Today’s post comes from Manhattan Review, a well-known provider of test prep and MBA Admissions Consulting in Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC for Top Business Schools.
Out of the more than 20,000 combined applications received each year at HBS, Stanford, and Wharton, approximately 1 in 10 applicants are chosen. You might wonder, what distinguishes the one chosen candidate from the 9 who were not?
As part of our mission to offer candidates the best possible information from the best possible sources, Manhattan Review takes part in on-going conversations with many MBA admission members. From these talks, we’ve collected information we offer candidates seeking to get into an elite business school. To that end, we’ve formulated a theory we’d like to share. If there is a single most important trait a candidate must have – if there is one – to get into an elite business school it is the potential to be a leader.
Now, you might say, isn’t it true that many applicants already know this fact. Therein lies the problem. While most applicants already know this, few really know what constitutes a well-crafted and convincing MBA application that demonstrates – without a doubt -- their much sought-after leadership skills.
We have carefully analyzed applications of successful clients over the years – those actually admitted to Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton. The analysis left us with four common traits that glow in their applications and all contribute to leadership potential in one way or another: Self-awareness, unwavering sense of purpose, and passion.
Know who you are.
You never want to lessen the importance of self-awareness and personal insight. Get in touch with your strengths, your weaknesses, and your accomplishments. Instead of merely stating, "people say I get things done," why not tell a particular story where you took successful steps, identified an exceptional business opportunity or made a difference in the outcome of a complicated undertaking? Really look at your range of cultural, educational and professional experiences, and think objectively about how they describe who you are. It’s also a good idea to offer instances outside of your professional career where your strengths were utilized to result in a positive outcome. And remember, this is an area that’s well within your control – you’re the only one who has had your experiences. We’ve seen candidates’ applications suffer from a lack of self-awareness and introspection and because these are intangible qualities, most often they’re not specifically addressed in feedback sessions.
Exhibit a sense of purpose.
Your sense of purpose may come from past or current personal interests, professional career ambitions, or political leanings. Having purpose is being dedicated to a cause one feels deeply about or it may be a drive to make a difference in an industry or it could be altruistic in nature wanting to help those less fortunate to achieve their full potential. Business schools tell us that accepted applicants with this trait clearly exhibit on paper -- as well as in person -- exceptional self-awareness and a sense of purpose. Ask yourself these 2 questions:
- What do I feel strongly about?
- Where and how would I want to make a difference?
Admission committee members tell us that by the time an applicant comes to the interview, positive steps have already been taken toward fulfilling their particular sense of purpose. Can you imagine what a stimulating conversation this would spark at your interview?
If you are applying to the top-ranked business schools, a clear understanding of these two elements -- self-awareness and sense of purpose – can make your application more memorable and truly stand apart.
Show your passion.
This is the third element where you can demonstrate leadership potential to top-ranking business schools. Passion is another intangible trait generally defined as emotional energy directed toward an area of personal or professional interest for the sole purpose of effecting positive change and which also would result in personal or professional joy. An admissions director from an elite business school said, "…leaders leave footprints in their areas of passion."
Manhattan Review’s clients who have earned acceptance letters from the top three business schools have learned how to define their passions clearly in their resumes, essays, recommendation letters, and interviews.
Try not to think about the thousands of others applying for acceptance. In deciding whom to choose, the admissions committee doesn’t work in large numbers; it looks at individuals. Its focus is to select a well-balanced incoming class that reflects all the traits and qualities to which the school aspires. To summarize all that’s written here, we recommend that you search for the place within you where your self-awareness, sense of purpose and unique passions come together to form the total package that is you. Then take that insight and inject it into every aspect of your application so that there’s no doubt you have this highly valued trait: your individual leadership potential.
Remember, this is an area that’s well within your control – you’re the only one who has had your experiences. Last but definitely not least, we’d like to leave you with this powerful thought: top-tier business schools know than an MBA program can supply students with knowledge, networks, skills, opportunities, and relationships. What it cannot supply is self-awareness, sense of purpose, and passion.
For more insights into the MBA application process we recommend that you attend our free interactive MBA Admissions Webinars where you gain lots of useful insight into the MBA Admissions process from Manhattan Review’s director of Admissions Consulting, a former member of Wharton’s admissions board.