Here’s where you come in.
Every applicant is flawed, right? It’s true, none of us are perfect. Many Brave Supplicants get exceedingly nerve-wracked about this, thinking they need to hide those flaws, cover them up, ignore them. They hope that the blemishes will go unnoticed by the adcom.
But that’s not how it works. These adcom-peeps can spot those attempts from miles away.
Instead of trying to put lipstick on a pig, own up to being a pig! “Piggy here! Look at me! It’s true, I’m swine central, but I’m the very best pork product you ever did see, and boy am I good at rootin around in the muck!! Look how I’ve put this very impressive talent to work in my life!”
OK now we have offended you. You are not a pig, Brave Supplicant! That was metaphorical. Apologies. Let’s move on.
What you need to do is counteract any weaknesses, neutralize them, and offer enough strengths in the areas where you’re strong (yes that’s redundant so sue us) that the adcom is happy to admit you anyway.
HOW DO YOU DO THIS?
1. Be real. If your GMAT score is truly low, then either a) give enough hardcore fact-based evidence in your essays, on the resume, and best place ever: in the recommendations, such that the adcom feels confident with your abilities anyway; or b) retest. Those are the only two choices. Similar story with low GPA: you gotta give the adcom reason to believe that you’ll do better in school today than you did a few years ago in college – and the best way to prove that is to do better in a class. (Yes we have gone over this before.)
2. Be consistent. This means both in the little things – the start/end dates you enter for your jobs in the online app had better match up to the dates on your resume – and on the larger scale. If you say in one essay that what matters most to you is environmentalism and saving the planet, and then in another essay you talk about how you want to be a consultant because you’re excited about being able to fly to a different city each week to work on different client engagements… do you see how that might be a bit of a disconnect?* This is an example of a slightly-subtle but not-when-you-examine-it contradiction that we see all the time.
3. Be authentic. The adcom will read between the lines. They’ll know if you’re jibin’ them. The most obvious ones: When someone says they want to launch their own nonprofit, or even a for-profit social venture… yet they’ve never done a day of volunteer work in their life. Or that they’re interested in emerging markets — but then they don’t mention a single thing more about it, they don’t elaborate on which emerging market (there’s more than one you know, and they’re rather different), or why. Lots of Brave Supplicants jump on these types of bandwagons without knowing where they’re headed, and it’s obvious.
If you say you want to go into finance, you’d better not have a collection of Cs in your undergrad calc and econ courses. If you say that teamwork is the most important thing to you and it’s why you’re applying to School X, your recommenders better not be talking about how you could improve your interpersonal skills. Yes, the adcom will be looking. Yes, they will cut you some slack if you’re honest and direct about your shortcomings (not overemphasizing them of course – counterbalancing them, not harping on the suckiness of them). Yes, they will be adding things up, and yes, they will give you the benefit of the doubt.
But you bet your patooty yes, they will notice everything, and yes, the whole package matters.
*You do see it, right? About how much that flying around all the time would add to your carbon footprint…?