What are the Most Common Business School Application Mistakes?

Business School Application Mistakes

Nobody just strolls into business school and starts taking classes. Prospective MBAs must undergo a rigorous application and admission process before beginning coursework and earning credits toward an graduate degree.

But business school admissions committees want to see more than just an applicant’s GMAT score and GPA transcript: They also want to get a good idea about who these people are and what they can contribute to the school’s community.

Perhaps the best way to make a good impression is with a tight admissions essay. A good essay should create a comprehensive picture of who an applicant is, what they’ve done, and what they bring to the table.

“The whole purpose of the essay and the interview is to just get a better understanding of where they’re coming from and where they want to go to. And I don’t need to read a thousand words, 2,000 words, to understand that,” says, Soojin Kwon, the University if Michigan Ross School of Business’ Director of Admissions in an interview with U.S. News & World Report.

With that said, there are common mistakes that frequently plague business school applications and admissions essays.

Biggest Mistakes You Can Make in an Admissions Essay

Luckily, there are experts out there who love to help prospective MBAs get into top business schools. Stacy Blackman is one of these experts.

Blackman has an impressive resume of her own. She holds degrees from the Wharton School and the Kellogg School of Management. She authored “The MBA Application Roadmap: The Essential Guide to Getting Into a Top Business School” and has published a series of online guides about the admissions process at top schools. She is also a frequent contributor to U.S. News & World Report, and other media publications.

In an article on U.S. News, Blackman laid out 10 common mistakes that applicants should avoid in admissions essays. A few of her pointers include:

  • Neglecting to answer the question: According to Blackman, don’t answer with “what” when the question asks “how?” or “why?” Admissions essays exist to find out how a particular applicant fits a program, and not immediately answering is indicative of a poor fit.
  • Using industry jargon or pretentious language: Blackman advises against using technical terms in essays—you never know whether the person revising your essay is familiar with any particular industry.
  • Using a negative tone, or sounding whiny or complaining: On a similar note, essays should never criticize co-workers or supervisors in an essay. A strong positive tone is always recommend.
  • Lying or exaggerating about your experience: This is a big no-no, and universities have ways of fact-checking any part of an application.
  • Referencing high school experiences: While not as bad as lying or exaggerating about experience, referencing high school experience is also a bad look.

Admissions Essay Tips & Tricks

In an article published on The Economist, Blackman outlines another 10 tips for perfectly pitched admissions essays. A few of her ideas include:

  • Put together a “brag sheet” that includes all of the things about you that would not necessarily appear on a résume, such as languages, extracurricular involvements, family traditions and more.
  • Map out the general topics you will cover in each essay.
  • Include the four qualities that all business schools want to see in a successful applicant: leadership, team skills, ethics and communication skills.
  • Just saying “I am a strong leader” in your essay not enough: Tell a story that illustrates why you are a leader.

Other Admissions Do’s and Don’ts

Admissions advice isn’t limited to essay tips. Blackman also offered some general advice for the entire business school admissions process in another article published on U.S. News & World Report.

The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is an important aspect of the application process. The adaptive test assess analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills. According to Blackman, applicant should plan on taking the exam more than once, and urges against canceling a score, no matter how low it may be

According to Blackman, letters of recommendation are also an essential piece of the MBA admissions puzzle. She recommends obtaining references from current and recent jobs, but strongly argues against seeking a letter of recommendation from a CEO or ranking official you don’t have a strong personal relationship with.

At some point, applicants will be called in for an interview. Blackman urges the importance of prepping for interviews and following up with a thank you note, via E-mail or regular mail. She advised against holding the interview on campus.

As far as reapplying goes, Blackman supports applying to new schools and old ones, but advises against completely overhauling previous applications.

For more information on admissions, essay, and application advice, head over to Clear Admit.

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About the Author

Max Pulcini

Max Pulcini is a Philadelphia-based writer and reporter. He has an affinity for Philly sports teams, Super Smash Bros. and cured meats and cheeses. Max has written for Philadelphia-based publications such as Spirit News, Philadelphia City Paper, and Billy Penn, as well as national news outlets like The Daily Beast.

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