MBA Admissions: Unconventional Ideas That Get Acceptance Letters

Ask any adcom, they’ll tell you. After a while, applicants all start to sound alike.

Blah, blah, blah – Equity and impact. Blah blah, blah – Journey and change. Cliché-after-cliché. Adcoms just shake their heads. Applicants don’t quantify their big achievement or detail its significance All the same gaps, missed opportunities, and lack of self-awareness.

Their messaging isn’t clear. Their stories aren’t memorable. Their candidacy doesn’t inspire advocacy. Sometimes, it’s like applicants are oblivious to just how competitive the process really is!


Bruce Crawford, MIT (Sloan

Not every MBA applicant falls into this trap. They devise a strategy or integrate a device to stand out. In the process, they open the door to deeper conversations. Three years ago, Bruce Crawford decided to embrace who he was. A graduate of Brigham Young University – the Idaho version – Crawford didn’t shy away from his unorthodox background. Instead, he understood how his uniqueness brought value – and leveraged it to the hilt in his MIT Sloan application.

“I was proud of my unconventional journey through unranked universities, including some community college. I embraced my past auto mechanic experience by recording my intro video from underneath a car. I communicated honestly how those experiences made me who I am today, and fortunately MIT thought that I fit with their culture.”

Other candidates went above-and-beyond. Take Jon Ilani, a ’23 alum of the Johns Hopkins University Carey School. As an undergrad, he earned a 4.0 GPA in Business and Finance from UC Berkeley – one of the top business programs in the United States. Looking to transition into healthcare, Ilani took extra steps to show Carey’s admissions team just how badly he wanted a spot in their MBA program.

“I completed three health care certificates from prestigious institutions. I believe the admissions team at Carey saw I was taking concrete steps towards achieving my goals.”


Looking to get into the Class of 2026 with your dream school. Here are some unique – yet successful – strategies applied by this year’s Best & Brightest MBAs and MBAs To Watch.

1) Position Yourself As An Expert: “I shared the links of my articles [around 35] that I have published on LinkedIn in my application process, and this convinced the admission committee that I had something concrete to contribute to the cohort.”
Himanshu Shekhar Ojha, Warwick Business School

2) Emphasize ‘How’ Over ‘What’: “In my application and behavioral questions, I focused on what I wanted the interviewer to take away from each of my answers and stories. I wanted each answer to showcase a particular trait or skill so the interviewer could get to know me within the 30 minutes. Thus, I focused less on what I did and more on how I did it. To make sure I conveyed my answers succinctly, I spent a lot of time preparing for the interviews and knew how I wanted to answer the top thirty or so most popular interview questions.”
Allison Lyons, Yale SOM

Cynthia Vargas Hernández,, University of Washington (Foster)

3) Share Your Shortcomings: “In my MBA application essay, I was open and vulnerable about how I struggled in my first few months as a teacher. Sharing how I faced failure, overcame it, and emerged stronger than before highlighted my resilience and determination. It also demonstrated my self-awareness, a crucial quality for success in business school. I believe this made my application stand out to the admissions committee and showed them that I was committed to personal growth and learning.”
Eric Saldanha, Georgetown University (McDonough)

4) Find A Support Group: “I’m a first-generation college student, and usually, anything related to higher education is new to me and my family. I knew I needed outside help if I was going to apply to business school, especially US business schools whose processes are more complex and involved. I joined the Forté MBA launch program, which helped me connect with other women who are pursuing a graduate degree in business. Through this program, I received mentorship, test prep help, interview advice, and support during my application journey. Once invited to interview, I was very intentional about sharing my real personal story, my family, and my culture, and not just focusing on my success stories but owning the failures that helped me get here.”
Cynthia Vargas Hernández, University of Washington (Foster)

5) Put Everything Out There: “Many people tell me that my edge comes from my ability to tell my story vulnerably and authentically. My story is one filled with trauma and loss but also strength and encouragement. When I wrote my Darden essays, I reminded myself of the power of my story. So when I wrote, I shared snippets of short stories, writing in a conversational way that made the reader want to know more. I shared highlights from my life – the wins and accomplishments – and the tougher times, highlighting how I’ve overcome them with the support of a fantastic “village” (family and friends). I was human. I embraced that, and I think that spoke to the heads AND hearts of the admissions team.”
Tyler Kelley, University of Virginia (Darden)

6) Base Everything Off Your ‘Why’: “Before I started business school, I was unhappy with my career. While I loved the people I worked with, I was not doing a job that I was excited about. I sat and had a conversation with my family to figure out where I wanted my career to go then I wrote it down. I wrote down what I was proud of from my last job and what I thought I was missing. The things I wrote down helped me to craft my story and iron out what I wanted from my MBA program. I told that story (or some variation of that story) to every interviewer that would listen. I think knowing your story and your why is not only important in the application process, but it is what gets you through those hard days in the MBA program. When I am struggling with school, I go back to my notebook to remember my why. “
Shanae Hillhouse (Smith), Emory University (Goizueta)







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