MBA Applicants: Find What Makes You Unique

what makes you unique

There is some sort of magic in the unexpected.” –Anonymous.

Finding suitable examples of what makes you unique is a daunting task for most MBA applicants. “What makes me special?” and “Why should the admissions committee pick me?” are two questions that hang like a cloud over nearly everyone. Top MBA programs rely heavily on students teaching each other through discussions. The life experiences you share with your classmates should be compelling and beneficial for your peers. So, if you’re struggling to identify your personal X factor, get ready to do some serious introspective work. Self-reflection is an essential part of the business school application process.

Applicants often overlook aspects of their background that seem commonplace to them but would actually set them apart. An easy place to begin is by assessing whether you have any differentiating professional experience. Do you work in a field or industry that typically doesn’t see a lot of MBAs? This could be your entry point.

If you have some significant accomplishments on your resume that aren’t the conventional ones you would find on a program’s incoming stats page, that’s another excellent way to showcase what makes you unique. Just make sure the admissions committee understands your role without using industry jargon.

 Are you 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. 

what makes you unique

You might have to dig deeper to find things that set you apart if you’re coming from one of the usual feeder industries. Did you work on any high-profile projects that many people—even those outside your industry—would have heard about? Writing a narrative around something like that could be an intriguing option. AdComs love it when applicants can provide a firsthand, insider perspective on topics that have made waves in the business world.

More Ways to Find What Makes You Unique as an MBA Aspirant

Sometimes, you need an outsider to point out actions you may have undervalued. We’ve helped SBC clients realize when they made an impact on their companies that lasted long after they left. Maybe you came up with a new way of doing annual analyst reviews. Or you spearheaded your company’s first DEI initiative. Perhaps you helped your firm increase its footprint in a new geographic area.

These accomplishments are more differentiating than describing an M&A deal you worked on or your average management consulting project. The admissions committee has seen similar stories thousands of times; your job is to tell them something new. Show what else you can bring to the table.

We’ve worked with applicants who are accountants by day but do improv comedy as a hobby. Going against type like that is unexpected…and makes the AdCom sit up and take notice.

Occasionally, what makes you unique is a distinguishing trait or characteristic that your friends or family would say makes you you. Do people often come to you for advice? Have you been trusted to do something or given a responsibility that people in your position typically don’t do? Maybe you have always come up with crazy ideas that somehow ended up working since you were a little kid. Or it could be as simple as mentoring a summer intern. If you can widen your lens and show a pattern of how you’ve informally mentored others, then boom! Now you have an essay theme.

Thinking About Life Experiences

Personal experiences are an obvious source to mine for uniqueness. Yet we caution you to use good judgment to determine whether the anecdote is appropriate and effective for your MBA application. As we covered in B-Schooled podcast episode #33, there’s a fine line between what will differentiate you and what might give the admissions committees pause.

In this episode, host Erika and SBC consultant Lisa, the former director of MBA admissions at Rice University’s Jones School, laid out when it is (and isn’t) a good idea to share deeply personal stories in your MBA essays and interviews.

When thinking about personal stories, check for relevancy by asking whether the incident taught you something or changed you in ways that apply to your MBA candidacy.

A familiar essay topic that MBA aspirants write about is their family’s immigration story. We’ve met many applicants whose parents immigrated to the US with nothing and worked to the bone to give their children a good education. Here’s where we must break the bad news to you. While it may have been the most formative experience of their life, that alone is not a differentiator. And not knowing the difference is what kills many applicants’ chances of admission to a top MBA program.

@stacyblackmanconsulting You are killing your odds of getting admitted if your essay reads like a personal journal. Business school wants structure. #mba #mbaadmissions #hbs #sbcyourfuture ? original sound – ?

The key is being savvy enough to know which stories will truly set you apart. Now let’s go back to that example of the second-generation applicant. If that same person went on to establish a nonprofit for immigrant families that helps children learn English and connects them with services and the community, that is differentiating. It tells the admissions committee that they saw an opportunity to give back and make the world a better place.

So, what’s left to consider after you’ve sifted through your personal anecdotes, extracurriculars, and professional achievements?

Having a Unique Perspective

B-Schooled host Erika described how having a unique perspective worked in her favor when applying to Harvard Business School. 

“I grew up in Michigan, where everyone I knew worked in some kind of auto manufacturing job,” she shared in episode 120. “I wrote an essay about how my dad was an engineer, but all my aunts and uncles were union members on the assembly line. So, I grew up listening to white collar/blue collar, management versus the workers-type debates.” Those observations gave Erika a distinct point of view, which she shared across many classes at HBS.

Remember, the stories you tell in your application, essays, or interview will be the ones the admissions committees picture you sharing with your classmates. So, make sure they are compelling anecdotes that would benefit others. But rest assured; you don’t need to write about some world-changing achievement. It could be something small-scale that you did. Nonetheless, how you tell your story should give the admissions committee everything they need to know about the type of leader you would be.

Finally, try not to get too stressed and enjoy the process. Thinking about what makes you unique can be enlightening—and fun!


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 Harvard HBS, Wharton 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 Andrea, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions Marketing at Harvard Business School (HBS) for over five years.

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


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