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How To Stay True To Yourself In Your MBA Application

Harvard MBA and admissions expert, Shaifali Aggarwal, explains how to stay true to who you are in your business school application


Tue Oct 30 2018

Many candidates often follow what they believe is a formula when applying to business school, trying to leverage what may have worked for family, friends, and colleagues, in order to get accepted to the MBA programs of their choice.

However, this approach rarely works because business schools are seeking authenticity in applicants. Your unique experiences, coupled with the inimitable backgrounds of your peers, is what will contribute towards a diverse class and make for a rich experience in business school. Therefore, the best course of action to take in order to maximize your chances of admission to MBA programs is simply being yourself. 

Even knowing this, applicants often inadvertently migrate towards a cookie-cutter approach in their applications. It is extremely important to be true to who are you in your MBA applications; being wary of the following practices will help you in that pursuit.

Gravitating towards business school forums and message boards

While business school forums and message boards can be helpful and provide useful information, it’s important not to put too much stock into them. Remember that most contributors to these boards are other applicants, just like you—trying to emulate what other people are doing on these forums and boards is not the best idea since, simply put, those candidates have had different experiences from you. 

Often, I see applicants start to panic when they see what others have done or may be doing—they begin to believe that there is something missing in their applications or that they aren’t doing enough.

Don’t worry about other candidates; focus on yourself as well as your unique experiences, achievements, and goals in order to exhibit authenticity in your applications.

Seeking advice from friends and family

It’s very natural to seek the advice of family and friends when going through the application process, and while their input can be very valuable, it’s important that you have the final say.

While your family and friends mean well and want the best for you, they may not understand the MBA admissions process and what it entails. Often, candidates are swayed by the opinion of family and friends, but at the end of the day, you know yourself best. Always go with your gut and with what you feel is a true representation of who you are in order to be authentic.

Referring to the applications, and especially the essays, of successful candidates

Not surprisingly, you probably know family members, friends, and colleagues who have attended or are currently students at the business schools of your choice. 

You may have also gotten your hands on articles or books that share successful essays of prior applicants. While reading others’ successful applications and essays can help to get your creative juices flowing, it’s important that you don’t try to mimic what other candidates have done. 

I have seen applicants try to find a story in their lives that may be similar to what a successful candidate has conveyed in order to put together what they feel will be another winning application. However, this approach just results in a lack of authenticity.


Always remember, you have everything it takes to be successful in the MBA application process – just be true to yourself and the rest will follow!

Shaifali Aggarwal is founder and CEO of Ivy Groupe, a boutique MBA admissions consulting company. Shaifali earned her undergraduate degree in economics from Princeton University and her MBA from Harvard Business School. Her philosophy focuses on authenticity and storytelling to help clients craft compelling and differentiated applications that stand out.