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How to Write a Great MIT Sloan Cover Letter
The essentials of getting into MIT Sloan are to demonstrate a past full of leadership and entrepreneurial qualities while establishing a personal idea for the future. The MBA essays provide a great opportunity to showcase these areas and set yourself apart from other applicants.
If they’re like the navy, then MIT Sloan students are like pirates, with a can-do spirit that at times bends the rules.
At Sloan, it’s about the four-H’s: the Heart to strive, the Head to keep up, the Hands to get things done, and the Home to take risks in a supportive environment. The ideal candidate is looking for the big treasure chest – innovation-driven entrepreneurship, market disruption, and economic transformation. It’s a meritocracy, a place where you can be older, less traditional, and maybe just a little wild in your thinking but accomplished in your doing.
You either get it or you don’t. If you get it – it’s the only place for you: if you don’t, maybe somewhere else is a better match. Apparently, a lot of people think they get it; this past year, applications were up 35%. That means 6000 applicants for 350 slots in the MBA program. If you do the math – and they always do at MIT – this year’s acceptance rate is between 7% and 9%. Yikes!
In real terms, how does this manifest itself – and maybe more importantly for our purposes, how does all this affect your application? Well, it all starts with an application that feels somewhat different: simpler and harder simultaneously:
Please submit a cover letter seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA Program. Your letter should conform to a standard business correspondence and be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Senior Director of Admissions. (250 words or fewer)
What this really is asking about is what’ve you done, not what you dream about doing. Sloan’s thinking is if you’ve done it in the past, you can do it in the future. Therefore, the cover letter should focus on past achievements and how all the successes that have come before naturally lead to MIT. Of course, some mention should be made about where the candidate is going, but far more words should be used on the details of past experiences and how they reflect on the candidate’s overall capacity to be successful as a professional going forward.
It is important to note that these experiences and past successes should be highly focused on managerial skills, motivations, team work, leadership, grit, drive, and, of course, entrepreneurship rather than on simple tactical skills. The candidate should not bother laying out their quant skills or that they are really a math person, Sloan will figure this out by their GPA, GMAT score and recommendations. Interestingly, the GPA and GMAT scores at Sloan are lower than expected, likely due to Sloan accepting some older, non-traditional students, who have the pirate-spirit they are seeking.
What may be a quirk to MIT is that not only do they want MIT to be the candidate’s top choice for business school, in some sense they want it to be their only choice. This means the candidate must be very clear about why Sloan and why only Sloan. Sloan takes great pride in the connections it has to the rest of campus, and the broader entrepreneurial community in which it plays an out-sized part (much better than Silicon Valley they claim). A successful applicant stresses being part of the MIT universe and why it’s important to them.
Of course, the process doesn’t quite end there, because there’s the optional essay that’s sort of mandatory.
The Admissions Committee invites you to share additional information about yourself, in any format. If you choose a multimedia format, please host the information on a website and provide us with the URL.
Please keep all videos and media limited to 2:00 minutes total in length.
Please keep all written essays to 500 words or less.
Just another opportunity to “show not tell.” As noted with regard to the first essay/cover letter, there are essentially two levers to push on when applying to MIT. The first is that you have actually done stuff; the second is that MIT is your first and only choice.
Give it to them again: maybe something else entrepreneurial you’ve done, or very specific reasons about why MIT/Sloan/Kendall Square (Sloan’s home).
It is also a good place to explore the nuances that are required for achieving great results. For example, not just talking about the product you created but the internal dynamics of the company (from a team building perspective: What worked, What didn’t? What do you wish you knew when? When leading an organization, how did your own perspective change over time? What do you still need to learn as a manager? Etc.)
One slightly off-topic point but worth mentioning is that Sloan is highly focused on organizational behavior, and the best and most successful essays I have read focus on just this. Its faculty and alumni produce books like “The Fifth Discipline,” “Reengineering the Corporation,” and talk a lot about the “Learning Organization” and organizational theory. An applicant who brings this perspective into their essays will be well-served.
In other words, don’t forget to talk about the heart of the pirate and how esprit de corps matters, more so when you’re pulling together the classic Sloan team for the start-up competition: the 19-year old undergraduate engineer, the French lawyer, the 33-year old African teacher, the Olympic rower and the woman who started the mountaineering business. After all, this is the type of company that is going to change the world.
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