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Why Top MBA Programs Are Fighting Over Self-Aware Applicants

Who are the applicants that MBA programs fight over?

The ones who have their pick of many great b-schools?

The ones who MBA programs are competing for, instead of the other way around?

They are a diverse (and fortunate) group, but I tell you one thing they all have in common:

No, it’s not a perfect GMAT score, or even top awards from the likes of McKinsey or Bain.

It’s self-awareness.

mba programs

The most successful MBA applicants are the ones who know where they’ve been, where they’re going, and why they’re going in that direction.

They know what their skills are, and how they can add value.

Equally important, they know what their weaknesses are, how they need to improve, and how their teammates can balance those weaknesses.

(Read this post on How Skipping Over Self-Reflection could be a mistake that derails your MBA application.)

Today, I want to explain three key reasons MBA programs love self-aware MBA applicants.

Bottom line: These highly successful MBA applicants have taken the time to get to know themselves more thoroughly than most.

And, they’ve turned that knowledge into a compelling personal brand grounded in extraordinary self-awareness.

(Watch this video on Personal Branding for MBA Admissions to learn what the best business schools want in an ideal MBA candidate.)

I realize that words like “self-awareness” and “personal brand” can begin to sound like empty buzzwords- the sort of corporate jargon that gets thrown around in team meetings and self-help books, but doesn’t really mean much.

I can promise you, though, that applicants who embody these words mean a lot to top MBA programs.


Quite simply, they’re sure bets for adding value to the program, both when they are students and after they graduate.

And that’s why top MBA programs are fighting over these applicants.

Let’s take a closer look at how bringing in self-aware MBA candidates helps top MBA programs achieve their goals.

Self-Aware MBA Applicants Are Successful Classmates

Students who are more aware of their strengths and weaknesses tend to be better teammates and make full use of academic resources.

We’ve all been around that guy who has no idea that he is not a team player, or that girl who becomes defensive when given feedback.

MBA students who are more self-aware are more capable of recognizing how they fit into group dynamics, where they can improve, and how they can help their team to thrive.

Secondly, self-aware MBA candidates have a full grasp on their academic goals and are more likely to quickly take advantage of the plethora of academic resources offered by top MBA programs.

These students typically feel more confident in seeking out professors, and are better able to target the faculty members, classes and coursework that will help them achieve their goals.

For MBA programs, admitting more self-aware students could ultimately translate to better grades and an improved culture and academic environment, as well as more meaningful relationships between faculty and students.

Self-Aware B-School Candidates Are Better Campus Leaders

Self-aware students are typically confident without being prideful, and they’re well suited to the leadership positions available at top MBA programs.

They’re able to quickly identify clubs that suit their interests, focus their energies on two-three excellent projects, and help others to find their niche outside of the classroom.

Again, this is a win-win situation for business schools.

The students themselves thrive, and the MBA programs improve the culture and outcomes of their clubs, events and other extracurricular opportunities.

Self-Aware MBA Candidates Are Strong Job Applicants

If top MBA programs are currently fighting over self-aware MBA applicants, it’s a good bet that top employers will be fighting over those same candidates two years down the road.

Top MBA employers want job applicants who can clearly articulate their goals and demonstrate their fit with a company.

They want to be confident that these applicants will be productive and enjoyable team members with an awareness of how they can add value and grow.

Additionally, self-aware MBA candidates are more likely to quickly focus their job search, as they have a strong sense of where they are going with their career.

Recruitment begins quickly after students arrive on campus, and the more self-aware students are when the semester starts, the more quickly they will gain traction in the recruiting process.

All of this creates a tremendous advantage for top MBA programs.

Top MBA programs want to be seen as a resource for top employers, and want to provide the very best candidates.

If they admit more self-aware applicants, they are automatically setting themselves up for a successful recruiting.

And, don’t forget that job offer rates play a big role in b-school rankings.

MBA programs want to see their students succeed, and they want to earn a reputation as a great talent pool.

Because of all of these factors, MBA programs view self-aware applicants as more than a buzzword.

They see them as a tremendous asset and an investment that will pay dividends in the short and long-term.

Student graduation

How To Become A Self-Aware MBA Applicants

Here are a few key steps to achieving the level of self-awareness that most top MBA programs look for.

1. Spend some time alone with your thoughts

Alone time is a precious commodity in this busy world of ours.

We are almost constantly bombarded with external stimulation, whether it is the demands of:

your family and social life,

a colleague popping by to chat,

an endless calendar of meetings,

the buzzing of your smartphone, or

the temptation of going down an Internet rabbit hole.

You must be intentional about regularly setting aside some time for yourself.

Silence your phone.

Turn off your computer.

Find a quiet spot.

And then, reflect.

Are you happy with how your life is unfolding?

Where do you want to improve or change directions?

What do you value most in your life?

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

2. Identify your passions

What makes your face light up with excitement and energy?

What are you truly excited to accomplish when you get out of bed in the morning?

It is so important to define your passions in life and think about how you can tailor your career and personal life to pursue those passions.

If you can clearly articulate a passion, and prove how you have lived it out, you will have a huge advantage in MBA applications, job applications, and much more.

3. Articulate your personal brand

Your personal brand is the sum of your values, passions and character.

It is the essence of who you are and where you want to go.

Begin developing this brand by thinking about the key themes that you want to convey.

What are the words that you want to define your life by?

How do you want others to remember you after they meet you?

4. Explain why you want an MBA

You must be able to clearly define why you are seeking an MBA and what you will do with it upon graduation.

Your reasons should be concrete, specific and personalized.

Avoid speaking in broad generalizations- just focus on your own career goals and interests.

You should also be able to present a general outline of your career plans, both short and long-term.

These plans can, of course, be fluid. MBA programs do not expect you to account for every minute step in your career, but they do expect you to have a clear idea of how you want to use your talents in the workplace.

5. Solicit trusted feedback

Once you have reflected on your personal brand, passions, and career goals, assemble a trusted board of advisors to give you some feedback.

You do not many people- two or perhaps three at most.

They could be a supervisor, a family member, a friend or mentor.

Just make sure it is someone who knows you well, and whose opinion you can trust completely.

Ask them to review your personal brand and provide feedback on its accuracy.

Do they feel it truly represents you?

Did you leave anything out?


This blog post should’ve demonstrated the importance of self-awareness in the MBA application process and identified three key reasons that MBA programs are attracted to self-aware applicants.

By following the steps we’ve outlined, you can set yourself up to gain an invaluable awareness of your own personality, value and goals.

As we have seen, that awareness will serve you well in the MBA application.

However, I can also promise that extraordinary self-awareness will be an asset in all areas of your professional and personal life, wherever you choose to live, work and study.

Quite simply, being more aware of your own passions& capabilities will help you to make choices that fit well with those things and that will ultimately make you happier.

Have more questions about self-awareness, personal branding and the MBA application?

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