The Ultimate Guide:
How to Get Into Business School

Applying to bschool?

Freaked out by the complexity of the task in front of you? Eager to make the most of it without effing up? Worried the process will shatter your confidence sooner or later? I’m wearing my sagest wisest look and stroking my imaginary beard when I say this: I know you how feel.

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Applying to bschool is a very big deal. It’s a cool, crazy, stressful, hopeful, wonderful, scary, meaningful, life-changing process. And if you do it right, it can transform your life forever for the better.

If you’re successful in getting in and earning an MBA, you’ll be upgrading your career and gaining access to new resources and opportunities that you’ve so far only dreamed of.

But even the application process itself is a transformational journey. If you do it right, you’ll elevate your confidence, enhance your communication skills, heighten your ability to believe in yourself even in competitive, challenging environments, and upgrade the way you connect with people – bosses, superiors, interviewers, and any audience you want to impress.

Life is never about the destination, as they say, it’s about the journey.

Bschool is no different – the application isn’t just about getting in. It’s about getter better at all the things that will make you more successful once you graduate.

At least that’s how we see it here at Career Protocol. And this is based on over a decade of experience helping thousands of people get into their dream schools and improve their confidence and communication skills forever.

So get your favorite coffee or tea beverage and settle in. I’m going to share with you all the wisdom we’ve gained these many years, helping the world’s best and brightest achieve their MBA dreams.

Stick with me, and you’ll see. MBA apps don’t have to be painful and terrifying. They can be uplifting and fun!

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Here's what all's in here.

  1. Ditch the “what do they want to hear” mindset
  2. Focus first on what YOU want.
  3. Understand what school fit really means
  4. How to show you’re going to business school for the right reasons.
  5. How to show you have the right expectations for the MBA and for your target schools
  6. How to show you have done your research
  7. How to show you’ll you leave the place better than you found it
  8. How to show that the school is your first choice
  9. Lesson done. Let’s wrap this up.

Ditch the “what do they want to hear” mindset

Let me start with some good news:

Tip 1: I assure you, you’re good enough to get into business school.

1*iZAoXcnCyyOsvK6wB29B9wApparently at least half of us suffer from Impostor Syndrome. But even if you aren’t one of the impostor half, you’ve got to admit: you don’t like being judged— as you inevitably are when you submit to interviews, networking, and business school applications.

To cope with the anxiety evaluation causes, we’re taught from a young age to pretend – to try to be who others think we should be, rather than to dig deep and figure out exactly who we ARE.

By the time you get to bschool apps, it’s practically second nature to ask: “What do schools want to hear?”

In my free MBA Strategy calls that I do for potential clients, by far the number one question I get is some version of this:

“What do I need to tell SCHOOL X so they’ll let me in?”

Oh no

Oh the humanity!! The temptation to be “who they want us to be” is so strong.

To make matters worse, many supposed experts on this process just augment this perspective. Indeed, a lot of advice out there encourages you to present an overwrought, over-rehearsed “brand” or “pitch” that is entirely devoid of humanity. This is actually the worst thing you can do for your candidacy.

Tip 2: If you’re applying to business school, please don’t try to brand yourself.

In the end, packaging yourself like a consumer good doesn’t persuade, influence, or inspire. It just increases the distance between you and your audience, rather than drawing them to you.

What I’m aiming for here is a fundamental change in your mindset about communicating yourself. I’d like to persuade you that...

To gain MBA admission, the best strategy is to be your authentic self. Plus do a little research. That’s it.

But since so many people get this so wrong, I am going to spend a few more words laying out all the reasons you should stop trying to tailor your communication to what you think the admissions committee wants to hear.

Once we’ve disabused ourselves of some of the popular but horribly wrong notions about what it takes to successfully gain MBA admission, in the second half, I’ll explain a new way to approach your MBA applications for maximum MBA admissions success and outline the steps you can take to communicate your fit systematically and authentically with your target schools.

My hope is that you’ll stop taking fit to mean that YOU have contort yourself to fit what you presume to be THEIR mold (they don’t have one, as you’ll soon see) and instead begin to understand that fit really works more the other way. Your job is to figure out how each school fits YOU and then show that.

