Oxford-Said MBA Application Essay Tips

Consider a statistic or trend that shocks you. Why it is important to you and how could it be changed for the better?

Oxford Said Admissions Tips MBA Prep CoachI just wanted to offer some advice on the main essay topic as I know some people are racking their brain over this.

Oxford wants to learn about your values. If it is shocking to you then it’s probably tripping upon some deeply felt principal.

Ponder what that might be and speak from that place. Consider that they are trying to get to know you at the deepest level by understanding what motivates you, and examining if those values are a match for the Oxford Community.

To generate some ideas you might actually consider looking at successful essays for Stanford’s main essay question which also speaks to values.

For the part about how you would change this, I think they are looking to assess your innovative  and strategic  thinking abilities. Be imaginative.

MBA Application Essays – Demonstrating Fit

Demonstrating Fit MBA Prep Coach BlogLast time, I promised to show you how to increase your chances of admission by having firm, clear goals. One of the key reasons for this is to demonstrate fit. This phrase is widely used, but not generally understood.

To illustrate, let’s take the case of a common applicant who wants to enter the world of management consulting. And let’s say they are aiming high – to get an offer from McKinsey, Bain or Boston Consulting Group. But they might also be kicking around some other ideas and (I’ve seen this) investment banking seems like an equally interesting idea.

The best place to start – is a JOB DESCRIPTION for each goal. Sounds simple, but this is what’s called thinking from the end. Ask yourself, what excites me about this job description? When it comes to the qualifications – what do I have now, and what do I need? How will an MBA help me get what I need to become qualified? Which programs are best suited to doing that?

Rather than spend $200K guessing what might work, posting stuff on GMAT Club asking for advice from other applicants who might be equally in the dark, go to the end user here. Who are you trying to sell this education to? Who is going to help you pay off loans, and help you establish a positive net worth?

I would recommend that the applicant contact the MBA recruiter (yes, this is a real person) at the MBB office where you want to work post MBA. Ask about where they recruit, because each office recruits locally, to some degree. Also, find headhunters and independent recruiters who tend to place applicants for top consulting firms. And lastly, of course, network with people who are doing what you are thinking about doing. Who have been in your would-be shoes.

To do this, I am a big fan of the advanced search feature on Linked In. You can identify the parties mentioned above by school, employer, etc. In this situation, you will probably want to send some “inmails.”

I’m not trying to sell Linked In here, but get premium, it’s free for 30 days, and this is your life, after all. Don’t be pinching pennies when it comes to identifying and landing your dream job, one that won’t feel like work, and will help you feel good about Monday morning. Because this is the goal, not attending business school Business school is a means to an end, and that end is to get you into a job that makes you happy (however you define that.) Some might say it is to find a better paying job – however I have seen too many people get that better paying job and then use money to try to make themselves happy, when they could have just achieved it directly.

Write a letter to these people that is easy for them to answer. Please do not write something like, “Tell me what management consulting is all about.” That is abstract, unfocused and you would not want to be on the receiving end of that email. They would be thinking, this joker doesn’t really get that I work 80 hours per week and have no time for games. I recommend that you work with a career coach and put together a kind of cover letter, stating the specific information you are seeking (how to select schools, in this case) and then put together a list of 10 questions where the answers will be more than yes/no, but won’t require the recipient to delve into the depths of their psyche.

Not everyone will respond, but if you put together an effective email (edited by someone like myself) you WILL get responses. This always seems to shock my clients (quote, “just to be clear…you’re telling me to email the former Prime Minister of Australia?!”  but many people out there DO care and would like to help others sidestep mistakes (and loans) that could have been avoided. In certain circumstances, my clients have decided NOT to attend b-school and to instead attend a school of public policy. Or just focus on how to achieve their goal in a different way, from their current position. I am thrilled, frankly, that this process saves my clients potentially wasted years and several hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So, after getting the qualitative input on the job itself, you think – would I be OK with being away from home Monday through Thursday? How would my wife and dog feel about that? Do I enjoy having to interview employees about what they do? Do I like Excel well enough to build models? Is this my thing?

