Charting Your Destiny: Advice for First-Generation MBA Applicants

first-generation MBA

In the competitive landscape of business school admissions, standing out from the crowd can be daunting. Yet, for first-generation MBA applicants, their unique backgrounds are not just a compelling narrative that sets them apart but a source of empowerment and value that can boost their confidence in the application process.

Though they may be often overlooked as a group, first-generation students comprise a notable percentage of the B-school classroom. In fact, 31% of global respondents from GMAC’s Prospective Students Survey identified as first-generation MBA students.

“While being first generation builds skills and characteristics that can serve you well (think resilience, problem-solving, and ability to connect with diverse audiences), anyone will tell you that going to a top-tier MBA program is not without its challenges and feelings of imposter syndrome,” explains Mitch Morecraft, a first-year MBA student at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business and the founding president of the school’s First Generation MBA Club.

Morecraft says, “The good news is: (1) the admissions committee has reviewed thousands of applications over the years and saw that you can in fact succeed; and (2) there are first generation second years and alumni who want to walk with you through the process.”

As you navigate the complexities of the MBA application process, arm yourself with the right strategies and resources to maximize your chances of success. Below are ten tips to help you tell your first-generation MBA applicant story authentically and effectively.

Are you a first-generation MBA applicant who’s 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.

To-Do List for First-Generation MBA Applicants

Tip #1: Know Your Story

Before you start writing your MBA application essays, take some time to reflect on your journey. What challenges have you overcome as a first-generation student? What experiences have shaped your aspirations and goals? Understanding your story and the key moments that have defined it will provide a solid foundation for your application.

first-generation MBA

Tip #2: Highlight Your Accomplishments

As a first-generation student, you have likely achieved significant milestones that show determination. Whether it’s academic accomplishments, leadership roles, or extracurricular activities, don’t hesitate to showcase your achievements in your application. Admissions committees love candidates who have demonstrated the ability to excel despite adversity.

Tip#3: Be Authentic

Authenticity is crucial when telling your first-gen story. Avoid exaggerating your experiences in an attempt to impress the admissions committee. Instead, focus on being genuine and sincere in your writing. Admissions officers can spot insincerity from a mile away. So, it’s essential to stay true to yourself and your experiences.

Listen to B-Schooled Podcast #103: The Power of Authenticity in MBA Applications

Tip #4: Connect Your Story to Your Goals

When sharing your journey, connect it to your career goals. How have your experiences as a first-generation student shaped your professional ambitions? Whether you want to make a difference in your community or pursue a career in a particular industry, connecting the dots between your background and your goals will strengthen your narrative.

Tip #5: Embrace Your Unique Perspective

As a first-generation MBA candidate, you bring a fresh perspective to the classroom. Be bold in highlighting how your background has influenced your worldview and approach to problem-solving. Your unique worldview can enrich class discussions and create a more vibrant learning environment.

Don’t miss Why It’s Good to be a Non-Traditional Applicant

Tip #6: Seek Feedback

Before finalizing your application, it’s highly beneficial to seek feedback from trusted mentors, advisors, or peers. Their insights can be invaluable in identifying areas for improvement in your essays. Additionally, reach out to current MBA students or alumni with similar backgrounds to gain their perspective on navigating the application process.

“As a first generation student, it can be easy to think that asking for feedback is a burden,” Morecraft notes. “You may also not have a ton of people to provide feedback, especially people who have done this before. However, feedback as you are discerning which stories to tell and the points you want to make is extraordinarily helpful.”

Tip #7: Address Challenges Head-On

All applicants should highlight their achievements. But don’t shy away from discussing the challenges you’ve faced as a first-generation MBA applicant. Admissions committees value candidates who display resilience in the face of adversity. Be honest about the obstacles you’ve encountered and how you’ve overcome them, highlighting the lessons you’ve learned along the way.

Tip #8: Show Your Growth

Reflect on how you’ve grown and evolved due to your experiences as a first-generation student. The AdCom appreciates candidates who are self-aware and willing to learn and grow. Share examples of how you’ve developed as a leader, problem-solver, and team player, illustrating your capacity for personal and professional growth.

Tip #9: Be Positive and Forward-Thinking

While it’s important to acknowledge your challenges, focus on maintaining a positive and forward-thinking tone in your essays. Emphasize your optimism and determination to succeed despite any obstacles you’ve encountered. Admissions committees seek candidates with a can-do attitude and a strong sense of purpose.

Tip #10: Stay True to Yourself

Above all, remember to stay true to yourself and your story throughout the application process. Don’t try to fit into a mold or conform to what you think admissions committees want to hear. Your unique perspective is not just a strength; it’s your greatest asset. So, embrace it as you share your first-gen journey in your MBA applications.

From Dreamers to Doers

“As you are piecing together your application, you should absolutely reach out to the admissions team and current students at the schools of interest to you,” Mendoza MBA student Morecraft advises. “If there is a first-generation club or if student ambassadors are first-generation, ask them for their thoughts or guidance. People want to see you succeed and they want talented students to come to their program.”

Telling your first-gen story in MBA applications is a powerful way to differentiate yourself. You can showcase the resilience, dedication, and unique perspective you bring to the table. By following these tips and staying true to yourself, you can craft a compelling narrative that resonates with admissions committees and helps you stand out in the competitive MBA admissions process.


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.


(323) 934-3936

Latest Blog Post

Strengthen Your Quant Profile for MBA Applications

Many business school applicants worry they need a more substantial quantitative background to get into a top program. If your entire career has been in marketing, for example, how can you convince an admissions ...