Let’s start with some of the silly things pandering to the adcom might lead you (and has led many a great person before you) to say. Stuff like…

  • “My goal is to start my own company right after Stanford,” because you’ve heard that entrepreneurship in en vogue at Stanford even though you’ve never started a business, never had operational experience, and don’t currently have any ideas.
  • Or “I’m all about education, Yale.” Even though you’ve worked in finance for 5 years.
  • Or “Oops, better not apply to Booth, that’s for quant jocks and I haven’t taken math since 11th grade!”
  • Or the subtler, but equally problematic “My most important leadership experience was this tiny thing I did in college where I led a team.” Even though it was a long time ago and wasn’t all that important to you, because you’ve heard Kellogg is all about teamwork and so far in your career you’ve only been an individual contributor.

This is not to say any of these stories are wrong.

If you’re really passionate about education even though you’ve been in finance, great. The MBA is definitely for career switchers. But then there’d better be some evidence for that passion in your extracurricular choices.

If you have no interest in the quantitative curriculum at Booth, fine, but read more about it first. Booth has a lot more going on that just numbers  (and in their own right, numbers might just be the very best thing your MBA will teach you anyway!)

If that college team experience was truly meaningful, fine (it would need to have been a formative learning experience or one where your impact was palpable.)

All of these examples COULD be very compelling stories for your business school essays. But only if they’re authentically yours. If you’re contorting your stories to fit your narrow preconception of the school’s brand, then you’ve got no chance to connect with the adcom. It’s like fumbling the pass before you even throw it.

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Ouch.

If you’re pandering, the admissions committee will see right through it.

Think about it. These are professionals. Most of them have MBAs themselves. They’re passionate about their schools. And all they do, day in and day out during admissions season, is read essays.

And can’t you just tell when someone is telling you something just because it’s what they think you want to hear? (Like, “Oh yeah, you look GREAT in that two-sizes too small bathing suit.”). Don’t you think they can too? Give them some credit. They’re good at what they do.

But even if you think YOU can construct a foolproof ruse that they will take hook, line, and sinker, you’re making a mistake if you do it. Pandering has the very unfortunate side effect of making your application boring.

There is a reason Harvard says “don’t overthink it,” and Stanford says: “Resist the urge to ‘package’ yourself into what you think Stanford wants to see. Doing so will only prevent us from understanding who you really are and what you hope to accomplish. The most impressive essays are the most authentic.”

The schools are trying to help you here, because when you “package” yourself, overthink your “brand,” or try to micromanage the big picture of your application, you end up leaving the reader completely unmoved.

Think about the difference between a mass-produced Hershey’s chocolate bar and a hand-crafted, fair trade, artisanal chocolate bar with unique ingredients. Like one of these, for example. Wouldn’t you pick the artisanal one from the pile every time? Especially if it was your job to eat 10,000 candy bars. Wouldn’t you thank your lucky stars that finally one came across your table that didn’t taste flat and waxy just like all the others?

Tip 3: Your life is an artisanal product. Don’t dumb it down to mainstream by pandering.

The admissions committee is human; they will predictably reject something that feels banal. Wouldn’t you?

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But beyond the practical reasons that pandering, stretching the truth, or overpackaging yourself will create a sucky MBA app, it has two deeply insidious side effects for your whole life and your level of self-confidence.

First, if you pander, it means you’re effectively let the opinions of others dictate your choices.

Does that feel good to you?

Well, if you’re a leader, a pioneer, a visionary, a servant, purpose-driven, intent on having an impact, or wanting to make a difference, my guess is that it feels pretty crappy.

You’re probably going to business school so you can create a bigger life of your own design and with further-reaching impact.

Tip 4: Let your app be the start of your journey to leadership: boldly take ownership of your story and your life.

It will feel a lot better as the acceptances (and inevitable rejections) roll in.  

And second, don’t forget impostor syndrome. Bschool is tough and competitive. If you get in, you’ll be vying for jobs side by side with some of the best and brightest of your generation. Your sense of self-confidence will take a hit if you can’t look back on the process that got into school with pride.

Don’t leave that window of doubt in yourself open by writing essays that don’t fully represent you in all your awesomeness and all your humanity.

Commit to showing the adcom who you truly are now, so when the going gets tough during your MBA program, at least you can always kindle the inner confidence that you truly belong there.  

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Focus first on what YOU want.

What do YOU really want?

Think about this in light of the HBS question:

As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA Program?

  • They have your resume. Which had better be awesome. If it’s not, check out the MBA Resume Protocol and get after it. This is serious. Most schools will assess the majority of your professional progress and potential via the resume.
  • They have your recommendations. This is also serious. What others say about you’ll always echo louder and longer than what you say about yourself.
  • They have some other stuff you’ll write, listing out awards and jobs and odds and ends. This may be a lot or a little, but it is basically an extension of and complement to your resume.

