By Andrea Coulis
You’ve got a killer GMAT score, a recommendation from the president of your company, and work experience at some of the most prestigious firms in the world.
Pretty much done preparing for business school, right?
You might be surprised to find out you’re still not a shoo-in to the top MBA programs. How you craft your application truly matters.
There are few things that can derail an otherwise successful MBA application faster than these five common mistakes.
Mistake 1: You’re generic
Constructing one standard essay to submit to all schools that happen to share a prompt is not only painfully boring, but also ineffective.
Apart from increasing the likelihood of the obvious—yet extremely common—mistake of including the wrong school’s name in your essays, this strategy also misses an excellent opportunity to show exactly how you are a great fit for the program.
Each business school has its own 'personality'—its own quirks, its own specialties, and its own preferences for how it wants to build its cohorts.
Weaving in specific, intentional points about how well you fit the school can score you huge points with admissions. It will not only demonstrate your distinct suitability for the program, but also that you’re motivated enough to do your research and enthusiastic enough to customize your essays.
Mistake 2: You’re focusing on the past instead of the future
Yes, it’s essential to communicate what you’ve accomplished. But, what’s more important to admissions is that you have a solid vision for what you plan to do with that experience.
How will you contribute to the school and your classmates during and after the program? How will you play a part in fortifying the school’s brand in the future? How will you apply the skills you learn in business school to advancing your career and impacting your industry?
While business school is certainly an investment in your own career, admissions staff also want to see how you can reciprocate and make a positive impact on their organization.
Applicants often make the mistake of assuming an application should be all about themselves. Yet, the most impressive applications are far less egocentric and more focused on interlacing the commonality of goals between the individual and the institution.
Mistake 3: You don’t follow directions
It's unbelievable how many applicants fly off the handle and start answering questions that were not asked, ignoring questions that were asked, and demonstrating that they’re unable to follow guidelines.
This is a really quick way to send your application straight to the reject pile, but is also thankfully the easiest pitfall to escape. When writing an essay, for example, make sure you really respond to the prompt rather than only tangentially answering the question in order to slip in a story you’re dying to include, but that the guidelines never called for.
There’s often an opportunity at the end of an application to provide information you didn’t have a chance to include in prior sections. Clarify unrelated yet important topics in that section of the application.
Mistake 4: You’re inconsistent
The application is your first chance to show admissions who you are, so it’s important to tell a consistent story and build a solid profile of yourself.
If you’re a positive go-getter with a passion for unconventional education in one essay, and a reserved, cynical rule-follower in the next, it can be confusing and might make you appear inauthentic.
Try to weave your essays, statements of purpose, and even your recommendations together to tell a unified story about who you are so that admissions can paint an accurate picture of you and visualize how you might best fit with the program.
Mistake 5: You recommenders don’t actually know you
Many applicants make the mistake of choosing recommenders based on job titles or perceived prestige instead of how well they know the applicant or how meaningful their recommendation is likely to be.
As mentioned in Mistake 4, telling a consistent story is extremely important. It’s crucial to choose a recommender that will continue your narrative cohesively and who knows you on a deep enough level to provide memorable details about you, not just reiterate what’s on your resume.
Remember, admissions committees go through thousands of applications every year, and even tremendously impressive individuals get rejected—often due to these common pitfalls.
By avoiding these mistakes and by following the guidelines outlined above, you’ll be well on your way to wowing admissions and joining the next class of MBAs at your dream business school.
Andrea Coulis is a senior tutor with MyGuru, a provider of in-person and online GMAT tutoring. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Finance from Indiana University's Kelley School of Business and an MBA from the University of Oxford, Saïd School of Business.