Authenticity, the Real You, and the MBA Application

self-exploration or self-excavation?

Here’s how to get into your top-choice business school: be yourself. If you are struggling with MBA essays, the last thing you want to hear are those two words, but that’s the secret. I know it seems like a cliché, but admissions officers say over and over that they want to get to know YOU in the essays. Allison Davis, Associate Director of Admissions at Stanford Graduate School of Business wrote those very words in a blog post, even calling them “corny, but true.”

Get Real
The only way for you to do that is to show your authentic self. Not the person you think the committee wants to read about. I guarantee this one fact: YOU are more interesting than that mythical person. They want to read about your successes and foibles. I recall an admissions officer from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business remark that he loved reading the stories where people learn from mistakes or failure. Those stories show a lot about a person’s true character. Remember, every business school class is made up of human beings, and the more you show who you really are, the more you will stand out from the crowd of generic applicants. No kidding.

Dawna Clarke, Director of Admissions at Tuck, blogs about the importance of showing the “real you.”  She reminds applicants that the admissions process is designed to facilitate self-reflection and should help you to genuinely understand yourself—something you take with you regardless of where you get in.  Clarke writes:

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is to be yourself. It goes without saying that the best thing you can do is walk away from your business school application experience knowing you put your best in front of the admissions committee for consideration. Regardless of the decision outcome, you’ll have no regrets and, hopefully, you have learned a little about yourself along the way.

When your authentic voice comes through, it makes your application credible and demonstrates confidence.  Says the Stanford Graduate School of Business admissions website (look under the heading “Personal Qualities and Contributions”):

In a world that often rewards conformity, the Stanford community thrives only when you share your individual experiences and perspectives.  As a result, the strongest applications we see are those in which your thoughts and voice remain intact.

To understand how you will contribute to and benefit from the Business School community, we want to know about you: your experiences, beliefs, your passions, your dreams, your goals…most Stanford MBA students have excelled by doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. It is what you make of an experience that matters to us, not simply the experience itself.

You may be thinking, oh, I am just another cookie-cutter engineer/investment analyst/consultant/IT specialist.  But you aren’t. You are you, the real you. The more authentic “you” that shows in your application, the better your chances. Promise.

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