If it isn’t, you might take Kellogg or Tuck off your list o’ schools. But if it is, review their employment stats reports. You might discover such and such school is a big feeder for Deloitte but less so for MBB – would that be OK? If so, move on to subscribing to their You Tube channel and watching You Tube videos and video “podcasts” to find out more about the culture there.

Take note of the values they state, explicitly or implicitly, and in your essays, write about how those values resonate with you, and give examples of how you’ve modeled them in your life. Reaching the adcom on the level of common values is a much deeper connection than most make – and it is effective. It makes you memorable.


Goals blog post MBA Prep CoachSo often applicants think about other aspect of their application (school selection, resume etc.) prior to considering their MBA goals, and I really feel this is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog.


To write a persuasive application, it’s critical that you have those goals honed and refined. Background + MBA = Post-MBA Goal. So in order to solve for “MBA” part here, you need to figure out the right side of the equation.

Then, take Goal + Experience = Long Term Goal. Hopefully this long-term goal will stir the adcom on both an emotional and analytical level.


Consider this: schools invest more money in you than you pay in tuition. So while many consider this process to be shopping for an MBA program, in fact, your application should be likened to a pitch. Think Shark Tank.

Why should they invest foundation dollars in you vs. someone else? They are more likely to choose the applicant who has carefully considered why they are applying to the school, and what they are trying to make manifest by going there. Successful Shark Tank applicants rarely walk into the room presented a with few different “options” for potential products, or a generic, half-baked idea. They don’t say, well, give me the money, I want to explore first, and see what sounds good to me once I get there. That would be a ridiculous way to approach starting a business, a sure plan for financial ruin. Yet, business school applicants do this all the time.


Check this out. For the admissions committee, in this case, *YOU* ARE THE BUSINESS. You are the business they are investing in. Show them you have a business plan for business school. Show you have a strategy and specific tactics to carry out said strategy.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t engage in big, blue-sky thinking. Schools like to see a big vision. One of my recent Wharton Lauder admits has a goal of establishing a consultancy in Africa that will allow Africans to effectively increase the percentage of arable land, solving part of the hunger crisis, and make the agriculture market a viable means of economic growth there.


So, big vision is encouraged, however, you need to connect the dots. Background + MBA = Goal. In this case, he had visited Africa, traveled extensively, and has a masters in Engineering. All he needs is a business education – knowledge if marketing, finance – mentorship, and an understanding of the competitive landscape there. The Lauder program allows students to spend time abroad doing these things, so this is a fit. What Wharton-Lauder offers matches what he needs to achieve his goal.  But we couldn’t establish that fit with crappy, fuzzy, generic goals.

So my message is this – set MBA goals first, to show how your Background + MBA = Goal. Demonstrate how YOU will leverage the opportunity – a key reason for adcom to admit you. Once you do this, the process of writing your applications becomes far easier, you gain momentum, and the passion and precision shines through.


Next week, I’ll post a blog on how to identify these goals. It starts with your values. There is a huge aMBA Goals MBA Prep Coach Blog Picture mount of freedom that comes with making decisions based on your values. For me, it’s important that I work with clients who allow me to be authentic, honest and in a sense, playful. We can laugh together. These things reflect my values. When I sense a fit on this level, it is likely to be a good match. So this is a great guiding principle for selecting new clients. Complete this exercise to find out yours.

Approaching INSEAD Strengths & Weaknesses Essay

MBA Prep Coach INSEAD strengths and weaknesses essayThis is a hard question, and you should prioritize it in your efforts. The key is doing the proper introspection. Think about past experiences that point to specific strengths.

With regards to examples, my #1 message about this essay is DO NOT TALK ABOUT WORK. They mention *personal* like 9 times in the prompt. This is the #1 error that most people make. There are so many opportunities to talk about work elsewhere in the INSEAD application.

