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So, should I have even applied?

I was recently catching up with a client after they received their Round 1 decisions. By any definition, they had been successful in their application process, gaining admission to two of their top three school choices, and a few others. However, they hadn’t been asked to interview at their top school choice, leading to their question, “Should I have bothered applying to that school?”

This got me thinking about what the purpose of a school application even is. Obviously, there is the goal of gaining admission, and all the benefits that school can provide to one’s career and one’s life. After 13 years and thousands of grad school applications, I can safely say that 100% of our clients apply to a school with the goal of getting in. Even those clients who know a particular school is a long-shot would gladly attend if admitted. However, are there other benefits to applying, beyond the chance of admission?

Learning about yourself:

Applying to school is often a time for self-reflection. While we have clients use our Personal Branding exercise and ProValues to gain new perspective about themselves, the essay questions from the schools themselves prompt applicants to think. When is the last time you really explored what matters most to you (Stanford) or what your “dream job” would be (Columbia)? Have you ever asked yourself what makes you “feel alive” (Berkeley Haas), or dug through old photos to find six that help express who you are (NYU Stern)? Countless times, clients have come away from writing essays with greater knowledge of who they are. This has helped them realize they already had their dream job, or that they should pursue x path that they want, vs. y path that their family wants. In learning about themselves, they gain confidence and happiness.

Avoiding the “what if”:

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” – Wayne Gretzky

Predicting school admissions is not the easiest job in the world. However, what is an easy prediction? If you don’t apply, you won’t get in.

Clients we work with are often pleasantly surprised by admissions outcomes. For instance, scholarship awards are often unexpected, and are always appreciated by applicants for both the financial support, as well as the signal of confidence schools have in them. However, it often prompts the question of whether they could have also applied to higher-ranked/better fit schools. Clients often ask this even without scholarship offers.

Answers to this question are complex; candidates’ financial and time resources aren’t limitless, and focus should always be on applying to schools with realistic probabilities of success. However what makes a candidate good for one school often makes them good for other schools as well, so expanding the number of schools you apply to will likely increase your options over time (within reason). So if you have the time, take your shot. The outcome will be no worse than if you don’t apply at all.

Catalyst for expanding your impact:

This is possibly the best reason for applying to school; it is a catalyst for becoming a better person. The business school application process has prompted our clients to start organizations that have scaled to hundreds of people, mentor others at work and through volunteering that have transformed lives, and broaden their worldview through travel (admittedly more difficult these days).

Keep in mind that the improvement and positive impact you can generate depends on how early in the application process you begin. Often, our clients begin at least a year before they expect to apply, so as to avoid looking like they are only doing it for the application, as well as to give enough time for the full impact of their work to materialize. However regardless of the outcome of applications, the relationships built and impact generated from this work will last for years, and will open up further opportunities to make the world a better place.

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