Given that they already have all that information, the key words here are You and Want. What do YOU WANT them to know?

They want you to show them something different, something important to you, something that lets them know more about who you’re as a person and a multidimensional human being.

Take a look at Harvard’s stated evaluation criteria:

  1. Analytical aptitude and appetite
  2. Engaged community citizenship
  3. Habit of leadership

Whatever the other schools say about their evaluation criteria, it boils down to some version of these qualities. Take Haas’s 4 Defining Principles:

  • Question the Status Quo
  • Student Always
  • Confidence without Attitude
  • Beyond Yourself

Different words, same ideas.

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Want to check out more? Here are 10.

Harvard 
Stanford 
MIT 
Booth 
Tuck 
NYU 
Duke 
Texas McCombs 
Michigan 
CMU Tepper*

*If a school in the top 15 is missing from the above, it’s because after 5 minutes of searching. I couldn’t find their stated principles and evaluation criteria. Doesn’t mean they don’t exist, it just means they’re not putting this information out there for you to find. Draw your own conclusions about what that means about the school’s values and culture.

If you look at what schools say about their own values and what they look for in students, you’ll quickly understand this:

Business schools want principled leaders.

People who think for themselves. People who intend to have a positive impact and have a thoughtful plan to achieve that.

High on NO MBA Program’s List?

  • Spin doctor
  • Line-toer
  • Sycophant
  • Butt kisser
  • Follower
  • Liar

And yet if your question is “What do I need to tell Harvard to show I am a Harvard kind of guy/gal?” that is pretty much where you’re coming from.

Tip 5: There is No “Right Story” for School X

Ok so I know we are starting to get into dead-horse-beating territory here, but just one last perspective on this.

Contorting yourself to fit the judgments you PRESUME others have is no way to live. Hopefully you agree with that.

But still, I could understand if you felt like…

“Yeah, but, Angela, I HAVE to get into business school and this is the best way!”

If you still don’t want to take my word for all this, just go to the source, and check out school class profile and placement data. You’ll see that there can’t possibly be a “right story” for any given school. MBA admission is not about your career background, your GMAT, or your grades.

If you click some of these links, you’ll find detailed statistics and information about the students at each of these programs and the astonishing diversity of backgrounds they represent. You’ll also find that MBAs from top schools go into absolutely every line of work imaginable after they graduate.

This should reassure you that yes, indeed, there is room for you in the next MBA class of your dream school. You –with whatever education, career background, and genuine passions you have.

This data is all publicly available. Look closer. You’ll see some surprising things.

For example, the school among these four with the highest percentage placement in finance is not Booth, or even Harvard. It’s Stanford with 41%.

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Despite the supposed importance of STEM majors and coding experience in Silicon Valley, in fact the near majority of Stanford’s class (48%) are humanities majors.

And although Kellogg is known for marketing, they place 53% of their graduates in consulting and finance vs only 20% in Marketing.

The stereotypes don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Because MBA admission isn’t about your choice of career post-MBA either.

Schools are assembling a portfolio of students

It’s easy to push beyond the stereotypes when you understand why applying to bschool is different from applying to a job. To fill a single job, a firm is going to look for the single BEST candidate. But an MBA class has anywhere from 200–900 spots. There is no objective measure for what makes the “Best” MBA student. If there were, then only people with 760 GMATs would get in. And that fo sho ain’t the case.

Instead, they’re seeking a well-rounded portfolio of students — one that includes a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, goals, and perspectives. One word you’ll find high on EVERY MBA program’s webpage is “diversity.”

But diversity is a double-edged sword.

It means that your background will be considered. But it also means that not every great applicant with your background will be accepted. Otherwise the class would be 100% ________________ (insert your background here). The class has to be a mix.

This is a big part of the reason why you need reach, match, and safety schools in your application set.

No matter how amazing you are, the likelihood that any one specific school will accept you is low because it also depends on how many strong applicants like you apply and how many spots they’re able to allocate to your diversity profile. So don’t put all your eggs in only one or two baskets.

But once you have settled on your mix of schools, understand that there simply is no “Harvard type,” or “Booth type.” And the representatives of these schools will be the first to tell you that.