One of my R1 candidates has a past history of organizing groups or initiatives that help others achieve a dream they felt was impossible “on the cheap” and provided 2 quick anecdotes to support that. The mantra is show don’t tell. Make your claims, but make sure to illustrate this with examples (for both strengths and weaknesses.)

If you don’t have a lot of clarity around your strengths and weaknesses- survey your friends and family and ask for their input with this. I use this tool, it is free for 15 days. Make sure to let everyone know you need feedback rather quickly. http://www.reachcc.com/reach/survey.nsf

The strengthfinders assessment is also very useful, if you can support the results it with personal anecdotes. If you buy the book it comes with an assessment. http://www.strengthsfinder.com/home.aspx

And finally, there is a values quiz on MindTools https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTED_85.htm

The key is to reflect on past times in your life when you did well (and not so well) and trace back the strengths and weaknesses those point to.

The objective of this question is to give them insight into who you are, not just what you have done.  And from this, they can discern your level of self-awareness.

With this question, you want to make an emotional connection with the adcom. So often applicants spend all their time discussing accomplishments but are afraid to open up and describe who they really are as a person.

When someone is candid about their failings, it opens our heart to them, and we feel more connected to them. The importance of making an emotional, heartfelt connection to make you memorable cannot be overstated.

Long-term goal, short-term goal and then Why MBA.

MBA Prep Coach Goals Interview TipsFor those of you who will soon be interviewing for those European MBA and EMBA programs (and….maybe Berkeley-Haas..the big straggler!) I would like to share a technique for answering the goals questions, Why MBA, and Why This School. I feel it really helps the listener follow your vision.

I call it the inverted pyramid technique.


We start with the long-term goal – the big vision – and enroll the listener into that. This is generally the most inspiring aspect of what you have to share, so you can hook them with this. What I mean to say is that it’s easier to rally your listener around, let’s say, the artificial intelligence solution you plan to create to help handicapped people – than working for McKinsey.

Discuss why you are inspired to act upon this goal – answering the question WHY always reveals your values. And when you speak on the level of values, you reach your listener on an emotional level. This is important. No admissions committee member pounds the table to convince their colleagues to admit someone because of their GMAT score or a GPA, but they do for someone with whom they share common values.


So here is where you bridge the gap between “inspiring goal” and “current reality.” In my opinion, when you discuss your short-term goal first, the reader simply doesn’t know where you are going with this. The reader is missing the long-term goal, of course, but also missing the all-important experience you already possess that shows how that experience connects to your long-term goal.

If your interviewer asks for your goals, So I would encourage you to mention the how the short-term goal will take you from where you are now to where you want to be. The idea is to showcase what you DO have going on, and then mention what you are missing to achieve this big, Elon-Musk-esque inspiring vision that has opened their heart to you.

So if you are seeking to start a company that creates an Artificial Intelligence solution for handicapped people, you might mention how it would benefit you to first work for Tesla, because you would like to understand the organization that brought about a self-driving car and is working to bring them into mainstream society. You could mention how learning from the leader in the artificial intelligence space would benefit you and help your chances for success.


I feel that this is the most effective, powerful time to talk about why you need an MBA, and why you need it now. The listener has all the context for this (goals) and is therefore, primed to learn more about how they can help. Why MBA is the business school equivalent to “AND HERE’S HOW YOU CAN HELP.”

When you see a Feed the Children or rescue animal commercial, they don’t start with a stark plea for your money with no context, against a blank screen. They first share pictures, success stories, the upside, the vision realized. This way, you can envision success and you’re emotionally invested. This motivates you to help them (or maybe not, but – this has substantially increased their chances.)

Carrying through the previous example, “I am an Electrical Engineer with experience in automation, however I don’t have any business or entrepreneurship skills. I would also like to learn how to lead employees to they are motivated and happy working for my company.”


