The Top 10 Mistakes To Avoid For Successful MBA Applications

We don’t want to stress you out. If you’re applying for your MBA, you’re probably already up all hours of the night pacing around trying to re-learn geometry, so the last thing we want to do is pile on more insecurities. However, here at Veritas Prep we’ve identified some very common application mistakes in our research. Our information comes from our team of 80+ admissions experts from the top U.S. and European MBA programs. We’ve compiled a top 10 list for your convenience: Avoid these mistakes, and you’ll be in good shape.

(Note: If you’d like to watch Veritas Preps’ webinar on this topic, click here.)

Mistake #1: Believing the reported class profile averages don’t apply to you

  • In general, an admissions committee will NOT overlook your scores or experience level because of your essays. Really look at the averages on the class profiles and see if you fit in. The published ranges can be statistically misleading, so focus on how you stack up against the averages instead.
  • At Veritas Prep, we have found that if your GMAT score, or GRE equivalent, is more than 30 points below the school’s average, you’ll be in the bottom 10th percentile of the class. That means only 10% of the entering class had a score that was at that level or lower. Is there something about you that’s going to make you one of the few admitted with a below average or low GMAT score? A low GMAT score can significantly reduce your chances if you don’t have the professional and academic qualifications to outweigh it.

Mistake #2: Not starting early enough

  • If you haven’t done a significant amount of self-reflection when it comes to your post-MBA goals, your why MBA why now, and your standout factor, you’re going to be at a disadvantage to the people who laid a solid foundation for their application in the spring months.

Mistake #3: Applying to too many programs or programs you aren’t hyped about

  • School fit is such an important part of your application. Remember there are roughly 6,000-10,000 candidates applying for a spot at schools in the top 15. The schools know you’re going to be applying to multiple programs, but they want to feel like they are the program you’re most excited about, whether it’s HBS, GSB, Tepper, or Johnson. If you are going up against someone who’s writing about their dream school, your lukewarm enthusiasm will stand out, and not in the good way.

Mistake #4: No standout factor

  • 80% of the candidates applying to the top programs will have the academic and professional qualifications covered. Since only 20% are admitted, we know that they’ve taken the time to differentiate themselves from the other candidates. The standout factor can be something in your professional experience, something in your volunteer and extracurricular experiences, or something about your personality. The point is that you need one. It’s not enough to be academically and professionally sound.

Mistake #5: School fit research

  • Remember who your competition is. Everyone applying went to the website. Anyone who applies can easily talk about the classes they want to take and the clubs they want to join. Answers about how you want to expand your network, gain prestige, accelerate earning potential post-MBA, or gain hard skills are very obvious and overdone. For school fit, focus on why you actually want to attend this program.  Reference anecdotal experience from talking with students, professors, alums, or your campus visit.

Mistake #6: Saying a story you heard could get you in

  • We know people with identical stats and professional experience that have entirely different outcomes. The admissions committee is not looking for a regurgitation of last season or last round’s successful candidates. They are looking for authentic people who have the potential to make an impact both in b-school and beyond. There’s no shortcut here.
  • It’s worth mentioning that you might get an interview with someone else’s story, but this will fall apart very quickly. In the interview, it’s pretty hard to feign enthusiasm for someone else’s life long passions. Just go with yours.

Mistake #7: Diving into the essays without your strategy in place

  • It’s really fun to dive into the essays as soon as they are released, but we suggest you start compiling your application materials and doing your research much earlier than June and July. You’ll have to do it again if you don’t have your plan in place.

Mistake #8: Connect the dots

  • We’ve seen applications from candidates who say they’re passionate about healthcare or education, but when you look at their resume, there’s no evidence of this passion. It’s going to be challenging to convince the admissions committee that you’re interested in something you have no history of participating in.  However, if you pitch yourself as a career-switcher, you can talk about the experiences and research that have led you to conclude you’d be an excellent addition to the ed-tech start-up world.
  • The committee has to see how the MBA fits into the plan. Do you need the MBA to make your move into management consulting? Could you make that jump from where you are now?  Did you explain to them how the MBA will help you connect your past professional experiences with where you see yourself going in the future?
  • If you’re writing about management and strategy consulting in your short-term goals, please have something interesting in your long-term goals. 90% of the candidates that we talk to mention consulting.

Mistake #9: Hiding your dirty laundry

  • If there’s anything in your background that you’re uncomfortable with, it’s in your best interest to steer into it in your application. Whether that’s a failed med school transcript, an abandoned startup, or a low undergraduate GPA, it’s to your advantage to control the narrative by addressing this in your optional essays.  When you do explain what happened, focus on how you grew as a person or what you learned.  It’s also a great opportunity to state how the b-school skills you’ll gain could have helped you.

Mistake #10: Trusting a busy supervisor to remember your accomplishments

  • Everyone’s letter is going to be good-ish, but to get that table pounding endorsement, you’re going to need to prepare your recommender with a highlight reel. Remember, even the most supportive mentor has a lot on their plate, so if you have specific achievements you want mentioned, it’s best to prep the recommender and refresh their memory.

With this guide in hand, we know you’ll avoid repeating the mistakes of those that came before you. To work with our team, please call 310-456-8716. You can also check-out our admissions consulting packages here:

No matter what your circumstances — re-applicant, international, over-represented demographic, low undergrad GPA — we have an expert on our team with experience in helping candidates like you get into their dream schools.

Cecile Matthews is the Director of MBA Admissions Consulting at Veritas Prep, the largest privately-owned test prep and admissions consulting company in the world. Since 2002, Veritas Prep has helped thousands of applicants gain

admission to their dream schools using its team of experienced consultants and a personalized game

plan for each client.

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