When we started brainstorming essay topics with Matt during at the beginning of the consulting process he was torn about addressing his early childhood learning disability. Despite a dyslexia diagnosis in elementary school, Matt had graduated from Yale with a 3.6 GPA. By learning about his learning disability early in life and with the support of his parents and teachers, Matt had learned how to work around his challenges and achieve academically. Dyslexia had impacted Matt’s life and had helped him develop the persistence and faith in his own abilities that led to his professional achievements.
Though Matt acknowledged his early experience of overcoming a learning disability had been a turning point for him, he was not comfortable discussing his experience in his MBA essays when we first started working together. As a highly self-reliant person, Matt felt that discussing his early challenges would be perceived as soliciting the pity of the admissions committee. My perspective was a little bit different. After years of working with clients who are rarely perfect, we have learned that applicants who demonstrate the ability to overcome challenges and learn from them show maturity and depth that a “perfect” candidate cannot.
Another angle to Matt’s story was the volunteering he did as a tutor for kids with learning disabilities while in college and after. This was the perfect angle to approach his story organically as part of an essay about activities outside of work. We presented Matt’s story of overcoming dyslexia as a brief part of the backstory, and spent most of the essay discussing his passion for helping kids just as his teachers and parents had helped him. After revising and editing for tone, Matt was happy with the essay and saw that his story could be an asset to his MBA application.
Apparently the admissions committee at Michigan agreed, and Matt was able to complete his MBA and continue his successful banking career. I continue to believe those early lessons about persistence he learned while struggling in elementary school were a key secret to his success.
Matt’s experience can be applied to almost everyone in the application process. Everyone has faced hardships and overcome them and none of us are perfect. Writing about these key turning points can actually be a strong advantage for your MBA application.
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