By: David Mainiero, inGenius prep – Admissions Experts
We’ve interviewed hundreds of current and former admissions officers from the top business schools: HBS, Wharton, Stanford, Sloan, Kellogg, Booth – and the list goes on. Although every school is slightly different, we have distilled from these interviews some common threads of advice that every business school applicant should consider before writing and submitting their applications. Here are three key points to consider.
1. Leadership really is that important – demonstrate leadership correctly
If you’re applying to business school, you probably already know that “leadership” is the admissions buzzword. Admissions officers want to know that during and after business school, you will be capable of organizing, directing, and motivating others. Leadership, then, is really shorthand for a collection of characteristics. These include the ability to take initiative, a collaborative spirit, confidence in your own ideas and talents, creativity, the ability to motivate others, etc.
However, many applicants think that “leadership” is synonymous with “excellence.” It is not. Leadership doesn’t mean that you have been at the top of your class, or even that you have been in a position of authority. There are plenty of “leaders” who lack the quality of leadership. In essence, don’t assume that holding a “leadership position” is indicative of “leadership” generally.
Leadership cannot be demonstrated merely by a recitation of promotions or positions held. Leadership is demonstrated by the results and progress achieved under your leadership. Thus, when writing your application, focus more on the proof that you are an effective leader, and less on the positions that gave you the opportunity to lead.
For example, if you worked in consulting before applying to business school, don’t explain all of the high-authority positions you maintained over various projects. Focus instead on how your leadership within those projects improved the end results, or what you learned from your tenure as a leader. What did you do differently than others? What results did you have? What important lessons did you learn?
- 2. Diversity is just as important as leadership, but you need to be “diverse with a purpose”
You’ve heard how important diversity is. I don’t need to tell you that. However, what few applicants seem to grasp is that diversity – particularly at the graduate or professional level – is not desirable solely for diversity’s sake. Specifically, your “diverse elements” need to afford you a unique set of skills or viewpoints that will contribute something new or special to your business school class (and beyond).
Are you from Samoa? Guam? Did you check all of the “underrepresented minority” boxes on your application? If so, you certainly have a claim to diversity, but you nonetheless need to explain why that diversity is significant to your candidacy for business school.
In short, candidates tend to think of diversity as being an end in itself, when it is really part-and-parcel of a broader qualification. That is, diversity comes in a million different shapes and sizes. What is important is not how diverse you are from a rigid racial, religious, socio-economic, or geographic perspective, but instead why your diversity is important to cultivating the best class possible.
Always remember that admissions officers are employees themselves, and their employers want to ensure that admitted students actually improve the quality of their class. Admitting students merely because they were born on a remote island is a promising way for admissions officers to lose their jobs. Thus, you need to communicate not just that you are diverse – but why an admissions officer should take your diversity into consideration. How will your diversity improve the classes your are apart of? If you are expounding upon your diversity without a convincing reason as to why it is relevant to an admissions officer, you will accomplish nothing.
- 3. Working at a premier consulting or financial group is not the credential you think it is
Every year, business schools are overwhelmed with applicants from the best investment banks, consulting groups, and private equity firms in the world. Take Harvard Business School, for example: exactly 50% of its Class of 2015 worked in one of those sectors prior to attending business school (see here). What does this mean for you?
First, if you’ve been working in consulting or finance for the past few years, you should approach your applications with the understanding that your job(s) will not be enough to get you into a competitive business school. You will be competing against thousands of other applicants who have the exact same employment history. Assuming you are a “shoo-in” based on your job is a surefire ticket to disappointment.
Second, if you are applying from a job in consulting or finance, you should focus on (or avoid, in the case of letter C below) three key issues in your application:
A) How your experiences at your employer differ from everyone else’s. Basically, imagine that you are competing against thousands of applicants who went to the same undergraduate school, and worked in the same industry. Why are your experiences better? What have you done that others have not?
B) The extra-curricular and personal activities that distinguish you from your most comparable peers. Did you start a small company? Do you work at a nonprofit or teach karate on the weekends? Whatever it is you do in your spare time, explain how and why it distinguishes you from your comparators.
C) Don’t discuss the incredible training you have received at your job. The admissions officers already know about your training. Decades of applicants before you had the same training. Perhaps worse, focusing on your training gives the impression that your most impressive credentials or qualifications are the mandatory training sessions that all of the other applicants have also had. Tell admissions officers what you did with that training; this way, they can be confident that after you graduate, the list of most impressive things you’ve done won’t just be the list of classes you took while at business school.
David Mainiero is a counselor at inGenius prep, an admissions counseling company that helps students improve their candidacy and perfect their applications for business school. To learn more about how inGenius prep can help you get into business school, you can visit their website or facebook page.