Think your voting record could harm your chances of admissions at a top MBA program?  Evan Forster tells you why you've got nothing to hide (well, as long as you never supported Ross Perot) 

During the 2008 presidential primaries, I was speaking to Leslie, a staunch young Republican whose extracurricular activity was leading a group of twentysomethings in their effort to elect Mitt Romney for president. Despite the many raised eyebrows from her Northeastern liberal coworkers—and the knock-down, drag-out arguments Leslie and I had about the reality of climate change’s impact on the threat to the Spotted Owl and good vacation weather in Miami—I encouraged this candidate to be out and proud with her beliefs, particularly in the context of “Romney for President.” Similarly, I encouraged Leslie’s liberal counterpart to write about a successful effort to help Hillary Clinton win the New Hampshire primary. Interestingly, both were worried that the Harvard Business School Admissions Board would discriminate against them for their strong beliefs.

All viewpoints, perspectives, values, religions, and political leanings are not only welcome in your essays, they are encouraged.

One of the worst things a candidate can do is be watered-down or apologetic about who they are—especially if his or her beliefs do not fall in line with those whom they “think” are reading their essays. But admissions officers are people too—all kinds of people—and most particularly, they are people who want their College, Graduate, MBA, or medical school communities to be comprised of all kinds of thinkers.

All too often, candidates (not to mention their parents) hold the misconception that admissions officers are either left-wing academic liberals or, in the case of business and law school, old right-wing businessmen stuck in the fifties. The truth is, admissions officers are looking to build a well-rounded class made up of diverse individuals with unique backgrounds and opposing points of view. And this includes leaders who are prepared to stand up for what they believe in and achieve goals that make a difference.

So, in your essays, be who you really are. Don’t water them down by taking the advice of people who “flatten you out.” When Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about equality, do you think he meant “now” or “when you get a moment”? I cannot tell you how many strong candidates have come to us the year after they were rejected by their top choices because they had taken the advice of a well-meaning father, older brother, current b-school student, or admissions consultant who projected their own fears onto that candidate’s great, edgy, and, yes, opinionated essays.

Tucked away in too many resumes, I have found a mention of the candidate’s having launched a Muslim Students Association at Brandeis, a Gay-Straight Alliance at Howard University, or an NRA chapter at Brown. And yet, these topics/accomplishments never ended up in any of their essays. 

“How is this possible?” I’d ask in that initial consultation. The answer was all-too-often the same: “I had it in there, but my father/mother/friend urged me to take it out.” And sure enough, the essays were all-too-often about a sneaker drive for inner-city children or the never-controversial association with Habitat for Humanity. These are fine. But consider the immortal words of my mother when my stepfather tells her she looks “Just fine”: “I don’t do ‘just fine.’” Neither do top admissions officers: They want the best leaders, thinkers, and achievers of all stripes.

So to those of you who are gay, straight, or yes, even Republican, and have supported gun control or the right to bear arms, come out come out (in your essays), wherever you are.