What Contributions Will You Make to Your MBA Program?

At some point in your MBA journey, either in an essay or interview, you will likely face this question. It’s important, because it speaks to your “uniqueness”, what distinguishes you from thousands of other applicants.

There are four ways applicants typically frame their answers, but I usually recommend against two of them. Those are:

Professional & Nationality Contributions

By professional contributions, I’m talking about hard skills and other inside knowledge of your industry (e.g., financial valuation or modeling skills, digital marketing approaches, etc.) Don’t get me wrong. Of course, these things are important. But lots of applicants have them, and unless you’ve done something groundbreaking in your work or your work itself is relatively rare for an MBA applicant (artist or soldier come to mind), you will not get far arguing that your skills and knowledge are somehow superior to everyone else’s.

Similarly, I recommend against promoting your nationality as a distinctive trait, because every other applicant from your country can say the same thing. Having said that, if you participate in a specific cultural activity that represents your country or culture (e.g., a cultural dance, tea ceremony, etc.) you might want to include that, but I suggest including it in the “activity” category below.

The two areas where you can more readily stand out are:

Activity Contributions

One of my clients was an accomplished glider pilot. His longest flight was some insane amount of time to be slipping from thermal to thermal with no engine. As an adventure and bonding experience, he wanted to take his classmates gliding at an airfield near his school.

Another client was a talented amateur filmmaker. She offered to create marketing films for the school and the clubs she was interested in.

Another client organized large summer music festivals. He put his logistical talents towards major school events.

A long-distance runner wanted to start a marathon team.

An art lover planned a gallery tour and panel discussion on the art business (for Columbia).

A Mahjong fanatic said he would teach the game and its strategic applications to business.

An Eagle Scout (the highest designation for an American outdoor/service group) offered his outdoor leadership skills as part of a leadership trek.

Get it?

Soft Skill Contributions

These are probably the most difficult contributions to explain, but also where you can really make a defining statement about your core strengths and how you plan to apply them throughout your MBA.

The logic works like this:

1)      Briefly explain an accomplishment

2)      Distill and express the soft skills that allowed you to succeed.

3)      Share how those soft skills will contribute to various programs at the school

For example, let’s say you overcame a nasty conflict on your team at work. By extension, you could say that you have a talent for resolving team conflicts, especially if you can demonstrate a pattern of doing so. You will undoubtedly face team conflicts during your MBA, starting with your study teams, so your strength in this area will be a great boon to resolving them.