Avoid the Trap of Being a Copycat MBA Applicant

copycat MBA applicant
For anyone planning to apply to business school this fall, we have one piece of overarching advice: Don’t try to be a copycat MBA applicant or the stereotypical Joe or Jane MBA. By that, we mean attempting to replicate the candidacy profile of someone who succeeded in getting into the B-school of your dreams.

With our unique perspective as admissions consultants, backed by over two decades of experience, we have a deep understanding of what works and what doesn’t in the MBA application process. We are intimately familiar with all the top MBA programs, their evolving trends, the AdCom’s preferences, and their turn-offs.

Yet, despite this wealth of knowledge, we often encounter the following sentiment from new clients, who’ll say:

“My friend went to Stanford, and he wrote about how he wanted to launch a startup. Therefore, I’m going to say that, too.” Or “My coworker who got into Kellogg last year isn’t that different from me. So, if she says my materials are fine, then I probably shouldn’t change anything.”

People believe that if they do the same thing a successful friend, coworker, or family member did before them, they’ll also get admitted. However, as an applicant during the 2024-2025 admissions season, you will be up against a new subset of people different from when your friend applied.

“It’s really frustrating if a client wants to work with us but is constantly talking about what worked for their friend,” SBC consultant Erika noted on the B-Schooled podcast. “We’re trying to help you see a holistic picture of what schools seek in this competitive environment. It comes down to the fact that every round across every year is unique.”

Curious about your chances of getting into a top B-school? Contact us to talk strategy with a free 15-minute advising session with an SBC Principal Consultant.

There is No ‘One Size Fits All’ Applicant

You may think that a coworker who used to sit one desk away looks exactly like you on paper.  Perhaps you’ve seen their resume and know yours has nearly identical accomplishments, promotions, timing, and extracurriculars. Maybe you even went so far as to read their essays.

But since that person isn’t applying against the same people you are now, none of that matters. And if you didn’t read their entire application, including the recommendation letters, you have no idea what personal stories they might have shared or what else might have sealed the deal for them.

copycat MBA applicant

When it comes to the M7 MBA programs, applicants often share core attributes such as high GMAT or GRE scores, impressive careers, and strong academic records. However, beyond these commonalities, it’s crucial to highlight what sets you apart.

Your unique voice and personality should be the focus. When they review your materials, the admissions committees look for that spark of individuality that makes them think, “Wow! We’ve got to meet this person.”

Ensuring that you’re presenting your authentic self is key. Have a trusted friend review what you’ve written to ensure that your voice is represented and that it sounds like something you would say. If they say it sounds nothing like you, that is a huge red flag that you’re not conveying your true personality.

Remember, the admissions committees are looking for authenticity, and they can sense a copycat MBA applicant from a mile away. So, be confident in who you are and let that shine through in your application.

If you include many big words, or worse, buzzwords, acronyms, and industry jargon, because you think that makes you sound like a better candidate, think again. Dial it back to make your responses sound less formal and more conversational.

Share Your Passions Honestly

Most top MBA programs—Harvard and Stanford in particular—ask open-ended or deeply personal essay questions. AdComs expect candidates to share their passions, what makes them tick, why they’ve made specific career and life decisions, and what has led them to apply to business school at this time. They want you to let down your guard and throw out preconceived expectations of what they seek.

So, when you’re writing about your passions, be honest and let your enthusiasm shine. This is your chance to inspire the admissions committees with your genuine interest and motivation.

“One of my biggest frustrations is when I have clients show their essays to friends or their parents, and people come back and are like, ‘This doesn’t sound like what I think a business school essay should sound like.’ Or ‘Shouldn’t you be bragging about yourself a little bit more?’,” SBC consultant Erika says.

Back in the day, applicants talked in their essays about how great they were because that’s what schools wanted. Now it’s the opposite. Business schools are looking for humble and self-aware people, which should come through in your application materials.

“I need to know what motivates you,” Erika explains. “Tell me about those moments that might have altered your path or made you have an awakening of some sort. Or were there any awful times that changed the trajectory of your life or the way that you think about things, or maybe even inspired your future career goals?”

Do that introspection upfront and let it come through in your materials so that you’re consistent on paper and when you interview. If those two personas are mismatched, it won’t work out in your favor.

Enlist Your Recommenders Help

Authenticity is key in your application materials, including your recommendation letters. These letters provide a more unbiased assessment of your candidacy and can add depth to your personality. It’s not just about what you’ve achieved professionally, but also about your personal qualities and soft skills. If your application materials and recommendation letters maintain an authentic conversational voice, the admissions committee will feel like they are getting to know the real you.

Copycat MBA Applicant Vs. Authentic Candidate

The best way to judge if you’re on the right track is to read your materials objectively and see whether you would want to be in a class with yourself. Are you coming across as interesting? Do you seem like someone with much to share with others and would be a great addition to the program? Would you want to hang out and grab a beer with yourself after class?

If the answer is yes, and you sound like someone with a lot to offer that you want to hang out with, congrats!  But if you sound like a copycat MBA applicant or the stereotypical Joe or Jane MBA, that won’t cut it.

Finally, as you spend the next few months working on your applications and essays, remember this throughline: You want the admissions committee evaluating your application to see and accept you for who you really are. So, be bold, trust yourself, and have confidence that your uniqueness will enhance your MBA candidacy.

As the legendary Broadway star Uta Hagen once said, “Overcome the notion that you must be regular. It robs you of the chance to be extraordinary.”

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Stacy Blackman Consulting offers multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership and Interview Prep to hourly help with essay editing, resume review, and much more! 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.

SBC’s star-studded consultant team is unparalleled. Our clients benefit from current intelligence that we receive from the former MBA Admissions Officers from Wharton, Columbia CBS and every elite business program in the US and Europe.  These MBA Admissions Officers have chosen to work exclusively with SBC.

Just two of the many superstars on the SBC team:
Meet Anthony, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he dedicated over 10 years of expertise.

Meet Erin, who has over seven years of experience working across major institutions, including University of Pennsylvania, Columbia Business School, and NYU’s Stern School of Business.

Tap into this inside knowledge for your MBA applications by requesting a consultation.

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