Chandler's MBA Reflections: A Journey of Inspiration
Stacy Blackman’s B-Schooled podcast is chockful of tips and inspiration for every leg of your MBA application journey. Often, it’s the hosts' personal experiences that make it such a unique resource in the MBA admissions landscape. That’s why today, we’re recapping some vital takeaways SBC consultant and B-Schooled host Chandler Arnold has shared on the pod. Don’t miss Chandler’s MBA reflections on three things he wishes he had known when applying to business school.
“I wish I had been more honest and vulnerable in my essays.”
Chandler: Schools are increasingly focused on emotional intelligence. In reading your essays, they want to connect with you to understand how you've learned and grown. They want to understand authentically who you are.
When I applied, it was important for me to talk about being a member of the LGBTQ community. But it took me a long time to figure out how I wanted to tell that story.
Ultimately, that experience became an onramp to a larger discussion about what I learned and how it changed me. I also explored how it made me a stronger, more empathetic leader, as well as better able to connect with others in all facets of my life.
If you’ve battled cancer, survived a traumatic event, or had a life-changing experience you want to share, that’s great. But know this:
It’s not about the thing that happened to you. Rather, it’s about how you responded to that event, what you learned from it, and how you grew. That's what these business schools want to understand. It may sound like a subtle distinction, but it’s really an important one. If you reread your essay and you still ask yourself, “So, why is this important? How did I grow from this experience?” You probably haven't pushed yourself far enough.
You may have picked the wrong example as a jumping-off point. Or, more likely, you haven’t leaned into that experience enough to really share your own vulnerabilities and growth.
“I wish I hadn’t spent so much time worrying that I wasn’t what the admissions officers were looking for.”
Chandler: I was kind of obsessed with the fact that I wasn't a typical MBA candidate. For example, I had spent my whole career working for one nonprofit organization and was worried that my accomplishments wouldn't stand out or resonate with an audience that wasn't used to reading nonprofit resumes.
To get around that, I formatted my resume to highlight the quantifiable results I'd driven. I put a big focus on quantifying successes not only in terms of dollars raised or children reached, but also in terms of how I performed relative to the goal, relative to expectations, and relative to performance in previous years.
And that was all good. But I was still trying to pretzel myself into what I thought an MBA student was supposed to be. Looking back, I should have leaned much more into who I was and what made me different, unique, and special relative to all the other applications they reviewed.
I now realize that the two things that I was most worried about at the time—being gay and coming from a social enterprise background—were probably incredibly helpful in terms of helping me stand out and distinguish myself.
“I wish I had done more homework.”
Chandler: Now, I'm not talking about traditional homework here. And I'm not even talking about the homework of understanding what makes school X different or unique versus school Y. Obviously you should do all of that. I'm talking about more student and alumni-centered homework—something I didn't realize was a possibility when I applied.
Knowing what I know now, I say, think about the clubs, student groups, or affinity groups you might like to get involved with. Next, figure out who those co-presidents are and reach out to them.
Now, I was the president of a few clubs at my own business school. Frequently, folks would reach out to me and say, “Hey, I'm an admitted student. I'd love to learn more about the social impact club. Do you have 15 minutes that we might have a quick phone conversation?” And I always said yes.
I've worked with tons of clients who've reached out to a ton of current students and something like 85-95% of them are happy to have a short conversation. That's a great way to learn about the program and specific topics or issue areas you're interested in.
Tap Into the School’s Alums, Too
Chandler: Another thing I'd suggest is doing that same “homework” with alums from your dream school—especially those with a similar background or doing work you’d like to do after graduation. This is easier to figure out than it might first sound with Google, LinkedIn, and alumni magazines.
A lot of my clients have been able to say something like, “I'm coming from the entertainment world. I want to go to Fuqua, and I want to do X, Y, and Z after graduation. Oh, wow. Here's an alum from Fuqua who's doing X, Y, Z that came from a similar background.” Suddenly, they’ve identified someone who’s 10 years ahead on their own career progression and came from a similar spot.
You can do all kinds of things with that information. Most importantly, you can use them as proof that someone from your background can thrive at that school and do what you want to do after graduation. Reach out to that person to learn more about their experiences. If you ask for 15 or 20 minutes, most people will say yes to a prospective student.
Even if you don't connect in person, you can learn a great deal by becoming students of the career paths of the people who have gone before you.
We hope you've gleaned some helpful takeaways from Chandler's MBA reflections as an applicant. The podcast episode with this advice includes an additional segment on how Chandler rocked his MBA interviews, so give it a listen for the complete scoop.
Each week on B-Schooled, you'll hear expert insights like these from our seasoned hosts and their guests. You can check out the archive here, or on any of the major podcast platforms.
Stacy Blackman Consulting is the only MBA admissions firm with a complete panel of former Admissions Officers from every M7 program and the elite European MBA programs. We offer multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership to hourly help with essay editing, interview prep, and MBA resume review. Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant.