This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com
Background checks in MBA admissions are more common for some schools than others, but their overall use is growing. Some programs vet every admitted applicant, others randomly select a percentage of candidates and still others delve further only when something seems to raise a red flag. The process usually take place in the spring, after all application rounds have passed and candidates begin sending in their deposits.
The vast majority of people shouldn’t stress over this verification process. Business schools aren’t on a mission to grill candidates about every last detail of their applications. They simply want to ensure that applicants have honestly represented themselves, their experience and their accomplishments.
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Sometimes applicants are screened because their profile is unusual or difficult to verify, such as if their work experience included time in a startup or at a failed startup, in a small family firm or at a company abroad, and the admissions office simply needs to clarify and confirm the details.
Typical reasons for rejecting a candidate include ethical lapses or questionable behavior, not disclosing a layoff or firing, evidence of plagiarism and not disclosing a criminal conviction. Willful deception or lying by omission will jeopardize your admission – not minor discrepancies such as being off by a month when listing your employment dates. Most schools give applicants a chance to explain any plausible mistakes.
Though I can’t share specific examples due to confidentiality issues, I have had clients who have had problems with background checks. In some cases, an offer of admission was revoked following the background check. In one situation, the student had already started school and was escorted out due to an omission on the application. It wasn’t because of a lie, but rather that this person failed to include information the program would have wanted to know about during the application process.
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According to a Wall Street Journal piece published earlier this year, Stanford Graduate School of Business began instituting background checks within the past decade under Dean Derrick Bolton, and now all accepted students go through verification tests. Business schools can investigate application details that include everything from recommenders, employment and education history, extracurricular and professional involvements, leadership roles and even authenticate anecdotes from application essays.
The Wall Street Journal piece goes on to note that the school typically rescinds offers to a few students each year based on these tests, but the omissions are the hardest to deal with. Bolton told the Journal that two candidates last year did not disclose prior graduate studies, even though they had each graduated with top marks.
“There was no issue had it been disclosed. The issue was the deception,” he’s quoted as saying, and their acceptance offers were rescinded.
If you’re on the fence about whether to include or explain something in your application, chances are you probably should mention it. When the issue is something like poor academic performance or a gap in employment history, it’s always best to come completely clean. The admissions team isn’t looking for perfection in applicants.
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Major failures can translate into a story about lessons learned and self-improvement which can actually help your candidacy if you show how you’ve become a wiser, more humble person because of them. However, if the incident you’re wondering about including is personal in nature and does not appear anywhere on your official record, you may decide not to draw unnecessary attention to it.
If you learn that your admission is conditional pending corroboration of your professional, academic or personal background, your best option is to cooperate quickly and completely to facilitate the verification process. The schools just want to make sure all applicants are who they say they are.
If you’re meticulous about presenting the facts, haven’t exaggerated or lied, and have explained any lapses in judgment that could come back to haunt you, you’ll have nothing to worry about.