MBA Admissions: Meaningful Becoming Exceptional

by on October 4th, 2017

In the previous blog post, I tried to give some guidance on what “exceptional” looks like in business school. And it probably isn’t you. Sorry.

Next, the question becomes, how does the average person—who didn’t play professional sports, found their own company, or circumnavigate the globe—get in to a top MBA program? The answer is that they were able to take what is meaningful to them and turn it into the exceptional application that shares who they are and why business school is a part of their master plan.

With every example of your achievements, you should ask yourself, “Why does this matter to the admissions committee?” How will it influence who you become as a classmate and as a professional?

Let’s say you ran a marathon. This is a great achievement; but why would the adcom care? Well, if you never had run a marathon before maybe it speaks to your motivation, about overcoming barriers, or a demonstration of the grit you have shown in many other ways. Business schools like “grit” in their candidates, and if that is a trait you can demonstrate throughout your life, that should be shared.

Maybe you ran a marathon for a charity that is meaningful to you. For example, a charity fighting AIDS. Perhaps this is the same motivation that has sparked your goal of working in biotech, or doing pharmaceutical sales to get AIDS drugs into the hands of more people. This is interesting and now I see how all the disparate pieces of your life fit together.

Remember business schools are not looking for resumes, they are looking for people. People who have personal achievements that they are proud of for very specific reasons. Not achievements that simply check a box and, even worse, represent what you think admissions committees want to hear.

So, if I am an MBA admissions officer and Maya DiRado’s resume comes across my desk, I will see all her achievements pretty quickly but what I really will want to understand is “why?” Why did she do all these things? Why did it matter to her? How does it lay the groundwork for her future? And even Maya DiRado better have some pretty good answers.

Let’s acknowledge, Maya’s almost certainly getting into any business school she wants to go to. But, let’s also acknowledge there are likely other Olympians or Navy Seals or Explorers who are also gunning for that same seat. Or maybe some dark horse knocks her off the podium because they were more self-aware about the whys of their life and can share that their compelling narrative in an essay that shows more than what they have done but who they are. And they don’t even have to win an Olympic medal to do that.

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