Dear Mentor:

Give me tips about how to get into a top MBA school.

I just took the GMAT and got a score of 710, which is 96 percentile. Combining this with my earlier academic performance, I think I have a good shot at getting into a top-tier MBA school in the US. I know that I have to be diligent about completing the admissions application, including essays and letters of recommendations. Can you please give me some tips that would help me get into a top-tier MBA school?

Paul, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Dear Paul:

Congratulations! Very well done indeed! We are pleased to say that you have a good chance of getting into a top-tier MBA school in the US, and a fair shot at getting into a top school of your choice among the top-tier schools, which could be Harvard, Stanford, MIT, or Wharton.

As you know, the General Management Aptitude Test (GMAT) is one of many entrance requirements for most MBA schools. You have quite correctly pointed out some other requirements in your question. You may want to look at an earlier Dear Mentor: column ( How do I get into a top MBA program?) to see the comprehensive list of requirements and how to improve your chances of getting admitted to a top-tier MBA school.

Generally speaking, here is the philosophy of top-tier business schools (B-Schools): train the world business leaders of tomorrow, whose success in turn would bring fame and prestige to the school. As a result, they wish to admit candidates with track-records that demonstrate strong potential: a track-record of excellence and success in progressively challenging situations, a track-record of success beyond the usual call of duty in academics and work, and a track-record of leadership, determination, motivation, and contribution. All in all, they are looking for candidates who can and will make a difference in the business world.

Your academic performance and performance at work are valuable indicators, and so is your GMAT score. These are only necessary indicators, but not sufficient indicators to be admitted. Essays offer the admissions people an opportunity to: gain insight into your thinking, motivation, and contributions, as well as your goals; determine whether your interests and contributions go beyond the usual academic and work environments, such as extra-curricular activities, including volunteer and charitable contributions; assess your ability to lead and be led, and your response and success under favorable and unfavorable circumstances; and explore the potential contributions you can make to the learning of fellow students.

In other words, your essays must demonstrate all of the above. They should demonstrate your analytical approach, clarity of thought, and precision in communication. They must demonstrate that you are a well-rounded individual, who: has extra-ordinary goals, has been highly successful in the past, and will be successful in the future. That is, you are someone who will make a difference.

The letters of recommendations are necessary to confirm all other indicators of success. Letters of recommendations should say that you can walk on water; that is, you are indeed an extra-ordinary individuals who is bound for success. They should include some specific incidents to substantiate the experience that the recommender has had with you. Although the letters of recommendations are confidential and must go directly from the recommender to the school, it is your responsibility to ensure that the recommender understands what is expected and that you are comfortable with the follow-though. The letters of recommendation should come from highly respected individuals. You must make every effort to get a letter of recommendation from an alumnus of the school. It may not always be possible, so don't worry if you can't.

Paul, we are very happy for you. We wish you every success in making a difference.

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