Top Tips for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome and Thriving at Business School
by Brandon Monteith
It’s hard to believe it’s been three years since I sat in the Harvard Business School (HBS) auditorium at MLT’s MBA Prep Pre-Application Seminar. I was anxious—doing my best to defy my introverted tendencies, impress admissions officers, and make lasting connections with my cohort. As I looked around, I just knew that I didn’t measure up. I was an imposter. This was a feeling I couldn’t shake even after I was admitted to HBS. Even after I worked through hundreds of case studies, passed exams, and walked across the graduation stage last May. That feeling may follow you as it followed me, but I want to tell you that YOU BELONG. You are wholly deserving of all of your achievements to date, and the ones to come.
After reflecting upon my experiences, here’s some advice I’d like to share about applying for MBA programs and making the most out of your business school experience:
- Be deliberate and thorough—every step of the process. If your test scores aren’t where you want them to be, sacrifice your post-work evenings and weekends to study and take practice tests. If your essays need work, lean on your coach, family, and friends to help you iterate until you reach a sweet spot. If you don’t trust your recommenders to submit on time, create a robust packet and schedule weekly progress updates to keep them honest. Your sacrifices will pay off in the end.
- Shoot for the stars. When I was applying to undergraduate institutions, I avoided Ivy League schools like the plague. I convinced myself that none of them wanted me. I thought it foolish to “waste” my time and money applying to those schools. Not this time. Work hard on what you can control (e.g., test scores, essays) and go for your dream school. Don’t let anyone discourage you or tell you differently.
Work hard on what you can control and go for your dream school. Don’t let anyone discourage you or tell you differently.
- Be yourself. This may sound cliché, but it’s a trap that so many applicants walk right into. Don’t try to fit the mold of who you think the archetypal “HBS student” or “Kellogg student” is. Admissions officers have amassed a pretty large sample size at this point. They can tell the difference between genuine and feigned behavior.
- Keep an open mind. As you explore post-graduation career paths, don’t limit yourself to what you wrote in your essays. Have in-depth conversations with classmates from different backgrounds. Take classes outside of your comfort zone. Life may take you down a completely unexpected career path.
- Remember that this is graduate school. This isn’t just a time to reflect on what you want to be when you grow up through a series of unjustifiably expensive trips. You have to actually read and analyze cases, speak intelligently in class, and pass exams. It’s not smooth sailing once you’re admitted.
- Learn the culture and find your people. Every school has its own culture. Even if your personal values don’t perfectly align with those of your classmates and/or the administration, learn how to navigate it effectively. As you already know, you will also be part of a handful of students who look like you. Lean on your community for support and become friends with people from your respective affinity clubs on campus. This is where you’ll find your “ride-or-dies” when times get tough.
- Have a blast. This one is pretty self-explanatory. Sign up for the student-led international treks. Go on that outdoorsy trip you think will be a nightmare. Join a few social clubs. Expose your classmates to your favorite aspects of your culture. Stepping outside of my comfort zone was difficult in this environment, but it led to so many unforeseen and enduring friendships.
Finally, surround yourself with people who will both love and challenge you throughout this process. Keep pushing.