Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

Former Harvard Interviewer: What Are the Top Schools Really Looking For?

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Admission Essay Questions

What is there in your background that makes you unique?

It’s that time of year again, when high school seniors, as well as those looking to get into a top MBA program, stare blankly at the admission essay questions on their screen and ask themselves, “What are the schools really looking for? How can I make my application stand out? Do I even have a chance of getting in?”

I would like to answer all of these questions for you, and perhaps make the college and MBA application process just a little bit easier. In other words, shed some good light!

I’m a former Harvard interviewer, as well as a Harvard graduate and I’ve been helping students, both college and MBA clients, get into the country’s top schools for the last 10 years. In other words, I specialize in the Ivy League.

So, back to the original question: What is it that the top schools are really looking for?

The answer is surprisingly simple: confidence and individuality.

Yes, your grades are important. Yes, your test scores need to be as high as possible. And yes, you need to have a strong assortment of Advanced Placement courses if you’re an undergrad, and equally strong work experience (preferably with a known company) if you’re applying for an MBA. But once you have those in line, the next important thing is your unique experience. No matter what your background, always, always, always ask yourself, “How am I different?”

What is there in your background that makes you unique? That’s what the admissions officers want to see, as they paint a picture of you in their mind. You will increase your chances astronomically if you give them something to paint with.

Were you raised in a remote village in India? Did you immigrate from Russia? Are you training for the Olympics in ice skating, or do you compete at a very high level in equestrian sports? Have you built your own guitar? Did you grow up in a fishing community in Alaska? Have you served in the military? Do you own any patents? Or, are you a bio-tech or real estate entrepreneur who started your own company from the ground up (regardless if it failed)?

These are all true stories from essays in the past – and all are very interesting.

And, that is what an admissions committee is looking for. That’s the big secret that will give you an edge. Something interesting. And everyone, in my opinion, has had or done something of interest in their life, even if they are too close to it to really see it for themselves.

So, should you even apply to one of the top schools or is it just a waste of time? Do you even have a chance?

Yes, you have a chance — a good chance! — if you have the grades and test scores, and the academic background and experience. You are then, as the schools put it, a “contender.”

Will you get in? That’s the wrong question. Change the question instead to, “Can I find something interesting to say about my life? Can I paint an interesting picture of who I am and where I want to go in life?”  Then craft that into a properly formed essay, and make sure you speak with clarity, insight into your own experience, truth, emotion, and confidence.

All these together become the first step to getting you into the school of your dreams!

Jillian B
Author: Jillian B
A former Harvard University interviewer, and Harvard graduate herself (class of '95), Jillian B. has been running her own admissions consulting service, "www.harvardessayconsulting.com," that helps both MBA and undergraduate college applicants get into the school of their dreams.
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