- MIT Sloan was recently ranked as the third best business school in the world for 2021 by global higher education analyst QS Quacquarelli Symonds.
- In 2019, it was the sixth most selective school across US MBA programs with a 11.5% acceptance rate.
- Despite the tight odds, it’s worth trying to get in: The school’s website reports that 97% of job-seeking graduates in 2018 and 2019 received a full-time offer within three months of graduation.
- Alumni, admissions, and consultants recommended making sure your application tells a cohesive story, whether its through your cover letter, org chart, or interview.
- “They are looking for examples of how you are already living the MIT Sloan mission in your life and how you plan to leverage the experiences and the curriculum at MIT Sloan to further your development as a principled and innovative leader,” a 2016 MIT Sloan graduate said.
- During the pandemic, MIT has decided to conduct interviews over Skype.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The acceptance rate at the MIT Sloan School of Management has ranged from 9% to 13% in recent years, reported education specialists Quacquarelli Symonds. In 2019, its 11.5% acceptance rate, according to Poets & Quants, ranked it as the sixth most selective school among all top US MBA programs, ahead of Columbia Business School, Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, and the Yale School of Management.
But despite the tight odds, it’s well worth trying to get in. The school’s website reports that 97% of job-seeking graduates in 2018 and 2019 received a full-time offer within three months of graduation, with a median base salary of $135,000.
If you aspire to earn an MBA from MIT Sloan, it’s important to note that applying here requires a very customized approach.
“I don’t recommend applying to MIT Sloan if it is just another school on your list,” said Radhika Brinkopf, a 2016 MIT Sloan graduate and director of business development at food and beverage company Borden. “The people who are admitted to Sloan are those who are authentic and those who show a true passion for the school, the unique curriculum and experiences, and the community and students that they hope to join.”
Fortuna admissions expert coach Brittany Maschal — who formerly served on the admissions teams of several Ivy League MBA programs including Wharton, Princeton, and Johns Hopkins — told Business Insider that unlike most “super elite” MBA programs, MIT Sloan “mixes things up” in its application process in keeping with its innovation-centric brand.
“It’s the only top business school to solicit an organizational chart, and instead of standard written essays, candidates need to craft a cover letter and one-minute video intro,” Maschal said. “The Sloan MBA admissions team forces candidates to think about their career path, current role, and future in different ways, not unlike the type of thinking that will be expected of them once they enter the program.”
The MIT Sloan normal MBA admissions criteria, process, and timeline will be the same through the coronavirus pandemic, except that all interviews will be conducted over Skype and campus visits have been postponed.
Business Insider gathered intelligence from several MIT Sloan students, alumni, and admissions experts to help you get in.
Weigh each application component equally
You can learn how to apply to MIT Sloan on the school’s website. You’ll find application deadlines and detailed descriptions about the eight required components that constitute a complete application: a cover letter, a resume, a video statement, a letter of recommendation, references, an organizational chart, transcripts, and test scores.
Beyond this, you’ll find videos containing application tips from MIT Sloan’s admissions team with a link to additional videos on YouTube.
“No single component of the application is any more important than another,” said Dawna Levenson, assistant dean in the office of admissions at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “Having said that, we would never want to admit someone who has not demonstrated the ability to be successful in an MIT Sloan classroom. Evidence of this can be garnered from undergraduate experience, GMAT or GRE, work experience, and comments from recommenders.”
Create a package of materials that tells a story
“Applicants who stand out have put together a well-written application that leaves us wanting to know more,” Levenson said. “I think that it is helpful for an applicant to think about the resume, cover letter, and video as a package to tell [their] story. The resume will be career focused, the video can be personal, and the cover letter explains ‘why MIT Sloan.'”
She added that the video “does not need to be production quality [and] should show your personal side — you can be a little creative, but don’t get carried away and don’t compromise [sound quality] for creativity (don’t videotape on a ski slope!).”
Maureen Canellas, who worked as an emergency physician in Chicago prior to starting at MIT Sloan this fall as part of the class of 2021, dedicated a large amount of time to reviewing her cover letter and resume side by side to ensure they created a clear and cohesive picture.
“If your cover letter and resume sound like they were written about two different people, consider focusing more on the quality and impact of a few of your related successes, rather than the sheer quantity,” Canellas said.
Canellas added that “the video essay, while short, allowed me to emphasize the driving forces behind my career transition without being constrained by a word count or resume formatting.” She encouraged other applicants to use the video essay to attach a “passionate and personal voice (and smiling face)” to their application.
