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Business School Applications: A Lesson from Andrew Carnegie

Posted in Test Prep on November 2, 2010 by

Are you planning to apply to business school? Check out this story about Andrew Carnegie, one of the most successful business tycoons in American history.

Mr. Carnegie had a sister-in-law who had 2 sons attending Yale. The mother was worried about her children and repeatedly sent letters inquiring about their well being. However, the boys were busy with their own lives and neglected to respond to their mother’s letters. The mother, worried sick, approached Mr. Carnegie for advice.

Mr. Carnegie bet 100 dollars that he could get his nephews to reply to a letter without even asking for it. The bet was quickly accepted. Mr. Carnegie wrote a brief note to his nephews with a post script saying that he had attached a 5 dollar note to the letter. What he did not include, was the actual money. Sure enough, letters came back from his nephews thanking him for the kind letter—and you can guess the rest.

At this point, you might be wondering what this all has to do with getting your MBA. The moral of the story? When you are applying to business school, think like Mr. Carnegie, not like the mother.

The mother and Mr. Carnegie both wanted the same thing: to get the nephews to reply. The mother repeatedly sent them letters, but she only thought about what she wanted.  Mr. Carnegie on the other hand, sent them one letter, and gave them a way to get what they wanted—getting his desired result in the process.

At top b-schools, admissions officers regularly have to reject up to 90% of applicants. Many of these rejected candidates were probably extremely well-qualified. Why, then, were they rejected? In all likelihood, they, like the mother, only thought about what they wanted, instead of what would make an admissions officer more likely to accept them.

When it comes to MBA applications, you know exactly what you want—an acceptance letter. But it’s much trickier to figure out what an admissions officer wants. Of course, a high GPA and GMAT score are important, as are recommendations and work experience. But if you’re applying to a top-tier b-school, you also need to know what personal characteristics or aspects of your resume the admissions office at that individual school values most.

Lucky for you, admissions officers are constantly sharing information online that can be incredibly helpful to applicants looking to make the right impression. The following are lists of blogs, Youtube channels, and Twitter feeds from some of the best b-schools in the world. Use these resources to try to discern what qualities each school seems to value in its students, alumni, and applicants:

Top MBA programs resource page

This isn’t to say that you should sell yourself as something you’re not as part of a master ploy to gain acceptance; making things up won’t get you anywhere. But knowing what aspects of your resume to emphasize can certainly help your chances. Furthermore, all this research will also help you clarify which b-schools would be the best fit for your experience and goals—and ensure that you don’t waste time sending out applications to schools you wouldn’t actually want to attend.

The more you know about the school and the more you know about yourself, the less you will fear the outcomes of your applications!