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Diversity: How to handle it in your MBA Applications

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May 23, 2020

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Josh Jones

Diversity.

Trust me, I’m not going to get political here.

But what do you do when you’re a cisgender straight white male or otherwise lacking in diversity, however that’s defined?

First, don’t panic.  I think it’s easy to convince yourself that nobody who looks like you has a chance, but it’s also wrong: no matter what you think about diversity, it’s only affecting marginal candidates (by which I mean candidates who are straddling the line between acceptance and rejection).  At TPU, we plan – through test prep and admissions consulting – to make sure you’re nowhere near that line.

Second, don’t lie.  I know that sounds obvious, but it really isn’t: don’t embellish your diversity in any way as you’ll only seem insincere or worse.  (Look it’s great that you’ve been all over the world, but that doesn’t make you diverse; likewise, I don’t want to know about your friends or extended family, etc.).

Now, let’s turn to what you should do.  There’s two ways for the non-diverse candidate to handle diversity.

The first, and this possibility shouldn’t be ignored, is to ignore it.  Diversity may just be something that doesn’t fit into your strategy, into your presentation of you.  Again, I don’t want you to think of your application as a checklist; I don’t want you to feel that you have to mention everything or have every potential qualification.  Your bottom line on diversity may be that you need to learn about it, which is why you want a school with such a diverse student body or a school with a particular approach or whatever – your answer will depend; it will be unique to you.

The second is to find a concrete example of where you learned from diversity and/or where you demonstrated your understanding of diversity issues.  Here’s what I mean: don’t talk about your diverse friends or your training in diversity or the like – that’s too generic, too easily faked. I want you to really rack your mind, to really think about a concrete example where you demonstrated multi-cultural leadership and/or where you failed because you didn’t and how you’ve learned and grown as a result.

You might have a really great essay about your Product X, which passed every test known to humanity before its launch, only to fail miserably upon launch.  You might explain how you failed to appreciate a particular cultural aspect – an oversight that led to the aforementioned failure. From that, you’ve learned that you need to take the following steps…

My point is not to tell you what to write (because that depends upon you, not some formula); rather, my point is to get you thinking about what you’ve learned or what you’ve demonstrated in the context of diversity-related issues because such experiences are far more likely to be universal and/or less controversial than diversity issues per se.

Now, I remember that I promised not to be political, but I want you to remember something: we’re talking about business school, so it’s more about leadership and business than theoretical truths.  Reasonable people, for example, might applaud or deplore Coca-Cola’s success in building a global brand, but reasonable business schools do not: there’s no shame in wanting to be the next Coke. As long as you focus on practical, concrete lessons that you’ve drawn from vivid examples in your own life, you’ll be fine.

We live in an increasingly-interconnected world, so you’ll be expected to navigate diversity-related issues; all you need to do for your application is demonstrate your understanding of that need; no one expects you to know everything about all issues – after all, if you did, you wouldn’t need an MBA!

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