To continue with our Q&A series, we recently chatted with Hanna Stotland, a highly sought-after admissions counselor and founder of her own consulting business, on how to earn an A+ on the grad school headshot. Hanna has been an admission trendsetter since 1997, when she was admitted to Harvard College with a G.E.D. After graduating with a Harvard law degree and practicing for many years, she followed her passion and became a full-time career and educational counselor in 2008. She is based in Chicago, but works with client families nationwide. Read her full story here.

Q: What kind of role does a headshot play in the admissions process?

Headshots may be required in the admissions process to medical school and MBA programs. Law schools and most other grad program applications do not require headshots and more importantly, do not want headshots. An important tip to remember when applying for grad school and crafting your application is to follow the rules. Admissions departments want to know that their applicants are creative, but still able to color within the lines.

Q: Why do Med/MBA programs want a headshot?

There are a few reasons med school and MBA programs require a headshot and they are as follows:

  • Some programs (all MD/DO programs) require in-person interviews. They want to be able to recognize you when you walk into the interview room and ensure your headshot and you are a match.
  • Admissions use headshots as part of their “gatekeeping” process. They look at headshots to ensure applicants fit the part. Part of their job is to determine if applicants can follow rules and will be hirable after graduation.
  • In addition, admissions counselors are recruiters. They view headshots as a way to get to know their applicants and recruit them into their program more effectively.

Q: You mentioned “fitting the part;” What headshot tips do you give to your grad school clients to ensure they make a good impression? 

There is a certain level of inherent human bias that happens when admissions departments review headshots. This is just human nature, and we are all guilty of it. However, you can combat this by taking your headshot as seriously as you would all other parts of the application. My tips include:

  • If you can afford it, invest in a professional headshot. It will signal to admissions that you mean business and are serious about your application.
  • As I already mentioned “coloring within the lines,” you must do this with your headshot. That means selecting a wardrobe that matches the program you are applying for. For example, the business and medical fields are both very regimented. So dress the part by selecting pieces that make you look polished, put together and planned. You want your headshot to say, “I will one day be highly employable.”
  • It is also not a bad idea to take a few different headshot looks that can be used for different purposes and/or organizations. For example, have a headshot taken with a business professional look, a business casual look and a headshot that shows your personality/creative side. I am involved with singing and performing, so when I had my headshot taken I did a business professional shot and a performance shot. They each will be used for different purposes, but both communicate that I “fit the part” for the role I am executing.

Q: What do you advise clients not to wear for their headshots?

The things I tell my clients NOT to wear include: athletic wear, anything with writing on it even if it is your alma mater, t-shirts, or sweats,. Basically, anything you would wear to work out in or clean out your garage in is off-limits.  I also encourage my clients to research the culture of the colleges/universities that they are applying to make sure their headshot and clothing choices fit that particular institution

Q: Can you share any funny admissions headshots stories with us?

Let’s just say that your job is to stand out for the right reasons. The right reasons will be your qualifications, not your hilarious headshot.

Q: Do you have any last pieces of advice you’d like to share with us?

Think about the admissions and application process as a sales pitch where you are the product. You want to communicate that you are going to make an institution proud when you graduate. Of course, this can be done through your essays, grades, and undergraduate work, but the headshot is an important piece of the packet that should not be overlooked.

If you’re ready to book your headshot session for school applications, do it here!

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