets you in the ‘flow state’ to ruminate. What are you passionate about? What drives you? What were moments that were critical in your life? Why did they matter? 
  • It is okay for your answer to change over time. You should expect it to. Record your answers so you can go back to them. For example, I’m an extroverted thinker. I need to talk through things to make sense of them. As embarrassing as it might be, I would record my voice thinking out loud. Do what works for you.
  • To avoid ‘choking under pressure’ mimic the exam when you study 
  • I underestimated the GMAT, wasn’t smart about studying for it, and didn’t perform at my full potential on my first try. Sian Beilock, a cognitive scientist and Dartmouth College’s current President, offers a solution to this problem – I linked her TED talk should you like to dive in.  
  • Here’s what that meant for the GMAT: Start as early as you possibly can. And once you do, view it as your committed mission to get through it. Two hours on the weekend isn’t enough. Dedicate a part of each day to repeatedly solve questions. Time yourself. The exam has a clock. It is digital. And the questions vary in difficulty based on your performance. Mimic the exam as often as possible. 
  • Target Test Prep is structured to do exactly that at minimal relative cost. I wish I knew about it sooner. 
  • Set a date to take the exam. Book it and work towards it. It will ensure you stay on track. Plan on needing to take it at least twice. If you can do that before Round 1, you’re already ahead.
  • Get Involved
  • Good scores and a fancy job may not be enough. Schools want to see that you can have a positive impact. Get involved. Lead, compete, contribute, participate. Do something that is meaningful to you. It may be starting a new community, joining a junior board, volunteering. Aspire to make a difference. 
  • Engage in meaningful conversations with your recommenders.
  • Think of yourself as a lawyer or debater building a case: Why should you have a spot in that school? Your application should provide holistic evidence that hangs together. 
  • Discuss with your recommender what you are presenting in your essays and whether you’d want them to strengthen that argument or diversify it through different aspects of who you are. 
  • Trust yourself and thank those around you.
  • Applying for a graduate degree can be intimidating. At times, I had crippling self-doubt. It is okay. You are not the only one going through that. Your fortitude lies in how you deal with adversity and how quickly you overcome it. 
  • Worst-case scenario, you get rejected (this time). 
  • You will grow through self-reflection and exploration. Value that. Have fun with it. 
  • Make sure to show gratitude to all those around you. They are proud of you, and that won’t change whether you get into your top choice or not.

Memi Kirikoglu will be a first-year MBA student at Wharton this year

Wharton-bound Memi has been responsible for Global New Business Development at Bridgewater Associates , a premier $150B asset management firm focused on delivering unique insight and partnership for the most sophisticated institutional investors. Previously she served in the Office of the CEO, working with David McCormick, partnering on the firm’s strategic agenda and business oversight. Before joining Bridgewater, Memi was a Product Manager at the Dow Jones Innovation Lab developing mobile apps for the Wall Street Journal.

Memi is on the Associate Board of the Council for Economic Education, is an Industry Mentor and volunteer for Invest in Girls and serves as an advisor for BUILT BY GIRLS. She is a Computer Science and Economics graduate of University of California, Berkeley.

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