Focus on Fit [Podcast Ep. 162 From Accepted]

This post originally appeared on the Accepted blog.




In today’s episode, Accepted’s founder and director, Linda Abraham, shares the 4 not-so-easy steps of showing fit in your application.

While they are not simple to do, these steps are necessary if you want to get accepted to a program where the acceptance rate is less than 100%.


STEP 1: Understand the school’s mission and criteria for acceptance. [1:20]

Almost all schools have a mission stated clearly on their site. For example, Stanford GSB’s is “Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world.” It’s everywhere on their site. Not surprisingly, to me the defining characteristic of accepted Stanford applicants is initiative, the willingness and ability to effect change in the face of need or opportunity.

Similarly, when we spoke to the admissions directors for any number of medical schools they all emphasized the importance of their schools’ missions.  (See links below for examples.)

The other key is to understand the school’s criteria. Some schools clearly state their criteria on their site. [2:50]

An example of a criteria list: Harvard Business School’s has its “Who are We Looking For?” page where it says all its students share the following characteristics: Habit of Leadership, Analytical Aptitude and Appetite, Engaged Community Citizenship.

Another example: UCLA Geffen School has a page devoted to Basis of Selection, which goes beyond course requirements, grades, and MCAT. It explicitly states that qualities like “Life Experiences (Research, volunteerism, etc.) are considered.” Furthermore “Preference is given to students who present high achievement in college and a capacity to develop mature interpersonal relationships.”  [Emphasis added]

Clearly UCLA is looking for academic achievement and this “capacity.” Teamwork is probably one important way to show an ability to develop mature interpersonal relationships.

If you listen to episode 155 with representatives of Temple’s Katz School of Medicine, you will quickly learn that Temple values teamwork.

Know what your target school is looking for: [4:33]

It’s just that simple. So if Stanford is looking for initiative, your essays, descriptions of activities and jobs should highlight those aspects of your experiences that show initiative. For HBS, it’s a habit of leadership and engaged community citizenship that the written parts of your app will most likely reveal.

And the same process holds for law school and other graduate programs.

The foundation of fit: [5:25]

This basic understanding of what the program values and what it is seeking in applications is the foundation of fit.


STEP 2: Show you can do the work: usually grades and test score. [5:40]

This is usually a stated requirement and criterion for most schools. However, it is so important that I have to mention it. Some applicants believe that “the stats” are the be all and end all of admissions. Others believe that anything but the stats count.

Both groups are wrong. You need stats and qualitative fit at competitive programs.

Schools want to admit students who can succeed in their programs and who will make the admissions offices proud to have as alumni.  Stats give them that confidence easily and quickly. In that sense they are part of showing you belong at a particular school and demonstrating fit.

The Accepted Selectivity Index [7:30]

Accepted recently developed a fairly simple tool to help you compare schools on their selectivity. You can see schools’ selectivity scores.

We have it for MBA and law schools and should have the med version ready any day.

But for the values, mission and soft criteria, that’s for you to show in the non-quantitative parts of your application, mostly the essays, experiences, activity histories, and interviews.


STEP 3: Show that you share the school’s values as presented in its mission and criteria [8:20]

For medical schools [8:45]

The secondary applications are all about showing fit: Show that you share the school’s values, identify with its mission, and meet its criteria. The best way to do so is to highlight activities that support its missions that reflect similar values and consequently prove that you meet its criteria.  You can learn more about secondary applications and showing fit through these critical essays during next week’swebinar on secondaries.

For MBA applicants [9:45]

It’s the job of the essays, sometimes the video, and the job history to reveal that you belong at school X like a hand in a glove.

Use examples and specifics to answer the schools’ questions and prove that you belong at your target schools. (For webinars on fit at HBS and Columbia, see the links below.)

Fit in grad applications [11:04]

For grad applicants of all kinds knowing professors’ areas of research interest and the department’s focus is critical to success. If you have any doubts on that topic,listen to Accepted consultant and former head of graduate admissions at Hofstra, Carol Drummer in episode 113 talk about her experience as a new head of graduate admissions many years ago. One of the first lessons she learned was that even exceptional candidates will get dinged if their experience is not a good fit for the department they’re applying to (even in terms of theoretical orientation within the same field).

Interviews everywhere and for every program and degree are about fit. [12:55]

Types of interview: For blind interviews, you can use examples from your applications as well as new examples. For non-blind interviews, you need to have additional examples and bring new insight to the experiences discussed in your application. With medical schools’ multiple mini interviews, the goal is the same: show fit.


STEP 4: Show that the school can help you achieve your goal. [14:05]

For most MBA programs [14:10]

It is critical that you show that this MBA program can help you achieve your post MBA goals. B-school is not a place to figure out what you want to do with your life. What if you discover you don’t need an MBA to achieve your goal? The MBA program will have an unhappy customer, and you will have spent a lot of time and money for something you don’t need.

Consequently, in addition to knowing the schools values you have to understand its placement strengths and how its programs, extra-curricular activities, and alumni network contributed to those strengths and will help you realize your goals.

Med schools also want to know that you want to practice medicine. [14:55]

That’s why they insist that pre-meds have clinical experience before accepting them. They also generally prefer that med students have some direction in terms of their focus in med school (primary care vs specialization, research vs clinical focus), but they don’t require you to be committed to a specific specialty.

If you do have an idea what specialty you’re interested in, check out Medhound’s story at where I interviewed the founders of a site devoted to helping med school applicants find med school results data that can help you find the best school for you.

For other grad applicants [15:45]

This is why you have to write a statement of purpose. Without that purpose, this is an extraordinarily difficult to write. You have to understand the program and the direction of most of its grads to show this kind of fit.

For law school applicants [17:13]

Showing that you have an understanding of what law school is going to help you do is becoming more important, but still is not as important as for business school or academic grad programs.


Review the 4 Steps to show fit in your grad school applications: [17:35]

1. Understand your target schools’ mission, values, and criteria.

2. Show you can do the work required at your target program.

3. Reveal that you share the school’s values and believe in its mission.

4. Show that the program can help you achieve your goals and even your dreams.

Please feel free to post your questions in comments!


About Linda Abraham:

Catherine Blogger has guided thousands of applicants to acceptances at top universities since 1994 – they know what works and what doesn’t, so follow Linda Abraham on Google+ and contact Accepted to get started or visit for all your admissions consulting needs today!



  • Linda Abraham

    Linda Abraham is the founder and CEO of Accepted, the top-tier admissions consultancy that helps you unlock your competitive advantage. Linda has written or co-authored 13 ebooks on the college admissions process. In 2007, she co-founded the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) and became its first president. For the last 20 years Linda and her highly credentialed, experienced team have helped thousands of applicants get accepted to top colleges and graduate schools worldwide, including but not limited to Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Columbia, Kellogg, and MIT. She has been featured in The Wall St. Journal, The New York Times, US News, The Sunday Times of London, Businessweek, Poets & Quants and MBA Podcaster.

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