It’s a fact of life when you apply to a top business school: the odds are against you. For every applicant who gets a “yes” from Harvard, there are nine or so who are turned down. If you want to get into any highly ranked MBA program in the world, you are effectively swimming against the tide.
So how do you get the odds tilted in your favor? Certainly by avoiding common mistakes many applicants make.
Here are the 10 most common mistakes I have seen as an admissions consultant and how you should avoid them:
- Overemphasizing your business experience in your application essays – Top MBA programs want to get to know you as a person. What are your passions? What has shaped you into the person you are today? Simply listing one professional accomplishment after another you will not lead to an acceptance letter.
- Overemphasizing the GMAT/GRE – We’ve helped students with GMATs in the 500s gain entry into HBS. We’ve also worked with clients who seek our help when reapplying after applying on their own and being rejected from HBS despite scoring a 750+ on the GMAT. Unlike other undergraduate and graduate programs, admission to MBA programs is based as much as or more on qualitative factors than quantitative factors.
- Presenting a career vision that is disconnected from your current and prior experience – Certainly many people get an MBA in order to pivot in their careers. But trying to convince a school that you could start an AIDS awareness nonprofit in Zimbabwe after working on Wall Street for 10 years is unlikely to be successful. Schools want to be sure they will be able to place you into a job at graduation, so if the pivot is too significant they may not admit you.
- Not having a focused career vision – Many students think they will explore a number of different career options during their first year in an MBA program. But admissions officers know the reality of the situation: There is very little time for exploration, since you’ll start searching for summer jobs by October of your first year. So make sure you have a focused career plan and convey it in your application.
- Sending the same essay to multiple schools when they ask the same or similar questions – Each top school is looking for VERY different student profile; you’ll need to “sell” them what they’re looking to “buy.” When we work with clients applying to schools that have similar essay questions, we insist the clients write completely unique essays that best position them for acceptance to each individual school.
- Misunderstanding the importance of extracurricular activities – Many students think schools just want to see that you give back to your community through extracurricular activities. In reality, schools are assessing your leadership potential through your extracurricular involvement. They want to see what projects you have spearheaded and what teams you have led. Depth of involvement is much more important than breadth.
- Choosing a recommender because you feel like you have to – The #1 reason applicants do not get into schools that they should is a lukewarm or average recommendation. Choose recommenders who will say that you are the most incredible professional and individual they have worked with in their career. Don’t choose people who you know are tough recommenders just because they are direct supervisors or would be offended if you didn’t ask them.