In the MBA Admissions Clinic, the Fortuna Admissions team of former admissions directors and associates from Wharton, INSEAD, HBS, Stanford GSB, Chicago Booth, UC Berkeley Haas, IE, Duke Fuqua, Yale, NYU Stern and London Business School evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of MBA applicants and provide advice for improving the chances of getting in. The profiles are based on real people, although details have been changed to protect their identities.
Laila, a pediatrician, has always been an incredibly high achiever with a philanthropic and entrepreneurial spirit, and big dreams. Will she be able to articulate her goals well enough to convince Harvard Business School and Stanford GSB she has the focus and determination to achieve them?
Laila, 28, received her Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery from University College London, one of the best medical schools in the UK, graduating in the top 5%. She specialized as a pediatrician and currently works at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
She is a high achiever outside of work, too, competing in various triathlons and other extreme races/ activities such as Tough Mudder, Iron Man and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro – always raising significant amounts for her charities of choice: her own personal charity which donates money and sends unused/ wasted medical supplies to a hospital in Pakistan she volunteered at a few years back, and Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity. Her 660 GMAT score (V 76%; Q 63%) places her below average for her schools of choice.
Why an MBA?
Laila wants to combine her clinical experience with business expertise in order to forge a successful career as a leader in healthcare. She has lots of hopes for the future.
Having already worked for the UK’s National Health Service, she is keen to gain experience in a private medical setting where she will have more say in the management of the organization, and also hopes to one day set up her own private clinics and use the profits to expand her existing charitable venture. She is also keen to be more involved in the global expansion of her family’s business, which sources and invests in new medical technologies and helps to sell and distribute them in the UK.
She needs a solid foundation in business and management, as well as strong networks – particularly in the healthcare industry.
Since graduating in 2006, Laila rotated through various hospitals and specialties, learning the ropes along the way. She qualified as a pediatrician in 2012 and has had a number of opportunities to lead multi-disciplinary teams in a busy, and often stressful, hospital setting. She has witnessed a number of challenges and ineffective management decisions throughout her career – often in favor of cost-cutting at the risk of patient safety – and has realized the strong need for business expertise (very much lacking in medical training) in order to make a positive impact in the healthcare industry.
Laila wants an MBA from the very best so is aiming for 2 of the most prestigious business schools in the world – HBS and the GSB. With excellent medical schools attached to both, and therefore strong connections to the healthcare industry, as well as a renowned entrepreneurial focus and strong ties to technology innovation – they are both a very good fit for her professional goals.
An MBA is still not widely recognized in the medical world, but Laila has been tapping into her networks from university and has managed to make connections with a couple of HBS and Stanford alumni. She is drawn to the smaller class size and close-knit nature of Stanford, but is also mindful of the powerful network that Harvard offers. She is planning a trip to the States soon to visit both schools and try and gain a deeper understand of each school’s culture.
Laila has chosen her first recommender – a long-term mentor and friend who also directly supervised her for 6 months a few years ago. She is a bit stuck on who else to choose as she has not really had any long-term supervisors in her career so far.
Laila has outstanding academics, a strong medical career at a world-recognized children’s hospital, and fascinating endeavors and interests outside of work. Her one recommender who has known her both professionally and personally sounds like a good choice as she will be able to give a solid insight into Laila’s professional strengths including her team-skills and leadership abilities, as well as her personal strengths such as her altruistic nature, determination, and strength of character, witnessed through her charitable pursuits.
Her GMAT score of 660 is unfortunately below the average of both schools which is currently around 730 for both, but, she admitted to not having prepared at all. An important area for Laila will be articulating her goals clearly and succinctly – as, while interesting, they are many and varied, and each school will want to know she is focused enough to achieve them successfully.
Let’s tackle the ‘easy’ bit first! Laila needs to book in another GMAT test – there is simply no point in applying – particularly to such competitive schools – with a score that doesn’t reflect her true abilities. She will need to ensure she factors in enough time to prepare and practise well in advance. If she does, she should be able to increase her score significantly.
Harvard’s slogan is “to educate leaders who make a difference in the world”, while Stanford GSB’s is “Change lives, change organizations, change the world.” Laila should keep these both at the top of her mind when crafting her applications and essays to ensure the stories she tells, and her overall application, resonate with each school and their vision. She has lots of interesting things to say from her achievements, passions and goals that really speak to both these statements.
The letters of recommendation are an incredibly important piece of the overall application puzzle as they will offer that crucial third party viewpoint into Laila’s professional strengths, weaknesses, potential etc. For her 2nd recommender, we advise choosing someone who has more recently been her direct supervisor, in order to give a more current professional perspective. She’ll need to give both recommenders a heads up, and to sit down with them to discuss why she is applying to these business schools, what they are looking for, and therefore what to highlight and examples to use.
Stanford has two personal essays. The first, “What matters to you most and why?” will give Laila an opportunity to portray her personal character and passions. It will be worthwhile exploring why she is who she is today and what has shaped her values, life choices and ambitions through her various experiences.
Their second essay: “Why Stanford?” will be looking for a thorough understanding of Stanford and how it will help her achieve her goals. Laila will firstly need to succinctly explain her goals, breaking them down into short term and longer-term in order to keep things logical and achievable. She will then need to describe why Stanford is the one and only school that will help her realize these ambitions, conveying her depth of understanding of its relevant curriculum, as well as clubs, conferences and valuable networks, and drawing on her personal interactions with the school to date.
Harvard’s infamous single optional essay: “What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?” gives no guidelines or clues on content whatsoever. Whilst it is optional, we would recommend Laila completes it, as, though she will have had the opportunity to cover her academic, professional, and personal achievements, as well as her career goals in the application, the fairly restrictive text boxes will not have allowed her to explain her motivations and the rationale behind all these choices and achievements.
She has some really interesting stories to tell which would give a great insight into her personal values and character, and, as long as articulated well, would therefore add value to her overall candidacy. We’d recommend writing anything between 500-700 words.
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