Help! I Belong to an Overrepresented Applicant Group

Check out our advice for well-represented MBA applicants.

B-schools have been known to “group” applicants.

I recently received a question—or more of a complaint—from a client who was concerned with his status as an Indian IT male. This individual was considering changing his location on his application—he was born, raised, and still lived in India, but his family had lived in Zurich for four years, starting when he was six, and he wanted to focus on that—or just somehow on his job as a restaurant manager, rather than his extensive experience and education in IT.

I get questions like this all the time, so I thought it would be appropriate to post the answer that I gave this particular young man:

B-schools have been known to “group” applicants in ethnic, gender, and professional categories for administrative purposes, but that certainly does not mean that they are accepting and rejecting candidates based solely on those labels and groupings.

The purpose of the admissions process is to allow the adcoms an opportunity to get to know you as an individual—beyond labels. It’s your job to show the adcoms that you are not simply another face in the crowd of Indian (or American, for that matter) IT males, but that you are a unique, category-less group of ONE. You are not Indian, not American, not American Indian, not Indian American, not IT, and not male; you are YOU.

Don’t get hung up on the group or the label. Instead focus on ways you can draw out your individuality. It is true that you will need to work on this harder than, say, an entrepreneurial woman from a village in the Himalayas, but that’s not to say it can’t be done. By constructing killer essays that come alive with your personality, diverse interests and talents, and your not-to-be-overlooked strengths and passions, you’ll prove a candidacy equal in competitiveness to our Himalayan candidate.

That was my response to our Indian IT male friend, but it can be applied to anyone who is getting bogged down in the labels and losing focus on the process of individuating. Think about what sets you apart from your group. Highlight your uniqueness in your essays, and the adcoms will get a clear look at how you—not your group—will contribute to your chosen MBA program or profession.

Last but not least, don’t stress. Just because you are an Indian IT guy (or a member of some other common subgroup in the applicant pool), doesn’t mean that you don’t possess other unique qualities that will make you an attractive candidate at top b-schools.