After having spent many years coaching clients through the business school application process, there are common mistakes that applicants make that I have come across. Here are five mistakes to avoid when you are applying to business school so that your applications stand out from the competition:
Not crafting authentic applications
Many candidates are tempted to craft business school applications according to what they believe Admissions Committees want to see and/or according to what may have worked for a friend/colleague in the past. However, members of Admissions Committees have read thousands of applications over the years and can easily detect whether a candidate is being genuine or is just trying to curry favor with them. Do not try to be someone you’re not in the application. I cannot stress this enough – authenticity is really the key to a successful application! The most successful applications are those where candidates are true to themselves by drawing upon their unique experiences and perspectives.
Having generic post-MBA goals
A key aspect of the business school application and interview is expressing what you would like to pursue professionally post-MBA. Therefore, it is important to formulate post-MBA goals that are specific, credible, and achievable. However, often times I see applicants stating goals that are very generic; for example, they say that they would like to start a company (without specifying what kind of a company) or that they want to make a transition from their current industry to another one (without specifying the role that they want to take on in the new industry). Take the time to really think about your post-MBA goals; career goals that are not well thought out or credible are often red flags for Admissions Committees that a candidate has not reflected deeply enough about the future and why an MBA is important for him/her.
Underestimating the importance of extracurricular activities
As I pointed out in a prior blog post, business schools assess whether or not you will contribute to campus life through your extracurricular activities and the impact that you have had. And this latter point is extremely important: the impact you have had. The reality is that practically every candidate who applies to business school has volunteered in some capacity, but it’s important to get involved in extracurricular activities that will provide you with opportunities to positively change organizations and/or positively influence people. Don’t make the mistake of getting involved in multiple extracurricular activities at a superficial level. It is much better to participate in fewer extracurricular activities at a deeper level through which you can demonstrate impact.
Copying and pasting the same essay(s) in multiple applications
Many applicants think that they can recycle the same essay(s) across different applications. This is a huge mistake! Each business school has different essays, and therefore, it is extremely important that you take the time to thoughtfully answer each question. While you may be able to leverage some material from one application to another, it is extremely important that you tailor that material according to the question being asked. This is true not only for essays, but also for the short questions that are asked in the data forms.
Choosing recommenders based on title
There is a belief that the more senior a recommender is, as indicated by title, the better it will be for you as an applicant; however, this could not be further from the truth! Admissions Committees want to understand how you interact with others and perform in a professional environment. Therefore, asking a supervisor who knows your work well (even if the title is more junior, such as Associate or Vice President) will take you much further along in the process than approaching a recommender with a senior title who has not worked closely with you and cannot directly comment on your accomplishments.
While there are a lot of moving pieces in the business school application process, you have much more control than may be evident at first glance. By avoiding these mistakes, you will be in a position to put your best foot forward.
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Ivy Groupe is a boutique MBA admissions consulting company founded by Shaifali Aggarwal, who received her MBA from Harvard Business School and undergraduate degree from Princeton University. Shaifali’s philosophy focuses on authenticity and storytelling to help clients craft compelling and differentiated applications that stand out. With this approach, Shaifali’s clients have gained admission to top-tier MBA programs such as Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg, MIT, Columbia, Booth, Tuck, and Yale, among others.