5 Business School Application Hacks
The business school applications process is a rigorous and intimidating triathlon of sorts, a multi-stage event requiring endurance, speed, and keen strategy. Moreover, it requires a tri-athlete’s ability to separate oneself from the herd of sharp-elbowed competitors.
Last year, only 1 in 10 applicants were accepted to the top-ranked business schools in the United States – Harvard Business School, The Wharton School and Stanford Graduate School of Business. The Yale School of Management rejected 89 of every 100 candidates while MIT’s Sloan School of Management passed on 91 out of 100.
There are no shortcuts to preparing a compelling application package for any of the top-ranked U.S. schools on your list. However, I have five hacks to help you differentiate yourself from a large pool of generally qualified candidates and to improve your chances of getting a seat in your preferred MBA program.
1. Answer these “three whys”
At the core of every business school application essay are these three questions — Why an MBA? Why now? Why here? Answers to these questions help the Admissions Committee understand who you are, what your motivation is, what your dreams are, and why their business school is uniquely right for you (and vice versa). These questions should be addressed early, re-visited often and revised carefully as your application process evolves; not just to improve your essays but, also, to ensure your business school strategy truly reflects your personal needs and professional ambitions. It is not sufficient to determine where you want to go, you must determine where you could and should go.
2. Choose the best recommenders — your mentors
Start by identifying and approaching your recommenders. The best recommenders are usually mentors – people who are invested in your success. Rather than just asking an old boss or senior colleague to write a letter on your behalf, first ask them to lunch to learn their thoughts on you attending business school. Find out if they attended business school and ask their advice on business school selection.
Even if you only have a few weeks or months to build the relationship, an impactful recommendation is one that is genuine in tone, specific in detail and able to attest to your character and potential, as opposed to simply providing a third-party recitation of your accomplishments.
A high-profile recommender, while impressive, can be counter-productive if the recommendation is more about his/her exalted past than your potential future.
3. Learn the application process.
Assess how many schools you intend to apply to and how important each school is to you. Are you shooting for the moon and only applying to your dream schools because you have the luxury of trying again next year? Are you casting your net far and wide to ensure you’ll be in a business school – some school, somewhere – when the next cohort convenes?
Most applicants have a finite amount of time and resources to commit to the application process, so plan carefully. How many essays will you need to write? Which you will you write first? How can you adapt essays for multiple applications? Which schools will you visit and when? Local schools are convenient but it may be worthwhile it to take a sojourn to, say, the southeast to check out Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, UVA’s Darden School of Business, or Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.
Commit your resources carefully and be efficient with your time and energy.
4. Get to know each school on your application list.
One of the biggest mistakes applicants make is treating all the top schools alike and submitting the same essays to different schools. In a process where you must distinguish yourself from the next 9 or 10 candidates, cutting and pasting essays will get you rejected very quickly.
If you want to show a school that you know how special it is, get to know it. Do your homework on the school, talk to recent alumni and current students, and figure out how it is truly different. This will help you pare down your list and will be a great way to avoid sending a recycled Stanford essay to MIT.
Each top school publishes carefully considered marketing materials that contain a specific self-referencing tone and vocabulary. One school might highlight its diverse international alumni network while another might emphasize its small class size and unique teaching methods.
5. Let the school get to know you.
In the end, the admissions process is very human. There are real people reading your application and thinking, “Is this a person who will enrich our academic community?” Show the admissions committee that you are that person, even before they see your application. This means attending events, participating in webinars, talking to current students, and making a real connection with the admissions staff.
Being recognized and remembered for your good human qualities provides a tremendous leg up when your application is finally opened for its initial review.
The time, energy and money you put into the MBA application process are significant so plan carefully before launching into the full process. Think carefully and plan strategically so that, once you get going, you will have ample time to thoughtfully address these five business school hacks to maximize your admissions potential.
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Stratus Admissions Counseling is a full-service admissions counseling firm distinguished by its team based, multi-step process ensuring each application is crafted for optimum impact. Our MBA counseling team has a representative from virtually every top 20 MBA program, enabling us to provide school-specific guidance.