You're Aiming Too Low

You would think that the students who walk into my GMAT class every spring would be aiming at MBA programs above their station. After all, this is business school and, by definition, it attracts Type-A personalities.

But just the opposite is true. Very few students start my class planning to apply to the elite schools that they eventually enter 18 months later. I literally have to talk them into stepping up to top-tier or second-tier programs. And that's surprising because most of the value that comes from an MBA degree is derived from the brand equity of the program. As I put it in the classroom:

"You can go to grad school at Stanford or at Chico State; both schools offer an MBA. But these are two profoundly different degrees, and they will lead to dramatically different career outcomes."

The Hype

One reason why applicants aim too low is the impression created by media companies. They publish inflated online profiles of amazing MBA students who build their first dot-coms in high school and sell them by the time they finish college. It's intimidating because you know you can't compare with that level of success, and you believe that everyone in his business school must be just as impressive.

But that's not true. The accomplishments aren't what they seem to be. (I know because I've coached those applicants.) And, more importantly, they're not at all representative of the student body as a whole. The profiles are embellished media products created to attract clicks; nothing more.

The Reality

Most students at top-tier MBA programs are ordinary worker bees. They don't have amazing accomplishments, they don't come from spectacular privilege, and they don't look anything like the applicants profiled online.

I know this because I've put hundreds of them into the world's most elite business schools over the years, and with very few exceptions, they weren't amazing. They were ordinary, smart, educated people like you and me. Frankly, they played the game well and then caught a break. Now they're MBAs from top schools, and as such, they get professional opportunities that most people can only dream of.

But they never would have applied to those programs had I not first convinced them that getting in was possible and that doing the work required to look good on paper was worthwhile. They would have ended up at Chico State.

Aim Higher

So why are you aiming low? Why are you taking the easy way out? Why can't you do what the vast majority of my students do and step up to a challenge that will change your life dramatically?

Aim higher. Accept the reality that you'll be rejected by a lot of schools. That's normal, even for very strong applicants. But give yourself a chance at a top MBA program or a very good second-tier school.

And if after doing your research you still believe that all MBA degrees are basically the same, then good—Chico State needs students.