Top 10 Tips for Elite MBA Admissions

By Avi Gordon, Founder of MBA Admissions Studio and author of MBA Admissions Strategy: From Profile Building to Essay Writing

Top tier business schools reject about 8 out of 9 applicants for their full-time MBA programs. It’s that competitive! The following are 10 ways to make your application more successful:

1. Show self-knowledge. The Greek Oracle at Delphi said “know thyself” and this is the golden key to admissions. If you know who you are and where you’re going, and why it requires an MBA, you’re more than halfway to getting in. Show that you clearly understand your strengths, failures, principles, goals, and motivations.

2. Show past success. In an ideal world, business schools would have the time to fully investigate the merits of each applicant. In reality they have to rely on your past successes as a shorthand indicator of your future success.

3. Prove your points with evidence. You think you’re great, and you surely are. But what counts is what other people think.The strongest evidence is promotions, awards, and other concrete recognition in the real world.

4. Fit in, but stand out. You will have to be part of a cohort and in many b-school teams, so show that you will easily fit in and get along. But also look for ways to emphasize what’s uniqueness about you. If what you say or who you are could equally be the next applicant or the one after that, it’s too generic. If it could only be your life and you talking, it’s unique.

5. Show leadership experience and aptitude. Leadership is the ability to motivate and coordinate the efforts of others toward an aspirational goal. It is the key activity of management. Wherever you have done this successfully so far in your life, the admissions committee should know about it.

6. Have clear, interesting, ambitious future goals. Nothing turns Adcom off like a candidate who wants to become “a consultant” or doesn’t know what he or she wants. You don’t need to chart a career blueprint, but you do need to show how you will impact the world in some unique and relevant (to you) way.

7. Don’t give them “what they want to hear.” Candidates invariably get bent out of shape by trying to second-guess “what Stanford needs” or “what’s hot at Kellogg,” etc., and often neglect to say who they really are and where their own strengths lie. In fact, all schools are looking for a mix of strong candidates of all types and backgrounds (to achieve class balance.)

8. Don’t praise the school. They are fully aware of their value and their charms. What they want to know is why you are valuable and how you will add value to them. Direct your comments towards showing the fit between you and it—how the program will contribute to your advancement and vice versa.

9. Don’t try to be too competent. Successful is good. Perfect is highly dubious. Particularly in your 20s, with just a few years of life and work experience behind you, you cannot have fully “arrived” yet in any sense. Make sure it’s apparent how the MBA and the school add elements that you don’t already have.

10. Be likeable. MBA applicants often think they have to sound like industry tycoons-in-training. Not so. A pleasant attitude and open, fair-minded, reflective values will take you much further. People invariable choose people they like as colleagues and co-workers, and MBA admissions committees are no different.


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