Professional Strength

Nationality Competitiveness


No Bachelor Degree.

The Story:

Applicant stories are always surprising and unique – but none as shocking as this candidate who showed up at our door. With no BA to his name, we feared most schools wouldn’t even look at him. We can make a low GMAT score look decent. We can build a story around why some grades are lower than others. We can explain anything that exists. But to have a missing bracket in the application form itself was, admittedly, a huge risk. Luckily, there was a very good reason for why our candidate didn’t have his BA. After a five-year service in one of the most prestigious cyber units in the air force, our candidate started his own Internet company – a company for which he successfully managed to bring on investors, develop a product, and get the product up and running.

The Strategy:

The Proof is in the Pudding

Having no undergrad degree should, by all means, be a showstopper – and not in the good sense. Our strategy was to emphasize the amount of success this candidate had through his acquired knowledge, his natural business acumen, and his dedication.

We made sure to attack all of these angles in different essays. One essay discussed his computer science experience in signal intelligence and code decryption from his service, which segued to his own startup. We made sure to emphasize the type of work he did in the intelligence corps, his training, and his line of work. While he didn’t have a GPA, we wanted to show that he did undergo very rigorous training that developed his technical and analytical skills. This essay included a couple examples of concrete analytic problems that needed to be solved, for which the candidate provided elegant engineering solutions. By showing particular examples of strong analytic ability, we were able to show that the candidate was not wanting for computer science knowledge. When the candidate uses analytical skills to solve “real life” problems, it’s hard to get hung up on the technicalities of having a BA.

In another essay, we discussed his business strategy, how he found and pitched his investors, and explained why an MBA was the right step in his career. We wanted to show his penchant for business, so that he doesn’t get pegged for a tech nerd. Moreover, this angle was an important element because many programs can be deterred by the fact that the candidate is so highly invested in a project. A CEO of a startup that is up and running cannot so easily pick up and leave. In order to wipe worry from the brows and minds of the admissions committee, our essays explained what a formal business education would contribute to the candidate’s operation as a CEO. While he didn’t need academic support in his tech world, an academic foundation in business could only propel him forward. Lastly, we made sure to get one of his investors to write the recommendation, conveying that everyone was involved and in support of the MBA endeavor. The candidate’s process was “out in the open,” so to speak. A general note: it is best to address jarring questions that may arise, as opposed to sweeping them under the rug. Not addressing the fact that the CEO expects to leave the company for an MBA would be weird – this demands some explanation in order for the application to seem genuine and real.


The Results:

Candidate was admitted to INSEAD, LBS, Oxford, and Columbia.

The Lesson:

When the candidate’s work speaks for itself, it’s still important to not assume anything. While it’s easy to assume that because the candidate has his own startup that the admissions committee would be impressed, this assumption runs the risk of glossing over important details, leaving the committee wondering why the candidate has no BA instead of impressed that he has already started his own company. Thus, the application should center around highlighting the different skillsets the candidate possesses. In this particular case, we made sure to emphasize the traits and abilities the candidate had to embody in order to achieve such levels of success. When there is something particularly jarring in the application, specificity is more important than ever. We needed to spell out every detail we could to show that our candidate was not lacking in knowledge, despite the fact that he didn’t have an undergraduate education.