Admissions Spotlight: Tips for a Competitive Application

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Peggy Conway, Director of MBA Admissions
As a new group of young professionals embarks on their MBA journey this fall, another begins to think about applying for fall of 2018—or beyond. This group is likely asking themselves, "How do I prepare an application that will set me apart?"

“If you’ve had the opportunity to manage people, compare the admission decision to a hiring decision,” says Peggy Conway, the Neeley School of Business’ director of MBA admissions. “Think about a critical position at your company and how you would choose between multiple highly qualified candidates. You definitely want to hire someone who has the skill set to do the job—but you want more.”

Translate this scenario into the admissions process. As in the case of finding the right individual for a job, it’s a unique combination of skills, experience, background and personality that come together to make an ideal MBA candidate.

“You’re looking for someone who is motivated to excel, who inspires and challenges others and who brings a creative, positive energy to the group. Moreover, you want someone who is excited about and fully committed to the purpose of the program,” Conway says.

She offers these points to consider during your application and interview process for how you can articulate what sets you apart from other candidates:

  • How have you impacted change or made a difference in past roles?
  • When have you rallied others toward a cause?
  • Do you excel in new situations?
  • Have you demonstrated the ability to successfully execute your ideas?

As you go through this exercise, it’s important to be true to yourself. “It’s okay if you are passionate about something that doesn’t directly relate to an MBA,” she says. “It’s more important that we learn about who you really are and understand your unique talents and motivation.”

But what if there is something in your background that concerns you, such as a gap in your work experience or a period of lackluster academic performance? Conway advises to address these issues head on. 

“Help the admissions committee understand why it is no longer an issue at this point in your life and that it would not keep you from excelling in our program,” she says.

Neeley fosters a tight-knit MBA community, so Conway emphasizes the need for applicants to do their research to ensure the mission and culture of the school mesh with their education and career goals.

“At Neeley, we’ve purposely elected to have a smaller program that can promote a highly interactive environment. We’re dedicated to providing students the transformational experiences and leadership development they need to succeed in their next career,” she says. “To make that work, we’re looking for talented individuals who want to roll up their sleeves and take on what can be complex, messy problems.”

But, as any Neeley MBA alum would attest, it's well worth the challenge.

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