While the school has no specific essay requirements, admissions considers the cover letter to be an essay, so keep this in mind when crafting it.
Make your org chart clear and cohesive
One unique part of MIT Sloan’s application is its requirement to submit a one- to two-page organizational chart outlining your company’s — and your department’s — internal structure.
“The org chart helps to provide a visual representation of where you are within an organization, and it provides context around your reporting responsibilities,” Levenson said.
The school’s website specifies that you don’t need to supply your exact company org chart, but instead can opt to “create your own document or redact individuals’ names.”
“The org chart, which is a relatively new ask, should be more personal than the org chart on the company website,” Levenson said. “It should be specific to the applicant and show any direct reports, dotted-line reporting, and supervisors.” Applicants should also highlight any references that appear on the org chart, she added.
Canellas ensured that her org chart stood out by “focusing on clarity of formatting and roles.” She explained, “I knew the admissions team was going to read thousands of org charts and the clearer mine was, the better they could get a true understanding of my role compared to other applicants.”
She also focused on “maintaining a cohesive picture” across all portions of her application. “This ensured that the projects and teams I listed in my resume and cover letter were easily found on the org chart,” she said.
Choose your recommender wisely
While many top MBA programs require multiple letters of recommendation, the assistant dean of admissions said that MIT Sloan asks for a single recommendation.
“We believe that one meaningful recommendation is sufficient,” Levenson said. “We hope that with one recommendation the [applicant] will take the time to carefully think about who that person should be.”
With this in mind, Levenson suggested selecting someone who is a champion of your pursuit of an MBA, knows you well enough to provide relevant details, and is willing to put in the time to write a meaningful recommendation.
Canellas chose a supervisor with whom she had spoken to frequently about her goals. “[This supervisor] knew my successes and weaknesses and openly knew what I was hoping to accomplish by coming to business school,” Canellas said.
“I advise others to avoid the common misconception that the best recommendation comes from those in the highest positions in your organization,” she added. “If they cannot speak to your talent and potential clearly and strongly, then do not choose them. Their position in the organization will not make up for a ‘so-so’ recommendation letter from them.”
Yishi Zuo, the cofounder of the software platform DeepBench and a former Goldman Sachs investment banking analyst, graduated from MIT Sloan in June 2018. Back when he applied, two letters of recommendation were still required, but he explained that the process was similar to what today’s applicants will face.
“I chose one person from my then current employer, and one person from a previous employer,” Zuo said. “They were natural picks as I had worked closely with each recommender over two-plus years at the same company and they knew me well. Plus, both recommenders were MBA grads, so I had some assurance that they knew how the process worked and didn’t need a ton of guidance.”
MIT Sloan’s website specifies that a professional recommendation is preferred and that recommendations from family members are not accepted. It also provides four questions that your recommender should be prepared to answer.
Although only a single letter of recommendation is required, you must also submit the names and contact information of two additional references who can speak to your professional or academic background and experiences.
Prepare thoroughly for your interview
“Interviews are by invitation only and a required next step in the process,” Levenson said. “For rounds one and two, members of the admissions committee travel to [more than] 15 cities around the globe for in-person interviews.” Interviews last around 30 minutes, and candidates should think of them as a continuation of the written application, she added.
“We may ask follow-up questions from the application, we will ask a handful of behavioral questions … and we will give the interviewee an opportunity to ask their own questions,” she said.
She advised that interviewees “refamiliarize themselves with their application” in the event that they are asked specific questions about a gap in education or employment. When given the opportunity to ask questions, she stressed that interviewees are encouraged to be themselves — and “please do not ask anything that is easily found on our website.”
“The admissions officers are looking to understand how your experiences have molded you into a ‘principled and innovative leader,'” Brinkopf said. “They are looking for examples of how you are already living the MIT Sloan mission in your life and how you plan to leverage the experiences and the curriculum at MIT Sloan to further your development as a principled and innovative leader.”
Embrace your inner nerd
Zuo emphasized that the key factor that makes MIT Sloan “unequivocally unique” among top business schools is that the school’s parent brand is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (His emphasis.)
“MIT is an engineering and science institution at its core, and the broader school has a reputation for being brilliantly nerdy,” he said. “As such, MIT Sloan takes on a bit more of that nerdy vibe relative to other top b-schools — which you should keep in mind for your application.”
Zuo added that being a modern nerd means following your authentic interests.
