Two years ago this time, I began filling out applications to business school. I didn't really know how to begin the experience, what to expect, and what the admissions committees wanted. I am sure there are a lot of people out there feeling the same way, so hopefully this post can answer some questions. Here is some advice, in no real order:
Figure Out What You Want
What are you looking for in a school? For me, I didn't fully understand this until later in the process. I personally had a hard time differentiating many of the schools from one another, but came to MIT Sloan for a weekend and really felt different here. That is when I knew this was the place for me. For you, it may not be MIT Sloan, but find that for yourself.
Really Connect to Your School(s) of Interest
The best piece of advice I can think of is to deeply connect with the schools you are most interested in. Have you been to events in your area? Have you gone and visited your favorite ones? Does anyone in admissions know your name or recognize you while you are applying? This takes a lot of effort. You probably only have enough time to do this for 1-2 schools you really like. The more you can connect to the school before applying, the better. Use these opportunities to be yourself and get to know the school better. No need to bring a binder with your accomplishments to show them (this shows up in your essay) but make yourself memorable... in a positive, non-annoying way. Get them to ask you questions. Engage them.
The Process is About You
Most people at info events I attended asked the question to recruiters "what kinds of things do you want to see in the essays?" And the answer they give is always the same - "just be yourself." "Yeah right", you say to yourself, "there has to be some specific formula." After meeting the 375+ students in my class, I can say that there is no formula. None of us wrote the same essays, and none of us had the same experiences. While there may be (and are) some kids who had a 4.0 GPA, were president of 5 clubs in undergrad, were Navy Seals -- all while delivering water and food to sub-saharan Africa -- all you can be is you. No need to embellish (you will be found out eventually) but just find out what makes you interesting and great, and write about it.
Keep it Simple
I can remember writing one essay about how I wanted to change the world, blah blah blah. Great! So does everyone else... NEXT. What I found worked best was to just keep it simple. What specifically have you done so far, and what do you want to do next? Be pragmatic and specific, but don't be boring. Just tell the committee who you are, and why you will succeed at B-School and beyond. In the end, they are looking to admit people who will have the highest chance of achieving success (and eventually give $$ and recognition to the school!).
The app process is very time consuming and at times stressful. But don't forget that it is just applying to school, and is relatively arbitrary in the end, so if it doesn't work out, try again next year.
Good luck to you all! Hope to see you guys here next Spring for admitted students weekend. (And no, I have no ability to influence whether you get in).