6 Lessons I learned helping MBA Applicants

As the R3 deadlines come to a conclusion, it is time to reflect on the previous admission season and share some nuggets of wisdom with you. Hopefully, the observations would help you plan better for the next season if you are re-applying or focus on the Winning MBA application elements.

1) Belief

When applicants approach me with their initial list of schools, I ask them why the school is a good match. Almost no one quotes the curriculum or the reputed professor in the program. Most of you are eyeing to be part of the ‘brand’ or switch career or seek the jump in post-MBA salary that you are desperately seeking. The reasons are all fair, but when I highlight the competition or rephrase why the admission team should consider you as unique, some back down, others stick on to a false sense of hope with mediocre narrative, while the most successful – reflect and come back with at least 3-5 points on why they are different.

Not a single successful candidate had a blind belief in their ability. They were confident but not delusional. This attitude of humbleness with confidence is perhaps the most important winning MBA application element. It gets reflected in the work they do, the tone of the narrative and the effort they put in getting the best version of their recommendation letter.

They take nothing for granted. There is always a plan with “What happens if..”. The iterative process of attacking the next problem, openness to seek advice, and remaining unemotional about the results, help us successfully manage the school selection, strategy, essay writing, interview preparation, and scholarship.

I have seen the other side of the belief system too – applicants who are not confident about applying to an M7 school, despite a diverse and unique career progression or experience. I traditionally follow-up with an encouraging email pointing out the reasons for applying. Those who accept my suggestion do so with incredible self-doubt. After all, the current MBA student and the alumni, promoted in the school’s blog and events, have interesting life stories. Many don’t realize that the class size of M7 schools is above 300. There is a large section of the current MBA class that have a traditional background.

Don’t limit yourself if you are coming from a traditional background.

M7 School (MBA): Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, Columbia, Kellogg, MIT and Chicago Booth

2) Response to Failure

If you are targeting M7 schools, failure is inevitable. I know - it sounds strange coming from an MBA Admissions consultant. I don’t want to take you on a path of false hope with Instagram-like quotes about goal setting and perseverance.

You will face failure if your goals are in the top 1%. That is just the law of large numbers.

A sane way to respond to failure is to feel down and out – at least for a couple of days. If you don’t, either you have some Entrepreneurial experience, or are in Sales. For the rest of you, it would be a crushing moment of self-doubt.

Feel bad. But don’t dwell on it for more than a couple of days. Remember you have just 16,000 days left to live (if you are lucky). Don’t waste it on self-pity.

The most common response to failure is to break down every line of the essay and the recommendation letter and introduce narratives to accentuate an obvious strength.

Don’t fall for this strategy without consulting an unbiased reviewer. I have seen posts critiquing the value of admission consultants. Most of them who do that are lucky to be selected in a school of their choice. The rest are strong contenders. In reality, a consultant or reviewer has a stake in your success. That helps their reputation. So for them, giving ineffective advice is a zero-sum game. Their talent lies in questioning the assumptions you have about the school, selecting relevant life events and evaluating your attitude (positive and negative) about the current and post-MBA industries & job functions.

Go back to the drawing board but don’t change the narrative for the sake of it. I had a client who just changed the post-MBA city and received admission to an M7 school.

3) Strategy

Strategy determines your next action. Almost all applicants have some form of weakness – some detrimental to admission while many are used against the applicant when a similar profile confuses the admission team. Don’t wait until the results are announced to work on your weakness.

Most weaknesses if worked on would have a positive impact on your career regardless of your MBA admission goals. One of my clients had a low GPA score. Instead of waiting for the results, he signed up for three online courses conducted by one of the M7 schools and demonstrated that he is capable of scoring in the 90 to 95% in all the courses. That addressed the weakness and helped him come out of waitlist in R2.

Another had low extra-curricular engagement. Last minute extra-curricular is frowned upon by the admission team but given a choice of doing nothing or starting somewhere; the latter is a better position as it not only build empathy towards the community you are in, it would also offer you complementary skills for your career.

Action speaks louder than spin.

The strategy is not limited to failure or weakness.

Your age and career progression should also determine the strategy. Some clients are willing to wait for the next year if admission to M7 doesn’t work out while many have grown to a point in their career that any time spent with the company or in an industry or job function, would have a negative consequence on their ambition and psyche. In such dire situations, selecting schools outside M7 is the most viable strategy. This is the case with older applicants (29 to 33) too. With an obvious bias against older applicants, spinning narratives on continuing in a career alone are not sufficient. Choose schools that are open to older applicants.

