MBA Primer, Part 2
Most MBA applicants assume the best way to get into competitive business schools is by showcasing all of their work-related achievements. While this is true, it is what you have done beyond the workplace that often makes the difference between finding yourself on a flight to start your MBA abroad and finding yourself back at the office for another year.
Among the most important components of your application are the essays. This is where you can set yourself apart, show off allof your strengths and successes (not just from the office) and give the admissions committee a sense of what kind of person you really are. Essays require a tremendous amount of time for brainstorming, drafting and polishing, so make sure you start early. You will have to reflect on your past and find interesting stories that showcase your skills and character and that can be presented in an engaging narrative. Most application essays require prospective students to introspect about their achievements, personal values, challenges and goals . Solid answers to these questions, that are consistent with what your recommenders are saying are your best bet for a successful application.
Because Indian culture can be very academic and achievement focused, some applicants have trouble thinking of essay topics outside of work or college. And many applications specifically ask you to write about a “personal experience.” A personal experience essay is NOT one that explains that you live in a joint family have a close relationship with your parents (that is your personal background). A personal experience essay focuses on a SINGLE event – e.g. taking care of a sick grandparent, moving to a new city where you did not have any friends, etc. then analyzes what you learned from that experience. One applicant I met was so stuck finding personal experience topic that we spent hours digging through his background and finally uncovered a compelling story about his determination to purchase his own home and the steps he took to make it happen. This story could be common, but he framed it as something that demonstrated discipline and focus. You really have to think outside the box to make yourself stand out in essays.
On the topic of standing out, you should have prepared over the past few years and engaged with something that makes you different from all the rest. Admissions committees regularly report that Indian applicants all have the same look and feel – e.g. engineer turned banker wants to go into private equity post MBA. While you can’t change who you are educationally and professionally, make sure you are doing something outside the office that showcases other dimensions of your personality. Whether it is social service, sports or auto racing, do it! All work and no play makes you DULL.
Finally leadership and passion are two things you need to demonstrate to business schools. If you are applying because you hate your job and you want a change, you will need to disguise that somehow in your application. B-schools do not want quitters and whiners, their objective is not to help you get out of a dead end job. They are looking for trailblazers, students who will make encouraging and challenging peers for the rest of the class. And most importantly they want alumni who can succeed and make them look good. Convince them that you are a winner who will add to their shine, not just benefit from it.