Advice for MIT Sloan MBA Applicants
The MIT Sloan School of Management is a dream MBA program for many B-school hopefuls. Today we’re pulling back the curtain on what the Sloan admissions committee looks for in candidates and how you can put forth the most robust possible application package.
To do so, we put our burning questions about MIT to SBC consultant DeeDee, who worked for 12 years at this prestigious institution. During the last three years of her tenure, she served as the assistant director of MBA admissions and worked with applicants to the Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) program and the Masters in Finance program.
As someone who recruited, interviewed, and evaluated candidates for those three programs, DeeDee has deep expertise in all things Sloan. She recently stopped by the B-Schooled podcast to share insider intel about the school’s ethos, admissions process, and student life. We bring the conversation highlights here and encourage you to listen to the podcast for all the deets.
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Here’s a question many MBA aspirants are curious about. Why is it called the Sloan School of Management rather than Business, as most others are known? Is there any significance there?
DeeDee: It is minor, but the focus is different. Business is defined as making one’s living by engaging in commerce. But management is the process of dealing with or controlling things or people. So, what’s key here is that business focuses on the endpoint, the outcome, and the profit, whereas management focuses on the people and the process.
If you extrapolate from that to MBA admissions at Sloan, this translates into attention to how candidates have accomplished things, not just that they have accomplished things. Many successful people have impressive accomplishments, but Sloan also cares about how they treat others as they achieve those successes.
Can you share some of the newer aspects of the program that are worth pointing out?
The Sloan experience is still very much a “choose your own adventure” place. Students can take whatever they want after the first semester of core courses. The MBA program is STEM-designated now, which is a boon for international students.
Sloan has also added certificates in healthcare sustainability and digital product management. There’s also a new business analytics master’s, with exciting machine learning courses and an analytics lab. In addition, students can pursue a new dual-degree program with urban studies and planning.
Is there anything that potential applicants get wrong about Sloan? Are there any misconceptions out there?
The main one that comes to mind is that a candidate must be a highly technical person. This myth persists because of MIT’s reputation. But just like other MBA programs, they’re looking to build a diverse class every year. The AdCom believes that if a candidate has been successful in one area or industry, they have the skills to be successful in another.
What is the MIT Sloan admissions committee looking for in applicants?
This is a tricky question we’re constantly trying to answer because it’s the hardest thing to explain and describe. But the admissions staff are looking for candidates with a special spark. It’s a special something they know when they feel and see it. It’s what you feel in your gut.
The admissions committee uses the application to learn more about specific personal attributes and better understand a person’s professional successes. As I said earlier, it’s as important how you’ve accomplished something and with whom as what that something is.
They look for how you lead and influence others, how you treat people, how you respond to uncertainty, and how you think. Like other programs, the Sloan AdCom wants to understand your purpose and confirm that you know it, too.
The MIT Sloan application has a unique way of drawing out that information from applicants. Instead of a traditional essay prompt, the school asks candidates to submit a cover letter under 300 words. That’s not a lot of space. How should an applicant approach this?
You need to keep in mind the purpose of a cover letter: to sell yourself to the person reading it. So, consider your audience. They don’t know you. And so, the cover letter is a way for them to get to know you better. The letter should focus on your professional success, who you did it with, what was challenging, and how you overcame those challenges.
The letter is not about telling the whole story of your resume. It’s also not about what you want to get from Sloan. It’s about what you have to offer them and how you have added value in your work so far.
MIT Sloan also gives candidates an opportunity to introduce themselves to their future classmates in a 60-second, single-take video. What is your advice here?
Like you use the cover letter to tell your professional story, you can use the video to tell a personal story. Use it as an opportunity to weave in your passions, interests, and purpose. That way, they get a real sense of the energy you bring, your presence, and your attitude. You can focus on one interesting story, or some people use a broader brush.
Avoid talking too much about your goals because they’re not asking about that in either component. That’s where people often go wrong. They start going down the road of talking about their goals, which takes away from talking about themselves, which is what MIT wants to hear about.
Think about the story you can tell that will be memorable. The admissions committee will read your application and then look at the video. That’s the last thing you leave them with, your last opportunity to make an impression. So, you want to think about the best way to make a good one.
What are your thoughts on the optional short-answer question? It asks how the world you come from has shaped who you are and your identity.
I’m so glad that something like this has been added to the application. In prior years, the application lacked a place for people to reveal those parts of themselves. While it is optional, I genuinely think everyone has something to share for this question. Take advantage of the opportunity to share something about your personal story.
It’s a chance to demonstrate self-awareness and show you’ve reflected on the people and experiences that shaped and influenced you. It’s a way to tell them interesting things, whether it’s about your cultural background or that you’re a first-generation college student. Anything that influences how you see the world is fair game.
Everyone has something special or unique about their background that the admissions committee will only know if you share it with them. We’ve all been shaped by our background and the people in our lives. So definitely don’t leave it blank and use it as an opportunity to reflect. You bring your whole self to the program, so you must share your whole self in the application.
The Sloan application also asks applicants to submit an organizational chart, often stressing people out. What is Sloan looking for in these organizational charts?
There’s a link to a sample where you can see that it’s very simple and, therefore, okay to keep this application element straightforward. You don’t have to be a graphic artist to do this assignment! It’s okay to be basic. Use PowerPoint or whatever works for you. You can use color to ensure they can quickly find you and your recommenders within the organization.
Just think of it as a way for the eye to follow it fast and skim it like everything else. They’re looking for a visual understanding of where you sit within your organization or unit—what are the relationships up and down the chart around you. So, it needs to make sense and look pleasing, but it doesn’t have to be a work of art.
How does Sloan handle interviews? What is it looking for during these exchanges?
Interviews are by invitation only and conducted by Sloan’s staff, which is not true for all programs. They’re looking for reasons to admit you when they come into that interview. So, they want you to share new examples you didn’t discuss in your application. And anything that can highlight your personal attributes and competencies more than they already have.
They want to know if you’re an interesting and engaging person to talk to. Are you likable, friendly, and humble? Most of all, they want more new information they can take back to the committee.
As far as interview performance goes, you need to show up as your best self because they will assume that’s how you always show up. If you’re off that day, they will wonder if that is the norm. But remember, people are often their own worst critic. You may feel like you bombed the interview, but your interviewer might have had a totally different experience. Again, they’re looking for more reasons to admit you, so think of yourself going into the interview as a winner.
Unlike many other MBA programs, Sloan asks for only one recommendation letter plus the contact information for two additional references. Who should the applicant pick when it’s obviously such an important part of their overall package?
This is no different from any other program, and the best person to use is typically your current and most recent supervisor—someone who knows your work best and can talk about your accomplishments and abilities in detail. AdCom will go to the references if they don’t get what they want or need from the recommendation letter, which makes that recommendation choice more crucial.
Still, choosing these references wisely is essential because you’re demonstrating that you have many good options to pick from, not just one person. This isn’t the place to choose colleagues, friends, or alumni who barely know you. Choose former managers and supervisors who can also speak to your abilities if called.
Any final thoughts for applicants considering MIT Sloan School of Management?
Sloan is a fantastic place full of down-to-earth people who want to work on cool ideas to improve the world. They’re looking for community-minded, humble people with a clear sense of purpose and passion. Sloanies and MIT people are a nice bunch of people and want their culture to stay that way.
We thank DeeDee for sharing all of this helpful advice with our readers and encourage you to visit the MIT Sloan School of Management admissions website to learn more about the program.
Stacy Blackman Consulting offers multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership to test prep to hourly help with targeted tasks. Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant. Here’s a snapshot of the caliber of expertise on our SBC team.