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11 MBA Applicant Mistakes to Avoid

Updated: Feb 1

Writing your MBA applications is an epic endeavor. Crushing the GMAT, updating your resume and adapting it to MBA requirements, carefully researching schools, and channeling all of this into a set of application essays, can be grueling. Unsurprisingly, many applicants trip up along the way.


In this piece, we’ve compiled 11 common mistakes that MBA applicants make while working on their applications. These are mistakes that can easily be avoided - if you’re aware of them in the first place. So, let’s get started.



1. Over-editing: Some candidates become overly focused on trying to submit the perfect essay and end up editing it so much that they remove their own unique voice and personality. This can also happen when there are too many people giving feedback on an essay, which can cause the writing to lose its flair.


2. Spreading yourself too thin: If you try to include multiple traits in your essays, you may lose sight of the main themes and distract the reader from your main MBA application narrative. It is better to identify a core MBA application narrative and focus on it throughout the different components of your application. This will ensure that your application remains cohesive and focused on the key themes.


3. Regurgitating their website into your essays: If you don’t do proper research, the adcom will know it and it will negatively impact your chances. (Trust us on this one, we have a former Admissions Evaluator Jon Cheng on our team.)


So, reach out to current students and alums on LinkedIn. Write a quick cold reach-out message that reads as:


“Hi XYZ

I am interested in applying for the Oxford Saïd MBA program for the 2022 R3 intake. I noticed that you’re an Oxford alum and my post-MBA goals are similar to what you did. I was hoping to have a quick conversation with you to learn more about the MBA program and the recruitment support the school provided you during your time there. I look forward to hearing back from you.

Thanks”


Also, sign up for coffee chats, fireside sessions and informational webinars with the school to get your name out there. You should also speak to the admissions team, either at an event or by reaching out to them directly to set up a chat. They may offer you a profile review and can give advice about the MBA applications and the program.


After having a few conversations with the current students, alums and AdCom members, you will gain a deeper understanding of what the school has to offer, which will help you to write a more compelling "Why X business school?" essay. You can also name-drop 1 or 2 of these conversations in this essay to demonstrate that you have done your due diligence.


4. Telling stories about others: Many MBA applicants want to share a story from their past that focuses on other people, such as their parents, siblings, friends or spouse. However, it's important to remember that they are not the ones applying to business school.


Instead, focus on identifying an incident that happened to you where you faced a challenge, took action to resolve the situation, and brought about a change. Discuss the impact this had on you and how it shaped your personality, character and perspective. In short, make sure that you are the protagonist of your stories.



5. Hiding your dirty laundry: MBA applicants often hide weaknesses and failures in order to present a perfect background. Understand that if you don’t tell the truth, and it comes up in the background check, you’re at risk of having an offer rescinded.


So if you have a low undergrad GPA, a low GMAT/GRE score, a gap in your education or work experience, or can’t get a recommendation from your current manager, or are unable to get a recommendation from your current manager, be honest and include it in your optional essay. For deeper insights, check out our blog on “How to explain your weakness in your optional essay.


6. Relying heavily on rankings: The main motivation for investing in an MBA is the prospect of getting a career push. Your research shouldn’t be limited to simply looking at a list of the best schools and picking the top ones. Instead, ask yourself questions such as:

  • Does the school offer recruitment opportunities and have a strong alumni network in your target industry?

  • Are your target organizations nearby?

  • Is the business school in a suburban town or a metropolitan city?

  • Will the curriculum address your skill gaps and prepare you for your post-MBA roles?

  • Will you be studying in a tight-knit small cohort or a larger cohort divided into smaller classes?


By considering these factors, you can make a more informed decision about which MBA program is right for you. Then, try to maximize your chances of getting multiple admits. Categorize the schools you’re interested in into three categories: Dream, Target and Safety. This will help you to apply to a diverse range of schools and increase your chances of getting accepted. Once you have multiple admits, you can use them to your advantage and negotiate a bigger scholarship.


7. Writing essays without stories: Effective leaders communicate using stories. To capture the attention of the Admissions reader and start your essays with a bang, consider using a hook. Then make sure that you do not repeat the same content without trying to tailor your narrative to each school.


If you’re struggling to write compelling stories, use the SCAR (Situation, Challenge, Action and Result) method. Fit your narrative into the SCAR framework, then add the analysis of the story and your key takeaways. This can help you to structure your story and make it more effective.





8. Telling your recommenders too late: It's important to remember that even if your recommenders care about you, they may not have a lot of time to write your recommendations. To avoid last-minute submissions, give your recommenders plenty of time and consider giving them a fake deadline that is several days before the actual deadline.


To help your recommenders remember your accomplishments, provide them with bullet points and specific examples to include in their letters. If you are unsure about the reliability of one of your recommenders, consider having a backup recommendation ready in case you need it. This will help you ensure that you have strong recommendations ready to support your application.


9. Choosing the wrong recommenders: Many applicants believe that the job title of the recommender is the most important factor, but that’s a myth. If your CEO has not worked closely with you, they may not be familiar with your strengths, weaknesses or accomplishments.


When choosing a recommender, prioritize them in the following order:


Current Direct Manager > Previous Direct Manager > Older Direct Manager > Senior Colleague > Super Senior Colleague > Extracurriculars Manager > Clients/Suppliers/Junior Colleagues/Professors from Undergrad


If you are unsure what your recommenders should say in their letters of recommendation or how to manage them, check out our free Recommender Guide for more information.


10. Over-reaching: Most business schools publish class profiles that provide information about the range of GPAs, GMAT scores, work experience and other details about their current cohort. If you’re looking at the bottom of the range and thinking, “Someone else got in with a weak GMAT/GPA, I can too,” you may be mistaken. The candidate who got in with a 2.7 GPA in their undergrad probably got a 750 on GMAT. Or maybe the girl who got in with a 650 GMAT score launched a health-tech startup in Africa.


The point is that, instead of simply comparing yourself to the bottom of the range, realistically evaluate your own demographics and determine a target GMAT you’ll need to get accepted into the business school. A consultant can help here.


11. Not answering the question: Candidates often start writing their essays without having a clear structure in place. This can lead to writing content that meets or exceeds the word limit yet fails to properly address the question. Additionally, after submitting a few applications, candidates may become exhausted and overlook important parts of the questions.


To avoid making this mistake in your MBA applications, don’t be tempted to reuse already-written work. Instead, carefully read the questions, make notes, highlight the different parts and then build a structure that can help you answer each part of the question.



If that sounds daunting, book a free 20 mins chat with us.



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Hi, I'm Sam.  I'm the founder of Sam Weeks Consulting. Our clients get admitted to top MBA and EMBA programs.

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