the trials and tribs of an MBA hopeful!

Come join me in coffee shops, hiding in conference rooms at work, and generally giving up my entire social life as I work on my MBA applications!

Friday, April 13, 2007

How I got into H/S?

"So, how'd you do it? What's your secret? How did you crack both Harvard and Stanford?"

I get asked this question a lot - and often times i'm the one asking it myself! Not that I feel undeserving per se, but there are many, many qualified, amazing applicants who did not get into these schools. So, while I cannot give any sort of formula, I can tell you what worked for me.

I could tell you about my GMAT score, undergrad grades, extracurricular activities and letters of recommendations. Having strengths in those areas is definitely a huge plus! I scored below 80% on my quantitative though which I had heard was the kiss of death, so apparently there are no hard and fast rules.

But, I think the biggest strength of my app was the essays. I'll go through a few things I did overall, and get into a few specifics for each school.

I had a few main goals of my essays:

1) Show i'm amazing without sounding arrogant :)
- I guess I'm only half-kidding. You have to sell yourself. I am not a boastful, arrogant person by nature, but I did figure out what all my strengths were and weaved them into my essays. Any fast promotions, good rankings, awards, etc should find a place in your essays. The trick is telling how awesome your accomplishments are while still sounding like a great teammate/classmate. I talked about what I learned from each accomplishment and how I grew as a leader.


2) Tell my stories in a personal, first-person, vivid way.
- Stop following all the rules, and let them know who you are and what you are about. I read so many times not to bring religion into your essays. In each school I brought up my family's religion and heritage. Not in a preachy sort of a way, but in an "this is what matters to me" sort of way. And no, not just for Stanford. When HBS asked "What else do you want the adcom to know?" I talked about 2 things: inspiration and identity. Those are what define me, and if they didn't like ME, then their loss not mine :)

>> I would like to take this opportunity to share some personal stories with the Board in efforts to help you understand my background and the motivation behind my achievements. >>

Also, I had 2 of my closest friends read all my essays (non-business peeps). They know me, but not exactly what I do at work. I asked them 2 questions:
- Do you clearly clearly understand what I did, what my accomplishment was?
- Does this sound like me?


3) Keep the reader interested - adcom is reading many many more of these

- If you read my blog, you know I tend to pepper my sentences with exclamation points. While I toned it down a bit, I didn't hold back from using exaclamation points and let my personality show through. Some of my leadership qualities come from staying calm/making jokes in otherwise stressful situations. Maybe HBS cared about that and maybe they didn't, but i did tell them!

>> I also motivated the team through many late nights and frustrating roadblocks by exemplifying total commitment and dedication to our vision while maintaining a white board with humorous quotes to increase team morale. >>

In one school I applied to, I took a big risk and used a metaphor through my entire first essay to explain my career goals. Coincidentally, I met one of my student readers at admit weekend. We started talking and he remembered my essays. He said they were "endearing" and it was his favorite application. That sums up exactly what I was going for. (yay!)


4) Don't focus on "what" they want to hear

- Some of you may remember I held off on applying to Stanford until round 2. One of my problems was that pesky Essay A. What matters most to you and why? I spent 2 months trying NOT to write about things that sounded generic - family, friends, blah blah blah - everyone talks about that, right?

After about 10 drafts with 3 different "what matter most" topics, I realized, friends and family DO matter most to me. It's about HOW you write your essays and the WHY. In my Stanford welcome packet, DB referenced my essay about family and how he felt it would make me a great part of the class.


5) Love every word of your essays.
- I recently went back and reread some of my essays and although it's silly, I really love everything that I wrote. I wish I was a writer who could type out full applications in a week, but I spent hours upon hours upon draft upon draft until I really loved what I was turning in.

In my Kellogg app, I actually re-wrote a couple entire essays mere days before the deadline because I thought my essays were too generic and boring. A creative idea came to me while I was falling asleep one night, and I'm glad I took the time to re-write and make it the best most compelling application possible.


So, I'm not sure if the above suggestions will help, but I truly believe that letting the true me flow into my essays gave them a sense for who they would be admitting into their class. I used a few main ideas throughout all my essays and made sure when they were complete, my story was told in its entirety.

My philosophy is: If you are writing the same essays as everyone else, how are they going to know to choose you?? :)

9 Comments:

Blogger -tvu said...

Nicely posted. Be true to yourself and let them know who you are.

11:24 AM  
Blogger Iday said...

The essays sure are the trump card!

Going by this post alone, one can guess how good the essays must have been :) For peeps like me, who have been reading the blog regularly, that comes as no surprise ;)

So - have you made your decision? East or West???

3:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree that essays are vital but at the same time dont you think for H/S your profile i.e. company,job,extra curriculars, undergrad is equally important. It would be helpful if you share a little more of your profile.
I have trouble believing only great essays could get one into H/S, without being accompanied by a very,very strong profile.

9:05 AM  
Blogger MBAstarter said...

Great advice on the essay front. A must-read for all MBA aspirants.

I have no doubt that essays can be the differentiating factor when it comes to converting our app into an admit. However, I'd second anonymous when he/ she says that our profile - job, performance, extra curriculars etc - has to be strong enough to add value to the incoming class.

11:42 PM  
Anonymous David said...

So what are you picking and why are you picking it?

8:56 AM  
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