This is like an inverted pyramid, because you start with several years out, having amassed all this experience, and then dial it from the 5-year goal to the 3-year goal, and then ultimately, where you could start with this in business school. Carrying through the previous example,

“I would like to attend Wharton because it’s possible for me to take UPenn classes outside of the business school. I think it would benefit me to understand some of the legal issues surrounding artificial intelligence inventions. Also, I realize that as an entrepreneur, I will need to become a marketing expert in order to be successful. I like that Wharton has strengths in both finance and marketing. They healthcare emphasis at Wharton will be helpful as my invention is likely to be marketed through those channels. And finally, Wharton offers me the ability to start my company while I am in school. I would greatly benefit from the living laboratory that is Wharton.”

Now that the listener is on board with your vision (long-term goal) and your practical plan to get there (short-term goal) they can appreciate your rationale for you’ve chosen their school. This, of course necessitates that you do the proper research to leverage the opportunity.

However, if you had started the interview off with information about Wharton strengths and their offerings, it sounds like you’re vomiting up the website.

Your answer to Why this School is compelling to the degree that you apply what the school offers to YOUR GOALS. Apply what they offer to your specific situation. That is vital to your chances of success.


Putting this into practice.

If your interviewer asks about your short-term goal before your long-term goal – ask them if you can first share your long-term goal.

If they ask, “Why MBA” before you’ve had a chance to share your goals – I encourage you to ask them, “to better answer your question, I’d like to first give you some context but discussing my goals first. Would that be OK?”

If you are saying to yourself, “Oh no, I am intimidated, and just want to be meek and compliant. I don’t want to rock the boat, I will just answer the questions in the order given” then I say to you that business schools are looking for leaders and innovators. Not yes-men, sheep, or government workers.

The interviewer is likely to respect that you have a plan, and the presence of mind to navigate the interview in a way that will best lead the listener to the information they are seeking. They are likely to respect that you are acting deliberately rather than reactively, and say yes to your request.

If you sequence the questions in this way, the interviewer will see you as having a clear plan that connects the dots. You will appear to be focused and also, marketable to recruiters.

I hope this is helpful to you – wishing you the very best of luck in your MBA interviews! Reach out if you need help.

INSEAD Video Interview Questions & Tips

The video interview is basically (and eerily) similar to the TOEFL Speaking section. You get 45 second to prep, 60 seconds to answer. Record yourself as many times as possible!! I have my candidates record themselves, upload to YouTube and send me the link so I can coach them around it.

For the “give me an example” questions use STAR format https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situation,_Task,_Action,_Result

The questions are below. Prep a 1-min pitch for each. Eliminate “ums” and stuff – but the key to doing well here is to be as NATURAL as possible.

Do NOT have a script on the screen and “read” from it.
Do NOT sound like a robot who memorized each of the answers.
Do make little grammatical mistakes – it’s charming.

And all the basic stuff like dress accordingly, check wifi, be aware of your backdrop. *Do not have posters of naked women on the wall behind you.*

