Last year, the Harvard Business School, the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Wharton, the top ranked business schools in the world, received close to 23,000 applications; about 1 in 10 applicants were accepted. What distinguishes the one candidate who was accepted by these top ranked from the nine who were not. What are the Harvard Business School, the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Wharton really looking for?
I have been an MBA admissions consultant since 2006, so I have thought a great deal about this question, and I have a theory to share with you based on my experience. My theory is this: the #1 thing you must have to get into one of the world’s top business schools is leadership potential.
You already knew that, right? The problem is that while everyone knows that these top-tier MBA programs are looking for future leaders, few MBA applicants know how to craft an MBA application that proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they have this intangible thing called leadership potential. The applicants who are accepted by the most selective MBA programs do a fantastic job of convincing admissions committees of their potential for making a positive difference in the world.
So how do you create an MBA application that proves you have unmatched leadership potential? I have carefully studied the applications of my most successful clients over the years – the applicants who received admits to Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton (often all three!). My search revealed three common denominators both in their make-up and, it follows, their applications: they all had talent, passion, and purpose. I am convinced that those three things when combined are the formula for leadership potential. In this article, we will take a closer look at the three ingredients in this formula. Have I stumbled upon the secret formula for getting into a top ranked business school? I wish. Rather, I believe I have hit upon the #1 thing you must have to get into a top ranked business school.
To paraphrase the book, Now Discover Your Strengths, talents are “abilities and qualities that enable consistent, near perfect performance in a particular activity.” All of my superstar clients had impressive talents in one or more areas.
Passion has to do with the emotional energy that you direct toward your life pursuits, whether they be personal or professional. As a Harvard Business School admission director once said, “leaders leave footprints in their areas of passion.” My clients that earned acceptance letters from the “big three” were passionate people and you could see “footprints” in their areas of passion in their resume, essays, reference letters, and interview responses.
Purpose, or a sense of purpose, has to do with the aspiration to achieve something that truly matters. Candidates who are accepted by Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton generally have a strong sense of purpose. They are driven to shake up an industry, or help people in need, or dedicate their lives to a cause that they care deeply about. Typically, these successful MBA applicants had already taken small, or even large steps, toward fulfilling this sense of purpose.
How to Get Into Harvard Business School, Stanford, and Wharton
HBS, Stanford GSB, and Wharton are looking for leadership potential and the candidates who are accepted clearly demonstrate exceptional talents fueled by passion and directed by purpose.
If you are applying to the top-ranked business schools, a clear understanding of those three elements of leadership potential—talent, passion, and purpose—and how they work together in your case is the starting point for a successful application.
- What are my most impressive talents?
- What am I truly passionate about?
- What fills me with a sense of purpose?
Find the intersection of your talents, passion, and purpose in order to derive a unique expression of your own unique leadership potential.
Admission officers at the top-ranked business schools, such as Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton, admit MBA applicants who they believe have exceptional leadership potential. They do so because they understand what an MBA can actually provide. An MBA can supply knowledge, skills, relationships, and many new opportunities but it cannot provide talent, passion, and purpose. The students who are accepted already possess the potential to do great things on the day that their MBA classes begin.