Pro MBA application tip: The secret to creating a well-rounded business school application is to avoid cutting corners.
If you’re planning to apply to business school, we can bet that you’re not the type to give just 90%. You are willing to go above and beyond to ensure that your MBA application is thorough, thoughtful, and, above all, effective. How do we know this? Well, because we’ve seen your type before.
As you approach you MBA applications, you will likely feel energized and motivated, ready to tackle every last question with gusto. Each essay prompt will seem like a new opportunity to prove yourself, and you’ll likely have your interview outfit planned before you’ve even hit ‘submit’.
But then, seemingly out of nowhere, your deadlines are knocking…
Here’s what we’ve learned: Deadlines are total creeps. They lurk in the shadows and then jump out when you’re least expecting it. One moment you thought everything was going fine, and the next you have a date on a calendar breathing down your neck.
For many business school applicants, this is the moment when they start searching for shortcuts. Slowly but surely, the phrase “good enough” replaces “exceptional” and they jeopardize their application as they race to complete it.
So how can you prevent this from happening? The best way is to schedule adequate time for the portions of the application that are often pushed to the backburner, forgotten, and subsequently go up in flames. Don’t know what parts those are? Don’t worry — We got you.
4 Parts of the MBA Application that Don’t Get Enough Attention
→ Holistic Vision
Let’s start with the big kahuna: The holistic vision for your application.
Sure, this important element of the MBA app may not be something that often gets put off until the last minute, but it is something that tends to be ignored completely.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: A strong MBA application tells a consistent story about your qualities, your experience, your goals, etc. If your application doesn’t have common threads holding each element together, you better believe it’s going to fall apart. The admissions committee is looking to gain a clear vision of who you are so they know exactly what to expect from you as a member of their student body.
This best way to build a solid narrative for your application is to first get real with yourself. Spend some time alone with your thoughts and dig deep into who you are, what you value, and where you see yourself in the future. Start with broad ideas and then narrow them down to determine your greatest passions, accomplishments, and goals.
From there, it’s time to define the characteristics you are going to focus on in your application. While we know your list of positive attributes is never-ending, it’s important to select just 3-5 to emphasize in your essays, short answers, recommendations, resume, and *fingers crossed* interview.
Throughout every portion of your application, It’s crucial that you hone in on these characteristics as well as the overarching narrative for why you are applying for an MBA. If you do this, you will be more successful in the next few parts of the application that don’t get enough attention.
→ Short Answer Questions
One of the many, many reasons you ought to read over every application in full before you get started is so you aren’t surprised by the tasks that need to be completed before you submit. All too often, MBA applicants think they’ve reached the end of the tunnel only to find they missed a handful of short answer questions. The result? This portion of their application is filled out hastily just before the final deadline.
Here are some tips on making the most of short answer questions:
1. Know what they’re asking. This seems like a no-brainer but many applicants fail to understand the heart of each question and, as a result, provide insufficient answers. Read each question carefully to ensure you know precisely what the admissions committee will be looking for in your response.
2. Dive in. Once you are clear on the short answer prompts, brainstorm different ideas on how you will answer each question, while making sure to follow the theme of your application without being redundant. If possible, use this section as a new opportunity to mitigate your weaknesses or highlight your strengths. Once you know how you’d like to answer the question, write down your response without worrying about the word count.
3. Pare it down. Once you’ve written a lengthy response, it’s time to circle back to the dreaded word count requirement. Remember: In a short answer question, every word counts. Keep the following things in mind while shortening your responses.
- Do your best to cut out passive words by rearranging sentences.
- Using descriptive language will eliminate unnecessary adverbs like ‘very’ or ‘really’.
- Don’t repeat the question. Dive right in to your answer to grab the reader’s attention.
Warning: Your MBA application resume should not be a recycled version of your job application resume. An effective job resume focuses on specific technical abilities and work-related language, while a strong MBA application resume is more effective when it presents overarching themes tying together your abilities and experience.
Here are few resume tips that may seem inconsequential, but make a big difference:
- Use action words. Each point in the ‘professional’ section of your resume should begin with a powerful action word. For example, choose “implemented” over “helped create” or “conceived” instead of “worked on”.
- Don’t over exaggerate your skills and abilities. Remember, anything you list may come up in an interview later and you’ll need be able to back it up.
- Be specific. Tell the reader exactly what you did in your roles and how it positively impacted your workplace/team. Use numbers and data whenever possible.
- Stay relevant. Only mention university and graduate studies, not high school.
- Be concise. Keep your additional information to the point. However, it is okay to share a couple fun facts about yourself such as your favorite hobby or travel destination.
If you’re wondering how you could possibly put more time into your recommendations when they are being written by someone else, then this section is for you.
Too many MBA applicants treat their letters of recommendation as an opportunity to kick back and leave the hard work up to someone else. Unfortunately, this often results in recommendations that are inconsistent with the rest of the application, submitted late, and don’t effectively answer the questions at hand.
With a little extra effort, you can solicit excellent letters of recommendation that strengthen your whole application:
- Choose wisely. The best letters of recommendation are written by people who have worked closely with the MBA applicant. If you’re trying to decide whether to ask the CEO you’ve crossed paths with a couple times or your supervisor you work with on a daily basis, go with the latter.
- Plan ahead. It’s vital that you give your recommenders enough time to write an effective letter. Chances are, your recommender is balancing a busy schedule and they won’t be able to drop everything to write you a stand-out recommendation without proper notice. Do them a favor by asking far in advance and be clear about deadlines.
- Help them help you. Spend some time organizing all the materials your recommender will need such as your resume, personal statement, etc. Make sure they know why you are applying for an MBA, what your future goals are, which of your skills, qualities, and experience you would like them to focus on, and why you chose to ask them for a recommendation in the first place.