Beware of the claims of admissions consultants

As a final little rant on this subject, it sort of shocks me every year that some admissions consultants command a client base on claims of elite, insider knowledge about what works for a given school.

This is folly.

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Because MBA admission is not about insider secrets about the school. 

I served on the Dean’s Student Admissions Committee in my time at Booth. I was an app reader. But that experience gave me no skills that I use in my job today. For a few years post bschool, as an alum, I thought I knew exactly what it took to get in since — well, *I* was successful so what I did must work for everyone!

LOL. I now know I did absolutely EVERYTHING in my MBA applications wrong. I didn’t even follow the specific advice I am going to give you below. It was a miracle I was admitted. So on a related note…

Tip 6: Think carefully before you take your alumni friends’ advice without a huge grain of salt.

If I am good at my job as an admissions consultant, it’s not because I have the secrets to schools or all the answers about what your dream school is looking for. Rather, it’s because– as one client recently claimed — of “how adept Angela is at finding the awesomeness that lies in everyone.” 

Successful MBA applications are not really about the school in the end. They’re about YOU.

Alright, now that we've let go of some false presumptions. Let's go from suck to awesome with that app of yours.

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Understand what school fit really means

So let’s get rid of this question:

“What do I need to tell SCHOOL X so they’ll let me in?”

I hope doing so will immunize you against the shoddy claims of those who would have you believe that they have some secret to getting in that you don’t. YOU alone hold the secret to your own admission.

But now that that’s out of the way, we can get to a question that actually IS relevant to your bschool application and that is:

“How do I show SCHOOL X that they’re a fit for me?”

See what we did there? We turned the tables. It’s your one precious life. Let’s consider, evaluate, and then demonstrate that this school is right for YOU.

But first: what does “fit” mean?

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The word “fit” is probably the one that causes the most heartburn for MBA applicants because when schools say “showing fit with our program is important,” they often mistake it to mean “showing you’re good enough.”

And remember, we’re not playing the good enough game here. You ARE good enough.

But even if you put “good enough” aside, the concept of fit seems vague and unactionable.

Good news, I’m about to demystify it for you.

The admissions committee has a very short and precise list of questions about you they are contemplating as they evaluate whether their program is a fit for you.

  1. Are you going to business school for the right reasons?
  2. Have you done your research?
  3. Will you leave the place better than you found it?
  4. Is this school your top choice?

That’s it. Plain and simple. Notice that these four questions are about YOU.

Notice also how practical and commonsensical they are. They’re questions you need to ask YOURSELF first before you can even decide to apply to school in the first place.

Whereas storytelling is an art form, exhibiting MBA program fit is more like a science.

And it’s important to note that “fit” is really not the same thing as “qualified to attend our program.” That is a separate calculation.

Each school WILL evaluate your GMAT score, your GPA, your resume (AKA your accomplishments and career progress) and those will determine whether you’re qualified to attend the school.

To understand how competitive you’re from the standpoint of these stats, be sure to look at school acceptance rates, and the average class stats vis-à-vis the class profile links above and the rankings:

(sidebar — does it also strike YOU as odd that there are 6 different MBA school rankings? Do we really need that many? Try to keep in mind that the purpose of rankings is to sell subscriptions to the publisher’s service, not to actually help you get into bschool. so take them with a huge mound of salt.)

1*eRIiIJvwThGyaTkrwSYD2AYour stats do matter, but fit is an entirely different calculation. A candidate who is barely qualified can still get in if fit with the school is strong. I could share dozens of case studies from my own client roster to prove this. People who were 10 years older than average. People with weak GMATs or GPAs. People with no community service or short careers to date.

You don’t have to be the best candidate to be qualified for admission.

By some calculations, 70% of applicants qualify.

Fit, therefore, will play a huge role in determining whether you’re actually admitted from the huge qualified pool.

Just like bathing suits,  MBA program fit is mutual. You fit the program and it fits you.

You’d never buy a bathing suit that doesn’t fit you, so why buy a $200,000 MBA that doesn’t?

Not everyone belongs at every school.

Although any MBA education is going to propel your career forward, school cultures and the campus experience vary so widely that you’re unlikely to be truly happy at more than a few programs. Figuring out which ones are really for you is a part of the process.

Every year exceptionally qualified candidates get rejected because they don’t show MBA program fit. So let’s look at how you can actually demonstrate fit with your target schools and in the process ensure you’re applying to the right schools for you.

