What makes a compelling application?

Jun 4, 2012
Tags: Admissions Process, Admissions Requirements, Applications, B-School

Provided by JoAnne Starr, Assistant Dean for MBA programs at the Rady School of Management, University of California at San Diego

As a prospective student, you put together an application; as school admissions officers, we read your application…but we admit people. Your application is a collection of materials: resume, essays, academic records, recommendations. For admissions officers, those materials are, at least at the first stage, our best proxy for the person you are. Depending on where you’re applying, there may also be interviews, where you can offer more information about yourself. Here at Rady, where teamwork and collaboration are fundamental, interviews are critical to understanding how applicants will fit in our learning community – but our first judgments about you are made from that application. 

So, the best applications create a picture of a real person. Of course, there are some things (transcripts, for example) you can’t change. But you control important pieces, and the approach you take can either make you seem like a real, thoughtful person with specific knowledge of the school or like an anonymous writer cranking out something generic to be sent everywhere and accepted somewhere. 

Your resume: Is it up-to-date? Accomplishments specified? Timeline clear? Can someone not familiar with your profession understand the scope and significance of your job? Have a friend who doesn’t know much about your job read your resume: can s/he articulate a clear statement of your work and accomplishments? If not, you’ll want to do some rewriting. If less or no work experience, list internships, community work, campus involvement. 

Your essays: Answer the questions; don’t use a generic essay you’ve prepared. If asked for an example, think about which one best illustrates you: how you approach problems, work with others, are creative - whatever is asked. Notice that an example essay represents a characteristic the school has identified as important for their culture and educational environment. At Rady, for example, we’re focused on innovation, and our application currently has an essay about a time when your thinking differed from that of colleagues or superiors. Not a surprising topic given our interests, and easy to see that a clear, interesting example articulating specifics of your thinking and behavior can influence our decision-making at Rady. 

Your recommenders: Your recommenders speak on your behalf. Which people know you well enough and are interested enough in you to spend time and to provide specifics? What a recommender says about you is more important than the title s/he holds. A recommender’s general statement that you’re good at teamwork is useful; a specific example of a critical project where you impacted team success is powerful. Every admissions team wants the people they admit to be great members of the class and the school community: think about yourself in that role, and use your application to give us the best possible sense of you as a person. 

The UC San Diego Rady School MBA Class is comprised of a small diverse group of individuals we get to know personally through the application process. We are happy to answer any questions. Contact us by email at MBAadmissions@ucsd.edu or through our website at http://rady.ucsd.edu/mba/