Not getting into your dream business school can be gut-wrenching. It can even affect your motivation to apply to other schools. But if you figure out what kept you from getting your dream admit, the situation could turn from a tragic experience to one where you can learn and bounce back harder next time.
Whether you’re just starting with your MBA applications, in the middle of the process, or planning to re-apply, there are application mistakes you can avoid.
If you’ve made any of these mistakes while applying to your dream business school, it would have definitely counted towards the reasons that the admissions committee rejected you.
But it’s not too late. While you cannot go back in time and correct your mistakes, you can ensure that you don’t repeat them in the next admission cycle. And if you’re from the group that is applying for the first time, even better. Learn from these mistakes that other MBA applicants have made, that cost them their dream school admit.
Here are some mistakes that applicants make while applying to their dream business schools
- Not re-taking the GMAT
many MBA applicants don’t re-take their GMAT. This is generally because they didn’t plan to leave enough time between their GMAT attempt and MBA application deadlines to re-take the test.
If you scored a 750 GMAT score on your first GMAT attempt, not re-taking the GMAT is a great option for you. Once your GMAT score crosses that threshold, there’s only so much value that another 10-20 points can add to your profile. To this applicant, I would say focus on your application essays and recommendation rather than increasing your GMAT score.
However, if you do not have a high GMAT score, take the test again. A high GMAT score can be identified by looking at the average GMAT score of the MBA class at your target business school.
The large MBA applicant pool allows admissions committees to choose amongst very similar profiles. Thus, if an applicant who has a similar profile to yours has a relatively higher GMAT score, that might remove you from the race to an admit.
When setting an appointment for your GMAT, make sure to have a 1-2-month buffer period in case your score isn’t favorable and you have to take the test again.
- Business school selection
Business school selection is a very complicated and crucial process. You cannot simply select a school based on its rank and brand value.
It’s hard to accept the fact that your dream business school might not be the one for you, but it pays off in the long run. Whether it’s your post-MBA goals or your profile, make sure that the school is on the same page as you. To explain it further let’s look at an example.
If my post-MBA goal is to join a luxury brand like Coach or Tom Ford as a product manager, and I wish to apply to Harvard, the admissions committee would be hesitant to give me an admit. This is because while Harvard places MBAs as product managers in giant corporations across all industry, they don’t have Coach or Tom Ford as recruiters. For them, it might be difficult to place me when I graduate. This would for sure be a deterrent.
Now, if I applied to NYU Stern’s MBA Program, they won’t have the same issue as Coach and Tom Ford both are recruiters at the school. However, if I have a profile with a lower GPA, GMAT, etc. that the average for Stern’s MBA class, the school would, again, be quick to turn me down.
So, while you might want to go to a particular business school, ensure that your goals and profile stats are compatible with it. If not, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your school selection.
To check whether your profile is compatible with your dream school, pick up one of the various free school shortlisting services available on various MBA admissions consultant sites.
Read Also: Top 3 Mistakes MBA applicants make while looking at business school rankings
- Finishing an application in a week
A week is more of a metaphor for ‘in a hurry’. When you’ve already filled a couple of applications, you might finish your next business school application in a week, or a similarly short-duration. That’s fine. What we need to keep in mind though is the quality of the application you’re submitting.
Throughout this blog, you will see the need of having ample time for working on your applications is emphasized. This is because a quality MBA application will require you to mold your perspective on your past and visualize your future.
The way you have done things up till now won’t fly during MBA applications. Be it creating an MBA resume, or writing your applications essays, it has its own process and strategies. An admissions committee will not accept shallow or generic answers to essay questions. They demand authentic and genuine answers.
Whether it is “Why MBA?”, “Why this business school?”, or “Short-term and long-term goals”, your first essay will not be good enough to be attached with your MBA application.
Thus, ensure you have at least a few weeks to research, network, and come up with genuine and comprehensive answers to the what, why, and how that the application essays will ask you. Also, on average an MBA applicant requires a week to choose a recommender and get an MBA application worthy recommender.
Make sure you have set apart enough time to accommodate such uncertainties.
