#10 – Is your GPA or GMAT is lower than the average? If so, between now and Round 1, you will want to provide evidence of your ability to handle the program. This can take many forms. 1) one of the most popular options for those with quant-deficient backgrounds or low quant grades/GMAT is to do MBA Math. 2) take a Statistics and/or Calculus course at a reputable local university. 3) HBS Strategic Management certificate program. I believe that one of my overrepresented candidates with very poor grades and zero extracurriculars was admitted to Stern, in part, because he was getting A or A- grades in the HBS Strategic Management certificate program. If the problem is verbal – focus on acing a writing or literature course, or engage in a public speaking group. But most of all, make sure your recommendations and essays offer ample evidence of your lucidity in English.
#9 – Hobbies and interests. As you probably know, you’re not competing against the applicant pool, but against people with your “profile.” Schools want diversity, so if you are an overrepresented candidate, it’s very important for you to demonstrate uniqueness and well-roundedness. Here’s an example. In essays, Indians often discuss their leadership role on the cricket team at university. However, I wish I had a dime for every essay I’ve read by a former Indian cricket captain. It isn’t going to separate you much from the competition. Put the focus on on interests and activities that really separate you from other people with your “profile.” Don’t run out and take up a bunch of new hobbies, because that will send up a red flag with the adcom. However, increase your participation in a hobby that 1) separates you from other people with your profile and 2) you can speak about honestly in an interview situation. For example, one of my Indian applicants was a champion equestrian and coached him to discuss this somewhere in his application. If possible, use one of your essays to discuss a hobby that would add an interesting dimension to the class. Applicants often fixate on the GMAT, but overlook other ways to set themselves apart. Don’t miss this opportunity.
#8 – You want to show progression. The most obvious way is to get promoted. However, there are many ways of advancing to a higher level of responsibility – community work, political volunteering, alumni associations. For example, volunteer at the SPCA on Saturdays, do your best, and let them know you could help with their business operations. Lick envelopes to help a political candidate you support, and you might get bumped up to Canvassing Manager. So think broadly about this, if a work promotion doesn’t seem likely over the coming year. The goal is to show that when invited to their club, you add value and play well with others – hence – they give you a bigger role in the organization.
#7 – Cultivate self-awareness. This is the key weapon in your admissions arsenal. As they say, “no one can beat you at being you.” Leverage this to set yourself apart from the competition. Keep in mind – the only reason the adcom is reading your application is to get to know YOU. Not your company, your mentor, or your team. So you need to know yourself well enough to speak eloquently on the topic of you. I recommend taking the Strengthfinders assessment, and this quiz to find out your values. What motivates and animates you? Knowing your values will help you answer those WHY application essay questions, i.e, “what matters most and why?” This will set you apart in the eyes of the admissions committee from candidates who wrote less personal and more superficial, predictable essays about “why this school.” This will also help you demonstrate an authentic cultural fit with the school. Showing that you know, understand and mesh with the values of a particular program creates an emotional connection with the reader. And that, my friend, is a highly effective – yet very underutilized – application strategy.