How to Blow Your Chances of Getting Into a Top Business School

With the top business schools rejecting up to 90 percent of their applicants, many of whom are more than qualified, how can aspiring MBAs manage the admissions process? Avoiding these common mistakes can improve your chances of getting into a top-rated B-school, even if your record is not perfect:

Relying only on second-hand information
Cruising B-school websites and YouTube channels will get you only so far. Leave the house and visit the schools you want to get into. Speak with faculty and current and former students to see if this is the right place for you.

Trying to fit into a particular B-school mold
So you like wearing shorts and flip-flops all year-round. Not everyone is right for a certain school, and admissions officers look for personal fit as much as for qualifications. Tell your unique story, rather than trying to be Joe or Jane B-school.

Focusing only on career and professional achievements
How many amateur taxidermists are there in business school? Reveal your passions and unique qualities through activities outside of work and personal interests.

Failing to be honest about obvious weaknesses
No one is perfect, and admissions officers often are interested in what you learned that semester you took 20 credits and tried to start a pet-sitting business out of your dorm room. If you do not proactively explain mistakes such as low test scores or a blemish on your academic record, admissions officers will come to their own conclusions.

Having too many people review your application essay
Just because your aunt has a doctorate in 11th century Persian poets doesn’t make her the best choice to help you with your 21st century B-school essay. Every person who reviews an essay will have suggestions. Pick a few trusted advisers and work with them, or the essay could become a watered-down “essay by committee” and show less about you as an individual.

Failing to manage the recommendation process
Many applicants treat recommendations as the “drop-off-and-forget” part of an application or ask the wrong person to participate—such as your high school chemistry teacher who hasn’t seen you in 10 years. Select someone who knows you personally.

Sacrificing quality to submit applications in the earliest round possible
Tpyos (such as this one), incomplete sentences, missing punctuation, and blank spots (food stains, too)—are all signs that you whipped through you application too fast. Admissions officers want quality applications more than first-round applications. So don’t rush; it will show.

Not preparing adequately for the admissions interview
“I’ll get back to you on that” is never an impressive answer. An admissions interview is an opportunity for you to show why you are suited for a particular program. Anticipate questions and practice your responses.

Not being realistic about yourself
Admissions officers sometimes wonder how applicants have time to develop a PowerPoint presentation amid the oil painting, tutoring, skiing, sky diving, flower arranging, foreign film watching, blogging, environment saving, soup kitchen work, judo studying, and overseas traveling some people claim to do every week.

Not taking the time to demonstrate what makes you unique
You and your future B-school won’t experience a “win-win” if you sprinkle your essay with such clichés as “thinking outside the box” or “blue sky.” Good admissions officers can spot a fake a mile off; “canned responses” reveal that an applicant is not showing his or her true self.

Every business school is different, and admissions officers are looking for applicants who will succeed in their particular program as well as in the world after graduation. Showing who you are, your potential, and even how you overcame blemishes to your otherwise perfect record give insight into your potential as a student and as a business leader.

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