Admissions 101: It’s Not Where You’ve Worked, But What You’ve Done

Last week at Veritas Prep HQ we passed around a Harvard Business Review article called “Be Proud of Your Accomplishments, Not Your Affiliations.” That article title could not more perfectly sum up how we feel about so much of what goes into your business school applications. Above all, admissions officers want to know what you’ve done in your career, not just where you have worked.

We say it to our admissions consulting clients so much that some of them get tired of hearing it, but that lesson is too important not to repeat: When business schools are building their incoming classes, and doing it using applications which are no more than mere snapshots of what you’ve achieved by your mid-20s, they need to see strong evidence that you’re someone who makes a lasting, positive impact on those around you. You absolutely must show this in your applications if you want to stand a chance of getting into a top-ranked MBA program.

If you still have doubts, just consider the essay prompts that appear (or have recently appeared) in some top business schools’ applications:

Describe your accomplishments and include an example of how you had an impact on a group or organization. — from MIT Sloan’s 2011-2012 application

Tell us about a time when you made a lasting impact on your organization. — from Stanford GSB’s 2011-2012 application

Tell us about three of your accomplishments. — from Harvard Business School’s 2011-2012 application

Yes, all things being equal, when applying to business school, it helps to be a Princeton graduate and McKinsey alumnus more than it helps to be from Large State University and No-Name, Incorporated. But, as we frequently state on this blog, all things are never equal. Admissions officers will gladly the Large State alum who’s made an impressive impact over the McKinsey employee who’s just monkeyed with spreadsheet models for the past several years. Trust us… We’ve worked with enough clients to know that this is the case.

By the way, we really do recommend that HBR article. Even if you’re not applying to business school, the lesson in that piece is one that every professional should take to heart, regardless of life stage or career goals.

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