The Tuesday Q&A: Should I Talk About Religion in my MBA Application?

QUESTION:

I have a question related to Stanford’s first essay.

When I think about what matters most to me and why, a strong, guiding force behind many of the decisions I have made is my desire to best serve God through serving others. So I’m wondering if it would be appropriate for me to talk about religion/spirituality on this essay. If so, is it too cliche or risky?

ANSWER:

Yes, my friend, you CAN talk about religion in your applications. After all, the Mormon influence at HBS is very well known, Georgetown is a Jesuit school, and many great business leaders are very forthcoming about their religiousness.

However, you need to do so carefully. And this goes for anyone considering talking about religion in any essay for any school.

Here are three tips to keep in mind as you do consider talking about your religious beliefs:

1) Does your religion (or discussion of it) make you a better BUSINESS person?  A better MBA applicant?  Whether you are talking about your passion for religion, baseball, or even pastry cooking, always remember that this is BUSINESS school.  So what, you are religious.  Does that make you a good business person?  Remember, this isn’t theology school, baseball school, culinary school, or even “meaning of life” school.  This is BUSINESS school.  So if you do write for 750+ words about religion, make sure that there is some mention in there about why/how business makes you a good leader/manager/business person — how you always bring out the good in others, you make moral decisions, you lead with positive reinforcement, etc. And, most importantly, that it works when you do.  If your religion is irrelevant to your business school application, then leave it out…

2) Keep it grounded. That is, what will you DO about it at the school?  Schools NEED people who are religious, and passionate about their faith.  Why?  Because all schools have religious groups, communities, etc.  And those groups need members, and LEADERS.  So as you do discuss your faith, be sure to bring up the groups you will join, perhaps even some ideas as to what NEW LIFE you might bring to these groups, if and when you take over as their leader.  Just as you would for any extra-curricular activity, paint a picture that shows how you will use religion to plug into the religious resources that are already available on campus.

3) Don’t say anything that anyone may find to be AT ALL offensive.  Sadly, religion makes up much of the differences between people.  “We believe THIS, while you believe THAT.”  Always remember that differences are bad and similarities are good.  You will want to tone the differences down in your apps.  Even the word “Christ,” for example, may be somewhat offensive to Muslims or Jews who believe that “Jesus” is not “Christ.”  So how do we handle this issue?  Use terms and phrases that people will NOT find to be at all disagreeable.  Focus on themes that everyone can share.  “God,” for example, is not at all offensive, whereas “Christ,” or “The Prophet” might be.  Stick to themes that EVERYONE can agree with: helping people, sharing feelings, making the world a better place.  Anything that folks might find disagreeable should be avoided.

So yes, you CAN and SHOULD talk about faith, if it is indeed what matters to you most. Just do it cleverly.

— Jon Frank

See more of Jon’s advice right here.
Got a question you want to ask Jon? Email info@admissionado.com!

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