We all know the clichés. When you think of Stanford, you think of the Valley and of entrepreneurs hoping to come up with the next Apple or Google. As for Harvard, that’s the school with the billion-dollar brand – the school that will teach you leadership and then open doors for you to use it.
Kellogg’s reputation for marketing reigns supreme, and Wharton has always been the place for future finance bigwigs to make their marks. As for MIT? Think nerdy baby – because physical science is their forte. But what happens if you apply to these schools – or any other elite MBA program – WITHOUT fitting into these stereotypical areas of focus?
Truth be told, each school offers plenty of opportunities beyond the narrow focus they’re sometimes pigeonholed into. Yes, you’ll find golden opportunities to gain marketing knowledge at Kellogg, but the school isn’t looking for a student body full of future marketing executives! That would be boring (and would leave other classes empty!). If you’re willing to do a bit of legwork and zero in on key entrepreneurship classes you’d like to take or finance professors you’d like to work with there’s a good chance you’ll catch the admissions committee’s eye considering the deluge of marketing related essays they’ll be reading each year.
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Meanwhile, MIT’s Sloan School of Business has far more going for it than just tech, having recently emerged as a leader in team-based MBA learning. Even though that’s huge in today’s work environment – one that values soft skills and collaboration as much as quantitative acumen – chances are it won’t be mentioned in the application essays MIT receives – or at least it won’t be mentioned nearly as much as Stanford’s “Touchy Feely” class in GSB apps.
Take advantage of these kinds of opportunities to separate yourself from the pack. Too often, MBA candidates think that researching schools means looking for data to confirm their pre-existing views, data that backs up what they believe a school to be. At its worst, this plays out with the applicant (that’s you) PRAISING the school to the high heavens. All good and well except that Wharton/Stanford/Harvard already know they’re amazing, and they certainly hear enough about their strong suits. If you can uncover something “different” and “new” about the school you could pique their interest. Think of it like flirting – if the guy/gal of your affection has beautiful eyes, chances are, they’ve heard about it. But if you notice something else about them, their smile or their wit, they just might be impressed enough to give you a date (or interview in this case!).
Of course, you don’t want to stray too far from the schools’ strengths. Duke is known to be a particularly soft-skills-centric, team-oriented school for a reason, so you’ll want to make sure they know you’ll fit in. Likewise, if you DO want to be the greatest marketing executive this world has ever seen, you SHOULD apply to Kellogg and take advantage of their resources. By going against the grain, and pinpointing a few left-of-center opportunities, you could show these MBA programs that you WANT to be there, even if you don’t 100% fit their academic focus.