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4 important steps to follow to strengthen your MBA application

Many MBA APPLICANTS FROM INDIA (GMAT score 750 + >5 Years of work experience) approach us after getting rejects from Columbia Business School, The Wharton School, Kellogg School of Management, Harvard Business School, Haas School of Business, and Stanford University, and we get to see the common patterns across all the applications.

My interaction with someone who had a 750 on GMAT score and carried 5 years of work experience in an international bank made me wonder what was missing from his application. He sent me all his rejected applications for review and I decided to write again for him. When GMAT score is 750, it hurts even more! (DING FROM INSEAD” sent some time ago). He had an understanding of what he wanted to do post MBA, but had clearly failed miserably in 4 applications. It was sad to know that one of those business schools was INSEAD. I mean, Indian MALE + GMAT score 750 + 7 years of work experience (One year international exposure) is a “HOTTEE” for INSEAD.

Let us assess What could have possibly gone WRONG!

Basic Pillars and Assumptions in those Failed Applications: High GMAT score + Work Experience + Flawless Language and flow on the Essays

Admissions are not only driven by GMAT Scores and an ability to submit a flawlessly written “English essay”: Your understanding of those business schools, a deep introspection into your profile, and your ability to deliver your message to a layman are very important.

In this note, I wanted to write to you and make you understand the FOUR MOST IMPORTANT PILLARS that should support your MBA application.

The overall intention of a business school is to create a very diverse mix of the incoming class. I am sure you will agree. Right? Let us see what the FOUR MOST IMPORTANT PILLARS can be while showcasing diversity.

  • What makes you stand out from the rest?
: lemon slice different stand out special

If you are of the opinion that your personal, professional, academic and/or extracurricular achievements and experiences are not very notable, then it is all the more pertinent that your essay reflects an aspect of you that makes you appear unique from other MBA applicants. There are a few ways in which you can showcase your unique talent or traits successfully as follows:

– If there is something that you were the first person to do

      • If you were the youngest person to do some kind of work/activity etc.
      • If you have made a unique contribution
      • If you have a very different academic, professional, family or personal background
      • If you have unique talents or skills
      • If you have a notable global experience
      • If you have been the recipient of any SCHOLARSHIP, awards etc.
      • You can also enlist your post-MBA goals if they make you appear unique

You must remember that being unique or different is only how you represent yourself and present it in your essay. Hence the onus lies on each MBA applicant to show how their presence/contribution can enhance the classroom experience and their peers’. Hence, the trick lies in making yourself appear different and unique, even if you do not strongly believe so. The truth is that each one has something that makes him/her unique in their own special way.

  • The Leadership Quality

Business Schools love to educate leaders, and put them in action. MBA programs bring people from very different walks of life- coming from diverse extracurricular, professional and educational backgrounds. However, the one thread that is common amongst them all is the fact that they had undergone a leadership experience at some point in time. When it comes to admissions, business schools are very selective in choosing MBA candidates that fit their description. Here are some points to keep into mind in this respect:

business school might not be upfront in asking you to explain how capable you are as a leader in the essay; however, this is what you have to evidently write about.

Leadership is not a trait or a quality that comes easily and if your resume already has enough evidential support of having performed leadership roles, then you might choose not to repeat the same in the essay. However, you should not think of leadership as a formal responsibility or simply a title without explaining it in your context, as it will not bring out about you in such a responsible position. There might be instances wherein an MBA applicant has not held any leadership position in a formal manner. For those who have held formal leadership positions, they would be having a significant amount of material to write on regarding decision-making, vision, impact and so much more. However, the same can be done in the case of those candidates who have not held a formal leadership position or a title.

  • Analytical Aptitude and Appetite

Business Schools provide its students with a highly challenging and competitive work environment and therefore, only the best can flourish. When it comes to writing about ‘Analytical Aptitude and Appetite’ then most of the candidates tend to think of this as describing academic potential. Therefore this can be easy to write about for some. However, one thing to be taken into account here is the fact that you need to demonstrate the extent of your analytical intelligence as well. A good GPA and GMAT score are good enough, but if you have not scored too well, then it would be best to focus on your high analytical aptitude and appetite by citing references and examples. It would also be worthwhile to have your recommenders dwell on this in their Letter of Recommendation. Here are some good ways of showing analytical intelligence:

      • Working on and providing a thought provoking solution to a complex issue whether at business school, workplace or outside
      • Talking about the effectiveness of your complicated analytical task
      • Describing a complex issue that you resolved in a very brief and uncomplicated manner
      • Providing a personal insight into your mistakes, failures or weaknesses
      • Discussing about how you managed to learn a complex skill
      • Discussing about your exceptional creativity.

