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You can find a better version of my blog at http://www.adammarkus.com/blog/.

Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

August 26, 2011

Know Your Audience: Three Things You Should Know About Admissions Committee Members

I am pleased to introduce a new guest blogger to my site, Jessica King. Jessica and I have been working together since 2002. She brings a unique perspective to her work as an admissions consultant because she holds a degree in higher education administration from Harvard, is a professional interviewer, and has previously been a professional voice actress. Over the past year, she has assisted my clients with interview practice who were admitted to HBS, Kellogg, Stanford, Tuck, and Wharton for fall 2011. Her comprehensive service clients will be attending Columbia, Kellogg and Wharton, among others. Below, she provides a great perspective on a subject that she has true expertise in. For more about Jessica’s services, please visit http://www.king-consulting.org.
-Adam Markus

Know Your Audience: Three Things You Should Know About Admissions Committee Members
by Jessica King

Over the past nine years, I’ve had the opportunity to consider the application process from a variety of perspectives through my experience as an application consultant and work as a recruiter in the higher education sector. Additionally, during my graduate work at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, I spent an intensive year studying the field of higher education with professionals from top institutions around the country and I was delighted that a large number of my classmates had come to the program with backgrounds in admissions. During this time, I had the opportunity to participate in a seminar class that was focused on admissions policies and principles at selective colleges and universities. The discussions and debates that were such a vital part of this seminar, as well as those in my other classes, offered me invaluable insights into the world of admissions.  

In any form of persuasive communication, the most important factor in successfully communicating your ideas and eventually winning over your audience is presenting content in a way that is both compelling and easy to understand. In order to do this, there is one piece of advice that is likely familiar to you: know your audience. In the MBA application process, your audience is, naturally, the admissions committee (adcom).

Obviously, every member of the adcom is different, but in this post I’d like to introduce three things I’ve come to learn about adcoms in general that every MBA applicant should keep in mind when preparing his or her application.

1. It is highly unlikely they are experts in your field or specialization.
While there are a number of adcom members around the world that entered the field of admissions after having spent time in business and/or receiving an MBA, the likelihood of their having the detailed knowledge that you do in finance/supply chain management/software engineering/pharmaceutical sales is slim-to-none. This is extremely important to take into consideration when writing your essays. It is your job to present your experiences and goals in a way that is detailed and compelling, yet easily understandable for someone who does not know your field well.

2. It is entirely possible they have no business experience whatsoever.
Many adcom members are career academic administrators, some of whom are so committed to the field that they have received advanced degrees in higher education administration (like many of my classmates!). I can think of a number of adcom members at top programs who have spent their entire careers in academic administration and for whom their only knowledge of business comes from personal study or auditing MBA courses at their institution. This is important to take into consideration because their perspective of business and even the function of an MBA may be markedly different from yours (more on this in a future post). You cannot assume that the adcom shares the same assumptions and attitudes about business that you do.

You not should try to second-guess them – instead, just be sure that you explain yourself as thoroughly as possible in your essays. It’s possible that the first reader of your application will be a first-year adcom member who’s never worked outside his/her institution. A great question to keep in the back of your mind when drafting your essays is, “Would someone with no business experience be able to easily understand the point I am trying to make?”  

2. They are trained to consider your application in a holistic manner.
Something that is often difficult for many applicants to understand – particularly those accustomed to a quantitative, test-based approach to admissions – is that the adcom’s most important concern is generally not your academic ability. Of course, the adcom wants to know whether or not you will be able to successfully complete the academic component of the MBA program; however, they have been trained to evaluate this aspect of your application very quickly and this becomes a kind of “gateway” criteria.

Once they are satisfied with your academic ability, they move on to other considerations and these are often evaluated in a very qualitative, often imprecise manner. They will evaluate qualities such as leadership, teamwork, motivation, tenacity, and potential for future success … all of which are impossible to quantify in any sort of accurate way. The different pieces of your application – the application form, resume, essay questions, recommendations and interview – offer them “pieces of the puzzle,” so to speak. As an applicant, you must first know what holistic image you want to convey to the admissions committee, then provide them with the pieces necessary for them to see that image.

This is why it is so incredibly important for you to take the time at the beginning of the applications process (now!) to determine exactly what kind of picture you want the adcom to form of you while reading your application. By first determining your selling points, you can then maximize your usage of the different parts of the application to present yourself to the adcom in the best possible way.

I welcome questions/comments about this post. Please feel free to email me at jessica AT king-consulting DOT org. To learn more about my application consulting services, please visit http://www.king-consulting.org.   
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