To your mom and dad, you will always be special. One of a kind! To an admissions committee, however? Oh, well in that case you’re one in 9,000. At a high level, just another consultant or investment banker or IT professional. They don’t know you well enough to know you’re unique and it’s up to you to let them know exactly how diverse and fun and impactful you are! And it’s not like admissions committees aren’t trying to fix that - you see, many schools are moving to open ended essay questions that allow for creative submissions and emphasize personality. They’re trying to get at the heart of you and assess things like your EQ (emotional intelligence). A fancy buzzword in recent years that nonetheless has a profound impact on the MBA experience and potential future success.
Nowadays, your academic performance, test scores, and work background act like barriers of entry rather than differentiators. If your GMAT or GPA is high enough, or your work experience impactful enough, you’re in the game for consideration! But beyond that, the focus shifts to the identify of the applicant. A great MBA class isn’t made of X% consultants, Y% investment bankers. It’s made of people and your focus should be on communicating why YOU as a person are a great fit. The focus should be on identity. The focus should be on adding a splash of color to an otherwise monochromatic set of credentials. This can be the differentiator between similar candidates or provide the extra boost to strengthen up a weakness in an application.
So what is the difference between developing a story or building a profile and creating an identity? Well, a story is what lends cohesion to your application. It provides the admissions committee with a clear understanding of where you’re coming from, why you want to go to school, and where you’re headed after. It pulls the various components together into well rounded application. It is critical so don’t think we’re saying for a moment to not focus on your story! An identity, however, is the personality behind the story. Some applicants are lucky enough to have amazing stories and experiences that instantly make their applications memorable. However, for the rest of us who didn’t create breakthrough invention, win an Olympic medal, or struggled through extreme adversity, it comes down to the small personal details that lead to a lasting impression.
Let’s think through a scenario where having an identity can play out during applicant reviews. As your application is brought up to be discussed, would you want to be recognized as the management consultant with solid financial service experience and a strong GMAT score looking to going into trading based on an interest in futures or the funny and qualified consultant from the South that wants switch to trading crop futures because of his childhood experiences growing up on a farm (who also has a great GMAT)? Which description here will be the most memorable and make a better impression?
There are many ways to go about establishing an identity. For example some applicants may focus on an area that they are passionate about and make a mark with their strong convictions and beliefs. Others use humor because it portrays a personable image that may fit well with their target programs (however, this should be done with tact and probably isn’t the strategy right for everyone!). Then there are the applicants that choose to highlight strange and uncommon quirks, interests, backgrounds, or stories that can help as often as hurt.
The key is to be true to yourself. Don’t create an identity you think the admissions committee wants to see. Be you! An MBA is all about fit and as much as the adcom needs to like you to let you in, you need to like the program and student body to want to go! Creating an identity isn’t easy and things you take for granted about yourself may be the very things that are the most unique. Often it takes an outside perspective to help identify the traits that are truly unique and memorable.
So as you begin brainstorming your essays and putting pen to paper, remember to add your identity to your story!
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