Most of you are working up a sweat to get these applications done. No doubt, the essay is likely tripping you up. And the reason is that MBA essays are a type of writing that you may have never done. Or it may have been years since you wrote something similar. In fact, you may have to reach all the way back to your college applications for such a joy-filled experience.
Here are six ways, you can really mess up your MBA essays and, in turn, your application:
1. What color is the sky? I think it is going to rain.
Not answering the question is likely the most common mistake most applicants make. While MBA essay prompts may not be as straightforward as a question about the weather, there is always a question embedded in there: you must answer it … somewhere in the essay. Any essay that asks about goals, must include the words, “my short term goal is….” And “my long term goal is….”
2. You want to be what exactly?
While we’re on the topic of goals, it is important that your goal is as concrete as possible. You want to present your goal so that all those who read your essay will understand the same goal as any other reader. You don’t want a goal with multiple meanings, all left up to the reader to interpret.
3. When I was in kindergarten, I was the captain of the kickball team.
There is a thin line between being too aspirational and being too backward looking. Business school is a step into the future. So, you must let the school know you have aspirations that will act as your North star throughout your career. While this is true for the vast majority of schools, beware as there are one or two schools (MIT Sloan in particular) that believe “past is prologue.” These schools want to hear about your previous accomplishments as a gauge of for your future successes.
4. HBS is not Stanford which is not MIT Sloan which is not Wharton.
MBA programs have very different ways of seeing the world. For a compelling application and essay, you must be able to articulate these differences. HBS and Wharton are similar in many, many ways (not the least of which is an acceptance rate that hovers around 10%), but what makes for a compelling application is recognizing their differences and reflecting your understanding through your essays.
5. Yes, the web doesn’t tell you everything.
Specificity is credibility. You must, must be specific throughout your application. Why is this school unique? And, how will you benefit from this uniqueness? To answer these questions, you must do research; research that goes beyond each school’s website to include attending webinars, receptions and, ideally, school visits. Speak to current students or recent alumni. They, better than anyone, can provide you with the inside scoop.
6. Colombia or Columbia?
While obvious in theory, it is amazing how many people don’t actually have their essays proofread. Proofreading effectively requires someone else spending some time reviewing not just your essay but every part of your application. This would include things as simple as your date of birth, previous jobs, and short answer questions. But it goes beyond that to include such nuances as the name of the school you are applying to. It is not Yale Business School, it is Yale School of Management. At Notre Dame, it is the Mendoza College of Business. Don’t forget the “Booth” when applying to the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. It cost David Booth, $300 million to get his name there, so I think he – and the admissions committee – would appreciate you giving him a shout out.
These are some very specific ways that you can blow your MBA application essays. The root cause for all these mistakes is not giving yourself enough time. Business school applications are hard, and submitting good ones require weeks to months of effort. Do you have the time to create and proofread school-specific essays with clear goals that point to a very specific career trajectory and are fun to read? If not, now may be the time to rethink some things. You may be better off working on Plan B.