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10 Common mistakes in MBA application and essay writing that must be avoided

Writing the MBA application essays is an art which may not be that easy to learn and implement. However, knowing what not to do during MBA application process is definitely a science. Here is an attempt to translate this into 10 simple tips on what one must avoid while selecting the b-schools and writing the essays, which form a critical parameter for selection.

1) Not researching the schools well –

MBA is big decision and perhaps a life changing event. One must do a good amount of introspection regarding short term and long term goals, interests, individual personality before identifying the schools to apply to. MBA schools are very particular about fit and one must do research on culture, specializations, activities and student profiles of various b-schools while short-listing.

Also, do not forget parameters such as location, duration and your budget while taking the call.

2) Not being yourself –

A very common mistake applicants make is faking either what they have done or what they are as a person. This does not help at all. Even if a candidate manages to get an interview call, adcoms are smart enough to identify what you have made up.

Self reflection should tell you what the strengths you actually possess are and what are your weaknesses. Writing what you are in essays will give you confidence to face interviews well.

3) Being flamboyant or demeaning others –

This is a complete NO. Do not ever try to boast too much about yourself. You do need to sell your profile to the adcom but never give a feeling of being arrogant.

While you are free to appreciate your qualities, you are not supposed to demean others. For example – you can’t say, “I often took initiative in my team while other team members never did so”.

4) Usage of heavy English –

The MBA selection board wants to know you and this may not necessarily need heavy English. A good usage of vocabulary is advised. However, one should not expect the adcom to read the essays with a dictionary in hand.

Write the way you are comfortable. Do not insert heavy words just for the sake of it.

5) Using the abused words and buzzwords

Sometimes applicants feel that usage of hot words such as globalization, e-commerce, synergy, diversity etc will put some more weight to their application. On the contrary, it reduces the quality of your essays. An occasional or relevant usage is fine but please do not overuse these.

Also try to highlight your traits indirectly rather than using the abused words like ‘Leadership’, ‘Team player” etc which have become cliché. Instead you could use traits that reflect leadership. Eg – “Standing for the team in hour of need” or “creating examples for others to follow”

6) Inconsistency –

If you have written taking initiative as strength at one place, you can not indicate the same as an improvement area somewhere else in your application.

Contradictions of any kind should be eliminated during the essay reviews.

7) Not being specific –

Details do matter. You have to support your points with examples. Demonstrated qualities add more value to your profile than just saying, I have been excellent at a particular skill.

8) Problem of plenty –

An essay should not contain too many points. In order to leave a mark on the admissions committee when it reads your essay, it is imperative that story is built around a few points and a coherent theme emerges.

This also applies to overall application. Hence you cannot bring out 10 strength areas in different essays. Just focus on say 3-4 traits and highlight them in different ways throughout the application.

9) Excess of ornamentation –

Creativity is good but one should note that you are not writing a poem. Refrain from excessive mentions of quotations or using too much of rhyme or artistic language

10) Only explaining ‘What’, not explaining ‘How’ and ‘Why’ –

It does not suffice to write that you got business worth USD 20 million for your organization, you must briefly mention how (i.e. what specific steps you took to get this).

Similarly if you say you like social service, do mention why do you do this (what motivates you)

How to bring out the “diversity factor” in MBA essays

B-School essays can be broadly categorized into three types

a) The diversity essay

b) The why MBA-why this school-goals essay

c) The general personality questions – leadership, ethical dilemma, challenges.

I am going to elaborate on the diversity essay here.

The diversity essay is the most crucial one and usually the toughest one to write. The schools do not necessarily expect to see things such as “I was a national level dancer”, in this essay. Two points that should be kept in mind while writing this essay are – what is it that makes you different from your comparable group and secondly, what was your learning from this experience and how is that going to help you/your peers at the B-School.

By “comparable group”, I mean people who are coming from similar backgrounds. So, if you are a doctor, you would be compared with other applicants from the medical background. By “different”, I mean something that you did better than others in your regular responsibilities or something that you did apart from your regular responsibilities. By “learning”, I mean something that will take you closer to your goals or help you contribute to the MBA class, in terms of soft skills, knowledge sharing or domain expertise.

The next thing is – structure of this essay. Most people, when asked to write this essay in 500 words, tend to put down as many as 5 diversity points. Ideally, if not asked for a certain number of points, this essay should be woven around one central theme or, at the maximum, three diversity points. Every diversity point should have the following components

  • Explicit statement of the point you are trying to make
  • Some data from your professional life/ academics/ extra activities to support this point
  • The learning from this experience and the contribution that you are going to make to the peer group with the help of this experience.

