An Expert's Ultimate Guide to Building Your MBA Application

Applying to business school is much more than simply answering each question. You need to create a compelling narrative, and then utilize every element of your application to tell that story. In this guide, Coach Jessica B. will show you how to do just that!

Jessica B.

By Jessica B.

Posted March 12, 2024

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So, you’ve decided where you’re going to apply for B-school, and you’ve opened the application. Now what?

Before you move past the basic contact information, it’s important to take a step back and put together a strategy for your application.

Why? Because getting into a top 10 business school isn’t easy. Many people who don’t get in are incredibly qualified. But, you have to understand the perspective of the admissions team;  they’re looking to create a class of people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Beyond checking the boxes that demonstrate your academic chops, it’s important to differentiate yourself on as many dimensions as possible and showcase how you will contribute to the learning community of your class.

This is especially true if you’re a consultant or banker because hundreds of people are applying to the same schools with the same job. Candidates who stand out from the crowd will have applications that highlight what makes them unique from their professional peer set.

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So, how do you do it? Follow this simple mapping exercise:

List out the components of the application

This is pretty straightforward for everyone, as they include:

  • Test scores + transcripts
  • Resume
  • Essay
  • Recommendations

Some schools have specific sections of the application where you can highlight awards or other personal achievements in addition to fun facts like your favorite food or quote. It’s important to go through each application in its entirety as your strategy might need to look different for each school.

Understand what each school is looking for

Every school has qualities or criteria that they value in a candidate.

For example, Stanford GSB’s are:

  • Intellectual vitality
  • Demonstrated leadership potential
  • Personal qualities & contributions

Read more about the GSB's requirements here: Stanford GSB — MBA Program & Application Overview

HBS’s are:

  • Habit of leadership
  • Analytical aptitude and appetite
  • Engaged community citizenship

Read Harvard Business School — MBA Program & Application Overview (2023)

In your application, you’ll want to make sure that you’re highlighting how you meet these criteria.

Outline your attributes

This is where you have to do some serious introspection. Ask yourself, “What do I want XYZ school to know about me that sets me apart?”

This could be:

  • Life experiences – being a first-generation college student, having a non-typical childhood, going to a non-traditional school, or pursuing alternative education options
  • Character attributes – do you value your determination or perseverance or are you admired for your dedication or grit?
  • Pivotal perspectives – did something happen to you in your life that made you see the world differently or alter the path you were on?
  • Passions and ambitions – what gets you out of bed every morning? Where do you see yourself in the world? What do you want your legacy to be?

All of the above needs to be woven together into a narrative that explains how you’ve gotten where you are, where you want to go, and how the school you’re applying to is a critical step in that journey.

Put it all together

Now, let’s do the mapping exercise. If you’re a visual person, you can do this with sticky notes or images on a slide.

From here, you’ll start mapping your attributes and the aspects the school is looking for against the different elements of the application. This process helps you both ensure you cover every aspect of your story, while also making the most of each piece of the application without being repetitive.

For example, if you have done investment banking and got a decent math score on your exams, you’ve already checked the box on analytical ability. So, it would be a waste of your time to highlight your analytical ability elsewhere.

This process also helps you narrow down what to put in your essay and how to select and guide your recommenders. Again, using the analytics example, let’s say you’re from a liberal arts background and don’t have as much “business” experience. Your test score is one indication of your analytical mind, but you could also leverage your recommendation letter to highlight your abilities to problem solve, whereas the investment banker might want a recommender to focus on another attribute, like their teamwork or dedication to helping others.

As you can see, this mapping process is unique to you and your story. It’s a simple but effective process that gives you a framework for how to tackle your application and ensure you’re representing your whole self across the different pieces.

If you’re having trouble going through this process, that’s where an MBA coach can be a great resource. Book a free intro call with me (Coach Jessica B.) today!

With that, you’re ready to get back to your MBA application!

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