  • What are you expecting to learn during your INSEAD MBA?
  • How would your colleagues describe your leadership style? Give an example
  • How would you fight stereotypes in a work environment?
  • You are starting a new project with team members coming from different cultures and educational background. How would you make them meet?
  • What do you do when someone comes to you with a problem?
  • What was the most interesting project you have worked on? Why was it interesting to you?
  • What does diversity mean to you?
  • How do you keep track of your vision? Or that of your company?
  • Why INSEAD?
  • How would you establish the foundations of your company?
  • What is your management style?
  • How did you build your international experience?
  • What is diversity according to you?
  • Describe one situation where you faced ethical dilemma? How did you resolve it? What factors did you consider while resolving it?
  • What according to you is required to start and run a successful business?
  • One project which interested you the most and why?
  • If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be and why?
  • Tell me what you like most about INSEAD.
  • Give me an example of how you convinced your other team members.
  • Give me an example of how you were attracted by culture from other countries.
  • What are 3 key successful factors to be an entrepreneur.
  • If you had an extra hour every day, what would you do with it?
  • What word describes you best and why?
  • Tell us about the first job you ever had?
  • What’s the best book you have ever read and why?
  • When you have a problem, whom do you approach for advice and why?
  • What accomplishment are you really proud of?
  • What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?
  • If you could witness any event..past present or future-what would it be?
  • Tell us about an organization or activity in which you have dedicated significant time. Why was it meaningful to you?
  • What have anyone done good for you and how did you felt about it?
  • Tell us about the most interesting place you’ve traveled to. What did you enjoy most about it.
  • What invention during your lifetime has had the biggest impact on you and why?
  • If money was not a concern, what would you do?
  • What is the most meaningful thing anyone has done for you in your life?
  • If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
  • What food do you like? Will you be able to eat that food everyday?
  • How have you changed in the last 5 years?
  • Whom do you respect most, and why?
  • What is your favorite motto or quote, and why
  • What risk have you taken and what did you learn?
  • What impact do you have on your co-workers?

The MBA Interview – Don’t Let Up Now!

Now is the season for the all-important MBA interview process.

MBA Prep Coach Interview Prep PhotoIn fact, and many of you are preparing as I write this! Or at least I hope so? Or..maybe not?

I often see applicants pour all their precious energy into applications and then blow it big time with the interview. By the time interviews roll around, they are either 1) burnt out, or 2) a bit overconfident about their ability to navigate the interview questions.

I mean, I put all the same stuff down in my application, right? How hard can it be? Unfortunately this is a different animal. You are being asked to sell yourself in real time, and the questions are often very different.

The brutal reality is that you need to invest time and energy into the MBA interview process just as you did with the applications. You’re competing against an even more outstanding group of people at this point.

Rather than thinking this as “getting over the hump,” I encourage you to think of this as square one. Interviews are mostly blind – and so it really is square one. I know your applications were a ton of work and you feel like the interview is your reward, like here’s your “cash and prize” for all that effort! But alas, it is not.

The interview is not picking up where you left off, but an opportunity for a conversation to a stranger. Now you get to sell yourself in a whole new way, usually, to a new audience.

In the applications, you are asked to tell a story, give them a chronological beginning, middle and end. However with interviews, often, you need to give them the big picture, abbreviate things, and summarize your value proposition. Here are two such questions.

Walk Me Through Your Resume

Give them your “greatest hits” and please listen to this, think “targeted” as opposed to “comprehensive.” JUST THE HIGHLIGHTS. I see (or hear) candidates want to sell some aspect of themselves, getting deep into one topic, thus ruining the flow of the response.

Stay focused on giving them quick, digestible bits of information and keep it moving. Give them the big picture first, so they have context, and then use subsequent questions to give them the deep-dive on the details.

Don’t use this as an optional essay to just talk about what think will “sell” you and give an incomplete response. You can’t fool the listener, they know what you are doing. This response is about exercising good judgement as much as selling your experience.

Write out your answer to this question. When you are talking about your career trajectory, how will you summarize the value of a job you held in 30 words? It takes work to make this look easy.

With this interview question, it’s particularly important to know how you come across. Once you have your talking points (not script, but points) deliver this on camera. Watch yourself. I can’t overstate how helpful this will be to you.

Tell Me About Yourself  

If they ask you, “tell me about yourself,” it’s a variant of the previous question and here I would recommend you add a bit of personal information. A bit about where you were born, your family, what drives you, what you are passionate about. For example, when explaining why you moved from NYC to Denver, include something like, “I’m the kind of person who likes to go for a hike the minute I open my eyes on a Saturday morning.” The best answers show some self-awareness or share your values, so the interviewer gets a bit of “who you are” rather than a robotic recitation of “what you’ve done.”

