In the MBA Admissions Clinic, the Fortuna Admissions team of former admissions directors and associates from Wharton, INSEAD, HBS, Chicago Booth, UC Berkeley Haas, IE, 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. Sarah has a lot going for her, but her youth and lack of international experience might make it difficult to land a berth at Columbia or INSEAD. The Applicant. Sarah, 23, is an associate consultant at the Boston Consulting Group. She has an undergraduate degree in economics from Princeton University, with a 3.5 GPA. Her 720 GMAT score places her in the 85th percentile on the verbal section and in the 88th percentile on the quantitative section. She plans to apply to Columbia Business School and INSEAD. Why an MBA? While she has learned a lot about business so far at BCG, Sarah really wants to deepen and broaden her knowledge in a more academic environment, and prepare herself for higher levels of responsibility at her company. The Background. Sarah is 15 months into her career at BCG in New York, where she has become a rising star. Internal BCG training programs gave her a good grounding in business fundamentals and three back-to-back client engagements have given her a broad range of experience, from cost-cutting to strategy. Sarah is keen to take advantage of BCG’s MBA sponsorship program as soon as possible. She knows that she is on the young side for most MBA programs, but she’s ambitious and doesn’t want to just bide her time before applying. Sarah has attended several information sessions by top business schools over the past year, and has been seeking out advice from BCG colleagues who are graduates of top MBA programs. She had initially thought she’d go to the U.S. for a top two-year program, such as Harvard Business School or Stanford, but ultimately decided that two years was too big an investment. (She also had personal reasons for wanting to get back to New York quickly: a new relationship). In the end, she decided to apply to INSEAD, which pioneered the one-year MBA program, as well as to Columbia for January entry, which gets her in and out in 18 months. The Assessment. Sarah has excellent academic credentials from one of the most prestigious university's in the world, and an enviable work history from an employer known to be a highly selective recruiter. She'll have excellent recommendations, and being above-average in an already carefully handpicked bunch shows that she’s got plenty of professional talent. However, there are several issues that have the potential to derail her applications: her age, lack of international experience, and the need to differentiate herself from the hordes of management consultants who apply to business school every year. While Sarah is on the young side, that is not an insurmountable obstacle — particularly for a talented young consultant from a firm that is both an important feeder company for top schools and an important recruiter of MBA talent. The lack of international experience is a potentially bigger problem, especially for a school like INSEAD that prides itself on the international experience of its student community. Differentiation is an even tricker problem for someone like Sarah. The things that make her a great potential MBA candidate—high GMAT score, terrific undergraduate record, great extracurricular activities — also make her exactly like thousands of other applicants from BCG, Bain, and McKinsey. She needs to stand out from the crowd. The Recommendation. First, Sarah will need to show that she’s got a level of maturity beyond her years and can fit in well with a peer group with an average age above hers. She can do that by demonstrating maturity in her essays, for example by showing wisdom in her reflections on her successes and failures to date, as well as being confident, but not over-confident, in her interviews. To overcome the lack of international experience, she should try to persuade BCG to put her on an international assignment in the coming months, or make a good case in her essays and interviews for joining such an internationally diverse community. If she cannot secure an immediate assignment it might be worth her holding off for one more year. To resolve the differentiation problem, Sarah will need to give some deep thought as to how she can convey what is unique about her. One way of doing this would be to focus on showcasing some particularly impressive or unusual achievement (and this could perhaps be mentioned both in her own application and in her recommendations), or to identify something that is special or unique about her passions or ambitions, and again try to ensure that this comes across strongly in her application, recommendations and interviews. Can you get in to a top b-school? Post your questions below or leave your details here - the Fortuna Admissions team will provide a free assessment of your b-school chances, with recommendations to improve your MBA applications.