Monday, August 17, 2009

How to Get Into Business School

For a blog written by two MBA graduates of a top tier school, I think it's high time we shared whatever meaning we might know about getting into business school. I was on a panel today to try to answer questions about business school, but among the common ones were "How to Get In." 

So, today I share my meager and entirely subjective knowledge on the topic of business school applications. I've succeeded. And I've failed. And I've helped others do both as well. Take this with whatever grain of salt you like.

Write Your Own Essays. Essays need to tell the school who YOU are. Outsourcing this to India, your mother, or your favorite editor is a bad idea. It had to communicate your personality and your voice. If not, your resume and test scores would be enough. Show your passion. Real people get into graduate school, not automatons.

Write About You. Essays are not a time for excess humility. They are not a time for arrogance either. But, in your stories, tell a story that is about YOU. Not the team you were on. This sometimes means telling a smaller story, but one in which you are the protagonist, and created small, but meaningful impact. 

Keep It Short. By keeping it about you, you can keep your essays shorter. Only provide enough context to set the stage. 3-4 sentences of context. Then 3 paragraphs about YOU. What did you do? What did you think through? What decision were you facing? Who did you persuade? How did you move forward. Then, 3 sentences on the outcome - what happened? The outcome needn't be big - but it better be positive. 

Describe Your Plan. What is your goal in pursuing an MBA? Career change? Step-function forward? You have to want something - either immediately or in the 5-10 year timeframe. And, whatever you want had better require an MBA. Not necessarily directly require (like, making partner at McKinsey), but at least indirectly require (I need to know how to found a company, bring a product to market, develop financial instruments). YOU need the MBA to get there - now, where is there?  And remember - no one actually expects you to get there. In fact, almost everyone changes their mind. Often. But, you better be able to dream up a good plan. 

Don't Worry About Standing Out. Almost everyone frets that their background is not "mainstream" for business school. Particularly the one we attended. But, some of our most successful classmates came from highly nontraditional backgrounds. Truth is, some of the most interesting folks in our class had very interesting histories - and they contributed a great deal to class discussion and the culture of the school.  If you're interesting that "what will you contribute to our school" essay becomes pretty easy.

Don't Worry About Fitting In. Similarly, people always fret about not having the right experience to be successful. TC attended a pretty - er - specialized-sounding school, and everyone worries that if they don't have the background, they will not be able to "cut it." That is SO not true. Everyone has strengths, and everyone has weaknesses. In a good school, teams collaborate to help each other, and your strengths will undoubtedly compliment someone else's weakness. The key is to embrace the areas in which you have much to learn - attitude, not experience - will get you through. 

Keep It In Perspective. Some of the people I admire most in my professional world have MBAs from third and fourth tier schools. Some have no MBA at all. That "right" program feels like the only way forward, but I assure you, it isn't. If it doesn't happen for you, then fate has something else in store for you.  

Now, fellow classmates and blog readers - am I right? What advice would you give folks? And applicants - what other questions can we answer? 

And, for much more fun, check out my post on Getting a Date in B-school

1 comment:

business school application essays said...

At some level it's true that people always fret about not having the right experience to be successful as well as they worry for that if they don't have the background, they will not be able to "cut it." Everyone has strengths, and everyone has weaknesses.