Some of the worst mistakes are unintentional ones. More so when one speaks of MBA Application mistakes. For sure, everyone wants to seem the best that they can on each MBA application. However, in trying to improve things, a lack of understanding can sometimes lead to worsening them. In our effort to help MBA applicants understand the applications landscape better, we present here a list of commonly made MBA application mistakes. This list is certainly not exhaustive, but these are some very common mistakes nevertheless, and also things that we regularly advise our clients against doing. The mistakes listed here are not in any order of importance – each is equally important to understand and avoid.
MBA Application Mistake 1:: Asking for random reviews
Every applicant wants to put in his or her best. Even some schools advise applicants to refine their essays by asking for feedback. That is well-meaning advice, but it can often go wrong when too much feedback is sought or when the wrong people (yes, the category exists!) are asked to review the essays and provide feedback. We have seen instances in the past when applicants have gone around asking all and sundry for feedback on their essays and then ended up being confused and dejected. Note that when you ask someone for feedback, ensure that the person is (a) competent to provide feedback, and (b) in a position to do so. For example, a younger brother who is still in college falls outside the category defined by (a), and is likely to offer feedback that may not be relevant. On the other hand, your manager at work may (sometimes) have little time to offer you the right feedback, and so may fall outside category (b).
One particular caveat is in order here. Many applicants send their essays to current MBA students (often at their target school) and then try to follow the feedback to the letter, assuming that what worked for the current student is guaranteed to work for them too. There are many issues with this strategy. It is impossible to know if the current student got in because of his/her essays, or in spite of them. Also, he/she may have highlighted things that are relevant for him/her, but may not be a strength for you.
MBA Application Mistake 2:: Insufficient research on schools
Not every MBA program is the same, even when it comes to the basics. Not taking the time to understand the schools and the program that you are applying to is a mistake that can cost you dearly not only at the essays stage but also during interviews. For example, we recently had a query from someone who wanted to apply to ISB and specialize in HR, without knowing that ISB offers no such specialization! Similarly, some applicants talk about getting to know their target industries through internships in one-year programs, when such programs do not even offer an internship (due to the constrained length)!
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MBA Application Mistake 3:: Being driven only by deadlines
Lets face it – most of us would be able to get very little done if not being driven by deadlines. Most schools have clearly designated deadlines for applicants to submit their applications by. Unfortunately, many applicants think of these dates as ‘submit by’ dates rather than latest possibly submission dates. As a result, they begun putting in serious effort into their applications only when the deadline looms near, and this can often mean a rush towards the finish line then. Similarly, other applicants often put off taking the GMAT to very near the deadline, and are then dismayed to find that they need a retake, or surprised by the detail required on applications (to be now done in a short time) even if they reach their target score. Plan smartly, and plan well. Make plans, and stick to them.
MBA Application Mistake 4:: Excuses, excuses, excuses
Many applicants look at the optional essay as a statement to put in excuses for everything. Low GMAT score? Check. Low GPA? Check. Too many job switches? Check. Don’t do that! Remember that optional essays ask for explanations based on extenuating circumstances only! No school will give any credit to an applicant who says he/she didn’t score well on the GMAT because he/she took it in a hurry, or that he/she has a low GPA because he/she wasn’t interested in studies in college! Ultimately, you are judged by results and performance, not by excuses, unless these constitute exceptional circumstances.
MBA Application Mistake 5:: Appealing to pity, not to merit
There used to be a time, perhaps two decades ago, when saying that the fact that you walked 5km to school everyday as a kid or saying that you studied in candle light because of frequent power cuts would get you some pity, if not credit, at top schools. Not anymore. Sure, showing grit against challenges can get you some credit, but these challenges need to be very impactful as well as prolonged. Expecting extra credit just for belonging to a third-world country or hailing from a remote town is not going to work. Appeal to merit – show strong achievements (in spite of challenges, if those are important in your story) to really attract attention and credit. Without merit, there is nothing that sympathy can really get.
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