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MBA Applications: How to Stand Out From the Crowd in Four Months or Less

Stand Out From The Crowd ConceptAre you looking to apply to business school in Round 1 or 2 this year using MBA Applications Guide?Are you wondering how to stand out from the crowd in the competitive MBA applicant pool? Or whether you have enough time to make an impact on your MBA applications?

Here’s some good news for you:

MBA Applications

What you do in the next few months can have a major impact on your admissions chances.

How is that possible, you say?

Here’s a real story of how an applicant effectively used a few months before he developed his MBA applications to gain admission to two top MBA programs.

Take Time Off to Strengthen Your Profile

Our client – whom I will call Sam – was wrapping up his two year investment banking analyst role and he was eager to do something interesting for the year before he enrolled in business school.

Instead of assuming that he had too little time to strengthen his profile, he decided to use the next few months to differentiate himself, pursue his career interests and expand his leadership.

He took a position as a consultant for an established NGO in the emerging market.

Like you, he wanted to beef up his leadership and differentiate himself from other applicants he was competing with.

But he had two challenges:

– Would be able to gain enough concrete leadership experience that would be worth including in his application?

– Would his new recommender be impressed enough with his work to write him a glowing recommendation letter?

With only four months before the application deadline, he set out to leave an impact on this NGO and also impress his future recommender.

So how did he do it?

Chose Organizations Where You Can Make A Real Impact

Working in banking, he recognized that he had less opportunity to demonstrate impact if he remained for a third year.

Instead, he sought out a role where he could have greater impact.

The first thing he did was research and select a firm where he knew he would have flexibility to initiate and help implement solutions within a short period.

Keep this in mind…

…not all NGOs are created the same.

Some are highly hierarchical and slow-changing.

Others have a flat organizational structure and are embracing of new ideas.

If you are considering choosing a firm where you could work for the next year, you ought to consider its culture, whether you’d have the opportunity to lead projects or initiate solutions.

It’s not enough that you have the role on your CV, focus on positions where you can have an impact, particularly within a few months.

Chose Firms Highly Regarded By MBA Admissions Boards

What’s one of the big mistakes applicants make when applying to business school?

That they will get automatic points for having a social enterprise role on their resume.

This is far from the truth.

Just in the same way that there are blue chip firms in banking, consulting, private equity and so forth, social enterprise organizations also comes in different stripes.

Sam intentionally chose an organization that was well known and well regarded by the adcom.

If you have the option to choose a reputable not-for-profit organization versus an unknown entity, go with the more recognized option.

Exceptions exist but generally speaking if you had a chance to work for Endeavor versus an unknown enterprise, you may want to go with an established one.

Plan Ahead and Proactively Pursue Your Goals

You may be thinking that a few months is too short an amount of time for you to make a real impact.

Not so.

Several weeks before Sam left his investment banking job, he connected with his supervisor at the new firm to identify some of the challenges they were facing and to brainstorm how he could contribute and create value.

The outcome was that in the space of just a few months Sam was able to achieve tangible results for the organization and earned him a strong leadership reputation.

Sam’s new supervisor was also able to write a powerful reference on his behalf since he was impressed with the results he achieved.

What’s one of the easiest ways to get glowing recommendations for your MBA application?

Make significant contributions to your firm.

Don’t wait till you start your new job to plan a strategy for how you’d have maximum impact on the organization/team.

Plan ahead.

Chose Options That Genuinely Interests You

If you don’t have an interest in working in an international environment or for an NGO, you certainly shouldn’t do so simply to check some MBA box.

The admissions board can see through that.

In Sam’s case, he had an interest in the emerging market country where he worked and was fluent in the language and had spent some time there as a teenager.

He was also interested in consulting so the new role provided him with an opportunity to explore a career interest that he had.

You may not want to move to a new country.

You may also not want to change positions during the next few months before you apply.

That’s perfectly fine.

What’s important is that you are honest with yourself.

Whatever you decide to do in the next few months focus on your genuine interests and look for ways to leave a positive mark in that area.


I would be remiss to give you the impression that the only way to differentiate yourself is by packing your bags and going to another country to work on projects that may or may not even be of any interest to you.

I chose Sam’s example to illustrate how an applicant pursued his interests and differentiated himself within a few months of applying to business school.

For some of you, the best option may be to intensify your community involvement and look for ways to impact the organization.

While for some of you, you won’t have to look beyond your work environment.

You could identify a project that you are genuinely interested in, see how you could take ownership of parts of the deliverables and do everything in your power to make an impact on the project.

Each applicant has a different path that will lead to success.

Be authentic in pursuing yours and be proactive in mapping out a plan to achieve your application goals.

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