Embrace Life’s Inflection Points In Your MBA essay

In math an inflection (or inflexion) point is the point on a curve where the it changes sign and therefore shape. By analogy, our lives and careers have inflection points too: those events that where suddenly everything is turned around, or moments where everything changes.

In the MBA admissions process, inflection points can be “achievements.” But they don’t need to be and often are not.

More often they are mixed, bitter-sweet events, or moments of self-understanding and personal transition. Identifying and communicating these moments is key to convincing Adcom of your individual growth and self-awareness.

You can also connect these “aha” moments to a motivation for MBA study and career beyond it.

Note that the MBA itself will is also commonly a career inflection point, and it’s good to communicate what that inflection will lead to: what is the new path that you plan to be on, that relates to the past, but also transforms it?

Sometimes when I talk to clients during profiling–when we sift through their past and present scouring for admissions value–they will blow right past an inflection point such as a change of college major, or death of a parent, or visit to the national gallery in Berlin (or whatever), and I have to slow them down to fully explore and capture the value therein.

Due to confidentiality, I can’t tell client stories. But when this post was first written I shared an example from the (now offline) BusinessWeek MBA Journal site, where a then-current INSEAD student shared his “Road-to-Damascus” moment:

“A favorable exchange rate and good salaries enabled us to enjoy a hedonistic lifestyle in New York, which included fancy dining, live music and sporting events, and parties on most nights. Yet, during all of this, I witnessed an act of kindness that changed the way I view the world and my aspirations. This moment of humanity would ultimately drive me to pursue an MBA at INSEAD.

“Midway through my training in New York, my friends and I went to see a Yankees baseball game. We caught the subway to return home and sat down next to a homeless man named Sam. Two stops later, another homeless man, J, boarded and sat next to Sam. They proceeded to talk and we overheard parts of the conversation. It became apparent that Sam and J had never met before.

“Then, Sam asked J if he would like to share some dinner, and J gladly accepted. Sam pulled out a tin of Vienna sausages and some dry crackers, which they shared. We watched all this and lumps gathered in our throats. Sam had no wealth and bleak prospects, yet was willing to share his food with a complete stranger. Would we have shared something worth as much to us with another stranger?

“This act of generosity humbled my friends and me… I was inspired to seek more in life than those parties and materialistic pursuits. I didn’t want to waste my precious time, and I wanted a challenge. I wanted to make my mark on the world.”

So. Powerful stuff. Note, however, that you don’t specifically need a “bleeding heart” story to have an inflection point, or to get into business school. But you do need to be sensitive to the real transitions and inflection points in your life, which by definition will be highly individual to you. And be able to say how they have shaped your outlook, motivation and aspirations.


Using Covid19 in your MBA application

The Covid19 question is of course front and center in this MBA admissions cycle. There will be applicants who have been cut or furloughed, and some who have not, and it’s better if not, but not the end of the world if you are.

This is because a lot of things have been beyond the control of a lot of people this year. You won’t be penalized for this. But the question becomes, so what did you do?

How have you developed–if not something out there–then in yourself? What impact have you made, somehow,  even when you have been in lockdown at home, even if it’s only an impact on yourself?

Often MBA applicants  think their accomplishments get them in. Or their lack of accomplishments gets them dinged. That’s part of it for sure. But it’s not the whole story.

Another huge part of what gets you in is character. How do you show character? Certainly not by merely awarding it to yourself in empty sentences. You establish your character via evidence, where the evidence is challenges and transitions you have faced, the hard choices you have made (and what you chose), leading to a pattern of personal responsibility and reflective growth.

This is also another way of saying: you don’t need to be some kind of superstar. You do need to stand out, that is be unique in some way, and stories of character can be that way.

Also, character development is often the most interesting thing about someone. What path they’ve chosen and why, how they navigate choices, and what stimulates and inspires a person in making them is much more interesting to Adcom than the bald facts of their career progress.

Furthermore, if you talk about these things, and other things about you that matter to you, you also raise the passion and authenticity in your application which creates a bridge with your reader.

That’s a bridge you can walk across to… you know where.

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