Pitch to Adcom/Why You/What Can You Bring to Our School

If you haven’t yet identified the unique contribution you would bring to the school, now is definitely the time. Yesterday I was working with a candidate who had some great experience but all he could sputter out were words like collaborative and international. It was disjointed, and I wasn’t able to get any traction on what he was saying. This happens all the time, native speakers or not.

Finally, we identified his USP – working with international, cross-functional teams to implement programs. And from there, we could substantiate it with results he had achieved. And then the most important question – what’s it in for them?

Here are some things we identified.

When some might feel awkward or reticent about working with a team comprised of all international team members, he would be able to step in, lead and add value. In the classroom, he could add a cultural dimension to cases about businesses scaling operations overseas. What are some cultural consideration when rolling out programs abroad? He could help answer these questions, specifically when dealing with expansion to China, his area of expertise.

It takes time to think through the interviewer’s WIFM (What’s In It For Me), and it would be foolish to do this extemporaneously.

Make a Plan

You’re trying to communicate your value. When writing your resume, did you just scribble out what came to mind in two minutes, hoping the reader could make sense of it?

Even though this is 1-1, and hopefully turns into a conversation, in many ways, it is akin to public speaking. And it would be nuts to assume the podium without a clear intention of what you intend to convey.

Many say it’s unwise to “script responses” and I do agree, however, DO make a roadmap with some talking points. You don’t want to repeat it all word for word – because that would be almost impossible – yet it’s imperative to have a plan for what you are going to say.

Make a Connection

One of the best parts about being prepared for your interview? Rather than searching your memory or struggling for words, you can focus your attention on making eye contact, observing the body language of your interviewer, and developing rapport.

Why is this important? You want to reach the interviewer not just on a cerebral level, but also an emotional level.

“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

MBA Program Location Unimportant

MBA program location MBA Prep CoachWhen seeking an MBA program, many applicants think of the MBA as a golden opportunity to travel or live in their dream location They figure, I have to be happy where I’m living for those 2 years, right? Or, “I’m not much of a country person, so…” or “I want to live in a mild climate, so…” I would propose you put all that to the side when making this decision.

I recently spoke with an applicant who literally crossed off his list any program in a cold climate. Which is basically every program in the Northeast. Many applicants do the same for any program that is not in a city. However, Tuck has the smallest class size, which is important to some. Ross is the #1 biggest feeder for Amazon hires.

Here’s my message: don’t put location on the top of your list of criteria. This is NOT is a vacation, or a permanent move. And I say this a Californian city-person who did an MBA in the rural Midwest.

I tell people that I could have done my MBA on Jupiter, because I was at the business school day and night, meeting with my learning team, organizing panel discussions, writing the school newsletter, attending speaking events, interviewing, attending club meetings, and everything else.

Think of this as a 15-month long conference. You’ll convene in September. Six months later, take a 3-month long refreshment break called the internship. And then come back together for another six months. If you choose to study abroad, whittle that down to a 12-month long conference.

Similar to a conference, you are going for the purpose of getting information and networking. If necessary, you’ll put up with the location, because the content – and the people – are what’s most important.

When you are at a conference, you’re there for a specific purpose, and you’ll be working long days. There’s not a lot of time to hang out at the beach or visit museums anyways.

Think first about what you want to get out of your MBA. What is your criteria for success? For most, that means achieving a specific career goal. So back things out from there. If you don’t know what you want to do, at least get it narrowed down to a specific function.

For example, if you want a career in marketing, you will want to apply to Kellogg – no matter how cold it is there, or how you feel about living in a suburb north of Chicago.

With this in mind, you WILL want to have a good alumni network in your target location. If you want to work in Europe, Texas might not be the right choice, because it’s a more regional school. However if you want to work in Silicon Valley, MIT is a great choice, as a high percent of grads relocate out west. So look at this along the lines of where alums live.