- Not knowing what to share
Diving a little deeper into your MBA application essays, many applicants don’t know the misappropriate the value of their personal experiences. This can easily be considered one of the top reasons that applicants get rejected.
The experience you might consider admirable might fail to impress the admissions committees. Whereas, an experience you might consider insignificant, might hold much more valuable information about your personality and decision-making process and consequently add far more value to your candidature.
One way to deal with it is to list down personal and professional examples for all your claims. For example, if you claim to have leadership qualities, list down an instance each when you portrayed the same, from your personal life and your workplace. Keep these instances as recent as possible.
Since the admissions committee would have your detailed MBA resume, they rely on you sharing personal experiences in the essays to evaluate your fit with the school culture and its values. Thus, when not specified, go with personal experiences.
- Trying to follow someone else’s MBA journey
My friend got accepted to his dream business school. He wrote about his struggle with his faith. I have had a similar struggle, so maybe writing a similar essay would get me my dream school admit too.
Just because someone got into your dream school in the past, does not mean that following their MBA journey and creating a profile similar to theirs would get you the admit too.
Admissions committee members go through thousands of profiles every year. Some of them have been at it for more years than you have had the dream to get an MBA. Which means they can pretty much sniff out an inauthentic profile.
There are tons of success stories available on various sites like GMAT forums, and admissions consultants’ websites. While it’s good to go through them to figure out ways to deal with the shortcomings in your own profile or to get motivated that top schools accept a diverse applicant group, it’s never a good idea to start mimicking them.
- Selecting the wrong recommenders
This is a mistake that most MBA applicants make. Most MBA applicants do not realize the value a letter of recommendation holds during MBA application.
It gives the admissions committee insight on the following things.
The validity of your professional claims:
A good recommendation letter would contain instances that back up the professional claims you have made in your MBA application. They don’t necessarily mean the quantitative claims but also refer to the claims about your professional skills.
The value you added to your organization:
The attitude of your recommender towards your letter of reference can be very telling of the value you added to the organization. Besides they can highlight other professional accomplishments that you might have missed in your resume or essays.
Common mistakes while choosing a recommender.
Not sticking to the requirements that the school has set for selecting a recommender.
Selecting a recommender that understand the need of an MBA for you and is excited to help you out.
Choosing a recommender that is highly placed in your organization but has no real insight into your professional acumen.
Not explaining why you did not get a recommendation from an immediate supervisor (if applicable).
- Applying in the last round
This isn’t a mistake that would have the most impact on your application. But, it’s safe to say that if this reason has made it onto this list, it is important.
Admissions committee members have time and again given statements to the media that insinuate the scarcity of available seats in the last round of applications.
The concept is very simple. If you had a heavy two appetizers, and a main course, you would be pretty full by the time desserts arrive. Now if I gave you two options for dessert, you would probably choose one. Had you not had the food before desserts you might have been able to eat both, right?
Similarly, by the time MBA applications for the final round open, admissions committees have already filled up more than half of the vacancies available for their MBA program. Thus, with a much lower number of seats available, they have to reject a few applicants with profiles similar to those accepted in the previous rounds.
Thus, to give yourself the best odds of making it into your dream business school, applying in the first round of application is the strategic move.
As I mentioned, this isn’t a key factor for applicants not making it to their target schools, rather is a tactical move on the applicant’s part.
- Not having an answer to the essays
You must be asking yourself how could one apply to business schools without having the answers to an essay. Let me just say it happens more often than you would think it does.
While writing an essay with the word limit in mind, it can be hard to even realize when one starts going in circles and ends up not answering the question at all. For example, for the answer to the “Why this business school?” question, you might go on about praising the business school assuming that it is what is expected of you. While the admissions committee member reading your application essays would be looking for the answer that points out the value that the school would be adding to your personal and professional life.
Also, business school application essay questions aren’t as straightforward as they might seem. A question asking about your biggest accomplishment isn’t really about that. It is a way for the admissions committee to understand what you perceive as your biggest hurdles, and how you deal with them. They don’t just want to know your accomplishment, but also why you consider it so. You would also be expected to detail your thought process while you conquered said task.