The “learning/contribution” is the most important component, which most of the applicants tend to ignore. Research more about the school, the clubs and other activities, class size and experience and think more about your goals, this will help you in writing this component.

Lastly, one common mistake that I have seen across applications – people write things such as “I have a positive attitude”, “I am a quick learner”. These are great adjectives but these never count as diversity points. Who would ever say that he doesn’t have positive attitude. Think deeper about your life and I am sure you’ll get better points for this essay.

Life cycle of a B school essay

Application essays are very often an aspect of B school admissions that puts the best of students into first gear mode. The whole prospect of sitting with pen and paper (this reference is metaphorical, for we know that the pen and paper age is well left behind and forgotten. Sigh!!!) and writing where you came from and where you intend to go is not like watching Megan Fox in the Transformers. And strangely enough the belief that writing essays begin with putting pen onto paper is probably the farthest away from the truth as you can get. The life cycle of an essay has many stages. And while I do agree that you can write great essays without following this approach to the tee, if truth be told it is very much the recommended approach.

The first stage and the most important one of them all is the Brainstorming stage. This is the thinking cap phase. It would do the applicant a world of good if he/she can introspect and identify career goals and how they tie in with his/her profile. An exercise to also spare thought on a string of significant personal milestones that made a difference to the applicant either professionally and personally will also be of great use.

The next stage is the ‘Creating a career sketch’ phase. This is basically putting your thoughts from the earlier phase into plain text. Since you are not guided by any questions per se, please feel free to highlight all that you think is significant. Based on the comfort of the applicant, this can be put down in free prose, bulleted lists or even verse (ok if you can do this, you should probably attempt writing your own version of ‘The Golden Gate’).

It is only after finishing the above two stages that you should get down to the brick and mortar writing the essay exercise. You can now cull out details from your career sketch to answer the essay question for the B school of your choice. You will be pleasantly surprised how easy finding a plot for your essays get with this approach. This will also hold you in good stead if you are making multiple applications.

The essay now in hand, you can subject it to a review process. It might be a good idea to run this past an unbiased, trained third eye and once the semantics and the content are whetted; your essays are pretty much good to go.

Click submit or post the essay transcripts as the case may be and keep your fingers crossed.

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Best advise from experts for b school applicants

Writing an Application for B-SCHOOL is the hardest part of the application process. To make it a bit simpler we have some advice from the B-School experts, on what do they expect in an application.

A.keith Vaighn of Marshall School of Business, University of South California, says “The applicants should just be their selves and follow directions. Schools are not trying to trick them, but are trying to know who they are.”

Monika Gray, University of Georgetown advises applicants to be true to who they are. She says “The biggest mistake the candidates make when preparing an application is to try to figure out who we are trying to preview and who we think is the best candidate and leave out lots of important things about themselves.”

According to her, most students fail to understand that B-schools are looking for all-rounded people who are interesting and that doesn’t have to relate to something that seems business school related. “When we ask students about their hobbies and interests , they say following the stock market. It is fine to have such a hobby, if it really is, but if your hobby is playing socker, jogging or mountain climbing that’s perfectly fine to admit, because most people find their creative solutions outside their work space. So it’s important to us that we have students who do interesting things and not solely focus on whatever they are interested in doing professionally, as it helps them balance themselves. So , be honest about who you are and develop that personal profile and not just assume that everything has to go specifically matching your career.”

According to Richard G . Miller, Carey Business School, John Hopkins University. “Make sure you turn the interview into you being the interviewer. Ask the right question.”

Gaynor Jones, Freeman school of Business, Tulane University says “Keep it simple. It is important for the candidate to put across basics about themselves. When we look at an applicant or an application comes in , we try to get an idea about who the applicant is . We don’t want to read the same thing and boring stuff. Make it different and interesting, yet complete and simple.”
Alice Hiang, Hult International Business school agrees and says,” Try to use application to let yourself come through. We get hundreds of applications , those who let their personal story and unique characteristics come through, are the ones who are selected”.
Glenns Burman, Rutger Business school, comments ” When it comes to an application, you have to treat it as an opportunity to get in through the door. It has to represent you to the best of your abilities. Understand that you have one shot to make 1st impression. Make sure its complete, make sure its on time or even early, especially when applying for some finantial aid or scholarship. One should understand that its more than just a piece of paper, it is you. I do not know the person, I can come to who you are at that point is through that application.


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