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January 15, 2019

How to Market Yourself to the Top Business Schools

40 hours of your valuable time toward completing the application: An Ambitious Goal

If it were your birthday, would you prefer certain, special cuisines for dinner over others, or will anything for dinner do? Does style matter to you? When you shop for clothing, do you buy items as separate pieces with no consideration to the other clothing you will wear with it, or do you have a scheme in mind, that is how the shirt will match with a particular pair of pants, sweater, coat, sooks and scarf? If you are the latter, you send a strong message to the world through your taste in fashion as to your personality. Similarly, elite business schools have a teaching style, culture and vibe that differs from every other b-school. The top 20 business schools have both similar and very different institutional needs, missions and cultures. Your goal is to determine your personality, interests and values, accompany them with your passion, your goals and your calling, and then market yourself like a company brands a product. Anything less increases your probability of denial.

You are a product and you must sell yourself, get noticed and stand out in a competitive marketplace. Let’s discuss some of the basics of Marketing 101.

Your Brand Strategy

  • Rules of Engagement
    • Very important to know the rules, boundaries and limitations, otherwise you’ll miss your B-School target entirely. If you are building a commercial airliner, you’d better know what you’re doing. Similarly, when applying to business school, your choice is to apply as an amateur or apply like a professional. You decide.
    • Self-Reflection & Self-Assessment
      • First, consider your competitiveness, interests, preferences, inspiration, your calling. Remember it’s all about fit. Ask yourself, who you are? Where do you what to go? Why? Why do you need business school to get there? If you apply to NYU and Columbia, but despise the big city, how is that going to work? Even if you got in, you are destined to struggle or even fail since you know for certain don’t do well in an urban setting.
      • Qualities you wish to have in your B-School
        • It’s all about fit. Only after careful self-reflection can you develop a prudent list of b-schools to apply to. You want b-school to match your strengths and preferences, not the other way around. Moreover, if you select b-schools with a rigor, location, teaching style, culture, size, curriculum and recruiters that complements and inspires you, you stand a better chance of arguing successfully why you’ll be a great fit there.
    • Build an Application Strategy:
      • What is your risk tolerance?
      • Again, it’s all about fit! Are you highly competitive, with high risk tolerance? Are you moderately competitive with a low risk tolerance? If you are the former, you’ll apply to only elite programs. If you are the latter, you’ll apply to higher number of mid-tier programs. Ideally, your initial b-school list is balanced (8-10 schools), with “reach,” “possible,” and “likely” schools on your list. After looking at these schools more closely, you can whittle the list down to 4 to 6 targeted programs.
        • Applying to as schools as possible should never be a strategy. Applying strong, and with quality is imperative.
      • Cost in Dollars, Time and Stamina
        • Are You All in? Are you willing to pay the cost in dollars and sweat equity?
    • Assess the Admissions Director (resume & values) and his committee’s process
      • If you were a company, you would research the competition and the marketplace. In this case, your trying to “know your enemy” so to speak, his or her personal and professional background. This knowledge will serve you well as you develop your brand strategy.
  • Strategically Thinking: “To Plan or not to Plan, that is the Question”
    • “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Successful admissions is not just isn’t about completing an application and seeing how it goes. If you are not on your “A” game, then step it up. Don’t apply when you can and when everyone else does. Apply smart! Apply Strong! Apply when you should! Apply when you are ready! A plan not well thought out, not written down, one not real-world tested, is not a strategic plan. It is but a wish and a pray!
  • Branding:
    • Business schools have choices. At elite schools, only 5-20% of applicants are offered a seat in the entering class. However, in this obstacle is an opportunity, an opportunity to show that you have at least basic marketing skills, and hopefully advanced marketing skills. In other words, in exchange for an acceptance letter, what assets do you offer in the b-school? They want to know. First, you must brainstorm your accomplishments and their accompanying stories. Secondly, you take your best stories, accomplishments and strengths and create potential brand messages (i.e. STAR). The brand you deliver will depend on the school you are applying to, and what they find most compelling and appealing.
    • Consider Your Style, Your Brand, Your 5 Main Brand Messages (aka your thesis statement). The values of each school will determine which brand message you use for which school.
      • The qualities and capabilities that brand you will allow you to stand out and get accepted the same way a great advertising campaign compels you to buy a Mercedes or BMW. Again, it’s all about fit.
    • Broadcast:
      • Finally, you last task is to deliver a consistent & world-class, message that describes your identity over all four platforms:
          • Resume
          • Essay
          • Interview
          • Letter of Recommendations
      • Having completed your self-assessment, researched the Director of Admissions and his/her processes, determined your tolerance for risk, created and refined your b-school list, brainstormed, accurately and logically developed perhaps 5 branding messages, you are ready to present the best version of yourself to the admissions committees.

At Ivy Bound, we can help you navigate the tedious and stressful business school admissions process.