Let’s tackle each of the four MBA admission components one at a time.

How to show you’re going to business school for the right reasons.

Don’t let the word “right” seduce you into the “am I good enough?” conundrum.

There is really only ONE reason people go to business school: because they want more.

In fact, while we’re on the subject — this is the only reason people do anything. Because they want more… more money, more stuff, more freedom, more happiness, more love, more sex, more joy, more power, more whatever. We all want stuff. That’s part of what defines us.

1*e0rizCDu30WHdQ8R4USBRgIf you’re considering business school, it is because you want more from your career. You want to do more of the stuff you love and less of the stuff you find boring. You want to have more impact at a higher level. You want more authority, expertise, and regard. You want your career to matter more — to you and to the world. (This by the way is why we focus on MBAs at Career Protocol. Because we LOVE people who want that stuff.)

If this is the only reason people go to business school, then how could you fail to show that you’re going to business school for the right reasons?

People make two big mistakes in this regard.

First, they don’t do the work to figure out who they really are and what they really want.

Stanford gives you a great opportunity to do this: “What matters most to you and why?” they ask.

Inherent in that question is an invitation to reveal who you truly are and what you truly value. Remember, everyone wants more, in that way we are all the same. Further, all MBA applicants want to make a bigger difference, achieve more impact, and help more people (including themselves and their loved ones) have better lives.

We’re all the same in that way too.

What makes you unique isn’t what you want or even what you value, it’s the choices you’ve made in service of those values.

Some people took jobs in banking, others took jobs in nonprofits. Some people chose to mentor their peers, others chose to invest time in developing themselves further. Some stayed close to friends and family, some charted new courses in new geographies.

Most choices in life are neither right nor wrong. And yet who you are today is the reflection of all the choices big and small you’ve made in your life. The best way to launch your MBA application process is to explore, honor, and celebrate those choices. In doing so, you’ll not only uncover your best stories for your MBA essays, you’ll also discover in a new and inspiring way the course you want the rest of your life to take.

And this in turn will lead you to construct clear and well-motivated goals when you talk about why you want to go to business school.

Tip 7: Ask yourself some hard, deep questions, and answer them as honestly as you possibly can.

There is no substitute for deep self-awareness as the foundation of your MBA application process. This is why our application services begin with our You Discovery Process™.

If you want to take a few steps in this direction on your own, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What are the core values you strive to uphold in your daily life?
  • List 2-3 times in your life when it was very hard to live up them, but you did it anyway. What did you learn?
  • List 2-3 times you failed to live up to those values? How did you change after those experiences?
  • If you could be known for only one thing in your career so far (a value, a choice, an accomplishment, whatever), what would it be?
  • What one thing must you tell the admissions committee about who you are as a person to feel like you have helped them make a fair and good decision about you?

If you’d like to chat through these questions with me and any other part of your MBA applications, apply for a free MBA strategy session.

The second way people fail to show they are applying to business school for the right reasons is that they have the wrong expectations for what an MBA program can provide.

Yes, any MBA will help you get more from your career, but no MBA is a magic wand. It is not a substitute for hard work, self-awareness, questioning, networking, relationship building, appetite for learning, willingness to fail, or an understanding of how the world really works.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

Venture Capital is a tiny, competitive niche industry relative to many others. Very few people get the chance to work in Venture Capital and those who do check many boxes. They have a demonstrated track record of entrepreneurial thinking and acting, they have elite relationship building and management skills, they have a highly advanced financial analysis skillset, and they ALREADY have at least the start of a network in the field.

If someone like me — an English teacher with a little HR exposure and a professional network based entirely in South Korea at the time I applied to bschool — claimed I wanted an MBA so I could get my first post-MBA job in Venture Capital in Silicon Valley, that would be magic wand thinking.

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The MBA cannot grant any possible career wish.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have absolutely anything you want in your career. It just means that no degree is going to magically make it happen for you.

If the school admitted me believing it could magically make me a Venture Capitalist, I would have ended up a very unsatisfied customer indeed. Nobody wants that, and that’s why…

Your application needs to reflect an accurate understanding of what the MBA offers vis-à-vis what you need to fulfill your goals.

The bottom line here is:

Tip 8: You need credible goals that are achievable with your specific background with a little bit of an MBA goose.

How to show you have the right expectations for the MBA and for your target schools

You need an inspiring Long-Term Vision and a credible Medium-Term Strategy to get what you want (aka a plan for your immediate post-MBA job and internship).

