McKinsey Consultant


Professional Strength

Nationality Competitiveness


Risk of Complacency

The Story:

We had a candidate come to us who had it all; in other words, the GMAT and the professional history to knock the socks off even the strictest admissions committee members. The candidate was working at McKinsey with a history in entrepreneurship, strong credentials, and a promising career ahead of him – essentially, he is the dream of any committee. At this point, you should be asking yourself why he would need anyone’s help on his applications.

He came to us for a few reasons. The first was to make sure his application was crystal clear – even the best profiles can be muddied by poor story choice or misplaced emphasis in the career story. When there are a lot of things going on, it’s not the time to abandon strategy. For example, a candidate with such a strong profile runs the risk of coming off as a work machine – such drastic professional accomplishments many times come at the expense of personality. Secondly, there is a need to manage school yield. Schools don’t want to risk accepting someone who has a high potential of turning them down. Very strong candidates run the risk of getting waitlisted simply because MBA programs assume such candidates get accepted everywhere. Thirdly, a strong candidate with a well-strategized application has high potential to be offered generous scholarships.

The Strategy:

Extra Dose of Personalization

In order to address all issues above, we had to add a personalized touch to every element of the application to ensure the admissions counselors read the application without any doubt in their minds. First of all, we wanted them leaving the application thinking that not only is the candidate the most accomplished and capable, he is a caring, well-rounded individual. Secondly, we wanted them to think that the candidate was a perfect fit for each specific program, and that he had his heart set on each school. We didn’t want them going away thinking, “ok, he’s really good, but more Columbia material.” The candidate needed to demonstrate to each school that they were the ones he wanted. This took extended school research that went beyond a cursory Google check. Moreover, we connected the candidate with alumni and current students for networking and support letters.

For his essays, we made sure they highlighted his personality rather than simply his accomplishments. This dispelled doubt of him being a machine. We dedicated one essay to be more professional – but even in that essay, we chose stories that highlighted teamwork, leadership, and his people-oriented mentality. We then dedicated a second essay for a more human touch. This particular candidate’s best friend suffered a great tragedy – our candidate’s essay told the story of how they helped each other through this time. This isn’t to say that a personal essay has to be a sob story; but it should shed great light onto one’s humanity. What the candidate’s story showed was that his priorities were in order, and while he would do anything to get ahead in his career, his values, his heart, and his mind were still in the right place. Friends, family, and being a good person still came first.

The Results:

The candidate was accepted to all schools to which he applied, including a free ride to HBS and Stanford.

The Lesson:

Don’t be deceived: even when everything fits the bill, you have to make sure that you don’t grow complacent. The strongest application in the world can’t speak for itself blindly. The application still demands a fair amount of strategy to answer all potential concerns. In the case of our client, we showed that he’s a well-rounded person in addition to astonishing accomplishments. Additionally, we framed all essays in a way that spoke to each schools, and demonstrated a level of specificity that will left them with no doubts in their minds. If they think you’ll choose them, they wont hesitate to choose you.