The Best Book On Top Ten MBA Admissions

Want to get into HBS, GSB, Wharton, and other Top 10 MBA programs? Marquis Parker, Jess Wang, and Mike Medrano, all top MBA students, share their secrets!

A lot of my concentration is in marketing, so a lot of my schoolwork revolves around understanding basic frameworks and understanding best practices.  After business school, you should have enough of a skill-set and exposure to the different industries, markets, and business aspects to never feel completely lost.

In this world, being able to deal with any situation like that is a powerful advantage. For me, even learning the different major pieces of software used in different industries, like regression tools, is very useful.

As someone interested in data analysis, another great thing about business school is learning the contexts of your data points. During in-class discussions, you’ll often learn about the actual role these numbers on your spreadsheets take in terms of the real world.


The recommendation letter is a chance for the school to see what other people think of you. To maximize the positive impact of your letters, you’ll have to pick the right people and communicate with those people about your game plan.

Here are 3 important things to keep in mind when choosing and preparing recommenders.

Tip #1: Don’t pick a reference just because of their job title

Every applicant wants a household name banker or CEO to personally and enthusiastically recommend them for business school. However, the chances of that happening are slim.

You might be able to get a partner at a firm you’ve worked at to write a letter for you. But unless you have a lot of shared experience working with that partner, you should choose somebody else.

Business school applications are often read by 2nd year students. I have talked with some of my friends about their experience reading applications. From what I’ve heard, it’s painfully obvious to them when a person recommending you doesn’t know you well. A distant, impersonal recommendation letter like that will only hurt your chances.

The title of your recommender doesn’t matter nearly as much as their ability to talk in-depth about who you are and what your potential is as a leader. One of my recommenders went as far as to write a 7 page letter for Stanford. What it boils down to is enthusiasm, your recommender has to be enthusiastic about your candidacy.

Tip #2: Your essay and recommendation letters should work as a team

A lot of people have trouble with being specific in their essays. Harvard has an essay prompt asking you to talk about 3 accomplishments with an average of 150 words for each accomplishment.

One way of getting around the difficulty of properly explaining your accomplishments is to write about them directly, concisely, and boldly.

I talked about my fundraising work at Spotrunner and how we fundraised 50 million dollars. I didn’t get to talk about this much, and my 50 million dollar claim was definitely an eyebrow-raising claim.

To make the brief statements in my essays really effective, I collaborated with my recommendation letter writers to talk about the things I mentioned in my essay.

Your letter writers don’t have word limits, so they’ll be able to back up your bold claims in detail. Pairing your essays up with your reference letters creates a coherent story and gives your examples credibility.

Tip #3: Get your references to let you read their letters

Depending on your letter writer, you might not be comfortable with asking to see your recommendation. If your reference is someone from a bank or consulting firm, you might not feel comfortable asking this. It’s up to you to judge the situation.

If they do allow you to read through their letter, there’s multiple benefits to that.

First of all, it ensures consistency between your essays and recommendations. It would definitely be bad if something in their letter directly contradicted something in your essays.

Secondly, it allows you to give them feedback on your letter. The goal of the letter is to get you into business school. If you have any suggestions for improving their recommendation, they should be happy to hear them.

Third, allowing you to read your recommendation letter shows that they have nothing to hide, that they’re completely behind your candidacy. If one of your references disapproves of you or is hesitant in their recommendation, you’ll want to find someone else to write your letter.


Each school has its own set of essay prompts. The questions they ask you will differ slightly, but at the very core of what they want in an essay, there are really 5 stories you need to tell. Once you have your 5 stories figured out, you should be able to rehash and remix them and use them for each school.

Story #1: A leadership story

Think of a time where you had the main control over a project, a time where you drove the project with your own ideas and initiative, a time where you unambiguously succeeded. Basically, you want an example from your life that tells the admissions office, “Look at me. This is why I’m awesome.”

Look through any volunteer or work experience that you’re particularly proud of and use that experience to show the admissions people that you’re the one they want.

Story #2: A failure story

Nobody is perfect. Everyone has at least a few moments in their life where they’ve made mistakes. In your essay, you have the opportunity to portray your mistakes as a learning experience, something that made you into a better decision maker.

Maybe you implemented a new idea, and it ended up not doing so well. The important thing is describing how you reacted to the problem. The admission people need to see that you can look at your past actions and see what went wrong. Be sure to write about what you will do differently in the future if you’re faced with a similar challenge.

The main point of a failure story is to demonstrate your ability to learn and adapt.

Story #3: A career/why I chose this school story

Business schools want to see that you have a focused purpose in life. You need a story that talks about your career and your ambitions for the future. Once you have your career goals figured out, you need to tie your plans back to the school.

If your aspirations and the strengths of the business school you’re applying to don’t line up, maybe you shouldn’t be applying there. Otherwise, you need to pick a story that really gels with their core strengths. You can demonstrate your interest in their school by mentioning the programs at the school, or a particular class, or a particular professor you’d like to learn from.

Story #4: An extracurricular story

With your extracurricular story, your real goal is to show the admissions people that you actually have a life outside of work. Lots of other applicants will have the same type of work background as you, so you need a way of setting yourself apart.

Having extracurriculars to talk about is especially important if you’re not a banker or a consultant. If you’re not working for 70 to 80 hours a week, the school is going to expect you to use your free time in ways that demonstrate leadership. The absence of any substantial outside activities really is a black mark on your application.

Story #5: A learning story

Business schools really want to see that you’re passionate about learning new things. Each school I applied to had different ways of weaving in the importance of learning experiences into their application, but that general theme was always there.

It’s really important that you discuss your learning experience in a way that demonstrates both your learning proficiency and your love of learning. No school wants to admit someone who sees learning as a tedious formality.

Early on in your applications process, you should start picking your 5 stories. Once you have them selected, you will have done a lot of the legwork needed for effective essays.


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