Top 5 Application Tips
One of the most stressful yet fulfilling experiences I’ve had since starting my MBA journey is completing the Two-Year MBA application process. I spent hundreds of hours in the early mornings and late at night after work researching schools, developing my application packet, prepping for standardized tests, and preparing for admission interviews.
Many nights I questioned myself, asking “Will I even be able to afford this?” and, “How will these institutions know anything about me based on a sheet of paper?” I talked with my mother, friends of all backgrounds, trusted advisors, in addition to alumni and current students from each school to better understand my relative strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities to improve.
From those experiences and hours of sacrifice, I wanted to share my top five application process tips with you.
Start with Self-Reflection
Before you begin to develop your application process, I believe that it is imperative to spend time with yourself reflecting on your accomplishments, thinking about what drives you, and developing your priorities.
Articulating your own value is challenging in itself – taking time to understand the value you’ve provided in your work experience/extracurricular activities is the first step in doing so. The MBA application and matriculation processes will be filled with interviews, both with admissions and for many other internship and post-MBA job opportunities.
Additionally, reflecting on and setting your priorities before business school even starts will help you set up a “compass,” for yourself that you can use as a guide when information overload and FOMO show themselves.
Last, I’d spend time trying to understand my “why.” What drives you? Why are you motivated to make an impact – who, what experiences, and/or what observations have motivated you to create change for yourself, your family, or your community? Knowing this information and being able to quickly articulate it in the right settings will aid in people understanding and advocating for your story.
Reverse Engineer Your Process
The introspection in the first step sets you up to start with the end in mind. I think it’s important for MBA admissions teams to understand that you are intrinsically driven and understand how their MBA program will help you achieve your short-, mid-, and long-term goals. Further, being able to articulate a clear understanding of what skills you want to gain, how you’ll apply them, and why, takes maturity, foresight, and discipline—all traits that admission teams view positively. While you may not know exactly what the future holds, starting with a priority can help you focus on proving out a hypothesis and having a methodical approach to career exploration. Last, the clearer your goals and priorities are upfront, the easier it is to manage your time.
Trust Your Gut
In 2021, it takes just a couple of hours research to compare top MBA programs across all kinds of quantitative ranking categories, from internship placement to full-time salaries and innovation rankings. Most schools will offer the ability to connect with current students, staff, and admissions alike – so surely take advantage of this resources to collect as much data as you need. Once that process is underway, listen to your gut. Pay attention to how you feel when you talk to leadership and students at your target schools: are you becoming excited and more engaged, or are you feeling drained after each conversation? Do you find yourself thinking about what life might be like in that program, and is it easier for you to envision yourself in one program over another? Networks are great, but they are only as useful as your level of engagement with them.
This is feedback I was given and feedback that I give to nearly every MBA applicant that I speak to. Be as specific as possible about your long- and short-term goals, be specific about what resources you’ll utilize at that school in working toward those goals and be specific about the value you’ll add to campus.
During the admission interview, be specific in your responses to questions, citing specific examples of how you created impact or why something defines you. In a pool of other high-achieving applicants, those that show you how they created success, or why they are so passionate, provide clear details that make it easier for programs to assess fit.
This is one of the most challenging aspects of the application process. How can I, in a written application, convey my passion and genuine drive towards my stated goals? Conveying emotion starts beyond the application with the relationships you build with admissions contacts and current students. If you followed step one, you should be able to articulate to those with whom you connect clearly and succinctly your why. I would also challenge you to think of examples you can highlight from your work or extracurricular experience that gives a glimpse into what makes you special. This is easier said than done but explain to them exactly why you want your MBA, why this program, and why the time is now through this story.
Bring this consistent messaging into your interviews, and you’ve developed multiple touchpoints from which decision-makers can form an opinion.