Essential MBA Application Advice for M7 Business Schools

What do Stanford GSB, Wharton, Kellogg, Booth, MIT Sloan and Columbia have in common? Not very much! MBA applicants often make the mistake that the top business schools are just like other business schools (just better!), but if you’re planning to send the same application to all of them, you may as well buy an industrial shredder and drop $500 in, because that’ll be cheaper.

We compiled this video to give you a quick overview of the quirks (and our tips) for each of the M7 business schools so you can get a sense of which is right for you, how to approach your favorite school and, just maybe, which to avoid.

Looking for Harvard Business School? We have a separate video here.

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Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:

Welcome back to MBA Monday! Today we're talking about M7 business school secrets, but if you've watched my other secrets videos, you know that I really believe that there aren't any secrets because the schools are really transparent about what they want to know about you. They tell you what matters to them by how they construct their essays and how they ask you to complete them.

Chicago Booth

Here's the one thing you need to know to get into Chicago Booth: it's basically about being a giant nerd. I mean that in the most loving and accepting way. The big thing that differentiates Booth culture from all other MBA programs is that it's more academically rigorous than any other school. The University of Chicago is the birthplace of modern economics. It has more Nobel laureates on the faculty today, past and present, than any other MBA program. The curriculum is rooted in critical thinking skills, not necessarily the hard skills of business. The program teaches you how to actually think like a CEO, how to weigh different options and make decisions using data. It's one of the most data driven MBA programs out there, and for every course that you take at Booth, you're going to go 10, 15, 20, 25% further on the same subject matter as you would do at any other program. What this means for your application is that you really need to show Booth that you understand what they're all about, that you're getting into a very rigorous and challenging academic experience, and you're here for it. So when you write that essay about why you want to go to Booth and how the Booth MBA is going to help you achieve your goals, be sure that you're speaking to the Chicago approach, the depth that the curriculum goes into, the amount of free market economics free choice that they give you in constructing your own curriculum. They're not trying to cram anything down your throat. They're giving you the chance to really shape the specifics of what you want to learn so that you can be the best business leader you can be post MBA.


Columbia is really easy to read because the very first question they ask is a short-answer question about your goals. They want to know, in fifty characters or fewer, what do you hope to do immediately post MBA? Then their first big essay question for many, many years running now is some version of “What are your goals and what do you hope to do post MBA?”. They recently have taken to making it even more clear that they really don't want you to talk about your past at all in this essay, they just want to know about the future. Here's a recent version: “Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. (We’re pretty good on your past.) What are your career goals over the next three to five years, and what in your imagination would be your long-term dream job?”. They're asking about your future. Even the second essay question, at least in the last couple of cycles is “Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you?”. So the first 750 words of the Columbia Business School application is all about your future. Do you think Columbia cares a bit about your future? As it turns out, what the Columbia Business School admissions committee is most vigilant about (let's put it that way) is career placement. They have an incredibly pragmatic view of the MBA, which if you hang around career protocol at all, you'll understand I share and really admire, which is that the MBA is just a tool. It's not a destination. It's a step on your route to career success and whatever that looks like for you. So, they really, really care whether or not you can get the job that you say you want to have. That's why so much of their application is focused on your career game plan. It's focused on your post-MBA job and your long term-plan and how Columbia uniquely is going to facilitate your success because they don't want you to come to their program if they can't help you get what you want in your career. It's pragmatic and it's awesome. So as you're constructing your Columbia Business School applications, your first, second, and third strategy are to focus on your career game plan. That means you've got short-term goals that are credible, require an MBA, and that you can actually achieve from where you're coming from, plus your own research, your own networking, and a little bit of Columbia resources. It also needs to have a long-term vision that's inspiring to you, that paints the picture of a future that you genuinely want to have, and that, again, is supported by the Columbia MBA. Then in most cases, you also need to be taking short-term actions to prepare for those goals. You need to be doing informational interviews, networking, talking to people who have these jobs. You need to build a plan that's going to make sense and, most importantly, inspire you in a really tangible way.


