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Diversity: how to handle today’s hot-button issues in an MBA Application?

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October 13, 2019

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Josh Jones

What if you are a diversity candidate?  How should you handle today’s hot-button issues?

First and foremost, remember that you’re applying to business school, not running for office.  Whenever you address a politically-sensitive issue, you’re taking a risk and, generally speaking, applications are risky enough.

That said, diversity can be a plus – it all depends in how you use it.

Remember to think of your application as a sales pitch, with the product being you.  How does diversity make you a better product?

Another way to think of it is this: you know why that school would be great for you, but why would you be great for that school?  And how does your diversity – whatever it is – amplify your sales pitch.

Look, if you’ve never been motivated and/or affected by your diversity, don’t fake it now.  I certainly can’t tell you how your diversity affected you or your life, and don’t let anybody else tell you either.  There’s no right answer; you’re not attempting to find that answer or fit your life into it.

Let me take one concrete example: suppose you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community.  Should that be in your application? Should it be a significant part of your application?  If so, how should it figure into your application?

Honestly, I don’ t know; I can’t know – it all depends on you.  Look, if your life-long dream is to start the next Google, then your diversity might have affected you in very different ways than if your dream is to lead your family’s business into the next century – I’m not saying it would be different; I’m just saying that the answer’s not obvious to me, perhaps it wouldn’t matter.  

Which is precisely the kind of thing that would make a great essay.

Tell me why you think it matters.  Or doesn’t matter. Or might matter in ways I wouldn’t expect.

The admissions officer is not looking at your answer; he or she is looking at how you explain and defend your answer.  You can make a great and compelling case for any conclusion; the point is that you made a great and compelling case.

In the final analysis, you and I may not agree, but that doesn’t mean you can’t impress me.  Or the admissions officers at the school(s) of your dream.

To bring this back home, my point is that too many people think the goal of an admissions essay is to appeal to everyone, but that’s always going to produce a bland, dull essay, and that’s going to make you appear bland and dull.  Far better to argue for something that matters to you because your passion will be obvious, and passion’s what they’re looking for.

I simply can’t stress this enough: everybody who applies to the top business schools is brilliant and accomplished and hard-working, so those things won’t be enough.  You need to stand out and that requires passion. Now your passion can be about anything; it can be as unique as you, but it has to be real, it has to be authentic.

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