Applying to business school means that you need to put together the best possible version of who you are, what you’ve done and what you want to do in the future — a brand that will help define you to MBA programs. See below for some tips on how to package yourself as a compelling applicant for business school.
1. Be Genuine.
There is only one you, so don’t try to be someone you’re not. Admissions committees are looking for such diversity across cultures, work experience, geography, and personal background that trying to tell someone else’s story won’t help you anyway. The best brand you can be is your own.
2. Spend Time on Self-Reflection.
Start the application process early so you have enough time for self-reflection and introspection.
• What REALLY motivates you?
• What are your career aspirations – what do you want to do long-term?
• What is your short-term post-MBA goal?
• What skills, knowledge and relationships do you need to develop to get you to that short-term goal?
• How has your experience prepared you?
• What do you need from an MBA?
• What do you bring to an MBA program? Everyone is expected to bring their unique experiences and perspectives to share with others.
Synthesize your reflections into themes about yourself. Are you an inspirational leader? Creative problem solver? A cultural bridge between headquarters and a specific country?
3. Do Your Research.
Now learn the key themes of different MBA programs you’re considering. Every school has its own themes and buzzwords. Find ways to connect YOUR themes with the themes of each school.
Beyond each school’s key themes, you should think about 4 Cs when researching MBA programs. Find the best fit for you across these areas:
• Curriculum – core plus electives, teaching styles, majors or concentrations
• Clubs – conferences, seminars, experiential learning. Outside the classroom experiences
• Community/Culture – can you find your people at a certain school? Is it collaborative or more competitive?
• Connections –Engage with students, alumni, admissions staff. Attend webinars, tour events, targeted admissions events (Forte, military, MLT, Consortium, LGBTQ)
4. Take a Structured Approach to Writing.
When it’s time to start working on your MBA essays, first read the fine print. The guidance beyond the prompt itself provides hints as to what each MBA program is looking for. Start with outlines. This is so important. Outlines put together the framework to answer the question and make sure that you are communicating what you want to share about yourself. Ask for independent review and feedback. For each set of essays, let them ‘rest’ for a few days so you can revisit with a fresh set of eyes.
Resist temptation to re-use content. Even with the same essay prompt, you can’t use the same essay because you need to incorporate an MBA program’s themes.
5. Guide Your Recommenders.
Once you’ve chosen your two recommenders, let them know why you want an MBA and the brand you’re presenting. Share your key themes so they can help paint a holistic picture of you. Remind them of your key accomplishments that they can highlight and tell them the more specific they are, the better. They should SHOW not TELL when giving details about your work. It’s much better to let an example show that you are a creative problem-solver than for your recommender to simply say you are one. And the most important recommender advice is for you to step back after you have given them the background information they need. Trust the process!
Admissions committees look at MBA applications holistically, so it is important that all parts of your application are aligned – resume, essays, short answers and recommendations.