5 Ways to Tank Your MBA Application Before You Even Begin

by on June 18th, 2017

When it comes to applying for an MBA, there are a lot of different ways to fail: You could complete your application and essays entirely in the Klingon language. You could accidentally set your suit on fire during your MBA interview. You could respond to all inquiries by saying, “I’ll do whatever I want, because I’m the boss of this place!”

However, most people who don’t get into business school on their first attempt fail in slightly less spectacular ways. To be clear, business school admissions are incredibly competitive: it’s entirely possible to do everything right and still not get in. But if you’re thinking about getting an MBA, here are five common ways people fail before they even get their foot in the door:

1. Apply to schools at random

Applying for an MBA is a lot like looking for a prom date: if you ask everyone you pass in the halls, your desperation is likely to shine through in the process. If you want to be successful, you need to think carefully about the right fit, and the right approach to get your message across. In other words: don’t just grab a list of the best business schools and start applying to numbers 1 through 10.

Instead, do your research. Find the schools that offer programs, specializations, faculty, and extracurricular activities that appeal to you, and give some thought as to how those schools will help you advance your career. When you’re choosing the right schools, it becomes much easier to argue convincingly as to why you’re the right candidate.

2. Ignore the importance of the test

When it comes to admissions test, business school applicants tend to have a lot of anxiety. Some applicants can get far too fixated on their score, to the detriment of the rest of their application. Others process their anxiety by essentially telling themselves that the score doesn’t matter, or that they’ll be able to get a “good enough” score without having to study too hard. A great score won’t, by itself, get you in the door, but it is much harder to get into business school without one.

If you want to get in to a top MBA program, you need to take test prep seriously. It doesn’t matter whether you choose to take the GRE or the GMAT, but either way, you need to gather your resources, commit to a study plan, and follow through. And don’t forget to allow some time in case you need to re-take the test: you can re-take the GMAT after 16 days, and the GRE after 21 days.

3. Choose the wrong recommenders

As tempting as it might be to convince yourself otherwise, the strength of a recommendation does not rest on the impressiveness of the recommender’s title. Admissions committees are not so easily impressed.

What they really want to know is more about you: what kind of leader you are or aspire to be; how you’ve demonstrated initiative, adaptability, and resilience in the workplace; and the kinds of problems you have solved or obstacles you have overcome in your role. Choose recommenders who will be able to speak—with specific details—to those aspects of your work and personality.

4. Lie to the admissions committee

Just as the admissions committee is smart enough to not be blinded by a recommendation from a Partner or Managing Director who doesn’t actually know the applicant, they’re also smart enough to see through an admissions essay that offers up a trite, insincere background and rationale for applying to b-school. Don’t try to play up your passion for volunteering when your only example is the summer your mom made you help out at the church food pantry.

Adcoms know that the world is a messy place and people aren’t perfect, not even people who are applying for an MBA. They are looking for candidates who are self-aware and have the capacity to learn and grow. You’re far more likely to get into b-school with an essay that reflects your authentic voice and experience than with one that attempts to fit you into some perfect mold. You should steer clear of exaggerating or half-truths, they can come back to bite you.

5. Procrastinate 

Look, I get it: applying to business school is hard, and not particularly fun. It requires a lot of serious thought and filling out forms and gathering paperwork and writing essays, and you’re probably already tired from a long day of work and just want to unwind, and you’ll definitely get around to doing it this weekend. Maybe. Unless something comes up.

Don’t do that. Don’t relegate your business school applications to something that you fit in here and there, when you have a spare moment. Take yourself seriously, and your investment seriously: if you do get into an MBA program, you’ll be spending two years and tens of thousands of dollars to build a lasting career for yourself. Leaving your application to the last minute doesn’t do you any favors.

So if you’re reading this now, and you’re planning to apply to business school, now is the time. Finish your researching, and planning, and procrastinating, and get started. You can do this. And EXPARTUS can help.

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