Applying to Business School? What Will – And Won’t – Make Your Application Stand Out
Guest Post provided by Cher Zevala
The application process for any graduate business program is rigorous and competitive. The typical program receives thousands of applications every year; Harvard Business School, for instance, usually receives around 10,000 applications every year for just a few hundred spots. With odds like those, you might wonder what you have to do to actually get in, especially if you don’t have a spotless academic record, perfect test scores, and years of experience under your belt.
The good news is that even though business school admissions are competitive, thousands of students are admitted to excellent to both on-site and online MBA programs every year. The key is to make your application stand out in a good way, and give the admissions committee a good sense of who you are and what you are capable of doing. If you can do that, and show that you will be an asset to the program, there’s no reason that you won’t be filling one of the coveted spots come the start of the semester.
With that in mind, as you begin preparing your application packets, consider some of these methods of differentiating yourself.
Focus on Diversity
Many people hear “diversity” and think of race, ethnic origin, gender, and other factors. Business schools tend to value the perspectives that a diverse student body brings to the table, and it’s often mentioned as one of the factors in an innovative environment. However, diversity isn’t only about those unique factors which, let’s face it, you cannot control.
By highlighting the traits that set you apart from the typical B-school candidate, even those that you might think weaken your application, such as work you did in the arts or a lack of experience in a professional environment, you can get the committee’s attention. Consider how those experiences that might not be typically associated with business will help you in your studies and add to the experience of your cohort, and articulate that in your application.
Highlight Your Quantitative Abilities
Over the last few decades, business schools have shifted to more theoretical and soft skills-based education, but that does not mean that quantitative skills are no longer necessary. Admissions committees want to see well-rounded students who have the quantitative abilities necessary to handle the rigorous analytical and quantitative aspects of the curriculum. If your academic transcripts and experience don’t accurately reflect your skills in this area, consider taking some refresher or skills-building courses at a local community college, and submitting your transcripts from those courses with your application. Not only will you demonstrate the skills you need, but also your commitment to academic success. Doing so may also negate the need for you to take refresher or skills building courses before you begin your graduate coursework.
Leadership is a vital concept in today’s business programs, and schools want to admit students who have experience in leadership roles and an understanding of what it takes to be a good leader, so those skills can be refined through coursework. As you complete your application, think about how you have demonstrated leadership throughout your career, and weave that experience into your essays and resume.
Think Outside of the Office
If you are applying to business school after a few years in the workforce, you may not have as much recent extracurricular experience as someone who is just out of their undergrad program. While your work experience will make up for this in some part, especially if you are working in a leadership role, as you plan to apply to programs, don’t forget to add in some worthwhile activities outside of work as well. Not only do volunteer work, committee positions, blogging, etc., help you build and sharpen your existing skills, but those activities can set you apart from other applications who have been strictly career-focused for several years.
What’s Not Going to Set You Apart
A common misconception for applicants to any school is that excellent transcripts, test scores, and recommendations are all it takes to get an acceptance letter. The fact is, most schools consider those to be “hygiene” factors; in other words, that’s just the baseline to even be considered. Many other applicants will have a similar package, so you need to very clearly differentiate yourself.
This doesn’t mean resorting to tricks like singing telegrams (it’s been done), confetti in the application, shocking videos, gifts, or other unprofessional acts. Again, focus on what you can bring to the school and what you want to gain from your studies, and you will rise to the to the top of the application pile.