A few people have asked me for tips on getting accepted into MBA programs and complementary scholarships and although I don’t have a breadth of experience in this area, I’ll try to share my thoughts and observations from when I went through the application process and hopefully this will give you an additional perspective in your MBA journey.
To get straight to the point, my general “tip” is to make sure you are able to communicate why you need an MBA degree and how it will help you in the future. The more detailed you can be in your explanation, the better.
The two scholarships that I’ve qualified for are:
- the partial scholarship granted by Asian Institute of Management in the Philippines
- the full scholarship granted by MEXT through the YLP program for Hitotsubashi ICS
For both scholarships, intent after graduation was always front and center in both the essay and interview as I went through the application process. For me, personally, it helped a lot that I already had a good idea of where I wanted to be in my career, focusing on tech and business from my Bachelor’s to my pre-MBA career and my volunteer work, but having such a focused background isn’t critically necessary, I think. The idea is that you are able to articulate your intent for the future and back it up with your pre-MBA experience to differentiate yourself well enough against all the other applicants in your cohort.
I’ve noticed that MBA programs want a variety of students with different backgrounds because part of the program’s value proposition is the diversity of perspectives in the class which allow students to explore different schools of thought and gain insight from their peers during class and group work. Given this, the admissions team is incentivized to find unique candidates to add to the cohort relative to the backgrounds of those who have applied for that specific school year. In other words, getting accepted can be a hit or miss depending on the commonality between your background and the backgrounds of that year’s applicants.
“Unique” in this sense can mean different things but here are some questions that I’ve used to assess my own attributes to know which areas of my background I can highlight as I present myself in my applications:
- Are you the youngest or oldest of those who applied in this program?
- Is your race or gender a minority in this cohort?
- Do you have the most years of experience or highest number of awards received considering your age or background?
- Do you do a lot of projects or volunteer work for causes you care about?
- Did you start a business or organization in a unique point in your life that has made an impact on other people?
Going through this list of questions, thinking about which attributes you are strong in, and being able to communicate it clearly and as creatively as possible to the admissions team will not only make you an interesting candidate but also an interesting person overall.
People have also asked me if grades matter and in this setting, I can definitely say yes. You’re applying to go back to school and go through formal education again, after all. But, I think it is also just another tool you can use to differentiate yourself amongst your peers.
To be frank, I do horribly during exams and am not good at all with academic work and grades so I try to make up for it with hands-on projects or experiences that I can involve myself in to show my strengths. Identify to your own strengths and practice talking and writing about them. Explain what you do, what you’ve done, and what you want to do moving forward to a friend so they can give you feedback if you aren’t highlighting the best parts of how you give value to the people around you.
And lastly, don’t be fake. The interviewer can definitely tell if you are even from just your voice. These people go from country to country interviewing candidates and they are probably bored as heck seeing fake smiles and hearing generic responses to the standard interview questions so try to make their life (and yours) more interesting by also showing your personality and sense of humor. Trust me, they would appreciate that a lot.
I learned a lot about MBA programs and their admissions process from the Touch MBA podcast. They aren’t paying me to name-drop them but I highly recommend them if you want to learn more about the perspectives of the admissions teams of different schools have in terms of accepting potential candidates.