5 Mistakes That Land MBA Applications in the Reject Pile | TopMBA.com

5 Mistakes That Land MBA Applications in the Reject Pile

By Abhishek Sahay

Updated September 12, 2019 Updated September 12, 2019

Let’s cut to the chase. The competition for a spot at top business schools is brutal. Your GMAT score, the big brand on your résumé, your volunteer experience and your impressive extracurricular activities are not enough – far from it! These are sufficient to get some attention, but winning applications go way beyond these.

The bad news for you is that, considering the daunting acceptance rate statistics, your application needs to be flawless. The good news, however, is that most applicants make similar mistakes and if you know these in advance, you could improve your chances drastically. So, let’s look at the top five mistakes to avoid during the MBA application.

Ignoring the ‘overall’ MBA application

Many applicants consider the essay, resume and recommendations as distinct, stand-alone aspects but it’s important to realize that it’s all part of the same application. Step back and look at your overall MBA application. Do you see common themes? Do the stories and skills you’ve highlighted in your essay align well with your resume? Will your recommendation letters be a strong verification of your achievements?

This approach would also help you identify constant repetitions in your MBA applications. Your essay should effectively reflect your achievements beyond the bullet points mentioned in your resume.

Misunderstanding the volunteer experience

If you take time out of your busy schedule in order to gain volunteer experience and work for the less fortunate, that’s laudable – with or without the MBA application in the picture. But bear in mind that what top business schools are really looking for, is less about your concern for the poor and more about the leadership you have demonstrated in your volunteer experience.

For example, donating your old clothes for a charity is nothing remarkable as a demonstration of your leadership skills. However, if you have initiated or managed such a clothes collection drive (or something similar), that’s certainly impressive volunteer experience, worth highlighting in your application.

Submitting an impersonal and ‘boring’ MBA essay

Listing your personal and professional achievement is important, but you must spend time weaving an interesting story out of them. If top business schools only wanted a list of achievements, a résumé would be more or less sufficient. The schools want to ‘know you well’.

Bear in mind that your application is not being read by a bunch of robots who view you as a sum of lifeless statistics. Your MBA essay will be judged by real human beings, and for two candidates with the same credentials, the essay with the better story is more likely to engage the reader effectively.

It’s not a writing competition, but try putting yourself in the shoes of the admissions committee – they read thousands of essays and it’s only human that applicants with engaging essays will stand out in the minds of the readers.

Insufficient research for top business schools

Before jumping to your MBA essay, pause and reflect – are you certain you have chosen the right set of schools? Don’t be guided solely by business school rankings – they are a good starting point but they are too generic and may not fit your personal and professional goals.

The depth of your research will not only help you differentiate between the MBA programs but this research would go a long way in crafting your essays. Top business schools need to be wooed and generic reasons will leave readers unimpressed.

Use all available resources – school websites, interviews with deans, alumni networks - when crafting your application. You need to be specific in your MBA essay, for example, talk about the courses that align with your goals, the clubs that you would lead and the contributions you would make as an alumni member.

Choosing your recommenders based on title

If you’ve worked closely with the managing director or a senior partner of your company and he/she has guaranteed to invest time to write your recommendation, go for it! But realistically, this would not be the case for most applicants.

Given a choice between a person with a senior title with whom you have little engagement, and someone with a junior title who swears by you, go for the latter. Top business schools have influential CEOs as alums so it’s unlikely they will be wowed by impressive titles.

This article was originally published in October 2014 . It was last updated in September 2019

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Written by

Abhishek Sahay is currently pursuing his MBA at INSEAD. He was accepted into Wharton (with scholarship), Kellogg and INSEAD. He is now working on a unique, new approach to help applicants fulfil their MBA dreams.

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