There are multiple levels of strategy in the admission process – from school selection to storytelling to persuading the recommenders to convince the admission team on scholarship.

Develop a clear, actionable plan for each stage of the admission process.


I saw a lengthy rant in a forum from someone with diverse experience and a GMAT 640 on the fallacies of the admission process. I nodded in agreement and wondered – why didn’t he try to inch closer to 730+. Did he invest equally in GMAT prep as an essay writing service? Although we initially had no resources to offer for GMAT preparation, the demand to create an alternative to the Official GMAT Guide, forced us to update our GMAT Prep Books. Maybe, there is a better way to explain the RC, CR and SC problems. We did our part. Purchase multiple GMAT Prep books and choose the book that offers you an immediate improvement in score.

I frequently receive questions on the importance of GMAT Score. Many have attempted twice and couldn’t cross 700+. They now want to know if they have a chance to get into a top MBA program with a low GMAT. I couldn’t blame them for taking an easier route, but if I must break one of the biggest myths, it is the narrative that you can get into M7 school with a GMAT score that is below the class median by more than 20 points. If you have a traditional background (Finance, Engineering/Technology and Consulting), GMAT score is crucial to stand-out from the competition. Since the academic quality of the class influence ranking, no school in their right mind would jeopardize their ranking by accepting applicants with mediocre GMAT score (less than 700).

Bite the bullet, target 730+ and retake 3-4 times if you must, but persevere for this MBA Application winning element.

5) Interview

This is an observation that has transitioned from coincidence to a verifiable data point. The less friendly and shorter the interview – 20 to 30 mins, the more you are likely to receive admissions. I have heard accounts of ‘great synergy’ and interviews that transformed from formal to 1-hour informal conversation. When the results arrive, the applicants are left in shock on why they were not selected.

First – prepare for the interview. Many, who are natural conversationalists – assume that they could improv through an interview. Figuring out what to highlight and then working on the right tone and storytelling tools to keep the answer succinct and relevant is a skill. It takes practice.

Read how to approach the standard interview questions, record your answer and work on your tone and storytelling skills.

6) Scholarship

Unless the school has discouraged candidates from re-requesting for scholarship, almost all schools are open to reading the scholarship re-consideration request. They understand that tuition for an MBA program has increased at a rate much higher than the growth in income. Many candidates hesitate to ask from good intentions. They feel that perhaps there are more deserving candidates in the low-income category but note that annually 5% of the multi-billion-dollar endowment funds at M7 schools are dedicated for scholarship and attracting superstar professors, sufficient to cover scholarship for the majority of students.

We have started our service to help applicants approach the admission team with a persuasive scholarship reconsideration request.

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To start a conversation on our consulting, profile evaluation, school selection, essay editing, interview preparation, and scholarship letter writing services, call USA (Ph): +1 415-800-3806 or Skype: F1GMAT or Call +91 9497189032 (India) or visit our store.

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Winning MBA Essay Guide Includes
+Harvard MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Sample MBA Essay – Gratitude & Giving Back (319 Words)   
    Sample MBA Essay – Entrepreneurship (Influence of Childhood) (401 Words)   
    Sample Harvard MBA Essay - Volunteering (Mental Health Awareness)   (774 Words)   
MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Sample Why Stanford MBA Essay (Consulting)(399 words)  
    Sample Why Stanford MBA Essay (Tech Entrepreneur) (390 words)  

    Sample Why Stanford MBA: Career Switch(Finance to Green Energy Consulting)(394 Words)
    Sample Essay A: What matters most to you, and why? (740 Words)
+ Chicago Booth MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Sample Booth MBA Essay #1: Oil & Gas to Consulting (475 Words)
     Sample Booth MBA Essay #1: Social IMPACT to Marketing (478 Words)   
     Sample Booth MBA Essay #2: Leadership experience (Father’s Restaurant Business)(493 Words)   
     Sample Booth MBA Essay #2: Leadership experience (Teach for America)(640 Words)

+ Columbia MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
   Sample Columbia MBA Essay 1: Enterprise to Consumer Marketing (495 Words)  

    Sample Columbia MBA Essay 2:  New York for Marketing Professionals (244 Words)  
    Sample Columbia MBA Essay #3 - Team Failure (Marketing Lead) (242 Words)  
    Sample Columbia MBA Essay #3 - Team Failure (Technology) (248 Words)  
    Sample Columbia MBA Essay #3 - Team Failure (Pharma) (244 Words)  

+ MIT Sloan MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
     Personality Type (Accepted MIT Sloan Students)   
     Cover Letter Checklist   

