Matt Symonds is a Director of Fortuna Admissions and regular contributor to Poets and Quants. The following is adapted from his original article posted May 9, 2016.
A great GPA and spectacular GMAT score are no guarantee of acceptance in the world’s top MBA programs. Competition for entry is such that your candidacy will need to reflect much more.
This is where experience inside the MBA admissions office makes all the difference. The coaches and directors at Fortuna Admissions have worked in admissions at 10 of the top 15 business schools, painstakingly evaluating profiles. As such, they understand the scope and depth of the vast number of small details that go into the MBA admissions process.
They have put together a series of short Insider Guides that you can download, with their tips for getting admitted.
To give you a head start, we have selected 10 B-School Insider Tips for Booth, Columbia, Harvard, INSEAD, Kellogg, LBS, MIT Sloan, NYU Stern, Stanford GSB and Wharton:
Tip #1 – It’s not all about “Economics” at Chicago Booth
The full-time MBA program at Booth provides a flexible curriculum, where students are expected to design their own academic experience. Even if your concentration lies in economics and the world of finance, you should be aware of what other academic concentrations are available. Know who the key professors are in each academic department and some of the key published academic research. Familiarize yourself with opportunities outside of your particular interests. The Booth MBA is a transformative experience; through your application, demonstrate to the admissions team that while you have a plan, you are open to examine the possibilities and advantages that a Chicago MBA will provide. Show the Committee that you acknowledge the importance of a well-rounded MBA education.
Tip #2 – Apply early to Columbia Business School
At Columbia Business School, applications are reviewed in the order in which they are received. Advantages of applying early to Columbia are that the pool will be smaller and your application will likely gain greater visibility. If you are admitted, Columbia offers Early Decision, which commits you to the school, or you forego the $6,000 tuition down-payment. Early Decision is also a consideration for students who have scored on the lower end of the school’s GMAT range, because admissions can be more flexible at this initial stage. Bear in mind that while the rest of the top business schools wait until January to process the second round of applications, Columbia is continuously reviewing files from early October onwards. Don’t wait until the New Year.
Tip #3 – Spend time fine-tuning your resume for Harvard Business School
With Harvard down to only one optional essay, your resume has never been more important and is often the first element the HBS file reader will review. Make sure that the strength of your credentials comes across very strongly by highlighting your achievements. Quantify your accomplishments and impact with specific numbers wherever possible. HBS is looking for candidates on a rapid career trajectory, so make sure your evolution (promotions, increasing scope of responsibility, etc) is clearly and emphatically demonstrated. In general, use action verbs and remove passive sentences or phrases. Remember that people who are not from your industry may be confused by jargon or acronyms so avoid these. You may want to briefly describe each company; this is especially important for work experience abroad.
Tip #4 – Overcome a “common” profile for INSEAD
The INSEAD admissions office is inundated by some common profiles: for example, Indian IT professionals or management consultants based in Europe. Whilst INSEAD has no quota, they also want to create a diverse class, so in reality, the competition can be tougher for some more than for others. Those with a common profile need to be strong across all elements of the application: academic profile, professional track record, international experience, and activities and achievements outside of work or study. Differentiate yourself by finding some distinguishing or unique element in your profile such as a multicultural background or an entrepreneurial side interest.
Tip #5 – Recognize that culture really does matter – and know what that means at Kellogg
Admissions officers at Kellogg feel a real sense of obligation to protect what makes the school unique. They want to determine if a student is the right fit in Kellogg’s culture of collaboration. The program will consistently place you in team settings. Most people can be dependable, diplomatic, mature peers for an hour at a time. But what if you’re in hour 12 of an intense case analysis? Or, what if everyone in the group wants to be the leader? Can you become the facilitator needed to get everyone on the same page? Strong situational awareness and examples of how you can work in lots of different types of teams makes for a strong applicant.
Tip #6 – Remember that ‘global’ is not just a word, it’s a culture at London Business School
LBS is a truly international business school, based in a supremely multicultural city. But at LBS, global is a culture that is woven through the fabric of the entire institution. The school is continually reworking the curriculum to best represent this focus. What global aspect will you bring to the new class? Have you worked on international projects or liaised often with international clients? Do you work on multi-cultural teams? Have you invested time in learning other languages? Are there any global secondment opportunities coming up at your company? Any and all of these things can add weight to your application. If the international aspect of the LBS experience is what drew you to the school in the first place, make sure you strongly emphasize that side of yourself.
Tip #7- Focus on feelings rather than function for MIT Sloan
MIT Sloan is most interested to learn about how you thought through a particular challenge or situation, how you came up with an original, innovative solution and how you felt when you needed to make a difficult decision. They want to know who you are as a person and what makes you tick. While the school clearly values numbers and analytical skills, MIT Sloan is also interested in determining the human aspects of your personality, and the values, integrity and passion with which you lead your life.
Tip #8 – Demonstrate your IQ + EQ at NYU Stern
Stern uses a holistic approach to assess prospective students who, aside from having strong grades and GMAT scores, will also be involved in the school community and who are team players. This involves an Admissions Committee which evaluates an individual’s academic and professional backgrounds as well as personal characteristics. Stern looks for candidates who are team oriented and have strong leadership potential. Be prepared to share examples of your leadership style and team interactions. Stern is proud of its collegial, friendly environment and looks for candidates who seek this kind of interactive community for their own MBA experience.
Tip #9 – Define change for Stanford GSB
At Stanford GSB the admissions office is seeking individuals who are looking to have real impact, whether professionally or in society. The school considers that past actions are usually the best predictor of future behavior. Your application should reflect who you are through what you have done. The selectivity of the business school is aimed at identifying those applicants who are driven by a desire not just to excel in their careers but also to help others and have a positive impact on the world. In your own post-MBA career goals, include a longer term view about the areas where you think you can affect real change. Such a vision will carry far more weight if you can point to achievements and commitments from your past and present that underscore your passion and sense of purpose.
Tip #10 – Demonstrate your team orientation at Wharton
Wharton is home to an extremely collaborative and team oriented learning environment. Learning clusters, cohorts, and teams (you may work with 15+ over your time in the program) provide a platform for collaboration and learning to lead through teamwork. Accordingly, your application should demonstrate your ability to actively contribute and thrive in these settings. Candidates should demonstrate a team-orientation and a facilitative leadership style in their application.
We’ve put together Insider Tips Guides for getting admitted to these top schools. Download them here.