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How to stand out as an over-represented MBA applicant

How to stand out as an over-represented MBA applicant

Congratulations! You’ve decided to apply to business school. But you’re not alone: if you’re reading this article, you understand that other people out there share your interest in attending a top school and pursuing an MBA degree.

In fact, if you’ve got the grades and GPA required by top schools but aren’t sure how else to differentiate yourself from other over-represented applicants, this article is for you. Here’s what we mean by “over-represented” applicants:

What does it mean to be over-represented in an applicant pool?

Thoughts of race, ethnicity, and nationality are rampant when discussing over-represented groups. When it comes to an applicant pool, it’s more complicated than that.

Over-representation is determined by multiple factors of which only one is related to the nationality/majority/minority category.

Think of it more like stereotypes. Combining your age, gender, sexual orientation, and nationality with your education and the industry that you’re interested in, do you fit a stereotype?

Like an Indian male engineer working in the tech industry or an Asian-American male with a business degree and a history with an investment banking firm whom he’s worked for since graduating is part of an over-represented pool.

With all this experience under his belt, why wouldn’t he be accepted instantly to an MBA program? Diversity, that’s why.

Why is diversity so important, especially in business schools?

Business schools depend on the students to teach each other. It seems counterintuitive but is an amazing idea. The difference in thought processes and backgrounds that comes with having a diverse student body can help foster new ideas and new ways of thinking and approaching problems. Not to mention learning how to work in a global environment like the business world.

It’s like the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child”. That doesn’t mean that children are unruly and out of control, it means that children become better adults because they have so many people teaching them how to live and the different ways they can accomplish tasks and approach situations.

How do you know if you’re over-represented in an applicant pool?

MBA applicants are predominantly Indian male engineers or white males from a background in consulting and banking.

Also read: Indian IT Male Engineer MBA Success Stories: Competing in the toughest applicant pool in the world

Business schools group students based on demographics like nationality, gender, undergraduate major, industry and work experience, but they don’t make decisions based on them.

Looking at stats provided by US News, you can see some of the trends. If we go back to that Asian-American male from earlier, he fits in with 89% of other MBA hopefuls because he has a couple of years of business work experience.

Combine that with the 60% of students being male and that’s a big pool. It gets worse when you look at his undergraduate degree: 35.5% of MBA students have a business or commerce degree. There are plenty of fish in the sea, but who gets the hook?

It’s not all doom and gloom, don’t give up now. Remember, they don’t make the decision based on these demographics. Don’t get so hung up on the group labels that you lose focus.

Being part of a larger group of applicants just means you need to show them exactly who you are and why your profile stands apart from the rest. Yes, you’ll have to work harder at this than someone from outside the over-represented pool, but you can do it.

How to get noticed and shine over other applicants

If you want to stand out completely, that’s the wrong path to be walking down! It’s not about completely standing out from the crowd. There’s a finesse to it.

You need to stand out while also fitting in.

You must prove that your experiences will be something that your classmates can learn from. Complicated right? Just keep reading, it’ll get easier.

Read more: NUS Singapore MBA and 4 other admits for Indian IT Engineer Male

1. Talk about unconventional paths you’ve chosen

As Robert Frost wrote, “…I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

The same applies to standing out in a large field of similar applicants. Find some differentiators – be it in your life experiences or hobbies that shows you took a different path.

Point out how despite your background, it’s still a unique journey that gave you specific skills and experiences.

Take the time to point out how your interests bring something to the table and make you not only successful, but influential to those around you.

A great way to show this side of you is by requesting a recommendation from someone in your life outside of the usual former boss or co-worker.

Think of people in your life that saw a different side of you, people from different demographics like a coach, an art teacher, or someone you mentored.

2. Highlight how you’re different, in a good way

Your essay is the one place where you can make yourself stand out if you take the time to write it well.

While you most definitely must answer the questions asked of you, this is your time to shine and show how different and original you are despite those demographic factors trying to place you into a hole.

What’s your defining moment? Use your essay to essentially turn yourself into an edgy square cube that they can’t shove into that smooth, round hole.

3. Dig deeper into your experiences and goals

Your extracurriculars are not just some things you did to help your community and ‘give back’. You need to think a little more deeply about those moments. Some deep self-reflection will show the admissions committee your traits, skills, qualities, and values—your brand.

In your essay, focus on a handful of extras that let your leadership skills shine. The ones that others may not have gone after, or that you realized connect back to your success. It’s about leadership, teamwork, problem-solving, and how you tackled adversity and succeeded. That’s whom they want in the program and that’s the fish that gets the hook.
Read more: Executive MBA with scholarship in India with an average over-represented profile

We were keen to understand how business schools view and tackle this admissions challenge. So, MBA Crystal Ball connected with Shelbi Brookshire, Assistant Dean of MBA and MS Admissions at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

MCB: Can you share the list of over-represented MBA applicant pools that you come across each year?

Tips for over represented MBA applicantsShelbi: In general, there are various geographic regions where schools will see large applicant populations. This typically coincides with the types of industries found in those areas.

For instance, schools see a number of applicants from Nigeria with finance backgrounds. In addition, there has been a steady increase in Indian applicants with technology and engineering experiences.

MCB: What advice and application tips do you have for such applicants to improve their chances?

Shelbi: A candidate needs to understand where their background (i.e., years of experience, test scores, undergraduate degree and GPA, etc.) falls regarding their competitiveness for their schools of choice.

Once they understand and narrow down the number of schools they are considering, the best advice is to engage with the admissions team. Every school hosts virtual webinars, invites students to engage with a recruiter and often offers the opportunity to digitally meet current students.

It is equally important to understand why that school is a good fit for the candidate’s post degree goals (i.e., a finance fund, an entrepreneurship center, etc.).

The more a candidate invests in a specific program, the more the program understands if that candidate is a good fit for their program’s value proposition.

MCB: Which are the under-represented applicant groups that you’d like to see more of?

Shelbi: This will be very specific to each school depending on the core competencies of each school as well as where they want to grow.

Generally, though, industries around innovation and emerging technologies like FinTech and eCommerce are highly sought after and under-represented in many applicant pools.

Ironically, trying to fit in with the crowd can be tempting when you’re anxious about standing out in MBA admissions. But we want to encourage you not to do this.

If you’re an over-represented candidate, your experiences are still valuable—they make you unique. What’s more important than fitting into a box? Being yourself!

That’s why we recommend digging deep into your experience and talking about how it has influenced who you are now as a person and professional.

You don’t have to reinvent yourself (no one wants that!), but instead, focus on telling stories that highlight what makes your background so fascinatingly different from everyone else’s.

We have plenty of experience working with candidates from over-represented profiles. Send across an email if you’d like some help in standing out and making an impact: info at mbacrystalball dot com

Also read:
Indian IT Male Engineer MBA Success Stories: Competing in the toughest applicant pool in the world
Executive MBA with scholarship in India with an average over-represented profile

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About Swati
After working for over a decade in technical and managerial roles in the corporate world, Swati now works as a freelancer and writes on a variety of topics including education, career guidance and self-improvement.

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