     Sample Cover Letter – Technology Consulting (286 Words)
     Sample Cover Letter – Healthcare Entrepreneurship (296 Words)
+ Kellogg MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Sample Essay 1: Demonstrated Leadership (Marketing) (449 Words)
     Sample Essay 2: Demonstrated Leadership (Technology) (449 Words)   
     Sample Essay 3: MBA as a Catalyst for Growth (Technology) (438 Words)
     Sample Essay 4: MBA as a Catalyst for Growth (Non-Profit to Consulting) (442 Words)
+ INSEAD MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
   Sample Essay 1: Candid Description, Strengths & Weaknesses
    Sample Essay 2: Achievements and Failures

    Sample Essay 3: Extra-Curricular and How enriched you are
MBA Essay Tips (2018 Entering Class)
     Sample MBA Essay: Non-Profit   
     Sample MBA Essay: Technology   
     Sample MBA Essay: Marketing   
     Sample MBA Essay: Getting Fired   
     Sample MBA Essay: Diverse and Inclusive Culture   
     Sample MBA Essay: Leadership   
     Sample MBA Essay: Post-MBA Goal & How Pre-MBA Experience will help  
+ Yale SOM MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Business Development (Mobile Start-Up)(486 Words)
     Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Investment Banking (IB)(404 Words)
     Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Consulting (442 Words)   
     Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Technology (452 Words)   
     Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Marketing (492 Words)
     Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Entrepreneurship (497 Words)
+ Ross MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Sample MBA Essay: Finance Professional who was a former member of a rock band (96 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Marketing Professional with a hidden talent to do Impression (100 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Life Philosophy through the prism of an Entrepreneurial failure (94 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Consulting for a Pharma Giant (Made a Difference) (91 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Three-Level Sanitation Campaign (100 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Water Conservation Kit (99 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Losing client (100 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Misreading Market Conditions (93 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Strategic Planning vs. Tactical Dominance in Chess (97 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Out of my comfort zone(extra-curricular) (93 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Out of my comfort zone (Daily Science Show) (99 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Simplifying Operations for Manufacturing (extra-curricular) (90 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I am aware that I am different (Leadership and Culture) (98 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I am aware that I am different (Technology Project and Last-minute change) (98 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I am aware that I am different (Making Business metrics relevant to a Creative team) (91 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I find it Challenging when People (Timidity)(98 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I find it Challenging when People (Laziness)(100 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I find it Challenging when People (Pessimism) (96 Words)   
   Sample Essay – Short-term Goals and why the goal is the right choice for you (Technology to Marketing)(299 Words)   
+ London Business School MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    London as the Financial Hub   
    London as the Technology Hub   
    London as the Consulting Hub   

    How to Cite the Curriculum (Example)
    Sample LBS MBA Essay (A Career Switcher from Technology to Consulting for FinTech) (489 Words)
    Sample LBS MBA Essay (A Career Switcher from Hospitality to Consulting) (499 Words)
+ Duke Fuqua MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Framework for Answering the Duke Fuqua Short-Answer Essay Questions   
    Sample Short-term Goals Essay – Technology to Consulting (100 Words)   
    Sample Long-term Goals Essay – Consulting for Government (100 Words)   
    Sample Long-term Goals Essay – Plan B (89 Words)   
    Framework for Answering the Duke Fuqua 25 Random Things   
    Sample Duke Fuqua Essay: The Fuqua community and you (Max 2 Pages)  
+ NYU Stern MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
     Sample NYU Stern Essay 1: Goals (498 Words) (Finance)
     Sample NYU Stern Essay 1: Goals (494 Words) (Consulting)
     Essay 3:  Personal Expression (a.k.a. "Pick Six")    
     5 Examples with Images

+ Darden MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Sample Darden MBA Essay – About yourself (100 Words) (Near Death Experience)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – About yourself (100 Words) (Networking and Job Offer at an Unlikely place)   
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – About yourself (100 Words) (Mountaineering)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – Where you want to go with Darden (47 Words)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – Evolving Leadership Style (198 Words)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – Meaningful IMPACT (200 Words)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay: Short-term Post-MBA career goal (149 words)
+ Wharton MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    7 Professional Gains
    Sample Wharton MBA Essay 1: Gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? (473 words)   
    Sample Wharton MBA Essay #2: Math Tutoring and Experimental music’s value (388 Words)

+ Sample Essays

+ The Art of Storytelling 
+ Leadership Narratives
+ Review Tips
+ Persuasion Strategies
+ The Secret to "unleashing" your unique voice
+ How to write about your Strengths
+ How to write about your Weaknesses

Download Winning MBA Essay Guide (2019 Entering Class)

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