I don’t know if it is because of the economy or because my friends have reached a certain age, but a lot of them have started applying to business school recently. A few of them have asked me to review their personal statements. But before I read their statements, the one question I always ask them is: Can I see the rest of the material you are submitting for your application?
Business schools will usually have you submit a CV, recommendations, and extra essays in addition to your personal statement. It is important to make sure you are able to convey yourself correctly through these materials in a cohesive way. For instance, if you write in your personal statement about how you have a passion for becoming an investment banker at a big bulge bank, but yet, one of the people writing your recommendation mentions how you dislike corporate America, this will not make sense to the admissions officer.
A lot of applicants spend a lot of time on their personal statements, but many forget to integrate the rest of their application with their personal statement. While it is important to tell a nice story in the personal statement, it is also important to make sure your whole application tells a cohesive story.
As you prepare your application, here are 2 important things to keep in mind.
1) The business school admissions office will shift through thousands of applications per year. As a result, the amount of space an applicant is given to show why he/she should be admitted is actually very limited. Most people that apply to good business schools will most likely have great test scores and good grades. While it is important to show that you are an intelligent person, it is also very important to convey who you are through the limited space you are allotted in your application.
2) Make sure you put in information into your application that is pertinent. It is important to not harp on one particular attribute or achievement throughout your application. I once had a friend that wrote about how high he scored on his SAT’s in his personal statement and then highlighted it again in his CV. Not only is this information irrelevant at this stage of his career, but he was using up valuable space to repeat useless information twice in his application (Furthermore, he expressed his score based on the old 1600 scale without specifying it. A 1580 is nice on the old scale, but with the new current 2400 scale, this is not that impressive).
Ultimately, the admissions officer looks at your application as a holistic portfolio of who you are. He/She is trying to get a sense of who you are and if you will fit in at the school. While all schools like diversity, each school is slightly different. From personal experience, I have worked extensively with students from the Yale School of Management and MIT Sloan. The atmosphere at each school is different, but in good ways.
I will end by sharing a personal anecdote about a business school interview experience to convey the importance of structuring the whole application as a holistic portfolio of yourself. In one particular interview, the admissions officer started by asking me what it was like to be born in Kansas. This might seem unusual to ask except for the fact that I am Korean. In one of my application essays, I wrote about how I was one of the few, if not the only Korean kid to grow up in Kansas during the 80′s and how it has shaped who I am today. For a large part of the interview I talked about growing up in a small town in Kansas and doing mundane things like playing with the sheriff’s dog. In my personal statement, I also mentioned my passion for stem cell research. For the time I wasn’t talking about Kansas, I talked about stem cell research.
After the interview was over, the admissions officer told me that she had interviewed over 10 applicants that day, most of them from the business/finance sector. However, she said she has never met/interviewed a Korean born in Kansas, let alone a person with roots in Kansas who is passionate about stem cell research (The state of Kansas apparently does not believe in scientific concepts such as evolution -.-). She went on to say that everything I wrote in my application was unique, but yet made sense after interviewing me.
Needless to say, a week later I got a call saying I was accepted. Who would have guessed that being a Korean from Kansas and being passionate about stem cell research would get me into business school? Never once was I asked about my test scores or grades during the interview. Instead, during the interview, we talked about what I wrote about myself in the whole application and not just what I wrote in my personal statement.
Keep this in mind as you prepare for the application and interview process.