The Top Mistakes Women Make When Applying to Business School

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As the former lead diversity recruiter at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, I interacted with thousands of women who were applying to graduate school.  As the President of North Star Admissions Consulting I have gotten to know even more – bright, competent young women with tremendous potential, who are interested in earning an MBA.

In both of these roles, I have seen women make common errors that severely limit their opportunities.

Here are the top mistakes that women make when applying to business school:

  • Lacking Confidence

Some women believe that they need to be “perfect” candidates, and that small blemishes (or perceived blemishes) will disqualify them from consideration.  In reality, top graduate programs are extremely excited to meet strong female candidates. Admissions officers are looking for reasons to admit fantastic women, not reasons to deny them.

  • Aiming too low

Women are coveted commodities, especially in traditionally male dominated fields like business.  By underestimating their market strength, women sometimes preemptively take themselves out of the running and don’t even apply to the most competitive schools. If appropriate, I encourage women to apply to schools and for scholarships that they thought were unattainable.  Given the right advice, they can absolutely succeed.

  • Using self-deprecating language

When talking about their tremendous academic or professional accomplishments, I have spoken with women who use words like “luck.” I have also noticed a tendency to say “sorry” during an interview, and to emphasize collaboration over individual accomplishment. Don’t be afraid to own your strengths and achievements.

  • Dismissing their own instincts

Women sometimes assume that other people know more than they do about the best way to craft their candidacy, and about the admissions process. Following advice from too many people (and discounting your own ability to filter information and make good decisions) can lead to paralysis, and to a muddled, diluted candidacy.  Have faith in your own judgment, choose a few impartial, expert advisors and aim high.


Karen Marks has more than 12 years of experience evaluating candidates for admission to Dartmouth College and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Since founding North Star Admissions Consulting in 2012, she has helped applicants gain admission to the nation’s top schools, including Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, Yale, Cornell, Dartmouth, Columbia, MIT, Duke, Georgetown, Northwestern, Booth, NYU, Ross, UVA and more. Clients have been awarded more than $10.2 million in scholarships, and more than 95% have gotten into at least one of their top-choice schools.