5 Common MBA Application Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Even before you apply to an MBA program, the odds are against you. This should not discourage you, but this means that you must be strategic about completing your application.

Year after year we meet applicants who are the best in their class, visionaries, and true leaders. Many of these applicants fall into the same traps that could ultimately cost them acceptance into the top MBA program of their choice. The true winners are those who are capable of absorbing feedback and adjusting their application. Here are some common mistakes that we’ve spotted throughout the years:

Mistake 1: Failure to generate an overall application strategy.

Each aspect of your MBA application tells a story about who you are, your career experience, accomplishments and your readiness for the rigor of the business program. All portions of the application should provide the reader with a specific piece of information about the candidate. None of the content should be repetitive, yet the information should tell a story and support all sections, thus creating a strong, well-rounded profile.

By working with an admissions consultant, together you can outline an effective and personalized application strategy to target each school.

Mistake 2: Using underwhelming recommendation letters.

Choosing references based on the title rather than professional relationship may seem like a good idea at first. Applicants often think that including a letter from a prestigious professional or someone with a high-level title will somehow be more credible. That is false. The best letters come from people who have closely worked with you and have seen you grow professionally.

The questions for the references are so specific about the candidate that your reference must know you very well. The CEO of a company might write a generic letter with a lot of positive adjectives. But a recently promoted manager who worked closely with you during a summer internship might point to specific examples of your interaction and demonstrate the depth of your potential.

Be sure to choose individuals who can speak to your talents and abilities. For more help about the best strategies for delivering an effective recommendation letter, we recommend this article. 

Mistake 3: Sending the same essay to various schools, because the prompt is similar.

Essays fill in the gap between who you are as a person and your paper credentials, such as your test scores, GPA, and resume. However, crafting a beautiful essay is not enough unless it specifically fulfills its intended purpose—showing why you should be admitted. Schools are screening for a specific fit. Every question in their application is intentionally designed to filter out those who don’t fit. Applicants sometimes have an agenda in mind. They are so attached to one particular thought that they MUST convey it to the board of admissions. Therefore, they end up hijacking the valuable space with what they want to tell. This puts an immediate end to your chances of moving forward in the application process. Here is what admissions will read: inability to follow instructions, too proud to accept change, too emotional to let go.

Instead, have a friend or family member read your essay and then ask the person, “What do you think my essay is responding to?” If the question he or she comes up with matches the question that the school asked for, you’re on the right track.

Mistake 4: Using your resume to list accomplishments.

From deciding how to format your experience to knowing which skills to highlight, curating an impactful resume can be a challenging task. Your resume is what links your education, skills, and career expertise, and shows schools why you’re the best fit for their program. In order to master how to write a powerful and impactful resume, try focusing on using each line to highlight your most noteworthy attributes and leadership experience, instead of filling your resume of masses of jargon. You want to spell out your accomplishments through tactful examples of promotions, responsibilities or new skills you obtained. Focus on demonstrating leadership, growth and how each skill, role, and experience influences the progression of your professional and academic career.

Mistake 5: Not addressing the gaps.

Some applicants don’t have stellar records. They might score low on the GRE or GMAT or have a below-average GPA. Others might lack extracurricular activities. But throughout the application, they don’t explicitly address these gaps. They simply focus on their personal story, pretending that nothing is wrong. There is an inherent fear that if you address a gap you are unnecessarily calling attention to it. But admissions officers will notice even if you don’t call out your gaps. There are many pieces to an application: short answers, your resume and work history, recommendation letters, and essays. Use them all to tell one story and don’t leave gaps up to anyone’s imagination.

Navigating an MBA application is overwhelming. We believe that talent exists in everyone, regardless of background. We strive to understand our customers’ unique talents, and we help them unleash their excellence. By using our guided 1-on-1 help from admissions experts, we will help you formulate a targeted application strategy for each school, provide extensive analysis and writing tips for your essays, and prepare you for your interviews. Let us know how we can help you.

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