Last Saturday, I attended the 2010New York City Forum, hosted by MBADiversity and GradPrep. The theme of the day was self-awareness, andhow knowing yourself--your abilities, goals and personal/professionalinterests--will help you craft the best application.
"It's very important to be yourself, but beyour best self," said Kelly R. Wilson, assistant dean and director ofGeorgetown University's McDonough School of Business, at the event's admissionspanel. But in order to know your "bestself," you also have to know your worst self by understanding what yourweaknesses are and how you can improve them. Continued Wilson, “I can’t stress enough how much the issue ofself-awareness comes up in our admissions committee meetings,” everyone hassomething he or she can work on.
For the admissions panel, most questions focusedon how to overcome weakness(es): What do you do about the things you cannotchange, such as a low GPA or minimal work experience? The first step, the panelists said, is tofigure out what your potential weaknesses are early. Review your application and experiences anddecide where you think the gaps are. Butonce you've found your weaknesses, you're only halfway there. Noted panelist Nsombi B. Ricketts, directorof the office of diversity and inclusion at Cornell University's JohnsonSchool, "Own whatever the weakness is and learn from it.”
Kelly R. Wilson reassured the audience that not everyonecan hit every point. "Addressissues head on," she advised, "There's nothing you can do about yourundergrad GPA," but there are things you can do to show growth. Take an extra course to show your currentacademic prowess. For example, taking acourse in statistics or accounting and earning a good grade will show you'reready for business school and diminish any undergraduate failings. Later on, Wilson added, "Don't let usfill in the gaps, you have the opportunity to control the story."
If you're unsure how to tackle a weakness, askthe admissions office. “Get in touchwith the schools you’re applying to early,” said panelist Frances Murphy,director of graduate admissions at Baruch College's Zicklin School of Business. “Have that conversation early so youknow what schools would like you to do...Don’t wait until it’s too late to dealwith it." Plus, by addressing aweakness head on and contacting the admissions office to "deal with it,"you show your commitment to the degree and to a particular business school.
So, what are some of the qualities MBAadmissions officers look for to compensate for a potential weakness? Said Nsombi Ricketts: "We really look atleadership. We look for passion, and youcan't really quantify that." SuzanneAshour, assistant director of recruiting at the University of Maryland added:"Passion is critical--and the determination to back that." Channeling your passion into your business schoolapplications isn't easy, but it all comes back to self-awareness. Knowing who you are and what your passionsare is crucial to articulating them.
If you haven't been able to follow your passionsin your career to date, that's OK. Highlight where you have followed them, whether in nonprofit work,extracurricular activities or back in school. Reminds Frances Murphy, "We are very interested in everythingyou've done." So put it all down,do some soul-searching and you'll put your best foot forward in yourapplication.
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