Tuesday Q&A: What If I Didn’t Go to a Big Name Undergrad?


How do I compensate for a lack of pedigree/brand name in my undergrad and work experience?


If the MBA admissions game were like the Westminster Dog Show, we’d tell you to pack your mutt-poodle-terrier mix and his squeaky toys and go home—you’d have NO chance. But thankfully, getting into an MBA program does NOT depend on pedigree. (At least, it’s not required.) It depends much more on PERFORMANCE.

And…on your ability to write about your performance.

Sure, going to a big name undergrad or working for a big name company creates an initial wow factor for your app, but those things aren’t necessary to get into a top MBA program. You can’t undo what’s been done, so now it’s time to make the most of what you’ve got.

Show that you—who went to such and such lesser known school or work at such and such lesser known company—have outperformed and have more responsibility that those other guys do. Like, congrats, dude at GIANT bank. You’ve got the brand name and the office and all that. But you don’t have a lot of responsibility. You’re low on the totem pole. Me, on the other hand, I’m central at this company. Here’s all the awesome stuff I do.

Here’s what you do:

If you went to a lesser-known school, it doesn’t matter so long as you excelled there. So bring that GPA to the table, and then highlight all the COOL stuff you’ve been doing since then. The stuff that proves how smart you are, and how capable.

In terms of work…the guy or gal who works at the SMALL company rather than the BIG company… THAT guy’s got responsibility. He wears many hats. He makes big decisions and actually makes waves at work. So tell the adcom all about your many hats, your promotions, major projects, leadership roles…show it all. THAT’s what you gotta play up. You’ve got leadership experience, you make big decisions, you actually have an IMPACT on the day-to-day AND big picture.

You don’t need pedigree. You need experience and potential. And there are plenty of people out there who don’t work at Bain, or McKinsey, or Google, or who didn’t graduate from Harvard or Tsinghua, that have all of that. So don’t worry about the name brand – focus more on what YOU’VE got going on there. That’s gonna be way more impactful…so long as you do it right.

Ready, puppies? Show the adcom what you got.

–Jon Frank

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