This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com
Most candidates approach the MBA application process by putting their own needs first. Perhaps you have decided to pursue an MBA because you want to achieve something new, change careers or advance more than you would otherwise.
However, what can set you apart from many candidates is thinking about what you can add to the business schools you are targeting. While everyone benefits from a diverse alumni network, what specifically do you want to give and receive from your classmates?
Applicants should frame their essays and interviews with the goal of convincing the admissions committee that they will enhance the student experience once on campus and will continue to make a positive impact as an alumnus down the road. Here are three ways to accomplish this.
1. Show how your skills and interests will benefit the program: Business schools strive to assemble a cohort filled with impressive individuals who will use their unique characteristics to enrich the learning environment. This is the perfect opportunity to distinguish yourself from those who may have a similar educational or work profile.
It’s effective to start with what you bring to the table. Think about what your points of differentiation are from other MBA candidates. Perhaps you have a distinctive leadership style or knowledge you can share with the class. Share with the admissions committee how you will contribute to the organizations that already exist, or mention your ideas for creating new ones.
Consider how you can add knowledge to a classroom. Maybe you have contacts in your industry that can help other students obtain jobs. Think about whether you can you provide connections to interesting speakers or if you will bring special skills to a club or classroom.
Remember, if your answers can be easily replicated by other applicants, they will add little to your candidacy.
2. Connect your past and present experiences to the future: You should be aware of the major academic, extracurricular and social components of the MBA programs you apply to and think about how you will enhance the mix. Perhaps your professional experience will further a case discussion in your strategy class, or it may also help your classmates with a panel on the industry they are putting together as part of a professional club.
Maybe you want to start a club or a conference based on your specialized industry knowledge. Perhaps you aspire to help a professor with her research because of a special interest you have. Or, you might be planning to return to the school as an alumnus to be a panelist or mentor once you develop your individual professional pursuits.
Since fit is so important, this is also an opportunity to reveal your depth of knowledge of the school’s culture. To be most effective, you will want to be both specific and logical in what you choose to highlight, focusing on the activities that make the most sense in the overall context of your career and industry interests.
3. Make the case for why each program is the best place to achieve your goals: Whatever your own personal reasons for seeking an MBA may be, make sure you can point out specific aspects of the skill set required for your future career that will be augmented by attending that school.
The admissions committee wants to know why your particular aspirations will be uniquely satisfied by their program, so use the essays and interview to show you have done your research. You should know everything about the aspects of the program that most appeal to you.
Know the classes you want to take, the professors you hope to work for, and how any specialized programs will be an asset in your future career. Make sure to reach out to current students and alumni, as those conversations will give you crucial insights that will provide a personal perspective on the culture of the school.
As you can see, business schools today seek a symbiotic relationship with their students. The highly competitive state of MBA admissions now requires applicants to show not only that they are qualified to attend the program, but that they will raise the bar by positively impacting the experience of everyone around them.