You’re qualified for a Master’s in Finance (MFin or MSF) program. Great. But that’s only the starting point. Given how competitive MFin programs are, most people they reject are qualified – often highly qualified. Given these circumstances, distinguishing yourself is essential.
Yet many applicants are similar in various ways. If you do not have a natural, immediately identifiable differentiator, how do you convince the adcom to admit you over accomplished others from your educational background, geographic region, and/or industry? How do you set yourself apart and shine?
Sometimes, rather than running from the element of similarity, it’s better to go deep into it. Provide the personal, detailed, insightful perspective that only you have and that represents value to your future classmates.
Let’s explore the main types of similarities and how to address them.
Geographic and/or Ethnic Background
It’s no secret that certain geographic and ethnic groups are over-represented in the MFin applicant pools and student bodies. The biggest group is East Asians with China a large part of that – in many MFin programs, East Asians comprise 50% or more of the class. This group is followed in much smaller percentages by South Asians, with of course India being the largest segment. The Europeans are the next largest group, but it is pretty small compared to the East Asians, with Russians a significant segment. Beyond these groups, there is a sprinkling of South, Central, and North Americans; Africans; and Southeast Asians.
Here are some ways to stand out if you’re in the biggest 1-2 groups – not all points will be relevant to all people, but at least some will resonate for you.
• When mentioning your country in essays, don’t use country name (China, India); instead, cite the city or region and if possible a telling detail or two to enliven the discussion and “picture.”
• Weave in your cultural background in a meaningful and relevant way, e.g. indicating how it influenced your thinking on the proper role of finance in society. Don’t just write theoretically or in generalities, but rather provide a brief example to illustrate your point.
• If your goals involve returning to your country, address what you hope to achieve and contribute there, in specific terms, and why.
You majored in Economics, right? Like maybe 70-80% of MFin applicants. No? Then, let me guess… It was Statistics, or Finance, or Mathematics. Scanning MIT’s 2018 class, these majors account for 100% of the students with some variations (okay, Applied Mathematics). And I did discover a couple of unusual second majors: Political Science, Philosophy…
The message seems clear: your educational background won’t help you stand out; it’s just a qualification.
Not so fast. You might get more mileage out of those hard-earned A’s in your econ (or math or stats) major than you think.
• What initially intrigued you about your major? What was unexpected for you about this course of study? How did it change your perspective or thinking? Answers to these and similar questions will let the adcom see you in a deeper light (and they might even see something fresh in econ too!).
• In what ways did your major required self-directed, independent effort and/or how did it involve teamwork? How did you do in these capacities? Addressing such questions with examples may showcase your individual interests and strengths, and if you identify a weakness – say you realized you needed to improve your collaboration skills – it shows welcome maturity and resourcefulness as well.
• Did you formally or informally tutor others less talented in math or econ? How did succeeding (or failing) in the effort make you feel? What did you learn? This avenue of discussion may add a rich facet to your application.
Internships and Work Experience
If you’re an early-career applicant, chances are you’ve interned in the same types of organizations and similar/same roles as other applicants. If you’re applying to programs for experienced applicants, you have a similar challenge but less so, because your career has required you to develop an individual track record and the perspective that goes with it.
Here are tips for making the most of your experience for both groups:
• Early career applicants: Use the “zoom lens” – in essays, talk about specific projects and what you learned. Give anecdotes and details. For interns, the titles and tasks may be the same, but the people you interact with, the organizational culture and dynamics, the way you respond to given opportunities and challenges, will be inherently unique.
• For experienced applicants: Avoid “did-this-did-that” discussions in essays. Rather, portray how you did significant things, your thinking behind a bold step, why a significant impact was meaningful and resonated to you. Detail how your influence ripples out and how you absorb, digest, and implement important lessons.
And… remember those poli sci and philosophy double-majors? If you’re a Chinese applicant who majored in Economics, interned at Morgan Stanley, AND are an expert bread maker or tango aficionado – please, somehow, somewhere, let the adcom know! Such counter-stereotypical elements tend to be instantly memorable…
Previous and upcoming posts will dig into other aspects of applying to Master’s in Finance programs. And feel free to contact me at Accepted if you are interested in consulting with me or my Accepted colleagues as you apply to MiF programs.
Cindy Tokumitsu has advised hundreds of successful applicants, helping them gain acceptance to top MFin, MBA, EMBA and other graduate management programs in her 15+ years with Accepted. She would love to help you too. Want Cindy to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!
• 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your Grad School Statement of Purpose, a free guide
• Focus on Fit, a podcast episode
• Standing Out By Showing You Have a Unique Perspective [Fitting in & Standing Out]