Understand what it actually takes to get one of those jobs. Make sure your post-MBA goal makes sense given where you’re coming from. Plain and simple, if what you REALLY want isn’t achievable immediately post MBA, make it your second step or longer-term goal.

Entrepreneurship falls into this category for 95% or more of applicants.

Understand what the school actually facilitates in terms of recruitment.

Want to work in Silicon Valley? Stanford and Haas can help you out a lot. Columbia and Tuck will struggle more since they’re geographically so much farther away. How will you compensate for that with your own efforts?

Create a tactical plan to get to where you want to go.

Do you want to work in an e-learning company after school? E-learning companies do not tend to recruit en masse on MBA campuses. So how will you build your own network in that industry, leveraging your and school resources to create such opportunities? And then, of course, what skills, learnings, and experiences do you need from the school to prepare yourself for your target roles?

We could write at great length about career gameplanning and school research. Here are some more resources to get you going:

Watch this YouTube video of a webinar in which I explain…

How to Make a Career Game Plan that Shows MBA Program Fit.

 

How to show you have done your research

Well, if you’re doing what I suggested above, then you’re already halfway down the path of doing and demonstrating your research. But just knowing what recruitment opportunities the school facilitates isn’t enough.

Your tactical plan should include details about specifically how you’ll cultivate the skills, learnings, and experiences you need to achieve your goals. Many schools have what we call a “Personal Statement.” Here are some from 2018 application year:

  • Stanford: Why Stanford?
  • Kellogg: Pursuing an MBA is a catalyst for personal and professional growth. How have you grown in the past? How do you intend to grow at Kellogg?
  • Michigan Ross:Michigan Ross is a place where people from all backgrounds with different career goals can thrive. Please share your short-term career goal. Why is this the right choice for you? 
  • Columbia: Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals over the next 3–5 years and what, in your imagination, would be your long-term dream job?

I could go on, but you can see:

Most schools are asking you to show them your tactical plan of action as it pertains specifically to their school.

This means that when you write an essay like this, referencing specific classes, clubs, professors, co-curricular opportunities, cultural features, even buildings, student names, and campus rituals or traditions that you’ll engage in AND specifically how those will enrich you and further prepare you for success will make your plan more credible.

Just for a quick example of what I mean. This is a crappy example of showing you’ve done your research:

“Columbia is the best school for me because there is no better place for me to study than in New York, the world capital of finance.”

Yawn. This is generic and tenuous. I could take out Columbia and put in NYU and it would still make sense.

Something more like this on the other hand…

“The “Health Care Investment and Dealmaking” course would expose me to the subtler nuances of healthcare finance transactions and “Advanced Corporate Finance” will deepen my analytical skillset so that when I return to Healthcare Private Equity, I will be prepared to lead teams and deals.”

…demonstrates a much deeper level of research. The word Columbia doesn’t even appear here. These are specific courses and the candidate is showing that she knows not just their names, but also the specific benefits she will derive from them. This is tactics in action. It makes MBA program fit with Columbia clear.

You want more? Get after it. That’s on you. Start that process before you apply.

Here’s the research you probably want to do:

Use our infographics as a starting point. HBS and Stanford out now, new ones coming every nmonth this year!.

Read student blogs, school websites, and club pages.

Read our 10 Creative Ways to Show Your Target Schools the Love article by Charli Taylor, our international specialist for more creative research ideas. And download our list of school and adcom social media accounts so you can follow them directly.

Tip 9: Consider visiting schools and networking with adcom reps directly.

There are certain schools for which failure to visit campus before applying will result in out-of-hand rejection. Wonder which ones? Ask us in your free MBA strategy session. While you’re on campus, speak to current students and really feel what it’s like to be there. Include the aspects of the experience that most inspire you in the essay.

How to show you’ll you leave the place better than you found it

If you have an understanding of what the school offers and have done your research, you should be overflowing with ideas for how you’ll contribute to the school.

As you read about clubs and classes and other cool stuff that happens on campus, you’ll naturally see a role for yourself. You will, that is, if you’re the kind of person who likes to contribute.

Hopefully you have at least a small altruism coefficient, and you derive satisfaction from being of service and making yourself useful to others. If you do, then all you need to do is show the school the specific ways you hope to add value on campus and beyond. You’ve already done the research, just include some of this in your essay. Pick stuff that allows you to express your natural gifts, talents, and hobbies preferably through existing campus activities and organizations.

