The single most important thing you can do when you hit submit on your MBA application is to be confident that it’s the very best reflection of you and your candidacy – no matter which admissions round you’re targeting.
Having reviewed thousands of applications during my career in MBA admissions, as head of Admissions at INSEAD and now Director at Fortuna Admissions, I’ve read many a terrific application undermined by a careless and preventable mistake.
Whether you’re putting on the polish for a round two deadline or planning a strategy for the next application cycle, here are five key actions to take before submitting your MBA application – along with common mistakes to avoid.
BEFORE YOU HIT SUBMIT ON YOUR MBA APPLICATION
1. Ensure you’ve built a consistent, coherent narrative.
Every element of the application, taken together, should unify to create a picture of the real you – your accomplishments and ambitions, your potential and your individuality. Sometimes it’s a balancing act between communicating the range of skills and experience you bring to an MBA program and getting a specific message across. From the details of the application form to your resume, essays, and letters of recommendation, every piece should work in your favor, and tell a consistent, unified story.
As you review, ask yourself: What are the key messages I want to convey, and do they come through in each element of my application? Are there any areas where I can remove unnecessary duplication? Know that admissions readers will also be scanning for any inconsistencies, including what people say about you (i.e. MBA letters of recommendation), and what you say about yourself. If your application doesn’t hang together or contribute to the same story, that will raise a red flag.
2. Remove any redundancy.
Beyond reviewing for coherency and consistency, you’ll want to avoid any redundancy between sections. If you’ve highlighted an accomplishment or leadership story in the application form, don’t go repeating the same story in your essays. Your essays, in particular, offer precious real estate to convey your uniqueness, so this is where you want to capture your reader’s attention by bringing your story to life. Redundancy in your MBA essays will be perceived as wasting the reader’s time.
A common pitfall is writing a resume-to-prose style essay – not only does it repeat what may be cited elsewhere in your application, but it also robs your story of the potential for making an emotional connection. The same goes for overfocusing on details of some consulting project versus lifting up the lessons learned that shaped who you are.
3. Let your authenticity shine.
The more authentic you are in your application, the more interesting you will be to the admissions committee. As noted above, above and beyond your professional excellence and academic triumphs, the admissions committee wants to know who you are, what you care about, and what makes you unique. Schools pride themselves on really getting to know you as an individual during the admissions process. That’s why it’s essential to build in substantial time for self-reflection on the front end and ensure it shines through when you hit submit.
Too many applicants waste valuable time speculating what admissions officers want to hear and crafting a narrative to fit the ‘perfect profile.’ The reality is that there’s no ‘one profile’ that’s more admissible than any other. Introspection will inspire greater self-awareness, which, in turn, will help you to come across as mature and sincere in your application.
4. Ensure alignment with your online presence.
It’s no secret that your social media posts are fair game to the MBA admissions committee, which Fortuna’s Sharon Joyce reinforces in her recent article, How to Optimize LinkedIn: 10 Tips for MBA Applicants. The latest survey data from Kapan Test Prep in 2021 revealed that more two-thirds of MBA admissions officers visit an applicant’s social media profiles to aid their decision-making. And, of those that screen applicants’ social media, 58% say that what they found had a negative impact, up significantly from 32 percent in 2019 (42% found something that had a positive impact).
Know that a quick skim can impart incoherence, or, alternatively, a compelling personal brand. Again, the MBA admissions will be screening for consistency across your personal and professional identities. Do you seem like the person you represented on paper? How does your LinkedIn profile reflect your personal brand, and is it consistent with the information and achievements you’ve represented across your application? If you’re invited to join this MBA community, will you represent the school well? In coaching Fortuna Admissions clients, my colleagues and I integrate a thorough social media audit in the early stages of the application strategy.
Google your name and check your online footprint. A robust presence on LinkedIn is a must-have; at the minimum, make sure your profile is up to date. Review the privacy settings on your social accounts, check pictures you feature. You don’t want an admissions officer stumbling across something that reflects poorly on your maturity or judgment, from a snarky tweet about your boss to a photo of you partying without a mask amid social distancing mandates.
5. Don’t rush an unfinished application.
Like removing a cake from the oven before it’s finished baking, your application will fall flat if you rush it at the end. While it is vital to take the 30,000-foot view of the key messages you’re conveying across your application (see tip 1), you should also thoroughly review it word by word, noting any points to check or revisit. Admissions reviewers have a practiced eye for spotting errors or sloppiness, such as copy-pasting one section of an essay from another application and leaving in the wrong school name. (Alas, it really does happen, and with alarming regularity!). Other common errors include misreporting GMATs or GPAs (where the self-reported data on the application form doesn’t match the transcript) or even mixing up your birthdate with the application deadline!
So double-check the details and, better yet, find someone to review everything. It’s invaluable to enlist help from someone who can critique your applications and give you objective, candid feedback.
Finally, put yourself in an admissions reviewer’s shoes: You want to read something that seems ambitious, honest, thought-provoking and even a little entertaining – something that you can’t put down until the end. Present your story in a way that’s both meticulous and memorable, and you’ll set yourself up for submitting a standout application.
For more insights on what to do before you hit submit, listen to my discussion on this topic with John A. Byrne and Maria Wich-Villa in our recent Business Casual podcast.
Fortuna Admissions Co-Director Caroline Diarte Edwards is the former INSEAD director of admissions, marketing and financial aid. She is also an alumnae of INSEAD’s MBA program. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.