MBA Apps: Checking Outside the Box

A lot of candidates tend to think about how they measure up for each checkbox: GPA, GMAT, work experience, extracurriculars, international work experience, or the lack of these things. And while it is true that they matter, the process isn’t necessarily “add water and stir”. Do keep in mind that adcom is reading this application for no other reason than to GET TO KNOW YOU.


Yes, they are looking at a couple of key indicators. Your test score needs to be decent because they don’t want you to fail your classes. You need to look attractive from the perspective of recruiters.


However, aside from these 2 main things, they are really focusing on who you are as a person. Remember, YOU are the product they are selling.


Business school classes are a small part of the picture; they want for you to add value to your colleagues. They want you to level up the experience of business school for others. Also, your future success impacts the brand of the school and subsequently their foundation dollars.


It’s for these reasons they are interested in you as a person, which means checkbox items like extracurriculars don’t exist in a vacuum, they help adcom understand who you are, what your priorities are, what your values are. What direction are you heading? Will this experience add value to your colleagues? Maybe it would be enriching for them to interact with someone who knows about what you are an expert in.


All of this to say, get away from the checkbox mentality and instead think about yourself holistically from their perspective.


For example, one of my candidates stated he had no volunteer experience and felt down about this. Then I discovered he runs a bootcamp at work training new IT managers on soft skills. This is really getting to the heart of what they seek in volunteering: a spirit of contribution. Someone who has identified a way to contribute. The key word is CONTRIBUTE.


Another of my clients received feedback that he was selected for Darden because the interviewer really liked his story. How does your story help the reader get to know you? Think about how you will present your overall story and narrative. Consider how to bring the various parts of your life together to create a throughline; if someone made a movie about your life, what would be the most important scenes? What were the turning points and how did you grow? This is super critical when separating yourself from an overrepresented applicant pool. This is what shifts you from being 2D to 3D – a real person, not just a checklist.



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