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How to Approach Overrepresentation and Old Achievements in Your MBA Application Essays

Many MBA applicants—such as male investment bankers and Indian software engineers—worry that they are overrepresented in the candidate pool. Applicants cannot change their work histories, of course, but they can change the way they introduce themselves to the admissions committee. Consider the following examples:

Example 1: “As an investment banker, I…

Example 2: “Managing a team to code a new software product for ABC Corp., I…

In these brief examples, the candidates blatantly introduce the very overrepresentation they would like to minimize. Many applicants feel they must start their essays by presenting their titles or company names, but this approach can immediately make the reader pause and think, “Here we go again.”

Overrepresented business school candidates should therefore consider the opening lines of their essays especially carefully. Rather than stating the obvious, an applicant might instead immerse the reader in a situation or present a special aspect of their position:

Example 1 (launching into a story): “At 5:30 pm, I could rest easy. The deadline for all other offers had passed. At that point, I knew…

Example 2 (stand out): “While managing a multinational team, half in Silicon Valley and half in Pakistan, I…

In the first example here, the banker candidate avoids drab self-introduction and instead plunges the reader into the midst of a mystery that is playing out. In the second example, the software engineer candidate is introduced not as a “coder” but as a multinational manager. Of course, every applicant’s situation is different, but with some effort, your story can be told in a way that avoids the pitfalls of overrepresentation.

Another issue that aspiring MBAs should consider is the relevance of the stories they tell in their application essays. Because business school candidates must share examples of a variety of experiences with admissions committees, we encourage applicants to truly reflect on their lives and consider all potential stories, including academic, professional, community, extracurricular, athletic, international, and personal. However, candidates inevitably have questions about which anecdotes are truly appropriate and effective. “Can I use stories from high school and college?” “Can I use a story from four years ago?” “How far in the past is too far in the past?” Although no definitive rule exists, with the exception of questions that specifically ask about personal history or family background, schools generally want to learn about the mature you—the individual you are today. So we ask you, “How long have you been the you that you are today?”

When considering experiences that occurred long ago, ask yourself, “Would this impress an MBA admissions committee today?” If you ran a few successful bake sales six years ago when you were in college, this clearly would not stand the test of time and impress a stranger today. However, if, while you were still a student, you started a small business that grew and was ultimately sold to a local firm when you graduated, you would have a story to tell that would likely impress an admissions reader.

Inevitably, judgment is always involved in these decisions. Nonetheless, we offer this simple example as a starting point to help you decide which stories to share.




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