MIT Sloan seeks students whose personal characteristics demonstrate that they will make the most of the incredible opportunities at MIT, both academic and non-academic. We are on a quest to find those whose presence will enhance the experience of other students. We seek thoughtful leaders with exceptional intellectual abilities and the drive and determination to put their stamp on the world. We welcome people who are independent, authentic, and fearlessly creative — true doers. We want people who can redefine solutions to conventional problems, and strive to preempt unconventional dilemmas with cutting-edge ideas. We demand integrity and respect passion. Taking the above into consideration, please submit a cover letter seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA program. Your letter should conform to a standard business correspondence, include one or more professional examples that illustrate why you meet the desired criteria above, and be addressed to the Admissions Committee (300 words or fewer, excluding address and salutation).
Let’s start by interpreting/translating that opening blurb:
“MIT Sloan seek students whose personal characteristics demonstrate that they will make the most of the incredible opportunities at MIT, both academic and non-academic.”
Basically, they’re saying: “Since résumés flatten a person from 3D to 2D, we’re hoping the essay portion will give us a hint in that direction of what your particular “personal characteristics” are. We are on a quest to find those whose presence will enhance the experience of other students, because the net effect of a single person bettering others will be nonstop betterment in every imaginable direction, the net effect of which is maximal success for the class and, most practically, of the individuals who comprise that class.”
So, MIT is going to look for evidence of two things:
- That you have something in your experiences, achievements, personality, leadership style, whathaveyou, that would be beneficial to others.
- That you seem like the kind of person who will “lean forward” to have that impact on others, and that you’re not just a taker.
Now, onto the next part of that blurb:
“We seek thoughtful leaders with exceptional intellectual abilities and the drive and determination to put their stamp on the world.”
MIT chose the phrase “exceptional intellectual abilities” on purpose because it goes beyond classic indicators of “intelligence” on a résumé, or through GMAT/GRE scores. “Exceptional” intellectual abilities includes dimensions like “thinking of stuff most other people wouldn’t have” or “questioning long-held truths because something about those truths bothers you” or “succeeding at an attempted solution where countless others have failed.” If you have evidence of THAT kind of intellectual capability, take them on the SCENIC route. They’re saying that the Sloan School of Management welcomes people who are independent, authentic, and fearlessly creative — true doers. In other words, they want to get the sense that where there’s a status quo, you’re the person who has an itch to disrupt it, and has a track record of doing so.
They want to get the sense that in a situation where others might have played it safe and tried to hit an iron shot into the center of the fairway, you put yourself on the line, took a risk, and reached for your driver, knowing that you might fail, but having the belief in yourself and the courage to follow through on your will. They want people who can redefine solutions to conventional problems, and strive to preempt unconventional dilemmas with cutting-edge ideas, because when someone is uncomfortable with “the way things are,” good things tend to happen from a business perspective. Basically they’re saying “Show us that discomfort with the status quo. We demand integrity and respect passion,” but then again, who doesn’t.
Putting it all Together – Part 1
There are two themes that jump out in that intro:
- Intellectual Might – No real surprise here, but it’s a specific brand of intellect. The one that’s coupled with that second component:
- Restlessness – Sitting around, doing what you’re told to do, choosing NOT to “re-open the case because someone else said that it was unsolvable,” having a great idea, but not having the time to pursue it – these are all the OPPOSITE of the person who’s restless. The restless person is always lusting for some opportunity to improve something, change the game, break the mold.
The smart person alone who lacks restlessness isn’t all that interesting. Similarly, a restless person who isn’t a next-level problem solver is still attractive (and maybe worth taking a risk on), but MIT is lucky enough to have the kind of demand where they can screen for the guys and gals who have BOTH.
Putting it all Together – Part 2
Great, so, now we have a couple themes to make sure we’re going to PROVE in our cover letters: (1) I’m as intellectually next-level as it gets, but also (2) my arch nemesis is the Status Quo. Cool so… how does one… execute… that… in a cover letter?
Awesome question. Let’s step back for a second. What’s an actual cover letter like in real life? In first-date terms, it’s the VERY first impression. The first time you LAY EYES on your date. It’s the way that person LOOKS to you. It’s the body language that sends either attractive or unattractive signals. In other words, it’s mostly animal instinct. In fact, let’s run with that. In animal interaction terms, it’s “is this other animal a harmless friend? Or a predator? What cues do I have from the LOOK of this animal, and the WAY IT MOVES to provide an answer to that?”
It’s important to consider this deeply. Because the “impression” we’re talking about happens very quickly and does not tap into the more evolved (and relaxed) part of our brains that care about nuance. Why is this significant? Because it’s different from an essay where the reader is generally poised to spot you that first impression, and “hear what you have to say.”
The cover letter is the moment before all that where you have to EARN that next part. This has implications for STYLE and HOW you write your cover letter. It’s one of the few instances on an MBA application where HOW you attack this is almost as important as WHAT you’re attacking with. You can’t just write your way into seeming like a forward-leaning, restless person. You have to COME ACROSS that way in your actual writing. You can’t take your time proving that you’re intellectually next-level over the course of four or five sentences. It has to be evident right at the beginning in “the way you look” and “in your body language.”
Writing cover letters is a true art form, and in our experience the meek and conventional are almost NEVER rewarded. Boldness, assertiveness, risk-taking, authority, confidence, borderline brazen-ness… these are all desirable qualities in a kickass cover letter. Just shy of being smug (no one likes smugness). This is the part where you smirk to yourself, and find your swagger before you put pen to paper.
Now for the actual 300 words themselves, you need to convey a bunch of things:
- I understand what your program is, and what you’re looking for.
- I LIKE your program and I want to be in it BECAUSE (this is the part that most people miss) your program helps me get to where *I* need to go better than any other place.
- Now I’m going to give you just a taste that will make YOU ultimately want to chase ME, and not the other way around. Let me walk you through an example or two of what it is that I’m all about. You’ll see within these glimpses (1) that I’m a restless m*********er, (2) My intellect has a headache because it keeps hitting the ceiling, and (3) that I understand what an MBA can do for me, and that my energy right now to TAKE FROM and CONTRIBUTE TO an MBA program is a net win for everyone: me, my classmates, MIT, and eventually… the world, once I’m out of here.
That may sound like a lot for 300 words, and in some ways it is. But, if you stay intensely focused on those three bullets, no matter how long your first draft ends up being, you’re going to have EXCELLENT clay to mold. If you have a natural tendency to write in a tone that isn’t too stiff and has some personality, then great. Your work will be easier. If you DON’T have that natural flair for letting personality invigorate your prose, fret not. Stay focused on those three bullets. Try not to deviate. And you’ll end up with something that’s (at its worst) extremely targeted. Targeted = confident. There’s always room to infuse drafts with some personality, but the hard part is getting the core content NAILED.