The Wharton Admissions Blog has posted Reflections on Wharton MBA Feedback Sessions for Denied Applicants Who Plan to Reapply. The ten points it contains are as relevant for first-time applicants as reapplicants. They are also relevant (with the possible exception of #5) to non-MBA applicants.
I would like to focus on the first point. “Assuming that being qualified is enough.”
For the top programs, being qualified is not enough. Competitive test scores, GPA, and experience transport you to the threshold. They don’t carry you through the golden gates of your dream school. Adcoms are not interested in rewarding your past performance; admissions professionals or enrollment managers, as practitioners sometimes call themselves, aim to create a diverse class comprised of different backgrounds, professions, and perspectives all of which contribute to excellence in education. They consider themselves craftsmen of learning environments.
Obviously you still have to qualify and prove that you can do the work. But once you do so, you also must show that you are going to add something to the class and contribute in some distinctive way. You don’t have to climb Mt. Everest, race in triathlons, or travel to exotic locations to serve a remote community just to impress the admissions committee. But you should pursue your interests with zest and vigor. (This came across loud and clear in the recent chat with Michigan Med School) If you do so, you will have the distinctive experiences to show the qualities adcoms admire. You will also be able to show that that you will add a distinctive hue to your class.