Bschools’ admissions essays are designed to solicit information about you, the candidate. They’re also strong signaling devices about the school. When a school like UC-Berkeley Haas asks you to keep in mind their four Defining Principles when you craft your answers, that gives you a clear indication of what’s important to them and what they’ll be looking for in what you write in response.
That last part is where the complication comes in. Everybody knows that getting into bschool is, to some extent a game. “What does the adcom want to hear? How should I tailor my essays to showcase that to them?” That’s totally not what the adcom wants you to do, but it’s unavoidable. If you write something that’s too off base and inappropriate for the context, well, it’s unlikely to work out in your favor.
So everybody is trying to second-guess the meaning of the adcom’s words. No problem, some degree of that can be useful. After all, you’re figuring out what it means to get into bschool – which means you’re figuring out what it means to be a leader. ‘Cuz all of them are looking for leaders.
A problem comes into the equation when the applicant tries too hard to be what they think the school wants. If a school is talking all over tarnation that they care about culture…
Why would a bus school ever narrow its appeal to prospective students by focusing on culture? Same reason other great institutions do it.
— Rich Lyons (@richlyons) March 5, 2014
… well, culture is what people are going to talk about in their essays. (Even if they don’t want to.)
And there’s a pretty significant disconnect for someone who says they want to go to School X because of the culture – and then in the next breath says that they want to go to work at a bulge-bracket i-bank.
The big Wall Street firms definitely have a “culture” – but it is not one that in any small respect or remote corner of the universe even minutely resembles the culture that a school like Haas puts such a focus on.
- Haas = small community, collaborative, individual contribution, respect
- Wall St = soul-crushing hours, cogs in a wheel, politics and power, respect?
If you want to go to Haas for their “culture”, are you SURE you also want to go into Wall Street finance?
Certainly there’s many many companies in the world of finance who buck the trend and offer a different experience for new hires. But they’re a rarity. Maybe that will change over time. We know that Wall Street is working to change their “culture” – the big banks have slowly started to implement more humane policies like a prohibition on working straight through every weekend (you’re required to take a few hours off now – but it’s not actually enforced).
There’s also lots of schools besides Haas that are emphasizing this “culture” thing as part of their pitch. We think that some of them even believe in it. (Yeah, a little jaded, we are.) These schools all send significant chunks of their graduating classes to Wall Street. The finance track, while shrinking in popularity in recent years, is still a viable path through bschool and out into the world.
The point of this post is to offer up a reality check. If you’re thinking about transitioning into finance – but you don’t really know what it’s about, it just sounds glamorous and opportunity-rich (emphasis on the rich) – and if you’re looking at the knot of bschool essays and what you’re “supposed” to say – and if you latch onto this “culture” thing that so many schools care about…
Well, you might want to investigate the whole enchilada a tiny bit more directly.
We’re not saying that some future i-banker automatically cannot ever care about culture.
We are saying that there’s an obvious disconnect in this equation when someone says that they do as a means to get into bschool, while simultaneously professes their enthusiasm for Wall Street as their intended destiny.
If you find yourself seeking to tell the adcom what they want to hear, rather than focusing on exploring genuine answers to the questions that they’re asking, then we’re suggesting you may want to do a little more self-exploration along the way in this process. Make sure you know what you’re getting into, oh starry-eyed BSer.
Just for the record: We see plenty of people getting into schools like Haas and Ross and other schools whose names don’t rhyme, by talking about the “culture” and also pitching a finance industry goal. We’re just inviting you to investigate your own priorities and understand what this whole kit and kaboodle you’re mapping out for yourself is really truly going to be like. Like, living it.