Without further ado, here it is, the number one thing you need to know about Kellogg Business School. It is a team-driven culture. Kellogg has a really specific philosophy about what leadership is in 2022 and frankly, in all of time, and that is leadership is not about positional power. It's not about being the boss. It's not about being in charge. It's about influence. It's about inspiring collaboration among people who are, in fact, your peers. If you think about the nature of reality, isn't that really how it works? Even if you are someone's boss, it's not like you're the boss of them. We all have free will. We all make choices that align with our own interests. So if you want to be a great leader, you really need to get accustomed to inspiring people to align with your vision rather than just telling them what to do. This is Kellogg's philosophy, and their entire school is really built around this idea and this culture. So, it's an incredibly mutually-supportive, peer-focused culture. You're going to want to address that in your application. It's going to be really important when you put together your resume and your essays, and of course, as you prepare for your interview, that you can show Kellogg that you're someone who wants to contribute to the people that you work with, the people who work for you, and even your managers.

MIT Sloan

You don't need anyone to explain to you what's important in the application process because the schools actually tell you really what it is. For the most part, they just really want you to be your earnest and authentic self. The one school that I think does need a little bit of interpretation is MIT. We could chalk it up to the fact that the school is really grounded in engineering. So, first thing you need to understand about MIT as a culture is that it's a super nerdy school. It's a school that's really committed to its principles. Many schools are, but MIT, I think, more stubbornly than most. They really believe that past behavior predicts future performance. Take a moment and take that in.

1. Talk about your past experiences

So, as you approach their application, you're going to find, surprisingly, that none of their essays ask about your goals. They also don't ask really about why you want to go to MIT. You're welcome to include reference to that in your cover letter, but the cover letter is really not about what's your future and therefore, why do you want to go to MIT Business School? If you make your cover letter a personal statement style essay, you're going to be very sad with the results that come back at you because MIT wants you to talk about your past experiences. This is true in the application. It's also true in the interview. Their interviews are famously hardcore behavioral interviews. They're that means you're going to get just a small handful of questions that are really focused on specific past experiences so that the admissions committee can evaluate how you behaved in various circumstances so that then they can form their own decision to predict how you're going to behave in the future. The second question is about introducing yourself to your classmates. It says: “Here is a chance to put a face with a name and let your personality shine through. Be conversational, be yourself. We can't wait to meet you!”. Yes, this is the sixty-second video essay that Sloan introduced several years ago, and which gives you the chance now to show them who you are by literally showing them who you are. MIT introduced this video essay a few years ago and my suspicion, having been a recruiter of MBAs at schools including MIT and having for many years struggled to recruit ample candidates who were both really intellectually competent and also socially and EQ savvy from MIT, my suspicion is that they introduced this video so that they can ensure that all of the students who arrive on campus have not only the appropriate level of English, but also the appropriate level of personality and presence to be successful in the post-MBA world. You want to seem natural. You want to seem comfortable. You want to seem confident. You want to seem like someone who can casually talk about themselves without being weird. That's really, really important to your MBA application to MIT.


What are the things that Stanford wants to know about you? Let's start there. They have two main essay questions: “What matters most to you and why?” and “Why Stanford?”. Then another part of the application that a lot of people miss, but that is really, really important are the short-answer, optional questions where you're asked to describe a way in which you've made an impact. Now, what matters most to you and why? That's the Everest you'll be tackling in your Stanford applications, but before you even start to look at your answer to that question, I'm going to make a potentially slightly controversial recommendation here in the strange little world of MBA essays, and that is, save that essay for last.

1. Start with the short-answer questions

First, you want to start with the short answer questions. A few years ago, Stanford added to their application beyond “What Matters Most to you and why?” and “Why Stanford?”. They added short essays that ask you to talk about impact. Here's the question: “Think about times you've created a positive impact, whether in professional, extracurricular, academic, or other settings. What was your impact and what made it significant to you or to others?”. They give you a fairly constrained character limit on these essays that allows you somewhere in the ballpark of 200 words to talk about the times you've had an impact, or in other words, your proudest achievements. That's what these essays are about. It's about the times in your career and in your life where you had an impact. The times you were awesome, the times you accomplished something. They do care. They care about what you've achieved beyond what you'll put on your resume, but by adding these three extra opportunities to talk about impact, they are signaling very clearly that they do not want you to talk about how awesome you are in the “What matters most you and why?” video essay.

