Overcoming – And Bravely Sharing – A Life Challenge


This applicant came from a middle-of-the-road state school, was in a competitive demographic, and didn’t work at a big-name company. However, his biggest challenges were personal in nature. He had experienced health and family setbacks that would have derailed the education and career of most people, but he had persevered. In light of these events, his accomplishments were extraordinarily compelling. His challenge was to convey those circumstances.

333 GRE Score
3.9 Undergrad GPA
Undergrad Resume Undergraduate degree in finance from state school, product management leadership in technology, consulting career

The Situation

There was nothing obviously wrong with this applicant’s profile, except that there were many others like it. He did not stand out on paper. Without our help, this applicant would likely have put the focus on the technical aspects of his work and not have provided context for the elements of his life that were shaped by his circumstances (choice of undergraduate program, etc.). Guided by only his scores and the prestige of his employers, he would have targeted programs that were below his true potential.

Lastly, he shared that before working with us, he thought he should not discuss in the applications the personal challenges that he had faced. He didn’t want to come across as “poor me,” which we found to be a refreshing attitude that just needed to be calibrated. There is a fine line between providing crucial context and clumsily yanking at the adcom’s heartstrings, one that applicants often have difficulty with. Discussing extremely personal issues is, ironically, often where an outside, professional perspective is most useful.

Our Solution.

As with all applicants, we did a very thorough inventory of his life experiences across a variety of metrics. Importantly, we had some real exchanges that helped uncover the setbacks in his life that showcased true resilience. He completed his undergraduate degree with a 3.9, secured a stimulating work opportunity and grew from strength-to-strength professionally, despite enormous challenges. Rather than not mention these challenges at all (his initial strategy), or use them to wrest sympathy from the admissions committee (what many do), we simply showed them as components of who he his, together with all his other qualities and accomplishments. This painted the accurate picture of a full individual, albeit a very special one. Helping this applicant see his previous struggles in the greater context of his life and finding a way to communicate them with pride and poise, while also devising a bright future plan, made for a very fulfilling campaign. Admissions into Stanford and Wharton were just a bonus!

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