Partner Sites

Logo BusinessBecause - The business school voice
mobile search icon

MBA Essays: 5 Common Pitfalls To Avoid In Your MBA Application

Competition for an MBA is higher than ever—find out how to write a strong MBA essay by avoiding these common mistakes

Tue Feb 20 2024

The MBA essay can account for up to 15% of your application. This is your chance to show an experienced admissions team why you’re the best fit for their MBA program—essentially, why they should choose you over someone else.

Whether you graduated top of your class, excelled in the GMAT, or have a 10-year career plan, it’s worth investing a few extra minutes to read this list of MBA essay tips and common errors to carefully to set you up with the best chances for success at entering your dream business school.

Without further ado, here are five common pitfalls to avoid when preparing for your MBA essay, and how to address MBA admission essay errors:

5 common MBA essay mistakes

1. Neglecting thorough research of each school and program in your MBA essay

While you might be eager to start writing as soon as possible, not dedicating enough time to carefully research each business school can start you off on the wrong foot. Remember that behind an MBA admissions team are real people who know their school inside out—they can easily differentiate a personalized essay from a generic one. 

Online resources, campus visits, and connecting with faculty members can provide you with an understanding of the kind of qualities they are looking for in candidates, and how closely you align with these attributes.

“The biggest mistake is not giving the MBA essay questions enough thought and detail. We want to see thoughtful answers, and hopefully a clearer picture of you as an applicant,” states Alastair Brewer, recruitment and admissions manager of MBA programs at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business.

2. Under developing your personal brand in an MBA admission essay

The lack of a well-defined personal brand leaves the admissions team without a clear sense of who you are or the kind of candidate you will be—an already challenging task in a competitive pool of applicants.

Highlighting your unique strengths and goals is a great way to give an admissions team a concrete understanding of what you will bring to an MBA class, and how an MBA fits into your career trajectory. A compelling way to do this could be sharing a personal story that showcases how you applied your technical and interpersonal skills to solve a problem.

“Be yourself and tell us your own unique story. Candidates who spend time on self-reflection and then lean into what truly matters most to them will be well on their way to crafting essays that our team will be thrilled to read,” says Lindsay Loyd, executive director of MBA admissions at NYU Stern School of Business.

3. Not answering all parts of the MBA essay question

In the effort to maintain a personal brand throughout your application, it can be easy to fall into a repetitive approach to various questions. MBA applications typically feature two to four questions, and can vary significantly in format and style, such as the Kellogg video essay or the open-ended Harvard MBA essay. 

To better tailor your responses to the unique requirements of each question, it’s useful to break the title down into small and specific components to address in your answer. Considering the word count can also give you valuable insight into the level of detail they might be looking for. The BusinessBecause Essay Guide is a useful resource to learn more about different MBA essay questions.

“A good tip is to cover the prompt and ask someone to read it for you and guess what the prompt or question was,” says Rebecca Mallen-Churchill, director of graduate recruitment and admissions from the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

Click here to download the free BusinessBecause MBA Essay Guide 2024   


4. Not being direct enough in your MBA essay

The strict word limits of essays pose a significant challenge in finding the balance between conciseness and conveying yourself in the best light. While this might mean sacrificing points you may wish to make, the ability to prioritize arguments and communicate complex ideas succinctly can help your essay stand out.

On average, MBA students go through 10-20 drafts before finalizing their submission. It’s good practice to carefully proofread and edit your work each time, making the effort to fine tune your language as you go.

“Applicants often become so determined to drive home a particular point, or worse, drift off into a tangent, that they fail to succinctly answer the question. Don't answer with "what" when the question asks "how?" or "why?",” says Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman MBA Admissions Consulting.

5. Leaving your MBA admission essay to the last minute

Rushing through your MBA essay makes the first four pitfalls on this list increasingly hard to combat. In addition to producing many drafts, it’s important to consider the amount of time required for planning and research, proofreading, and carrying out other tasks within the application process.

Timeframes will also differ, as some schools include the essay questions in the final submission package, while others shortlist candidates before giving essay questions.

Setting personal deadlines in advance is a great way to stay on top of the various essays and deadlines. By starting the process well in advance, you can set the essay aside and look at it again with fresh eyes.

“You spend so much time on your application and essays; finish them within enough time that you can take a break and then proofread one last time,” says J.R. McGrath, executive director of masters admissions at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.

Writing a good MBA essay is no easy feat, but if you keep this list in mind throughout your essay-writing journey, you’ll be well-equipped to present a stand-out business school application.