We’re very pleased to share this guest post by Caryn A. Levine. A dual-degree graduate of Kellogg’s MMM Program, Ms. Levine earned both an MBA and an MEM (Masters in Engineering Management) at Northwestern University. She is a Senior Admissions Consultant at The MBA Exchange.
As college commencement speakers wax poetic to newly minted grads about the importance of "leading by example" and "being a strong citizen in one’s community," it is timely to remind ourselves why institutions of higher education — and MBA programs specifically — care so much about an applicant’s record of leadership, both inside and outside the workplace.
You may be asking yourself: aren’t business schools tasked with molding an admitted applicant into a great leader? Isn’t that what all that tuition is for? As it turns out, the top MBA programs have very well thought out reasons for wanting to see evidence of leadership endeavors when evaluating applicants. That is why the admissions committees ask about a candidate’s non-work leadership experience by means of essay questions, interview topics, and short-answer responses.
So, if you are a future MBA applicant asking yourself, “Why do they care so much? Shouldn’t my strong academic record, professional experience and college extracurriculars be sufficient to prove I can succeed both at b-school and in my career?”, take the time to consider the following reasons why the adcoms care A LOT; then get the guidance you need to strengthen and convey your own leadership profile.
1. There is great debate in the academic business community about whether leadership can truly be “taught” in a classroom. The philosophies of many top business schools are that while leadership style and technique can be molded and refined in the classroom, it cannot be “learned from scratch”. There is an overriding belief that leadership is, to some extent, innate and should therefore be evident in one’s past experiences from a fairly young age.
2. Examples of professional leadership are certainly valuable, but diluted by monetary and career advancement motives.MBA admissions committees view leadership examples of a professional nature as less “pure” than those that are non-professional. This is because leadership in one’s community typically requires a proactive, selfless commitment to a cause or pursuit with rewards that are altruistic rather than self-advancing.
3. Evidence of non-work leadership often illuminates the “other” important facets of a candidacy.Since the goal of every MBA admissions committee is to “craft” a class of unique individuals who will truly benefit from a collective learning environment, such leadership examples help admissions officers identify the likely ways in which a candidate will contribute to the clubs, community involvement, and classroom discussions that enhance learning for all students.
4. Actions taken by an applicant in the past and present are the best predictor of future behavior. Not only do top MBA programs desire for their students to be employable upon graduation and successful in their professional careers, they also desire for their alumni to sit on the boards of non-profits, give back to their universities in both monetary and non-monetary terms, and be positive forces for change wherever they go. Since predicting future involvement is extraordinarily difficult, admissions committees rely on specific examples of such leadership as evidence of an applicant’s future impact on the community and society. And the fewer leadership examples you have from the past, the more you need them in the present.
If trying to establish and communicate a track record of non-work leadership sounds daunting, don’t fret. Our team of admissions experts at The MBA Exchange has decades of collective experience helping clients to bolster and convey an authentic leadership profile that will resonate with even the most discerning adcoms. So, why not take a first step in the right direction today by requesting a free evaluation of your MBA candidacy?
Remember: if your leadership profile is not positioned as an asset to your b-school application, then it will be viewed as a liability.