The Most Egregious Application Mistake

mba application mistakesWe’re nearing the end of my series on the five MBA application mistakes that I frequently see in my role as an admissions consultant. As a quick refresh, the first is being like many others, the second is missing out on Round One, and the third is applying to too many schools.

Perhaps the most egregious error I regularly come across is this fourth mistake: failing to answer the three fundamental MBA application questions.

Sometimes, these questions are included in the essay prompts from schools, but often they are not. Regardless of whether or not the school explicitly asks them, you can bet the admissions committee wants to know the answers. If you have ready answers to these queries, you’ll demonstrate that you have really thought about the big investment you’re about to make and that is essential to an acceptance.

The 3 fundamental MBA application questions are:

1. Why do you want to go to business school?

2. Why do you want to go to this business school?

3.  Why should this business school want you?

Although these may seem pretty straightforward, especially the first and second, it can be difficult for many applicants to answer these questions. Let’s briefly tackle them one by one.

1. Why do you want to go to business school?

As I mentioned in my post on the third biggest MBA application mistake, there are quite a few applicants who don’t actually know why they want to go to business school. If you don’t know why you want to go to business school, it might be wise to wait until you do know before investing considerable time (and money) to apply.

There are no right or wrong reasons, by the way. Usually, these reasons are multi-layered. For example, I wanted to go to business school because I love school (I’m a nerd like that), I had a long-term career vision and didn’t know how to get there, I wanted to be challenged, and I thought it would be a really enjoyable, transformational experience. I gave different reasons different weight in my application, but I answered the question very clearly.

2. Why do you want to go to this business school?

Most applicants I encounter apply to more than one business school and recycle all or part of their essays for each school’s application. The admissions committee knows this. However, whoever reads your application wants to know that you’ve put some degree of thought into why you want to go to his institution. What makes that school unique? What does that school pride itself on? Why is that a good fit for you? Even if this question is not explicitly asked as part of one of the essay prompts, be sure to answer it – even if it’s just one sentence in one of your essays.

3. Why should this business school want you?

Your whole application should really be answering this question, but too often, humble applicants will fail to spell it out. This isn’t just about your accomplishments on your resume. It’s about: “What do I have to offer to this school?” Business schools are communities, and admission to the school also means admission to the alumni network. What do you have to add? What will your classmates learn from you? What kind of impact will you leave on the community? If there isn’t a clear place to spell this out in your essays, be sure to talk to your recommenders so that they can spell it out for you.

Jyll Saskin graduated from the Harvard Business School

Jyll Saskin graduated from the Harvard Business School

Stay tuned for the final installment next week, where I’ll share the fifth biggest MBA application mistake.

Jyll Saskin is a graduate of the MBA Class of 2013 at Harvard Business School. She works as a Manager at Scratch, a division of Viacom, in New York. She also helps clients apply to top business school programs via

Also in the series on the Five Most Common Mistakes:

Mistake No. 1: Being Like So Many Others

Second Biggest MBA Application Mistake

Third Biggest MBA Application Mistake

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