Remember, it’s not about the right contributions, it’s about yours.

Here’s a personal anecdote: My major contributions on campus in my day were all through humor and entertainment. I like to laugh and I try not to take stuff too seriously, and I contributed to my class by creating more opportunities for us all to do those things.

I wrote, produced, and directed my cohort’s official film for the Golden Gargoyles Contest. Ours was the only film that year to include every single member of our cohort. I produced several short films for campus clubs as part of a commercial contest and brought together classmates from my year and the second years in the Follies show, managing logistics, writing and directing skits, and taking a cameo role myself. There were other clubs I participated in and other activities I led, but these were the most meaningful to me. Choose yours and show them in your essays.

Because MBA admission is about YOU and how you’ll express your unique gifts at the school.

How to show that the school is your first choice

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SHOW (don’t tell) schools they’re your Number 1 choice.

This last one is tricky, and it is basically the sum of the prior three. You’re asking a school to invest in you — they have, let’s say, 575 seats in their program, and you’re asking them to give you one.

Schools have legitimate concerns about yield due to the pressure of rankings

In other words, the higher the percentage of admitted students who matriculate, the better it is for their ranking. Harvard is king here, then Stanford. The rest trail by a wide margin. So they want some assurance that their choice to invest in you (give you one of their coveted seats) is a good one.

The best way to show them that the investment in you is safe is to invest in them first.

So if you fulfill the other three criteria, you’re most of the way there.

Important sidebar here: Don’t lie. Please don’t write “Wharton/Harvard/Columbia/Booth is my first choice school because blablablabla.” It will seem disingenuous even if it’s true because schools know that you’re almost certainly applying to multiple schools. Talk is cheap anyway. Remember, MBA admission is not about pandering.

Notably, this is part of why Harvard doesn’t have a formal personal statement. They know they’re your first choice, so they don’t even bother asking. Hahahahaha. They will, on the other hand, note if you have visited campus, visited their website, and engaged with their media.

Tip 10: Take as many actions as you can (big and small) to get to know your target schools and their communities.

Are you aware of how much information about your web activity is being recorded at all times? The technology to track your behavior on websites isn’t even that new, and you bet at least some schools are tracking your activities on their site!

So get over there.

1*3p5SOlN13VwJHGdl3veHkQVisit your favorite schools’ sites on a regular basis, click around, read stuff.

It’s part of research, but it’s also part of your investment in the program.

More ways to invest and SHOW that a school is your top choice:

Go to local events in your area hosted by target schools.

Go to the Forte ForumQS MBA World Tour, the Poets&Quants Centre Court Event, and/or the MBA tour in your area and rub elbows with adcom members. Again, ask good questions and make sure your attendance is registered (i.e. sign the sign in sheet).

Go to campus. Even if you do it in the summer when students are away, make sure your presence is registered.

If the school includes a “Creative Essay” option— you know the videos, PowerPoints or other multimedia  that takes a lot more work and commitment— do it if you can tell your best story through that medium. It shows your commitment and investment. Use one of these 10 cool tools to create it.

Lesson done. Let’s wrap this up.

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Show the answers to these four questions in your application and actions, and you will be demonstrating school fit:

  1. Are you going to business school for the right reasons?
  2. Have you done your research?
  3. Will you leave the place better than you found it?
  4. Are they your first choice?

This is the absolute best you can do to create your best application and prepare yourself for your MBA. Hopefully you noticed that in the process of completing these steps, you’ll also be discovering your best self and your best fit schools AND advancing your career in the direction you want the MBA to take you in the first place.

That’s a habit of leadership!! — taking positive steps to achieve your goals without waiting for someone else’s permission.

Now go get ’em, tiger!!

 

The Ten Tips
Tip 1: You’re good enough to get into business school.
Tip 2: Don’t try to brand yourself.
Tip 3: Your life is an artisanal product. Don’t dumb it down.
Tip 4: Boldly take ownership of your story and your life.
Tip 5: There is No “Right Story” for your target schools.
Tip 6: Think for yourself before you take your alumni friends’ advice.
Tip 7: Ask yourself some hard, deep questions, and answer them as honestly as you possibly can.
Tip 8: You need credible goals that are achievable with your specific background.
Tip 9: Consider visiting schools and networking with adcom reps directly.
Tip 10: Take as many actions as you can to get to know your target school communities.
Talk to us about your MBA Dreams!