MBA Applications: The Importance of Being Earnest

MBA admissions committees seem difficult to read.  Applicants agonize over their essays and dread their interviews, all the while wondering what the committee wants to hear.  At Veritas Prep headquarters, we regularly receive calls and emails with questions such as:

“I’m a sophomore in college; what classes should I take in my junior year to impress MBA admissions committees?”

“I’m planning to apply in round one, but would it be better to delay to round two so that I can use the next three months to add some community service to my resume?”

“I’m an older-than-average applicant because I spent four years doing ______________; what should I tell the adcomm about why I’m applying so late?”

With the possible exception of Hollywood singles bars, twentysomething young professionals worry about concocting impressive backstories more in the realm of MBA admissions than anywhere on earth.  But at least the actors in Hollywood have an excuse; they play make-believe for a living.  As an MBA applicant, it’s much easier than it appears to tell the MBA admissions committee what it wants to hear.

What do MBA admissions committees want to hear?

The truth.  They want to get to know about you, your background, your goals, and how they can help you to reach them.  MBA admissions committees don’t need to hear a script-worthy story, they just want to hear your story.

What may seem like incredible cliche ends up more than often being pure truth – the end result of the MBA admissions process should be that you have a much stronger sense of what you want to do with an MBA.  And while this provides incredible value to an admissions committee in filling out a class of students who will thrive in that program, add value to one another’s experiences, and fully value the process, it may well provide even more practical utility to you.  While your primary goal is “to get in”, think about this – business school is quite likely a six-figure and two-year investment for you, yet many prospective applicants spend more time shopping for a laptop or for new jeans than they do selecting their target schools.  By forcing you to honestly assess what type of classroom environment you seek, what kind of curriculum you’d like to pursue, and how an MBA education will help you to transition your current skills, abilities, and interests to a fulfilling career, schools are doing you a favor.  If you’re struggling to justify why you’d like to attend that school or how that program will help you to pursue your goals, it may not be the wisest investment of your time and money to do so.  And as you are forced to question yourself – your goals, your background, and what you want out of the MBA experience – you’re much more likely to fully take advantage of the opportunities that await you once you are admitted; the MBA admissions process provides you with an itinerary of what you want to do once you do finally reach campus.

All told, this process suggests what your parents have told you all along: honesty is the best policy.  As any CEO, politician, or admissions consultant can tell you, there are certainly ways to best position the truth for public consumption, but more importantly business school admissions committees want to know the truth.  And consider this – Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Warren Buffett will not be applying to business school this year; your story need not include a  billion dollar startup or a Nobel prize to get you admitted.  Business schools make decisions based not only on achievement but also on potential.  After all, most applicants have fewer than 10 years of work experience, and those who have already ascended into the stratosphere have little incentive to spend two years learning how to get there.  One (unintentionally) well-kept secret of MBA admissions is that “being qualified” is only part of the process, and is often overvalued by applicants.  Having a compelling career vision and a thorough understanding of how an MBA – and that particular MBA program – will help you achieve it is a crucial and often-overlooked part of the process.

What do MBA admissions officers want to hear?  They want to know that you’ve taken time to assess your strengths and weaknesses, the opportunities that await you, and the role that their MBA program would take in your career should you attend.  To give the admissions officers what they want, you first need to be honest with yourself about what you want.  The truth shall set you free.

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