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communicate what we're not looking for, which is to say that there is no magic formula for admission, there are no right answers. 1 think it's absolutely critical that prospective students avoid the trap of trying to tell us what they think we want to hear. I am attempting to get to know the prospective student as an individual. 1 want the prospective student to provide me with sufficient context for an appropriate evaluation by the admissions committee. In addition, I'm looking for perspective on an individual student's decision-making process throughout his or her life, with a particular emphasis on the professional development to date.

What I oftentimes see is that people use the essays to focus on lots of things that are extraneous to them, such as their individual work experience; what they do becomes more of a focus than who they are. 1 am really struggling to get to know the applicants as people and 1 frankly don't want to hear about the minutiae of their work. I want to hear why they chose to do what they do, why they chose to go to school where they did, what they value about those individual experiences and the impact of these experiences on their development as people. This process of self-examination and subsequently sharing it with the admissions committee can make prospective students feel vulnerable, and 1 think that's why the essays become difficult. (However] 1 think students should take a certain degree of comfort if this process is difficult for them [because it means] they're probably on the right track. The decision-making processes are so important because they illustrate who this person is. Oftentimes I hear "Well, 1 went to Berkeley as an undergrad, I studied engineering, 1 got a 3.6 GPA, I was president of my sorority, and I work for Coopers & Lybrand. How do I distinguish myself in your applicant pool?" Well, giving me those data points from a resume will not distinguish them in my applicant pool at all, but [what will is] telling me why they chose to go to Berkeley, what they value about their experience at Coopers & Lybrand, how these individual experiences have impacted them, and also telling me about their decision-making process to attend an MBA program. Only one person in my applicant pool can answer those questions just the way this person can. An essay that gives me this type of perspective is automatically going to enable this person to stand out in my applicant pool even if their resume looks somewhat similar to others'.

I think sometimes there's an apprehension on the part of our applicants [because] they've never overcome some life-threatening disease or some other huge obstacle in their life, personal or otherwise. These people shouldn't be apprehensive; an applicant's response to ordinary life events, like adjusting to college or a new work environment, dealing with being terminated at work, or shifting to a new department as a result of downsizing, can be very compelling to the admissions committee. An applicant doesn't need to have overcome monumental obstacles in order for me to be very excited about a person's candidacy and what he's communicating to me. I want perspective on successes and failures and how you have handled both throughout your life.

As far as mistakes, often we see essays that are somewhat generic and look like they have been cut and pasted from the essay questions from other schools; they just don't show a whole lot of creativity or originality, and that's a problem. Some students fail to communicate their message succinctly. This is important because they're trying to communicate a message and extraneous information can dilute or diminish that message. I want to see some passion and sincerity and I want these essays to come off the page a little bit, but 1 don't want the applicants to be something they're not. Some people think the way to stand out is to infuse their essays with humor; if that's not your usual approach to communication, then it shouldn't be your approach in your essays because they should be a reflection of who you are. 1 also have to mention grammar and spelling [as potential mistakes). And, frankly, another caution would have to be that spell-check does not pull the name of other MBA programs out of essays [intended for Wharton]. The application is a representation of the student and his or her commitment to our program, and the only one over which students have absolute control, so they should really take ownership of it and take some comfort that this is something they can control. They can't control the tone of the recommendations; they might have an interview with someone who's not having a good day; they might not be a good standardized test taker; they might have had a couple of rocky academic semesters [as an] undergrad—lots of things they can't control or change at this point. But the essays are theirs and theirs alone. So 1 do put a certain premium on how they reflect on the individual. I'm looking for that passion and sincerity and for a human quality to emerge. I'm reading thousands of them—and 1 do read every single word, so when I see one that really does demonstrate a lot of thought and provides me with valuable personal and professional perspective on an individual, it does stand out for me. They should spend a lot of time thinking about their essays and the message about themselves they are trying to communicate to the admissions committee.

Advice? They should take ownership of the essays and savor the opportunity to tell us a story that only they can tell us. But I also think they need to take some comfort in the fact that we do not admit superhumans; there are no superhumans out there. We admit students for a variety of reasons..Every student we admit has certain deficiencies and shortcomings in his or her candidacy, so you want to emphasize your strengths, minimize your weaknesses, and make it abundantly apparent to me that you're going to make this learning community and the MBA experience stronger by being here. This is because, frankly, 80 percent of the people who apply to very competitive, top-tier MBA programs can handle the workload. So the question often becomes not "Can the student make it here?" but [rather] "How is the student going to contribute here, how is he going to make us stronger or make an imprint on the classroom and the out-of-classroom experiences?"—and that's what students have to think about a little more when going through this process.

They should not be overwrought over the fact there may be a couple of "Cs" from their freshman year or that they aren't off the charts in terms of standardized tests because they're just not a good standardized test taker. Applicants allow themselves to get caught up in these issues and they don't focus on their strengths and what they can contribute here.

Every student we admit has certain deficiencies and shortcomings in his or her candidacy.

There's also a large concern on the part of prospective students that they need to make themselves different, that we evaluate people in certain neat categories or boxes like ethnicity, gender, geography, work experience, or educational background—and that's not the case. 1 don't know how many people I've admitted from consulting backgrounds or from Paris or from any number of different categories. My goal as an admissions officer is to build an applicant pool that is enormously diverse and once I have accomplished this, I can actually select the people who are most compelling within the applicant pool and not focus on these different categories. 1 don't think students believe that; they're sure [in their thinking] that "I've got four years of consulting experience, [so] I don't stand a chance because there are so many consultants out there applying for top-tier MBA programs."

As I said at the beginning, don't use your resume data to distinguish yourself; tell me about the impact of the experiences and the choices behind them and you will distinguish yourself. Also, this is a very time-consuming and difficult process (1 always go back to my own experiences as a prospective student {he went to Wharton]) and 1 would tell applicants they need to think strategically about this process. You can't do a great job applying to eight or nine top-tier MBA programs: it's just too time-intensive and you need to focus on which schools are the best fit for you and maybe have a couple of long shots and a couple where you're comfortable you can be admitted. It's tough to juggle the application process and a very demanding work schedule as well.

As far as readers, there are three on average. Never less than two, usually three, oftentimes four or five. 1 find it very easy to get excited about the essays; it's easier in January or February than in April, and that's why the timing of applications is oftentimes very important. By waiting until the admissions deadline, applicants do compromise their chances at virtually any school.

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