The Value of Diversity in the MBA Admission Process:
In The National, the first English-language publication in Abu Dhabi, incoming Insead Dean, Dipak Jain signals where his key attention will be: expanding the cultural diversity of Insead.
During his visit to Abu Dhabi, Dean Jain stressed the fact that Insead is a school that values diversity across the globe.
He highlighted plans to leverage the program’s innovative approach towards helping to develop the Middle East.
Dean Jain went on to say: “We don’t want a room where 70 per cent of the students are from China because people learn together.
“When people are from different countries and origins, they bring new ideas, so diversity brings innovation”.
But Insead’s new Dean is not the only person throwing around the D word.
In an email to round one applicants Harvard Business School’s Admissions Director, Dee Leopold, wrote “Our promise to students each year is to comprise a diverse and balanced class – and our metrics for diversity are more complex than those which can be easily reported in a class profile on the website.
If my job were to rank order candidates from high to low in order of individual strength, whatever that might mean, different decisions might be made.”
So what does this mean for applicants targeting top business schools?
For the longest time diversity has been synonymous with under-represented minorities and women and more recently with Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgendered applicants.
Many business schools organized open houses and information sessions to market directly to applicants from these categories.
While schools continue to value the diversity that students from these perspectives bring to the class, they also appreciate the diversity of life experiences that all applicants bring with them beyond ethnicity, gender, and sexuality.
I encourage applicants to drill down into their lives to identify the “different” experiences that have shaped who they are.
It could be as simple as someone who always had an insatiable interest in cultures outside of their own, goes off in high school to do an exchange program and learn a new language, gravitates towards places that are off the beaten path (literarily) out of curiosity, and then does a stint in usual suspect blue chip firms to then spend his/her last year before business school in another interesting part of the world doing work he/she is passionate about.
These travel experiences can reflect an interesting perspective that reveals several differentiating aspects about the candidate: resilience and adaptability, curiosity, maturity, boldness, etc.
But this isn’t a call for every applicant to begin gallivanting around the globe to check some travel diversity box. It is about authenticity at the end of the day.
You have to figure out what really appeals to you and how you have pursued those things or demonstrated them in a way that can enable you to showcase how they have influenced your thinking, shaped your world view, and more importantly, the value that your particular view point will bring to enrich and diversify the MBA community.
So when considering activities you wish to pursue one piece of advice to applicants is to avoid following the status quo.
Don’t be afraid to explore interests that are not the norm, don’t be afraid to be the only person from your background pursuing that interest.
It’s easier to follow the “usual suspect” track and grab on to something in your backyard.
But sometimes, taking a detour can yield significant returns on the diversity front.
At the end of the day, remember that schools are looking for applicants with a different viewpoint and experiences (both personal and professional).