Standing Out in the Admissions Process
The third-round application period looms for many prospective MBA students, and there’s no better time to incorporate the advice of MBA admissions directors on ways to make””or break””your chances of getting in at the school of your dreams. But how can anyone stand out amid a sea of applicants? Admissions directors are looking beyond work experience and the GMAT to evaluate candidates. A recent piece in the Financial Times discusses some ways to manage the details of your application to ensure you follow the rules, take advantage of all opportunities and market yourself beyond your resume.
The article notes that New York University’s Stern School of Business has made a request of their potential MBA students this year: to limit the size of objects submitted with their applications. Stern appreciates creativity in potential students, and has encouraged the submission of unconventional materials that reveal something of their character and interests. Past applicants have sent in stories, poems, and paintings””one even included a mock cereal box decorated with photos and an ingredient list which included “a charismatic social individual.” But leave the personalized guitars, skis and snowboards at home, please. “We tell people we want them to think outside the box – it just needs to fit inside a box,” says Isser Gallogly, Stern’s Executive Director of MBA Admissions.
Creativity is fantastic, but admissions directors also look for integrity. “In the essays, we want people to sell themselves to us, but we also want them to be honest,” says David Simpson, acting Associate Dean of the MBA program at London Business School. “Candidates often talk about extra-curricular work even though we’re not specifically asking about this. That’s great. But if they write it down, we’re going to ask about it, so they should have a good story.”
Schools stress that applicants shouldn’t regard the interview as another opportunity to list accomplishments. It’s where the school finds out who the person really is and interviewers may have strong views on the type of person they believe will fit into their program.
A major pet peeve reported by admissions directors: overkill in all its forms. Long-winded essays and a barrage of recommendation letters, for example, will not endear applicants to admission staff who have thousands of applications to review. Several admission directors cite the tendency of applicants to send long or multiple e-mails in the hope that they will get the attention of one of the recipients. “Long e-mails are very irritating,” says Rod Garcia, director of MBA Admissions at MIT Sloan School of Management.
Applicants can certainly damage their chances by failing to display courtesy and respect to all the staff members””including administrators and customer service staff””with whom they interact during the applications process. “People don’t necessarily understand that every interaction is an opportunity to show their qualities,” says Gallogly.
Time is of the essence, and synthesizing these tips into your overall application strategy will go a long way toward ensuring you receive that all-important phone call or e-mail this spring.