“MIT Sloan is a very accepting environment for you to do just that,” he said. “The cultural environment, course structure, and small class size provide the psychological safety and support network for you to be your true self, carve out your own niche path, and pursue your idiosyncratic interests. So for those of you applying to MIT Sloan, my broad strategic advice [throughout the application process] is to just show your authentic self.”
Tap into MIT Sloan’s alumni network and learning labs
“There is an MIT Sloan saying: ‘Sloanies helping Sloanies’ — referring to the generosity of our alumni network and reflective of the collaborative culture,” Zuo said. “I’ve experienced this first hand many times over. I wrote an article two years ago about how MIT Sloan alumni and the MIT ecosystem helped get my startup off the ground.” Leveraging alumni connections via friends, family, or LinkedIn can be a great way to familiarize yourself with the school.
Zuo also suggested researching opportunities that Sloan offers in advance so that you can speak intelligently about them in your interview and application.
“MIT’s motto is ‘Mens & Manus’ — meaning ‘Mind and Hand,’ which is fitting for our engineering roots,” Zuo said. “MIT Sloan has put this motto into practice by offering a multitude of ‘Action Learning Labs‘ and hands-on simulations plus group projects.” He suggested thinking about how this motto relates to your personal story and all the hands-on learning experiences that MIT Sloan has to offer.
Highlight both technical and nontechnical experience
John Benjamin is also part of MIT Sloan’s class of 2018. After graduation, he served as a consultant at L.E.K. Consulting and now is the director of business operations at data science training platform Correlation One.
Benjamin explained that as an applicant with a liberal arts degree, he felt his biggest challenge would be to shore up doubts about his quantitative experience.
“It’s easy to fixate on the ‘MIT’ part of MIT Sloan and assume technical skills need to be at the center of a strong application,” Benjamin said.
To overcome this challenge, Benjamin tried to explicitly call out the technical areas in which he felt he could be stronger, and weave them into the story of why he belonged at MIT Sloan.
“This plan included identifying specific courses I wanted to take with MIT Sloan professors like Leigh Hafrey and Miro Kazakoff, who bring passion and creative elements to teaching highly technical subjects,” he said. “They eventually became mentors and friends.”
Kevin Flike from the class of 2016 agreed that it’s worth it to throw your hat in the ring even if you don’t feel strong enough on the quant side.
“Too many applicants self-select from applying to MIT Sloan because they are worried about the quantitative nature of the MBA program there,” said Flike, who’s currently the director of strategic projects at the security software company Threat Stack.
Flike attended MIT Sloan without a math or a business background and reported that while the work was challenging and the classroom demanding, it was an “incredible experience” that ultimately helped him hone his analytical skills.
Arun Prakash is the CFO of the software company Cerebri AI and a member of MIT Sloan’s MBA class of 2007. Prakash explained that because of MIT Sloan’s strong reputation in finance, economics, and operations, the school tends to have an MBA class where a large percentage of students have undergraduate degrees in engineering, making it a challenge to stand out.
“Just like many well-rounded MIT Sloan students and alumni, I have always been interested in more than just engineering-related activities, so I highlighted those in my application, such as my involvement on the board and volunteer staff of an arts festival in Los Angeles, where I lived before business school,” Prakash said.
He also addressed, “the business challenges of the time” to help his application stand out — including controversial situations that were occurring with the company he worked for.
“When I applied, my then employer was embroiled in numerous ethics controversies,” he said. “I talked about how my upbringing led to a foundation of ethical behavior and how I had once lapsed in college. I think this put a human element on my application, which MIT Sloan recognized as a signal of future leadership.”
Focus more on your past than your future
Sloan prioritizes understanding your personal and professional achievements and isn’t overly focused on tomorrow’s goals. This is part of what makes MIT Sloan’s admissions process unique, Brinkopf said.
“The belief is that your past performance will be an indicator of how you will perform in the future and how you will contribute to the MIT Sloan community,” Brinkopf said. “This means that rather than wanting to understand what you might do as the future leader of a Fortune 500 company, a startup, or whatever else you think you want to do post business school, MIT Sloan wants you to tell the stories of your successes and your failures.”
The admissions officers are looking to understand how your experiences have molded you into the type of leader they seek, she said.
“They are looking for examples of how you are already living the MIT Sloan mission in your life and how you plan to leverage the experiences and the curriculum at MIT Sloan to further your development as a principled and innovative leader,” she said.
This article was originally published on Business Insider December 14, 2019. It has been updated with new information.