In partnership with the Forte Foundation, Fortuna provides MBA admissions advice based on our prior experience as senior admissions professionals at top MBA programs. Each case study features a common applicant profile and an evaluation of the applicant’s strengths, weaknesses and our admissions advice.
The Applicant – Sarah
Job: Associate consultant at Boston Consulting Group
Undergraduate: Economics major from Princeton University, 3.5 GPA
GMAT: 720 GMAT (85% verbal section, 88% quantitative section)
Challenge: Sarah wants to apply to fast-track MBA programs, such as Columbia Business School and INSEAD, however her youth and limited global experience could present challenges.
Reason for an MBA – With just 15 months of work experience, Sarah has already achieved a lot and is considered a rising star, but she now wants to gain more in-depth knowledge on a broader scale. She believes that studying in an academic environment with a top notch faculty and student community will help prepare her for more senior roles within her organization.
Sarah’s Background – Sarah entered BCG right after college and in the short amount of time since she started, she has worked on three client engagements that have provided her with a broad array of experiences, from strategy to cost-cutting. She has also gained knowledge around key business fundamentals through BCG’s internal training program.
Although she is on the younger side for many MBA programs, Sarah has achieved more than most colleagues who started at BCG at the same time, and she is eager to take advantage of BCG’s MBA sponsorship program as soon as possible. She has researched many top MBA programs, including attending information sessions, and she has been asking for advice from BCG colleagues who already have their MBAs. Sarah had originally thought about applying to top two-year MBA programs in the U.S., but she instead decided she preferred a program with a shorter program length. She plans to apply to INSEAD (which is a one-year MBA program) and Columbia for the January start option, which lasts just 18 months.
The factors working in Sarah’s favor include her solid academic credentials from Princeton, one of the world’s most selective universities, and her admirable work experience from a prestigious employer. She will have exceptional recommendations, which carry a lot of weight since she has been identified as an above-average employee in an already highly selective group. However, we see a few potential problems that can get in her way, including: her amount of work experience, lack of global experience, and the difficulty of differentiating herself from the crowds of management consultants applying to business school each year.
Despite her youth, we do not consider this an unconquerable obstacle — especially given her strengths as a promising young consultant from a company that has strong ties to top MBA programs, both for its pipeline of employees going to b-schools and as an employer. However, what we see as a bigger issue is her lack of international experience for a school like INSEAD, which is known for its strong international community comprised of students who have worked all around the globe. An even trickier issue is how to differentiate her from the hordes of other consultants like herself coming from top firms with stellar academic credentials and GMAT scores.
To start, Sarah needs to prove that she is mature beyond her years in order to fit in well with a group of peers who, on average, have more work experience. Ways for her to demonstrate this are communicating her level of maturity in her essays as well as by being confident, but not over-confident, in her MBA interviews. To address the issue of her lack of international work, Sarah should ask BCG to assign her to an international project. In her essays and interviews, she should also make a strong case for choosing such an internationally diverse community, and explain what she can offer. If she is unable to get assigned to an international assignment before she applies, she might want to hold off until the following year to apply.
As for the issue of differentiating herself, Sarah needs to think about ways to convey what makes her unique and what qualities set her apart from others. An example of how she can do this is focusing on a particularly uncommon or impressive achievement, which can be highlighted in her application and recommendations, or to explain something that’s unusual about her passions or long-term ambitions, making sure that this is communicated well throughout her application (her essays, recommendations, and interviews).
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