I worked with Janet nine years ago, and our work together spanned two application seasons because she did not quite meet her goals the first time around. Working with Janet reinforced an incredibly important application rule, one that I now always keep in mind when working with clients.
Janet had very strong numbers: 3.6 and 720, and she had solid work experience in the marketing field. Although all of this was great, as her consultant, I was most excited about what set her apart: a great passion and talent for the violin. Many of her extra-curricular and volunteer activities centered around this interest.
In creating Janet’s applications to Kellogg, Wharton, Columbia and Cornell, we talked a lot about the violin. This was especially pertinent because it tied in to her career goal of managing a symphony in a major city. We were both pleased with her final applications, which showcased her accomplishments, while also helping to set her apart from others in the applicant pool.
That year, Janet was admitted to Cornell and denied from the other three schools. Although she was excited by the Cornell admit, we were both puzzled by her overall results. We truly thought her application rocked it! Janet was set to enroll at Cornell, when she was able to elicit some feedback from the Kellogg admissions committee (something that is very uncommon now). Kellogg gave her bits of feedback that were not terribly helpful. But there was one nugget that spoke to us. Kellogg told her that her application made them wonder why she was applying to an MBA program instead of an arts management program. She was very impressive, but they were not confident that the MBA program could actually help her reach her goals.
As we reviewed her application, we understood more clearly that she had done a very good job of presenting her case:
past – a strong track record of success
future – focused career goals
However, we needed to build a stronger case for why an MBA was a logical bridge between past and future.
Lesson learned – it’s not enough to wow an MBA program with all of the great things that you have done, and will do. You also need to help the b-school understand that they can actually help you reach your goals. While we knew that going in, we got so carried away with crafting a terrific and unique story that we forgot to pay attention to this very important rule.
Janet took a risk and turned down Cornell. She reapplied to Kellogg, which was her first choice, as well as Columbia, and then applied for a first time to Haas and Stanford. This time she tweaked her goals to focus on the business end of driving an arts organization and transforming the arts and the public’s perception of the arts. She made it clear that her leadership, marketing, and management skills would develop in an important way in an MBA program. She was admitted to Kellogg and Haas and eventually enrolled at Kellogg.
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