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Gendered Writing: How Women can “Lean in” to Their B-school Apps

May 27, 2019 :: Admissionado

With the percentage of female applicants to graduate business programs on the rise year over year—women made up 42% of applicants in 2017, compared with 37% in 2013—perhaps the future really is female.

There are any number of reasons for this uptick: business education has gotten more flexible and now offers a greater array of options, attracting more candidates of all stripes, and schools have made more concerted efforts to reach female candidates in the past decade or so. Women have responded by making up a greater and greater proportion of those applying to and attending these programs, and while in 1980 just 25% of those with graduate business degrees in the U.S. were women, in 2018 that number reached 47%.

All this sounds like great news, right? Right! But before you put on your party hat to celebrate, let’s consider the flip side. 

Despite the uptick, women are still under-represented in the applicant pool—if you consider that the majority of those receiving undergraduate degrees these days are women, shouldn’t there be MORE female applicants than male applicants to business school? Business-centric careers may suffer from still being a male-dominated affair, and thus those seeking graduate education in business are still disproportionately male.

So, in the spirit of “the future is female,” let’s zoom in on how women can “lean in” on the MBA application itself.

This is all about language, folks.

In your b-school app you want to project confidence and ambition. Use assertive language that will help the adcom have faith in you and convince them that you really will achieve all that you set out to.

Here’s a little test; which of these is better:

“Post-MBA, I hope to land a position as a senior analyst at…”


“Post-MBA, I will work as a senior analyst at…”

See the difference? Subtle, but it will make a huge impact on how your application reads. The uncertain tone of the first one will undermine the adcom’s belief in your ability to achieve this, because it reveals that YOU don’t necessarily believe in your ability to land that position. Say you WILL do it, and they’ll believe you (even if really, you aren’t so sure).

This principle applies to goal-setting as well. Aim high, and state those ambitious goals. The adcom will respond better to a set of goals that is clearly ambitious, so long as you present a solid case for how you will reach those goals, than they will to a set of goals that leaves them underwhelmed.

By the way, this advice applies to EVERYONE, but there is a well-documented phenomenon of gender differences when it comes to applications. At some point in the last few years you’ve probably heard the statistic that men will apply for a job when they meet just 60% of the required qualifications, while women will apply only when they meet 100%.

We could speculate and argue all day about what this says about the genders, about society, and about the hiring process, but the lesson of the story is the same: be assertive, be confident, and be ambitious, and you’ll be rewarded for it. This is never truer than in your b-school applications. So lean in, ladies.


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