Those who have exceptional test scores and a stellar academic background need not focus on these aspects. However, if you seem to have some weak spots when it comes to academics, then these pointers should help you in mitigating them.

Hence, on the whole, an essay is a space wherein you have the liberty to mould the Adcom’s perception of you by representing your candidature in the best way possible.

  • Engagement in Community (NOT NECESSARILY IN NGO’s)
: community service volunteer woman man

This might sound like having taken up some kind of leadership position in an NGO; however, it is quite different from that. By having engaged in community programs, business schools are basically looking out for MBA applicants who have the potential to make a contribution in this respect. This is what is expected of them, coming to the fact that the MBA program is essentially collaborative in nature. Although the major role in classroom learning is performed by the academicians, however, classmates too impact learning through their interactions both within and outside the classroom. Hence, the education that one received during an MBA program is essentially on the basis of building relationships. One of the main prerogatives of the MBA admissions committee is to select MBA applicants who would turn out to be collaborative classmates. Hence, if the adcom and the director have selected the best candidates, then they will transition into eminent alumni and prove to be great ambassadors of the business school. The bonds that you form through the course of the program and the interaction with alumni are very important to maintain the ecosystem which a business creates post MBA and in order to accomplish this, they are primarily on the outlook for candidates who are willing to engage with their peers and outside.

The essay prompt of some business schools do not necessitate that the MBA applicant discuss his/her contributions forthright. In fact, some of the business schools (including SCHOOL INTERVIEWS. You should also encourage your recommenders to include a few lines on how you managed to add value to the team or community that you collaborated with. There are many different interpretations of engaging in a community.

Here are some activities that can be termed as ‘community experiences” that a candidate can incorporate in the essay (these include both NGO and other engagements):

    • If you graduated from your undergrad a long time ago, and are still an active member of the alumni club, and have taken initiatives to maintain that camaraderie, do mention it. It reflects your ongoing involvement with your previous academic institution and is reflective of your commitment for your next one too.
    • Participation in a dance or drama
    • Volunteering for social activities at business school which includes either participation or organising the same.
    • Participating in a volunteering activity in which you were placed with people different from you in various aspects such as education, income level, nationality and so on.
    • If you did some volunteer work that has some connection with your POST MBA goals and you can weave the story around your equation of employability, this is worth mentioning.
    • You have been an active sportsman and have brought an immense value to your sports team. It is also worth talking about along with the skills that you developed while you were involved in those activities.
    • Active involvement in politics, not superficial knowledge of the same
    • Active participation in a musical band, group or orchestra in undergrad or post that.
    • Participated in a volunteer activity that helped you develop leadership or teamwork skills
    • Participation in an international social or volunteer activity.
    • Actively organising an entire trip or activity for friends
    • Having performed as an active member, organiser or leader of a team which could be based on education such as an overseas trip, project or a seminar
    • Volunteering for social activities at the workplace which includes either participation or organising the same.

These are a few possibilities and there can be many other such engaging aspects that can be described in the essays. However, there might be MBA applicants that might lack such experience to demonstrate their community engagement. Nevertheless, this can be worked out by delving deep into the various aspects of your community achievements. If you have already given an extensive account of your community experience in either your application or resume, then you need to focus on your motivation for performing such community activities and the benefits arising out of the same. Those who have limited experience in this can use the essay as a space for conveying your community engagement in an effective manner.

Before you log off this page hear what an admissions office member at Stanford says about the MBA applicants’ journey to Stanford MBA. Keep listening for the things that the admissions committee looks for in an applicant.

Good luck with your applications!


Jatin Bhandari

PythaGURUS MBA Admissions

PythaGURUS Education

For over 15+ years as an Entrepreneur, and India’s Top Educationist, Jatin has led a range of initiatives in the Education Industry. In this role, he has created many successful educational services and products geared towards generating success for professionals aspiring to join IVY League and global Top Tier Universities for MBA Programs, Masters Programs, and undergraduate courses. He is the Founder and CEO of PythaGURUS Education, and has been recognized as a thought leader in the Higher education sector. Economic Times, Hindustan Times, Times of India, India Today, Business Today, Tribune, and many other national newspapers have recognized his work, and have given him numerous opportunities to be a regular columnist. He has also served as a panelist for NDTV, and other national news channels.

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