9 Common Business School Application Mistakes
March 10, 2021
Savvy business school applicants can boost their profiles and increase their chances of getting in with a strong application. But they can also succumb to some of the most common application mistakes and doom their candidacy.
Happily, with a little planning and shaping, these mistakes can be avoided. Here are some of the most common application slip-ups:
1. You Present Weak Quantitative Skills
Business school study is driven by numbers and data. Depending on how competitive a school is, you will need a strong math score on the GMAT. Take the time to prep for this test, and do your best to nail a solid score.
Make sure your recommenders play up your quantitative skills. If your undergraduate major was in the liberal arts or humanities, it would be wise to take a course or two in finance, accounting, or statistics, either online or at a local community college. Be sure to get an "A," and submit the official transcript as part of your business school application. This will show admissions committees that you anticipated their concerns and were proactive in addressing them.
2. You Blow the Interview
Most business schools require an interview. Increasingly, programs want students who can demonstrate leadership (or the potential for leadership) as well as other soft skills. Interpersonal strengths like the ability to listen well, get along with others and acknowledge different perspectives are highly valued.
Practice weaving a narrative around who you are with compelling stories and anecdotes. Find examples of leadership and collaboration in your past experience. Avoid business speak. Have a friend do a mock interview with you, and make sure that you are on message with both what you say and how you say it.
3. You Talk About the Good ‘Ol Days of High School or College
Don’t talk too much about college unless you are straight out of school, or have a unique situation or low GPA to explain. And high school should already be in the rearview mirror; leave it behind. Stories about high school or even college suggest that you have not moved on to more professional and mature experiences.
4. You use Unnecessary Business Speak and Jargon
Some industries have their own slang and terminology. Do not feel compelled to use this language in your essays or during your interview. The same goes for terms like "ask," i.e. “What is the “ask" on this project?"
Hip shortcuts for communicating are best left at your office.
5. You Neglect to Mind Your Manners and Write a Thank You Note
Everybody hates to write a thank you note. But if you had an interview, a "thank you" is pro forma. What do you say? Use this correspondence as an opportunity to reinforce what was discussed during your interview, or to mention something that you wanted to address, but failed to.
Note, however, that the thank you note should not be an exhortation to admit you. Avoid any statement that hints at your hope that you will be admitted. And keep it short; less is more.
6. You Reveal Half-Baked Reasons for Wanting an MBA
This is the single biggest mistake you can make on your application. Enrolling in an MBA may be the greatest investment of your life. If you are unclear about your goals, admissions committees may doubt your commitment and ability to handle the rigors of their program.
Demonstrate why you need this degree, and why you need it now. Be specific, and include short and long term career goals.
7. Your Essay about a School is So Full of Hot Air it is Mistaken for a Hovercraft
Most MBA hopefuls want to go to the best school they can get into. But it is not enough to tell Harvard, Stanford or Wharton that their prestige and ranking is why you are drawn to their program. There are serious distinctions and cultural differences between these three schools. One is not like not the other.
Most institutions want your essays to represent a bit of a love letter. But they need to hear what it is specifically about their program, method of study, curriculum, and location that makes you swoon. Tell them why you fell in love with them, and demonstrate that you performed solid research in addition to self-reflection.
If it helps, visit the school several times and interview some current students to get the inside track.
8. The Essays You Compose Are Shallow or Make the Reader Yawn
Research is important. You need to do a deep dive on the value of the MBA for your life, and communicate that value. It is essential that you articulate clear goals and reasons for getting your MBA. The more detailed you can be about this, the better.
It is also important that you use the essays to reveal wonderful, interesting qualities about yourself. The essays do more than give answers to questions. They create thumbnail psychological profiles. Depending on how you answers, you can reveal yourself in many ways. Use these essays to showcase all of your dimensions.
9. Your Application Makes You Look Like Everyone Else
Business school admissions is competitive, and many applicants come from similar backgrounds and may be compared against each other. Find some qualities about yourself that make you stand out from the crowd. Admissions committees want to admit collaborative, affable, and interesting students. Do you collect hot sauce? Have you won a cooking competition? Run marathons? Juggle?
If this makes you the interesting person that you are, let the school know. Positively distinguish yourself from the other applicants, and make yourself the kind of applicant that grabs their attention.