How to Stand Out In Your MBA Application

By Megan Lerchenmuller

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So, you work at McKinsey, have a stellar GPA from a top undergraduate school, great extracurricular involvement, and two bosses eager to press send on very flattering letters of recommendation. Great…so do a lot of your future classmates. If you’re a non-traditional MBA applicant, often referred to as “career switchers” or individuals who do not fit the typical mold of a business school candidate, you already stand out from the crowd. This article is focused on candidates who fall in the over-represented category. 

When we refer to candidates who fall into the “over-represented” category, we are acknowledging that there are certain backgrounds, industries, or profiles that tend to be more commonly represented among MBA applicants. These are the paths that are often considered traditional or mainstream in the business school application process. For instance, individuals from consulting, finance, or engineering backgrounds, with high GPAs from renowned universities and extensive leadership experiences, are often viewed as the standard or expected applicants. As a result, competition can be particularly fierce within these segments of the applicant pool.

Applying to top MBA programs is a very competitive process.  Of course, you’ll want to make sure that you’re checking all the boxes that make you an attractive business school candidate.  But while you’re doing that, remember that schools want to see more than your resume – that’s precisely why the business school application process is so comprehensive.  Admissions committees are evaluating not only your academic and professional performance but also your future ability to be an unforgettable addition to their alumni roster.  Meaning they want to understand YOU – what makes you excited, where you want to grow, and most importantly, how you will represent the business school’s brand upon graduation.  Strong resumes and GMAT scores are critical to your success; however, we’re outlining some additional items we recommend you focus on when putting together your business school application. 

Articulate Your Story, Your ‘Why’.  

This is arguably the most important part of your business school application.  Admissions committees review thousands of applications per year to unearth clues that will reveal future business leaders.  Sure, you want to change the world – but what led you to pursue this career path?  Why are your future career goals important to you?  When the admissions committee reviews your application, they want to understand your strengths, your resilience, your failures, your EQ, and your dedication to the community.  Be authentic and don’t make the mistake of giving fake examples of failures or weaknesses – adcoms can smell these miles away – they want to see your vulnerability and, more importantly, what you learned from challenging situations or what you’re aware of and working on. 

Highlight Your Extracurriculars.  

How do you spend your free time?  Are you giving back to the community?  Supporting people with backgrounds similar to yours?  Different?  Have you honed a unique skill that showcases an unexpected passion?  Admissions committees are looking to put together a diverse class of peers that will share experiences and knowledge and push each other to achieve their career goals, while being socially responsible leaders.  Think about the things and causes that are important to you, the way you enjoy spending your time, and let your personality shine.   

Put a Spotlight on that Cool International Experience.  

Did you build houses in Haiti after a devastating hurricane?  Study abroad in Tunisia?  Work in Hong Kong?  Business schools are looking to cultivate global-minded leaders.  Think about experiences you’ve had when you’ve been immersed in other cultures.  Think about what you gained from those experiences and how they’ve shaped you.  Exposure to diversity and stretch experiences are often considered indicators of an individual with strong leadership potential. 

Add the Things You Completely Forgot About That Make You, You

Dig deep.  You might feel like your upbringing or the experiences you had when you were younger are more appropriate for college applications.  They are.  But they also made you the person, the leader, and the professional that you are today.  Consider weaving truly transformative moments into your story.  Did your battle with an illness inspire you to improve the healthcare system?  Are you part of an underrepresented, often overlooked community that you would like to bring an innovative, life-changing solution to?  Share the influential experiences that shaped your values and your passions in life.

While you’re working hard to put your best foot forward on your business school application, remember that it’s not only about having an impressive background and resume.  It’s about the experiences you’ve had, how they’ve shaped you as a leader and professional, and how the person you’ve become is well-positioned to have an impact on the world.  Do some serious soul-searching about what sets you apart.  Have your friends and family read your essays to make sure that you’re presenting your full, authentic self.  Most importantly, don’t forget to share how special and unique you are – your experiences have created your worldview.