The Plight of the Over-Represented Percentage
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The Plight of the Over-Represented Percentage

Admission Counselling :
  • Written by UnivAdmitHelp
  • Category: Mentoring
  • Published on 11 Jun 2021

How not to be an over-represented applicant.

Hypothetically speaking, 

  • Raina* is a 25 year old IIT graduate working in IBM as an SAP consultant. She wants to grow and move into leadership roles. With a stellar GMAT score, she  applies for an MBA at (take your pick) Stanford, Harvard, MIT, and Insead. She compiles a beautiful list of achievements, affixes her stunning academic record to that and prepares her application with full hopes of being accepted. Do you think she would be selected?
  • Gaurav* is  a student of a prestigious school in Delhi or Mumbai, following the IB curriculum. He has spent time in social work, he did a few MUNs, he has a great academic record and medals in Olympiads, and maybe he even built an app. Is he now set for admission at Stanford or MIT? 


The answer to both of these questions is a NO. 


If these two applications are pitched only as those of an elite, well educated candidate from India, with relevant work experience or portfolio, they might be primed for failure. The truth is that almost everyone who applies possesses the same qualifications. How do you intend to make yourself seen?  

This problem is, put shortly, a problem of plenty. The largest group of applicants for overseas education from India comes from similar backgrounds. Elite. Well educated. Well rounded applications. So how do you ensure that your candidature is unique? A perspective with just these credentials, no matter how great the credentials and achievements are, might not help to stand out from the rest.

An application has many facets. The key is in your application essay. It gives you a platform to create a more holistic image of yourself as a candidate. This is where you can use your individual history and identity as a level for telling your story. If you use only your academics and scores, or only your professional accolades, you’d be part of the majority doing it. Anchoring the story of your essay on something that is the commonest factor in your demographic will ensure that you are being overrepresented in your category. You run the risk of being boring because everyone applying for these colleges probably has a profile similar to yours.

Universities like Harvard, Stanford thrive on competence, but also diversity. They have a certain commitment to creating a diverse and interesting cohort for every batch that joins them. Additionally, acceptance rates at the Ivy League are a single digit discussion. A rate of 8% means that eight applicants out of 100 are selected at Harvard. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the largest number of applications from India follow the “elite” pattern. 

When you apply to the university, what would you bring to the table? Should your application be created with a view to tap into that diversity pool? The combination of academics and success is most definitely a welcome springboard. It (or an equivalent) is a necessary threshold that the applicant needs to achieve to even be considered for admission. But what will really make you stand out is your unique identity. Craft your application keeping these tips in mind:


Talk about specifics.

Pay attention to what makes you unique. What are your strong points? 

  • Are you the go-to person in your team for problem solving or analysis? 
  • Are you the person who points out the faults in every well-laid plan? 
  • Or are you the one who creates a solution for every problem? 

What are your strong points? 

Talk about your specific experience that challenged you in a professional capacity and share evidence of long-standing commitment. The purpose of your application is to ensure that you standout as an interesting deserving applicant while shining in your current professional capacity, or specialisation. 


Showcase sectoral focus

  • Any experience in a specific field that you have had, and only you could have had, in your professional life
  • Anything unique which has given you a certain perspective
  • Any special set of skills which help you create a niche for yourself

These are important talking points in your essay. Keeping only the names of companies and colleges like brand names in your CV is definitely not enough for an MBA application. Similarly, an undergraduate application that has all the usual MUN experience, internships, and the now-mandatory app development, is one amongst many. 

Find that one specific interest, or story element that can set you apart from the crowd. It could be a project where your contribution as a person stands out. It could also be expertise in a niche area. 

SS* worked with risk modeling. But when an overseas client threatened to pull out of a long term contract, she took the onus of building a bridge. Her inter-personal relationship building skills gave her an edge in her college application. She could choose to talk about the financial impact of the project, or she could showcase her contribution at people-management level. By choosing to talk about this story in her application, SS created a whole new dimension of maturity, responsibility and integrity to her story. Teamed with her track record as a problem solver, this story helped her to delineate her personal leadership characteristics.


Be unique

Select a non obvious, non-traditional detail. Almost everyone in India plays cricket. If you want to add that to your profile, ensure that there are some details: what position? Being wicketkeeper has certain characteristics to it. Coaching could help establish your personality as a giver, a mentor. But if the sport is not central to your personality, do not push it! Be the expert in Hindi Literature and tie it together with an MS in psychology. Showcase your skills in grammar and math, and go for a masters in Linguistics.

M* was a trained martial arts athlete. He used his martial arts discipline to highlight his commitment and resilience. Alongwith a stellar academic record, it was this one aspect which allowed him to stand out in the crowd.


Make it personal

It is always about the person. Keep your own story centre stage. It is “you” who needs to shine in the application. Not the strength of your college, your background, or your current company. It is the other way round. Your work, your stories make your education and personality shine. 

J* grew up in a non-native country. His search for an identity became a journey that led him through language, sports, culture, and different lands. Teamed with a keen interest in building solar power systems in remote areas, his profile emanated from a genuine personal quest.

The purpose of the college application essay is to gain a better understanding of the person behind the numbers. Can you imagine such a strong identity being forgotten in a sheaf of letters?


Commitment, commitment, commitment

As mentioned already, without the grades (for undergraduate) or work experience (for MBA’s), your candidature doesn’t have a leg to stand on. The most critical aspect for these is: time. Start early and stay committed. Well begun is truly half done!

Nothing speaks louder than consistent levels of interest, commitment, and great results. Good academics are a result of years of hard work. So start early. 

Success at periodic levels showcases commitment. If you can choose one project, or one interest, be it academic, professional, or a hobby, stay committed to it. 

Lastly, in the hands of a good mentor who understands you, as well as the market, these qualities will ensure that you stand out a head and more above the crowd of an overrepresented successful army. After all, the Karate Kid did have a great mentor!



Further Reading:

Should I write about COVID in my college essay?

The Identity question in your college application

What NOT to write in your college essay