We often find ourselves chatting with multiple clients who were focused so intently on everything they were going to take from their MBA programs (including roommates’ jewelry – kidding…) that they weren’t paying attention to what admissions officers are obsessed with: How will this person enhance or contribute to the school?
Every program, and certainly the top schools request within the MBA application that each prospective student indicate “how they will contribute to the school”. Of course, if the situation were that obvious and prospects didn’t flub it…frequently, we would not be spending your time and ours missing reruns of Law & Order and the baseball playoffs reading and writing this short vignette. The schools never ask the question that directly as the request can come in many forms and even sometimes as part of other questions. These forms may include:
- “Why do you want to go to ‘School X’”
- “Trace your career progression”
- “How will you introduce yourself to your classmates”
With the question never stated directly and candidates already not aware of the need to answer this question generally (even if it is not specifically asked), the potential for death by negligence is exceptionally high. Too often, as MBA admissions consultants, we see MBA admissions essays which show only the perspective of why the candidate wants to attend an MBA program as opposed to what he/she is seeking to contribute. While these feelings may be true in answering the question about why you want to go to School X, it is critical for MBA applicants to balance this focus on what they will derive from the program with a focus on what they will offer. The reasons that candidates typically offer are:
- Fulfilling a lifelong dream
- Ability to become very financially successful, nab the corner office, drive the Benz, and hope to tee it up with Phil Mickelson, or trade ground strokes with Serena (don’t get her angry), etc…you get the point.
Of course, those are the reasons, but how does that help an admissions committee member who is trying to decide which one out of five, six or ten MBA applicants deserves a seat in a program? Not very much. Neither does praising the school to no end, recounting the rankings, detailing famous alumni who have attended, deals that have occurred led by specific alumni, etc….Do you remember how annoying it was in high school when all the people trying to date you would just endlessly fawn all over you and tell you how great you are? Wait….we don’t remember either. But, when I observed it, I realized that the person who often “won” that contest often really made an impression on how they were going to make things fun, interesting, better for the person they were dating. They didn’t just praise them to the high heavens. Remember, you’re applying to impress MBA admissions, not to get a job with the school’s brochure committee.
Your MBA essay writing needs to include a focus on the admissions committee’s perspective. While they certainly want to verify that you possess the intellectual horsepower, ability to do the work, likelihood of gaining employment, and desire to attend their specific program, the great MBA candidates (or at least those who prepare great MBA applications – not necessarily the same thing) offer much more: They appeal to the MBA admissions committee’s desire to assemble a class which has unique individuals capable and committed to making a varied contributions to the MBA community. Once you have demonstrated you are admissible by the aforementioned standards, the MBA admissions committee is most concerned about “fit” which is largely your ability to enhance the experience for your other MBA classmates. Do you wonder who gets admitted to very competitive programs? Those people who make the programs better for others.
So, as an MBA applicant, you should include a focus on how you will contribute in a few key areas:
- Academically within the classroom
- Academically beyond the classroom (i.e. “learning/study teams”)
- With regard to your extracurricular activities
- With regard to being an alumnus (where you will spend most of your days)
Transplant yourself into the shoes of an MBA admissions officer who is composing their class for the demanding professors to educate. When you write your MBA essays, be sure to indicate how you will leave your mark beyond your career in the pursuit of impacting others and you will be well-situated to make a competitive run.