If you want to take a great vacation – do it before starting the program! Winter break, maybe. If you want to move to a great new city – do it after you graduate.

Going to a top-ranked program will increase your value, and open doors. Invest in yourself by attending the best school you can, for what you want to do. Get a top MBA and become an industry or subject expert. This will give you the “pull” to be recruited wherever, by your dream company, located in your dream city.

MBA Program Research – A Complete Guide


MBA Prep Coach Research Blog

Hopefully you are nearing the of this research process, but if experience serves, many of you are just beginning.

Have a focus. Don’t just walk into the process waiting for something to jump out at you. This is a bit like going into the grocery store without a list. You forget about why you went in there and walk out with everything that seemed cool and interesting at the time. Yet nothing to make for dinner.

You Now + MBA = Goal

Think about what needs to happen in B-school for you to become a viable candidate for your post-MBA career goal. Let that sink in. You now + MBA transformation = You + post-MBA job. What do you need to get done? That might mean learning a 2nd language, mastering a specific industry, or getting people leadership experience under your belt.


Once you have done the networking and research on your career goal, and evaluated what you need to get out of b-school to get there – think about what you need out of business school. FIT is paramount. Yes, fit means finding the recruiters you want to talk with at the school but applicants grossly underestimate the importance of fit in other ways.

Six years after obtaining my MBA I went to work for Wells Fargo corporate marketing and everyone thought it was such a great job. I left a job where I was happy leading large team, for more money and the illusion that I would be happier working for a hot, elite company. However, this was against my own inner guidance. Also, I reflected upon the words of a corporate recruiter who said the Wells Fargo culture would be way uptight and stifling for me. 

“BRAND” won’t make you HAPPY

I am someone with a high need for individual expression, but Wells Fargo recycles a very regimented, lock-step marketing calendar year after year. I had to tiptoe around corporate leadership – as was asked to cater to them as if I was an inferior being. The job was more about rules than creativity and when I explored other jobs within the company, it was more of the same. To sum it up: I was miserable. And the only person dressed up for Halloween. 

Rankings are nothing more than journalistic fodder. Review employment stats and alumni placements. Take a close look at instruction type. What works best for you? What is the feeling you get when you’re on campus? Or when you watch student-created You Tube videos? Pay attention to that. Do you feel a sense of expansion or contraction? What commonalities do you notice among alumni that you speak with? Do they all seem serious, playful, creative or formal? Spend time learning about your values and choose in accordance with those make sure you are happy and successful in b-school.


Getting down to the nuts and bolts. I personally find it unimaginable to pick a b-school site unseen, this is a lifetime affiliation, and that is like getting married at first sight. I urge you to make the campus visits happen. However, if you are living in the middle of Zambia, like one of my clients, it might not be an option. I would encourage you to take full advantage of social media, You Tube in particular. Locate the student-produced videos that give you a snapshot of what it feels like to be there. School culture varies widely. Most student-run organizations have a Facebook presence; reach out, take an interest. Set up a “school research” email and sign up for school newsletters, You Tube videos, etc.  

Connect with alums on Linked In. Find out what you need to learn to position yourself for that ideal job. Some schools actually have formal networking opportunities. For example, in the summertime, you can reach out to speak with Haas MBA students who are completing their summer internships. Which brings me to an important point – sign up for online admissions events as much as possible, and any in-person events in the city where you currently live.

So in a nutshell: Admissions events, in person and online. Alumni interviewing. You Tube. Facebook. School newsletters. Linked In. Campus visits if at all possible.


Now, what to do with this research? Well, once you’ve shortlisted schools, look for activities that will help you become a strong, viable candidate for your post-MBA goal. Strategically identify the activities best suited to bring about the +MBA transformation for you.

As for the applications. Go more deep than wide. Discuss a few things in depth in your applications rather than packing in a bunch of random crap. I’ve read hundreds of essays and believe me, discussing a dozen clubs you plan to start on campus in a 500-word essay makes you look like an unrealistic idiot. You will have to spread your time between classes, recruitment, networking, clubs, externships, mentorship, speaking events, the list goes on. 