Such a misunderstanding of the underlying questions in an application can often lead to applicants believing that they answered the essay question as they submit an application that does not even address them.
Read Also: What are some of the best answers to Stanford GSB's admissions essay question : "What matters most to you, and why?
- Not addressing the discrepancies in their profile
Say you have a low GPA, or have a stellar GPA but had to repeat a class. Or maybe you took a gap year.
Now business school admissions committee members know that you’re human. They expect you to have messed up at certain points in your life and aren’t too concerned with having perfect candidates. What they do want is to know the “why”. They want to have insight on any discrepancies you have. If you don’t provide them with any, the discrepancies in your profile simply become a red flag.
For example, if you took a gap year, the business school admissions committee would expect you to explain what you did throughout that year. Did you learn something new? Did you travel the world? Were you volunteering during that time? All of these things would add value to your profile and off-set the gap you took.
As far as a mediocre or low academic performance is considered, understanding the situation that led to such a performance would help the admissions committee evaluate your ability to handle academic rigor relatively. In case you don’t explain a low academic performance, the committee would just assume you would be unable to handle the academic rigor of an MBA program, and you’ll be faced with rejection.
Thus, use your optional essays to ensure that you address any discrepancies in your profile.
- Not taking responsibility
Taking from the previous point, the admissions committee isn’t looking for a perfect candidate. They did not have a meeting and decided the 15 criteria that every applicant needed to fit in order to receive an admit.
In conclusion, there is no perfect MBA applicant.
That brings us to this point. One fatal flaw in many MBA applications is diverting blame. When addressing a failure, or a weakness, applicants tend to focus on making themselves look spot-free by either playing the victim to situations or deflecting the blame on someone else. In both the scenarios you’re showing the admissions committee that you aren’t ready to accept responsibility for your actions.
Business schools truly appreciate applicants that take responsibility for their actions as it shows growth prospects in an individual. Not deflecting blame also shows the business schools that you can effectively self-assess.
The best way to deal with this situation is to accept your weakness or error, and also provide the admissions committee with the steps you proactively took to rectify the error.
- Inconsistency and lack of self-awareness
Lacking self-awareness and awareness, in general, are the biggest offenders when it comes to business school applications.
While applicants might have their answers to essays ready to go, they sometimes lack the sense of knowing what the underlying question is. For example, if you’re answering a question about your biggest accomplishment, you would normally talk about how you accomplished an enormous task. Whereas, the business school would want to know why that particular task was your biggest accomplishment. You would be required to answer questions such as “What made the task hard?” or “Why are you proud of reaching that particular goal?”.
Another example of the same could be the “What’s your weakness?” question. Applicants tend to answer this question by playing off on their strengths and disguising them as a weakness. While business schools want to perceive how aware of your shortcomings you are.
As far as general awareness is considered, common mistakes are sending a different essay for a different question or not changing the name of the business school while recycling an essay.
Inconsistency, on the other hand, is more complicated and is a very clear marker of a dishonest applicant. If you’re claiming to be punctual in one of your essays, and then mention that an instance in another essay that portrays you as a tardy person, the paradoxical account might raise a red flag for the admissions committee.
Thus, give your application a good read before hitting that send button.
Getting into your dream business school takes a lot of effort, planning, and commitment.
I don’t recommend applying to just your dream school and merely focusing on getting into the same. As we discussed, a lot more goes into shortlisting schools than just knowing which MBA program you wish to attend based on business school rankings. Plus, not everyone can get into Harvard, or Stanford considering the sheer volume of applications that these schools receive.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. In fact, when you shortlist schools before starting your MBA applications, I recommend having your dream school in the mix along with some schools that have the same average stats as your profile.
This would give you an opportunity to try your hand at getting you into your dream school, but also give you a safety net in case you don’t.
The best part is, that making sure you don’t make the mistakes mentioned above will help you through the application process for business schools irrespective of their rankings.
Thus, applying what you learnt from this blog to all your business school applications would substantially raise your chances of receiving an acceptance letter.