How Am I Different?
In this article we are going to discuss the importance of differentiating yourself in your application. Top schools are seeking diversity. No matter how excellent, they will not accept all candidates with similar profiles.
Consider this profile of a business school applicant:
· 3.8 GPA from Duke
· 720 GMAT
· 3 years in investment banking at Morgan Stanley
At first look, the majority would agree that this sounds like a great applicant. And she is a great applicant—solid essays, strong recommendations, a polished presentation in her interview. The only problem is that she is competing against all of her fellow all-star Goldman analysts, as well as analysts at other top banks.
If this situation sounds familiar to you, one question you have is probably how to set yourself apart from the rest of the applicant pool. Fortunately, because the essays play an important role in this process, the resume details featured above are just the start. In your personal essays you have a great opportunity to let your unique voice come through and show how you are different from others. It is these details that can truly make an impact on an admissions team.
You may have the same basic job description as many others, but what did you do with that job? Were you promoted? How did you find better ways to accomplish tasks? Did you act as a mentor? Were you a leader?
Setting yourself apart does not mean learning a rare skill. Examples that may feel less than extraordinary to you can actually provide the admissions committee with evidence of your excellence. One client, working as a strategy consultant, could not fit traditional volunteer work into his crazy travel schedule. He took it upon himself to reach out to his alma mater’s career center and offer to be a unique resource to those interested in a consulting career. He ended up giving back from a distance, on his own hours, but in a very significant way. He is currently at Wharton.
When thinking about how to differentiate, do not be dismayed if you have not built a multi-million dollar company. Excellence can come in smaller packages, and these small examples are the best way to showcase your individuality.
Here are two case studies of Indian applicants we worked with who were accepted into top MBA programs. These will provide you insight into ways you can approach your application.
Case Study #1:
My client, Abhi, was a very accomplished individual who desperately wanted to attend a top business school. In particular, he had his sights set on Wharton.
Unfortunately, Abhi had one significant challenge: his profile was nearly identical to hundreds and hundreds of other applicants. Abhi was from India, and after earning his undergraduate degree, he had come to the US to earn a Masters in Engineering. He then took on a technical role within a financial services company in Washington DC. He stayed there for three years and did very well, earning an important promotion along the way.
Abhi was involved in a handful of extra-curricular activities, but even those were similar to ones we had seen many times from other Indian applicants. He had participated in dance competitions back home, and in the US volunteered regularly with a well known organization, raising funds for India. On the personal front, he sent money home regularly to help his parents and sister who struggled financially. All of these things highlighted a truly giving, hardworking individual who was passionate about developing himself and his communities. Abhi’s GPA and GMAT were average.
When we first met with Abhi, we had a difficult conversation about the reality of this highly competitive situation. We encouraged him to apply to a portfolio of schools in order to maximize his chances. He did agree to apply to four schools, with Wharton by far being the most competitive and his first choice. The final list also included Tepper, Darden and Stern.
We then proceeded to map out some stories to share with the admissions committees. We decided to mention his long track record of service, but really hone in on a more recent activity. He had organized a large group to train for a marathon and raise money for a six year old girl who was sick with leukemia. He discussed his own training process, recruiting and engaging others, planning multiple fund-raising events and the leadership ups and downs that he encountered throughout.
He also discussed a relationship that he had developed with an important business mentor, and some of the activities that he had completed on his behalf, as well as a business organization that he had joined as a result. This highlighted his initiative over and above what he did in the office, and his ability to network and develop relationships. This story was completed by a recommendation written by the mentor, which further discussed the relationship.
For Wharton, Abhi put on an extra push: he visited campus more than once, and came to know the school extremely well. This was made clear in his essays. He also asked a good friend who was a current student and who could legitimately add insight into his candidacy, to submit a letter on his behalf. The final package truly highlighted how passionate he was about the program and what a good fit he was in terms of culture and goals.
In the end, Abhi was admitted to both Wharton and Tepper. We all celebrated!
Case Study #2
Undergrad: University of Delaware
Activities: Tennis, marathons, sporadic involvement with various Indian non-profit organizations
Personal: Originally from India
Overview: Our client was born and raised in India, and came to the US to earn his undergraduate degree in Engineering. He then went to work for a large corporation where he progressed for the next five years. Although he had solid work experience, and numbers, his demographics placed him in a highly competitive pool, where he really needed to find a way to differentiate.
Result: Admitted to Columbia, Tuck and MIT.
Strategy: Many Indian applicants pursue engineering careers and their resumes all begin to look the same. In working with this client we completely removed the focus from the nitty gritty technical details of his every day job, and emphasized his management and leadership experiences, which set him apart from many of his peers. Specifically, he had spearheaded a non-profit initiative and garnered a great deal of support within his office, ultimately raising significant funds, but also setting the stage for future office initiatives of this kind. He had also taken on a training role, mentoring new hires and helping to develop the blueprint for a training program. Neither of these roles were part of his formal job description but they highlighted his leadership abilities and added color to his resume.
By: Stacy Blackman Consulting
Founded in 2001, Stacy Blackman MBA Admissions Consulting has helped thousands of MBA applicants gain admission to the most selective business schools in the world. The Stacy Blackman team, comprised of MBA graduates, former admissions officers and expert writers, editors and marketers, helps clients develop and implement a winning marketing strategy. Stacy Blackman clients have a significantly increased probability of admission to top schools and are frequent recipients of merit scholarships. The MBA admissions company is regularly featured in publications such as BusinessWeek, the Wall Street Journal and the Economist. Visit the Stacy Blackman blog for daily news updates and admissions tips, and check out the company’s e-publications for more in depth school-by-school guidance.