Take note of the fact that nothing irritates the adcom more than having to read essay after essay, regurgitating  the course catalog or a list of student organizations. They know. They are aware. You want to mention these but only after giving them CONTEXT – meaning – your GOAL. Please remain steadfast in your awareness that they are READING THE APPLICATION TO LEARN ABOUT YOU. Not learn about the school or it’s offerings. Good essays are personal, and specific. 


My advice would be for you to research schools the way you would research a business plan, because it’s really quite the same! The business of YOU is in full-swing, which assets do you need to build?

Remember that the schools are investing dollars in you, so your goal is to look like an investible opportunity. It’s Shark Tank and the product you are pitching is you. Showing that you’ve done your homework will help you develop a consistent, solid plan to present. The goal is to inspire adcom to give you a seat, because you would leverage the opportunity and make good use of their money. You would be a great addition to their community and reflect well on the program.

Good luck to all of you, wishing you a transformational MBA journey. 

Stanford Question about “Background or Perspective Influencing Your Participation”

Stanford picture background perspective question picture MBA Prep Coach blogTell us about a time within the last two years when your background or perspective influenced your participation at work or school.

I recently received a question, “Could you offer any advice about how to approach this short answer question from the “Background” section?  It’s a bit unclear to me whether this is an ethnicity / citizenship question or if you can talk about anything related to your background.”



Stanford’s claim is that you will be transformed by way of a GSB MBA. They key to success is to show how you embody transformation – how you have experienced transformation in the past, and how you have transformed others. 


Stanford believes that diversity is the catalyst to achieve said transformation. Being exposed to viewpoints, worldviews and experiences different from your own is how you will achieve this transformation. Diversity is generally traceable back to your background or perspective. 


You see yourself individually. But the GSB adcom is concerned with putting together an outstanding class. They think in the aggregate. 

The Stanford ding letter is very telling, it states that the process is about, “selection, not evaluation.”

They are not looking at your merits in isolation. It’s not about you being good enough (evaluation), it’s about you being what they are seeking (selection.)

The criteria for selection? You being so absolutely unrepeatable that they cannot pass you up.

The class would suffer for it.


I watch a lot of Top Chef, and it always makes me laugh when, at the final elimination, the runner-up yells out, “I deserved to be Top Chef!” Does this mean the winner did not deserve to be Top Chef? Did you taste their dishes? If you didn’t, (and maybe even if you did) you really can’t make this claim.

They are failing to grasp the fundamental principle of a competition. It is not about evaluating your merits as a chef. It’s about selection, not evaluation. It’s a comparative process. 


Stanford receives so many applications, your first order of business is to articulate the unique contribution you would bring to the class. Unique contribution meaning your “background or perspective.”   


The Stanford brand relies upon the transformation you achieve by way of a Stanford MBA. 

The adcom invests a lot of time and money in creating a highly diverse class, from all strata and walks of life, and want to make sure their efforts will be leveraged.

It’s one thing for students to be diverse and have a diverse perspective, yet quite another for the student body to be enriched by that diversity

6 – Tell us about a time within the last two years when your background or perspective influenced your participation at work or school.

This question allows them to refine things one level further. Most believe that past performance is the best indicator of future behavior. Do you have a track record of sharing your experiences and perspectives for the betterment of all? 

They are looking to choose applications who have a track record of putting this into action. The question is, will you bring your diverse, unique background or perspective to the forefront in the classroom so that others can benefit from it? 

Or will you be Suzy Wallflower, hoarding all your goodies to yourself? 

If you do have a unique or diverse perspective/ background, how have you transformed others by way of this?

Meditate on this point when answering this question. 

Let’s connect if you would like guidance with your personal application to GSB or other top schools. 

Wishing success and transformation in your MBA journey!