I’d estimate that three out of five MBA applicants to top-tier schools have traveled widely, for work or for fun. It follows that in their MBA applications they cite travel as an activity they value and put it among the important experiences they have had. They think that journeying across the world speaks for itself as proof of “diversity.” Travel broadens the mind and all that.
This is true. But there is a lot of value to be had in travel that MBA applicants often don’t get to. Here I tip my metaphorical hat to the mother of an MBA Studio client from a while ago who gave her son the following feedback — before he came to me — which absolutely dovetails with how I exhort clients to squeeze admissions value from their travel (and other) experiences, for both the essays and MBA interview. I quote:
“I don’t think you have written something meaningful enough about your travels. You have traveled widely but it looks like it doesn’t seem to have influenced you, affected your outlook about people, society.
“Perhaps write something meaningful about poverty, and yet the ingenuity of people who have very little but are innovative, creative, hard working.
“Can you think of reasons why you chose to travel to these places, culture, philosophy, history, etc.?
“Some insight into the way you and your friend chose to travel, no fuss, not staying fancy places.
“This travel was a test also in being independent, showing initiative, taking calculated risks in foreign places. You don’t give yourself sufficient credit for these things.”
If all mothers had this depth of insight, I’d be out of a job. But, seriously, the task here, and everywhere in MBA admissions, is to extract the full admissions value from any and every activity you have done, experiences you’ve had, or choices you’ve made.
Look at your experiences, look at the skill sets and character traits of middle-to-senior managers, and make the link.
In this case an applicant go beyond claiming “travel experience” to demonstrating a nuanced outlook on foreign cultures; an appreciation of alternative value systems including alternative forms of innovation; a no-fuss, non-materialist sensibility; an ability to ride out adversity; and practice at being in unfamiliar situations and taking calculated risks.
Putting it like this, you turn the empty label of “travel experience” into a platform that demonstrates the kind of experience, and insight into experience, that an MBA admissions committee will warm to.