MIT’s App Is Different. How To Ace It

If you are applying to MBA programs at MIT Sloan School of Management as well as other schools, you probably have already discovered that the Sloan application is different.

Unlike other M7 schools, MIT does not require a written essay. Instead, they require a one-minute video in the form of an introduction, a resume formatted to their particular specifications, and two other elements no other school asks for: a cover letter and an organizational chart showing where you fit in your company.

If you’re selected to interview for admission, you will need to answer two short pre-interview essay questions. 

What is Sloan up to here? What are they looking for? 

Like most other schools, MIT Sloan says they want to know your story and the experiences that shaped who you are today. However, they take a different path to elicit that story. MIT Sloan’s goal is to try to prevent applicants from repurposing a response from another school’s application so that you present your authentic self in a fresh way. 

Your challenge is to present your authentic self and to demonstrate you are the “curious, passionate, analytical” candidate they seek, within the fairly rigid confines of a resume, cover letter, and org chart. The video, of course, offers latitude and creativity, but it’s only 60 seconds. 

How do you do that? First, understand the school mindset and use every element of the application to align yourself with the kind of student they are looking for. 


Fit Yourself To The Sloan Ethos

Sloan wants brilliant builders. The MIT motto — Mens et manus – (mind & hand) tells us that MIT is a community of exceptional thinkers and great minds who can also make their plans come to life. (MIT chose the beaver as its mascot because of its engineering brilliance and industrious nature.) Added to that, the Sloan School’s tagline, “Ideas made to matter,” emphasizes that they are looking for significant impact. They don’t want students that focus on incremental improvements on some technical widget. They want students who reinvent entire systems to make a difference in the world.

Beyond the pillars of their brand personality of “Smart. Open. Grounded. Inventive,” Sloan is looking for candidates who are: 

  1. Immersive – Those who will make the most out of the incredible opportunities at MIT, both academic and non-academic.
  2. Community builders – Those whose presence will enhance the experience of other students. They want to know you will proactively contribute to help others and that you’ll spend your free time debating ideas with your classmates rather than watching TV alone. They look for evidence of life experiences you are willing to share. For example, are you willing to make introductions to your personal network and help your classmates meet their next co-founder, investor or client?
  3. Change-makers – Those who are thoughtful leaders with exceptional intellectual abilities, drive and determination to put their stamp on the world. 
  4. True doers – Those who are independent, authentic and fearlessly creative.
  5. Unconventional thinkers – Those who can redefine solutions to conventional problems with cutting-edge ideas. 


Highlighting Your Assets

How can you convey that you fit that profile in your cover letter, resume and video essay?

  • Show game-changing improvements. Your stories should reflect your history of applying your knowledge and ideas in pragmatic ways to build and create. Show your passion and drive to turn your ideas into reality.
  • Show the big picture. Tell stories about situations where you envisioned and successfully executed a big change rather than an incremental tweak. For example, explain how you implemented a completely different process for how a project is planned, rather than trying to improve the efficiency of each project stage.
  • Show you’re comfortable outside the box. When you describe a successful project, focus on your ability to think and act independently and move forward in spite of the risk that others around you will disapprove. This is a delicate balancing act, because you also want to come across as being collaborative and a team player, so make sure you show both sides of the process. 
  • Show that you lift others. Find a way to weave into your stories the ways in which you connect and elevate peers and colleagues. For example, talk about how you initiated a “lunch & learn” for your extended team to help them learn new skills, or you took on additional responsibilities to mentor the incoming employees. Demonstrate that you will go above and beyond to engage with extracurricular activities, initiate activities yourself and be a proactive force for good.

Want more advice?
I go into more depth on the MIT Sloan app in this recent webinar, and my colleagues have shared specific guidance on the org chart and video essay.


Tsahala David brings a unique combination of tech industry experience to her role as an expert coach at Fortuna Admissions. She is an MIT Sloan alumna, a founder and CEO of a software company, and a former strategic account executive at companies such as IBM and Salesforce. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.

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