2. Then move on to “What matters most to you and why?”

The second piece of advice I have for you is now to talk about what matters most to you and why. Now, a lot of people get tripped up by this question, and they get tripped up by two things: what and why? So the first thing to understand is that the what matters most to you will not be unique. It will not be something that they haven't already heard a thousand times. That's because as human beings, we have a lot more in common than we have that separates us and makes us different. The more you drill down on the why, whatever that thing is that matters to you, the more you're going to find what truly does differentiate you from everyone else. But the why is not also going to form the bulk of this essay, because the answer to why is always also going to be something quite simple. So, you need to include what matters most to you, and you need to also include a direct answer to the question of why that thing matters to you. The bulk of the what matters most to you and why essay, I believe, if it's done right, will neither be the what or the why. It'll be the how. This is really an essay about how what matters to you has shaped your life.

3. “What matters most to you and why?” and “Why Stanford?” are the same question.

If you look at it this way, you can start to see how “What matters most to you and why?” and “Why Stanford?” are actually in some ways one uniform question, because what matters most to you should reflect the vision you have for your career. If you talk about your career directly in essay A or save that all for essay B, there should be a consistency between what matters most to you and where you're headed in the future, and therefore, why Stanford is an essential step en route to where these values are taking you.


Wharton has been quite innovative. True to their brand, true to their commitment to innovation, they've been quite innovative in figuring out unique ways to assess student character that is a little bit different from what most top MBA programs are doing. Let's see what we need to do as we're tackling the Wharton MBA application.

1. Make sure that you have a rock star resume

Number one is you want to make sure that you have a rock star resume. That means, ideally, you've had a lot of impact, you've achieved a lot, you've been promoted, you've gotten awards. You're just like an awesome all-around person. Whatever you have to work with in your career, and plenty of people who get into Wharton are not rock stars per se, they're just solid professionals. They're just people doing great work.

2. Solid career game plan

Question number one, okay, so the second piece of applying to Wharton that's really, really important is to have an amazing career game plan. We talk about this a lot on our channel because it's so, so, so important, but the entire first Wharton essay is all about your future. It's all about your career game plan. The question is: “What do you hope to gain professionally at Wharton?”. It's all about where you're headed professionally and how Wharton is going to help you. Now, this doesn't mean that you might not mention one or two accomplishments when you're tackling this essay. That is a strategy that a lot of people employ, and it can be very effective, especially if your goals are really grounded in what you've done before. But the essence of this question is checking out your career game plan. They're looking for employability, credibility in your plan, and inspiration. As always, schools want to be inspired by where you're headed and what you're going. They want to know that they're investing their seat in someone who is going to matter and make a difference. So that's essay one.

3. What can you contribute?

Essay 2 is actually in a lot of ways similar. They're still asking you to talk about your experience at Wharton, but this time they're asking you how you're going to contribute. So the question is: “Taking into consideration your background — personal, professional, and/or academic — how do you plan to make specific, meaningful contributions to the Wharton community?”. This essay is a little bit shorter than the first one, 400 words as opposed to 500, and of course, they're not asking you why Wharton or how is Wharton going to contribute to you, they're asking how do you want to contribute to Wharton? So in this essay, you will talk about past experiences, making contributions, and you'll show them how those are going to map to the Wharton community. So you need to do lots of research on clubs, organizations, activities, ways in which you're going to make your mark when you are at Wharton. Even the Wharton recommendation questions are subtly different from other top programs because they're really, really focused based on how Wharton fits in, how you're going to fit in to Wharton. Keep all of that in mind as you're tackling those two main essays, because the truth is, Wharton isn't really looking very closely at your character in those essays. You will hint at your character as you talk about what contributions you're going to make and how you will benefit professionally from a Wharton MBA. The place where Wharton innovatively is truly assessing the person you are is in their interview. You may know that for many years now, Wharton has entirely issued a one-on-one conversation about you in favor of the team-based discussion. You're going to get together with a group of fellow Wharton applicants and discuss a topic, collaborate and come up with a plan of action to answer a question that Wharton is asking you. It's amazing what you reveal about yourself in group interactions. You show how collaborative you are, how inclusive you are, how much you respect and value the opinions of others, how focused you are on a solution versus argumentation or having your way or being right. So where Wharton is most assessing your character is not in the essays, it's actually in that interview. So that means that to even get to that stage where Wharton is entirely engaged in who you are as a complete human being, you've got to have a solid career game plan, a rockstar resume, and a very clear path to make an impact at Wharton and beyond.

Angela Guido

Angela Guido

Student of Human Nature| Founder and
Chief Education Officer of Career Protocol

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