His offhand comment stung quite a bit, but I confidently answered, “I sure do expect to get in!”
And I was telling the truth. I did expect to get in.
Yes, I knew that I had a lot of things counting against my candidacy. I had no full-time work experience. I had no quantitative coursework. I had a very low GMAT score. All of my internship experience was in the nonprofit sector. I was a humanities major. I didn’t know what was really happening in the economy. I never read The Wall Street Journal.
There were just SO MANY THINGS that I could have let get me down.
But instead of focusing on all the reasons why my candidacy counted me out of the running for my dream school, I focused on what made me an outstanding applicant.
I was the daughter of migrant farmworkers who were first generation college graduates. I was one of the biggest leaders on campus with strong ties to the administration and my fellow students. I had lots of results to point to in each of my internships where I had drawn upon limited resources and made some change happen. I could take some quantitative courses and prove to them that my GMAT score wasn’t indicative of my abilities. I had a compelling reason for wanting to go to graduate school. I had a strong story to tell.
I knew that I could get the admissions committee to want to meet me in person and learn more.
So that’s what I focused on. I was able to turn my so-called weaknesses into strengths. I was able to highlight my existing strengths and demonstrate how they would be an asset to me during my graduate studies and beyond as well as to my classmates.
I made the case for why me, why them, and why now.
And I got in. I only applied to Harvard Business School, Harvard Kennedy School, and Stanford GSB. I got immediately accepted into both Harvard programs and got waitlisted at Stanford (though I was recommended for admission by my interviewer, who later ended up being my boss, which is another pretty cool story).
It would have been super easy for me to focus on all the reasons why I wasn’t going to get in to my dream school, but I chose to not focus on the rules.
When the rules spell doom for you, you have to figure out a way to make the rules irrelevant.
The truth is that there are no “rules” when it comes to getting into the world’s top schools. There have been people who have gotten admitted to Harvard for graduate school without even having a Bachelors degree.
Now how’s that for making the rules irrelevant?
So if you’re looking wearily at the applicant profile stats for your target schools and feeling like you’re too old, your scores are too low, you have the “wrong” work experience, or you don’t know the “right” people, just stop for a second and breathe.
Remind yourself that you know who you are, you know what you are capable of, and you have a great story to tell. Don’t let the naysayers get you down, don’t let them tell you that you can’t do what you want to do.
The word ‘no’ cannot stop you, only you can.
See you on the other side, you rule-breaker you.