What Is The Worst MBA Advice You Have Ever Heard?

worst mba advice

The path to business school is paved with experts and know-nothing-know-it-alls alike—it’s just hard to tell the difference sometimes.

This is especially true when it comes to “dos” and “don’ts” of the trade. You’re bound to encounter confusing, conflicting, or just plain bad advice in any field but there’s something about business school that seems to attract meaningless jargon like flies to honey.

I spoke to Accepted’s Linda Abraham and North Star Admissions’ Karen Marks, two leading admissions counselors and bonafide MBA experts, about the eight worst pieces of advice most commonly doled out to MBAs-to-be.

“Tell them what they want to hear.”

“The admissions committee will see through it, the applicant will blend into the gray mass of applicants who are making the same mistake, and at competitive schools, will get dinged,” Abraham writes. “Telling schools what you think they want to hear means telling them what you don’t know, and it also means you’re not telling them what you want them to know.”

If you are waitlisted, ignore the school’s directions and make a dramatic gesture to demonstrate your interest.”

According to Marks, “People … have been known to do everything from emailing the admissions office once a day (relatively benign, but inappropriate) to sending homemade gifts (creepy) to showing up in the admissions office and refusing to leave until they have spoken with the Dean. All of this backfires, it’s really important to listen to the school’s directions and express your interest in ways that underscore your ability to follow directions, and your understanding of the culture.”

“Change your career goals and personal story for each school.”

Marks explains, “Your goals and core narrative should remain constant, no matter what school you are applying to. Don’t tell Stanford that you want to work in micro-finance and Kellogg that you dream of marketing, just because you think it’s what they want to hear.”

Abraham recalls an interaction she had with “an applicant who came to us initially for Rejection Review.” This applicant was told by his consultant, a former Yale SOM adcom director, “she would have rejected him also because the applicant’s goal made no sense given his work experience, education and extra-curricular activities. He explained that his friends had told him to use the “hot” goal that year, so he used it in his application. Next year he applied with an authentic goal (and app) and was accepted to an M7 school.”

“You have no chance of getting into a top MBA program because you didn’t go to a top undergrad.”

Abraham couldn’t disagree more with this statement.

“If an applicant excelled at their local college, shows leadership, and has had an impactful career, and has a competitive test score, they have a chance at elite MBA programs,” she says.

You have a 750-plus GMAT and a 3.9 GPA, you’re in anywhere.”

Both counselors call hogwash on this one.

“You can’t rest on academic laurels. Yes, those numbers are very attractive to top b-schools, but if they are combined with arrogance—forget it. Schools also want to see leadership and impact in their accepted students. So, if Super Student wasn’t a super employee or entrepreneur or campus community member, those stats do not guarantee acceptance at top MBA programs.”

“Your goals don’t really matter, because you’re likely to change them once at b-school.”

Abraham writes, “Yes, your goals are likely to change and schools know that, but they at least want you to start their program with direction and a goal they know they can help you achieve. Goals are a major component in fit at most top MBA programs. And if yours are vague or don’t match the strengths of your target schools, then you simply aren’t showing fit.”

“If you have a blind interview, you can wing it.”

“You can wing it. BUT you are unlikely to be as effective as the other applicants who prepare,” Abraham notes.

“They will have researched the school, know exactly why they want to attend this program, and mined their own experiences and achievements so they are ready to show they belong at the interviewing school and will contribute to the school’s student body and alumni network.”

“Oh, and they also have thoughtful questions to ask the interviewer.”

“You won’t get in if your numbers are below an arbitrary number, so don’t even bother applying.”

Abraham has worked with “multiple clients who had extremely low GMATs and GPAs, below 2.5 and below 600, who have been admitted to Wharton, Booth, HBS, etc. I also admitted applicants with weak numeric profiles to Tuck when I was the Associate Director of Admissions. (They had other stellar qualities).”

Abraham believes that “essays, personality, perspective and life experience are more important than numbers.” She adds, “Application reviews are comprehensive. One element is extremely unlikely to keep you out or carry you across the threshold of a dream MBA program.”

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About the Author

Jonathan Pfeffer

Jonathan Pfeffer joined the Clear Admit and MetroMBA teams in 2015 after spending several years as an arts/culture writer, editor, and radio producer. In addition to his role as contributing writer at MetroMBA and contributing editor at Clear Admit, he is co-founder and lead producer of the Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast. He holds a BA in Film/Video, Ethnomusicology, and Media Studies from Oberlin College.

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