3 Surprising Application Mistakes Prospective MBAs Make

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com

When it comes to making mistakes on a business school application, there are many places where candidates can run afoul and ruin their chances at admission.

The road to an MBA contains countless potential pitfalls, including writing the wrong school name or otherwise failing to proofread; having generic essays designed to impress rather than reveal; and choosing recommenders based on their titles, not your relationship with them.

However, there are also more process-oriented mistakes students commonly make – and ways to avoid them.

[Follow these tips to recover from a botched MBA interview.]

Reality Check: Unrealistic School Selection

With all of the hype around the top b-school brands, it’s no wonder most applicants dream of earning their MBA at Harvard University or Stanford University. The cold, hard truth, however, is that these schools admit a tiny fraction of applicants each cycle.

Harvard Business School admitted just 12 percent of applicants to the class of 2015, while Stanford offered a seat to a mere 8 percent. Programs like those at University of California—Berkeley Haas School of Business or MIT Sloan School of Management are only a tad less competitive, with acceptance rates of about 14 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

This doesn’t mean you should abandon all hope of attending one of the world’s best business schools, especially if your stats are strong and your extracurriculars and leadership examples varied. But, should you happen to fall in the camp of the other 85 percent of applicants – that is, the vast majority – then the subject of having appropriate back-up schools comes into play.

Not all programs are the same, so I suggest applicants do a lot of research as well as soul-searching prior to the school selection process. Being realistic about your profile and aligning yourself with programs that mesh with your particular academic and professional background is the surest recipe for success.

[Look beyond a top business school for your MBA.]

Reality Check: Scores Affect Selection

As we’ve talked about in this space before, preparing early and adequately for the entrance exam is critical. You can’t be stressing about studying for the GMAT or GRE when you should be focused on drafting compelling application essays or cultivating additional leadership opportunities.

Truth is, the school selection process will be greatly influenced by your GMAT score. While each year we hear of that miracle case where someone gets into Harvard with a 550, it’s likely that person’s profile was so extraordinary in every other way that it offset the low score.

It would be foolhardy to believe you too have a decent chance simply because a handful of people out of 10,000 applicants made it in with a score nearly 100 points below the median.

Use your GMAT or GRE score as a barometer to determine a comfortable range of schools to target. If you do decide to go for the “reach school” as well despite a middling test score, make sure you incorporate the fact that you have a low score into your overall strategy.

Reality Check: You’re Not Ready for B-School – Yet

A huge mistake, and one that’s more common that you’d think, is applying to business school before you are really ready. It is true MBA programs are skewing younger these days, accepting applicants with five or fewer years of work experience rather than the typical seven of the past, but that just means candidates need to be even more amazing in less time.

Ask yourself if you have had enough life experiences to provide an interesting perspective to a class. Will your potential recommenders act as champions for your cause, or is your relationship with a supervisor still new and untested? Can you devote time to improving your test score in order to expand your portfolio of program options? Would taking another year to strengthen your profile make more sense and yield better results?

Making 100 percent sure that an MBA is the right step at this time is a crucial part of the soul-searching I mentioned above, and once you can answer in the affirmative, you can embark on the challenging but rewarding journey toward an MBA.


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