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The Differentiation Dilemma

The competition to get into top MBA programs is fierce. The strength of an application is determined by the strength of the various components, the consistency of the narrative, and the uniqueness of the candidate’s profile. While the first two aspects are highly valued, the third often plays a key role in determining the success of an applicant. Furthermore, differentiation becomes especially important for candidates that come from non-diverse backgrounds such as engineering and finance.

So what does differentiation mean? It means the ability of a candidate to stand out from the rest of the competition. While each candidate is obviously different, admissions committees are looking for candidates that can truly add value to the school community and hold the potential to be outstanding alumni. Hence, differentiation is viewed not only in terms of past achievements but also in terms of what promise the candidate shows in terms of succeeding post the MBA.

When it comes to differentiation, the first thing that jumps to mind is accomplishments. While it is true that extraordinary feats such as representing your country or winning international honours offer a significant advantage, it isn’t the only way that one can distinguish oneself. An MBA aspirant can also use essays to great advantage, crafting compelling stories that can help them build an emotional connection to the admissions committee and generate a positive outcome.

The quest for differentiation has become very difficult with the easy availability of application strategies on the Internet. However, while it’s great to read about what worked and what didn’t for past applicants, it’s a mistake to try and replicate their strategies due to the many variables that go into the admissions process. The important thing to keep in mind is to focus on highlighting one’s own uniqueness and showcasing one’s own abilities as authentically as possible.

A common misconception amongst most MBA aspirants is that they can’t really do much to differentiate themselves once they decide to apply. However, nothing can be further from the truth. It’s always possible to improve your profile, even incrementally, through activities such as enrolling for a course, preparing for your first marathon or even pursuing that much wanted promotion. Every little bit can count towards adding to your uniqueness and strengthening your application.

An MBA from a top school can make a vast difference in the career trajectory of an individual. It is for this reason that MBA aspirants are often tempted to embellish, if not falsify, data so they can stand out. This is, however, a colossal mistake as apart from being unethical, the chances of getting caught are also very high which can adversely impact the rest of your career. While differentiation is important, it should never be at the cost of your ethics or integrity.


LemonEd can help you with all elements of your MBA application.

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