What Adcoms and Admissions Consultants Share

TSA Agent

What TSA agent can teach MBA applicants

While going through security at the airport recently, I had a first-ever experience:

A TSA agent examining my ID suddenly said, “I know you. You’re Linda Abraham from Accepted.com!”

Surprised, I replied, “You’re right. How did you know?” Accepted.com is not on my ID.

“I’ve attended your webinars.”

Why should I have cared, or actually been pleased, that someone recognized me for my work as an MBA admissions consultant?

I’m human.  And like most people, I like recognition (of the positive kind) for my work and efforts. So if you recognize me, by all means say “hi.”

On the same trip and since, I’ve had several occasions to meet and talk with admissions committee members from a variety of schools including Columbia Business School, NYU Stern, IE, and Cambridge Judge.  Whether in private meetings or in a reception I attended for applicants, at some point each of the adcom members said, “I’m human. I’m reasonable.”

What was the context and what are the implications of this very basic, obvious piece of information. Why did they feel the need to say it?

All were responding to the occasional lack of authenticity in some applications.  For example applicants who write they want to go into social enterprise with no evidence of interest in social enterprise make admissions readers wonder about sincerity. Highly paid applicants  claiming noble, low-paying MBA goals who don’t seem aware of the pay cut awaiting them if they achieve their goals also are cause for wonder. And skepticism.  When human beings are suspicious, they usually just say “no.”

Another point they all made: they know their programs. They want to admit people who will thrive and be happy at their schools. If you successfully portray yourself as someone you are not and they admit the phony you, they will have an unhappy customer on their hands. And you well spend tens of thousands of dollars and two years in the wrong place.  So be yourself.  Present your best self, but it still needs to be you.

Also, keep in mind that no human being likes to be lied to or wants to do something that will ultimately make him or her look bad. The admissions committee members are no different. If they think you are lying or that you aren’t a fit, your admissions chances just took a deep dive.

In my meetings, I asked about applicants applying with a criminal record or with academic infractions. In both cases the associate directors whom I met paused and thought for a minute. They said that they do not automatically reject people with these kinds of issues. Obviously the applicant has to be otherwise qualified, but in considering the infraction, the committee will look at when it occurred, what it was, and the applicant’s response to the event. Obviously, a misdemeanor eight years ago is very different from a felony last month.  Again, they both said, “We’re human. We’re reasonable. We know people can make a mistake.”

That humanity and that drive to help applicants end up in the right school are shared by admissions committee members and admissions consultants.  Yes, the school representatives’ primary responsibility is to their programs, but to the extent they want you to end up at the right school for you and you want to end up at the right school for you, all our interests overlap.  As an admissions consultant, it’s my job to help you find the right school for you  — and then to help you make your best case for acceptance with a self-aware, reflective, authentic, and articulate application.

Linda AbrahamBy Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted.com. 

Make your best case for acceptance at the right schools for you after reading MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.”