Our girl Sarah achieved something amazing; she leveraged her specific career goals and infectious energy to get into HBS AND Stanford GSB!
That’s right, folks, she got into two of the top MBA programs in the country, and now she’s sharing her experience for future MBA applicants.
So Sarah, Why do you think YOU got into HBS and GSB?
I think I got into HBS and GSB because of my conviction to impact change in an area I was passionate about, and the fact that I was able to tie several disparate experiences together in a cohesive story for why these business schools were crucial in my journey to achieving what I wanted. From interacting with the admissions office, current students, and other admits, it has also become very clear to me that these schools don’t expect you to have a detailed timeline of your life laid out in front of you, but the conviction I talked about was definitely the most common thread I observed among other fellow admits.
What was the most challenging part of the MBA application process for you? And how did you overcome that challenge?
I think the essays were most definitely the easiest and the hardest part of the application for me – what a paradox! It was easy because I knew the high level messages of what I wanted to say, but it was frustrating and difficult because sometimes you put the words down on paper and it just doesn’t speak about a topic with the same level of emotion or passion you might communicate in-person.
I was advised to think through the process logically and structure the broader story line first. This really helped in the earlier stages of essay writing. And towards the end, as the deadlines approached and I started to stress out, I did something a friend recommended: read the story backwards. Last line to first, I started eliminating details and information that did not add additional value to the story. This helped in keeping the essays crisp and powerful.
Tell us about your interviews. What do you think you did right?
I’m the kind of person who’s always bouncing off the walls with energy (mostly a good thing!). I think I was able to use this to my advantage during the interviews by answering questions energetically, with as much detail as I could muster, and not getting thrown off by questions straight out of left field. That said, going into the HBS interview, I already knew that they had read my entire application and was prepared for deep / detailed questions. My Stanford interview ended up being a bit of a curveball, but to be honest, I think I survived both of them just by having my story straight in my head.
In retrospect, I feel like the interviews tested my ability to think on my feet and my personality more than the contents or gaps in my application, so there’s always that!
What advice do you have for future HBS or Stanford applicants?
People always talk about not getting lost in the trap of, “What do the schools want to hear” while putting your application together. I think what’s worse is if you think you’re not writing about what they want to hear, but end up doing exactly that. It’s very important, before you start writing your essays, to think about the bigger picture. Where are you now, where do you want to be, can you get to where you want to be without business school, what will business school do for you, and why that business school. Answering these questions helped me focus my attention on MY story, and what the schools could do to help me get where I want to be.
What was the most surprising thing about this process for you?
I’m going to cheat and give you two things. Cliched as it sounds, the first one was realizing just what I wanted to do with my life. I always knew the broader area I wanted to work in, but going through the application process made me realize that it wasn’t just that broad area I wanted to work; I wanted to be in a very specific sub-segment. The application process was like a mental detox – weeding out the things I wanted to stop doing with my life and identifying the things I wanted to start doing. Almost like a New Year resolution, except with way higher stakes.
Secondly, it really tested the strength of some relationships. I found myself going more and more to some people with questions on whether what I had written resonated with their perception of me, and I found that I actually cared what they thought. Having someone you can trust vouch for the fact that your essay was your own and confirm that when he read it, he could see you talking about your life candidly was definitely helped keep my application real in my head, and on paper.
What was most HELPFUL for you in the process?
Having a neutral sounding board who would compliment the good things, but not be afraid to tell me when things really needed work. And on that note, having a broader support community to rely on when I needed second opinions, or was confused about how to position a certain point. Not everyone has this network, and I’m grateful that I did.