Do you DESERVE an MBA?
Usually it’s not my style to call people out, and I won’t refer to anyone directly in this post, but recently I had two discussions both of the nature of deserved-ness of an MBA. One online and another face-to-face with a colleague. The online conversation was more along the lines of an exchange rather than a discourse, I’ll summarize:
— Person: I’m a finance guru in my field and (at least) I should have gotten an interview at School A.
++ Me: Why is being a finance guru deserving of an interview invite? Is that alone special enough to warrant an interview?
— Person: Sorry you think my career is boring. Maybe I should be asking myself do I even need an MBA…. In the end it’s a subjective judgement by the adcom who gets in and who doesn’t.
++ Me: I think what you may be missing is humility. That’s just as much a part of your application as your work experience.
I want to also point out this particular person had already been denied at two other reputable institutions and I assume is still scratching his head as to why he didn’t get in with seemingly solid stats.
Now my other convo was a bit more heated (face-to-face with a close friend):
— Me: Pretty impressed that most top mba programs actually mean it when they say they want a diverse contingent. You should check out how many industries are represented at School A.
++ Person: Sucks though when you’re in a traditional field and you have to outperform non-traditional applicants on the GMAT & GPA. It’s like I’m being penalized for having a highly competitive job in the first place.
— Me: Don’t you think it’s just as valuable if not more valuable to learn in an environment with a cross-section of experiences?
++ Person: Maybe, but what happens if they aren’t as smart as their classmates, and why aren’t they held to the same standard? I don’t think it’s fair they should get in just because they aren’t in corporate.
— Me: That’s a pretty myopic viewpoint. I think it’s unfair that you discount the value of their experiences vs. a 750 GMAT. I could also say it’s unfair that Company A paid for your GMAT prep course and an MBA consultant for you.
We went on for another twenty minutes. It was a healthy conversation between two friends and at the end of the day I appreciated his frustration for what it was, he simply felt like he had a harder time distinguishing himself from the fray and the only way he thought he could do it was by scoring well on his GMAT and adding ECs. Not an enviable position to be in at all. I felt like he presented an especially strong argument for MBA programs disclosing metrics depending on what industry you are coming from, but then again I understand why this level of transparency is tough for some schools to disclose.
So back to DESERVING an MBA…
In both cases above I could sense a hint of entitlement. Conventional wisdom dictated, “I’ve done A so I should at least get B.” I’ll admit, I even had a slight sense of entitlement when it comes to these things. Heck, before I started applying I honestly felt my GPA should be good enough to compete at most top ten b-schools so why shouldn’t I get a second look? That quickly changed when I saw how many people with 3.8’s and 3.9’s were getting flat-out denied from top programs.
Taking the approach that by virtue of 5 years work experience, a 720 GMAT score, a 3.5 GPA and solid essays have all but guaranteed you a spot at a Top MBA program then you probably don’t deserve that spot at all. Yes, you kicked ass in school and on your tests and you may do very well at your job. But if you do all of that and the tone of your application even lightly stinks of resulting entitlement, the person looking at the app on the other end is probably asking themselves the question, “I wonder how this person played in the sandbox as a kid?”
Was he/she the go in the corner and take all the shovels type? was he/she the thief who would steal the buckets and deny it later ? or was he/she the one who would pout when they didn’t get the shovel and bucket they wanted? Or rather, were you the kid who would walk over to a friend or stranger and ask, “Can we share?” And one hour later you’d have the biggest sand castle in the sandbox.
It sucks when you get denied. Everyone has earned the right to sulk when it happens. However, no one has earned the right to allege that others are any less deserving because said candidate feels ‘anointed’ by their credentials. And I don’t want to just single out candidates in traditional fields, because it happens just as much in non-traditional fields. Often, non-traditionals assume just because they aren’t in consulting, finance, teach for america or corporate they deserve to get a look because they are doing something different, that in the grand scheme isn’t so different. Maybe I naively believe that adcom’s are looking for folks that are smart and humble? Novel, eh. In fact, I like Berkeley-Haas the best on this matter. Their mantra,’Confidence Without Attitude’ summarizes what every potential MBA candidate should think about before filling out an application to a top program.
The reality is, a mere handful or potential MBA applicants will end up gaining admission to the most vaunted programs. They are seeing tens-of-thousands of apps a year collectively. Just about EVERYONE has impressive stats, work experiences and life experiences so what makes you special? If you can’t begin with humble, servant leadership I suggest you reconsider your options.