Common MBA Application Mistakes

Don't underestimate what's involved in the application process

Unsuccessful business school applicants often make one of these common MBA application mistakes. The good news is that they are usually totally fixable and preventable– the first step is taking an honest look at your candidacy.

Unclear and/or Unrealistic Goals.

This can’t be said too many times – your goals are the foundation of your MBA candidacy. Please don’t listen to people who tell you that they don’t matter, since many people wind up shifting gears in business school. They still matter a lot. Also, don’t alter your goals for each program – telling schools what you think they want to hear, as opposed to what you really think you want to do, is a recipe for disaster.

Superficial essays.

Along those lines, it’s important to actually answer the questions in a genuine way, with adequate depth. Tailoring your responses to fit what you think the school will value or painting an overly rosy picture can backfire. MBA programs admit candidates with depth and personality – let them get to know you.

Arrogance is not an appealing quality in a business school applicant. Confidence is great, but please make sure that your tone isn’t telegraphing the wrong message. It’s a mistake to say that you have a totally unique background, that you are the “best” anything, or that they shouldn’t worry about your DUI, academic integrity snafu or 23rd% GMAT. Speaking of which, do you need to take additional courses or study more for your GRE or GMAT? Please do so – don’t assume that the schools will automatically overlook issues. this is a competitive process, you want to optimize everything that you can.

Vague School Interest.

Applying to the top 10 schools, just because they are the top 10 schools? It is unlikely that each one is an equally good fit. Elite business schools want students who will thrive, and who are actually excited about their programs. Demonstrate fit and genuine passion by mentioning specific courses, clubs and community interactions. Talk about how you will contribute and enhance the community, not just about what school x can do for you.

Inadequate Investment.

Are you prepared to do the right amount of school research? To visit programs, talk to alums and scour the website? Will you complete a test prep course if you have to? Can you take an honest look at your deficits and address them, and dig deep to share failures as well as strengths?

One of the biggest MBA application mistakes is underestimating the grit and self-reflection required. However, if you are willing to invest the time you can get amazing results.


Karen has more than 12 years of experience evaluating candidates for admission to Dartmouth College and to 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, Yale, Wharton, MIT, Tuck, Columbia, Kellogg, Booth, Haas, Duke, Johnson, Ross, NYU, UNC, UCLA, Georgetown and more. Over the last three years, clients have been awarded more than 14.4 million dollars in scholarships, and more than 95% have gotten into one of their top choice schools.

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