Why do B-Schools Care About "Fit"?

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"Why our school?" It's almost impossible to apply for business school and not face some variation on this prompt. Some examples:

"¢ Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you? (CBS)
"¢ Why Stanford? (GSB)
"¢ How will the Booth MBA help you achieve your immediate and long-term post-MBA career goals? (Booth)

No matter how the question is asked, it boils down to this: You need to prove that you are seriously committed to the target program. Why do adcom members care about your level of commitment? Well, if you ask them, they'll say it's because they want you to "get the most out of the experience," or "find a program that matches best with your career goals," or "share the values we're trying to foster." But these reasons are mostly marketing. The reality is that the B-school industry has pressing material reasons to strongly prefer the "better fit."

The most expensive mistake an adcom can make is admitting someone who drops out after a few weeks on campus. That student's seat, which could have netted tens of thousands in tuition dollars, now has to sit empty until the next application season. For this reason, the dropout rate is one of an admissions dean's most important performance indicators. Admissions officers want to pick applicants who are committed to their school not (only) because they're concerned about your campus experience, but (also) because ultimately their jobs are at stake.

So how do we go about reassuring the adcom that your commitment to their school is deep and genuine? It's actually not as hard as you may think. The key is simply to identify a few things that ONLY YOU need that ONLY XYZ B-SCHOOL has. If the school's offerings are a unique and irreplaceable stepping stone to your ambitions, then you HAVE to attend their school. Simple as that.

We can identify those magic "things only you need that only XYZ school has" using the following three step process:

1. State your goals, being as specific as possible about what exactly you hope to do. "I want to work in investment banking" is way too vague, think more along the lines of "I want to become a Senior Product Manager at a major tech company like Google, Apple or Baidu, with a focus on revolutionary mapping products for self-driving cars..."
2. Identify your GAPS-why you CAN'T achieve your goals RIGHT NOW. Again, specificity is key. Your gap should be the sort of thing that would be addressed in a second year MBA elective, for example "I need to learn how to manage large cross-border R&D projects." Do NOT say something like "I need to develop more well-rounded general management skills." That's a gap that every MBA candidate shares, and every B-school can address-it doesn't advance your case for this school.
3. Indicate a specific offering at your target school that can address each gap. The core lessons of MBA programs are pretty similar, so saying that you're excited about a schools' introductory leadership seminar or strategy course is not going to cut it. Instead, focus in on something that's unique to your target school. Oftentimes, that's a person: "I am interested in XYZ school because of it's fantastic Leadership 101 experiential learning course" becomes "I am excited to take Leadership 101 with Professor Smith, whose X years of experience at my target post-MBA employer will be invaluable..."

The examples above should help get your brainstorming started. Still struggling to prove that you "fit" at an elite MBA? Reach out in the comments and we'd be happy to help.
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