MBA Admissions A-Z: E is for Essay

Check out the rest of our MBA Admissions A-Z series. Next up in our MBA Admissions A-Z series is E for Essay, a topic on which we could very easily write an entire book. (Hey – we DID write an entire book. Scroll down for details.)

Here we are going to focus on 4 critical MBA admission essay mistakes. Make sure that your essays DON’T include any of these:

1. Buzzwords

Try this on for size: “I plan on penetrating the B2C e-commerce bubble by starting my own synergistic company. Additionally, I want to lead empowering seminars about diversity awareness in the workplace for the human resources space.”

Unfortunately, creating an MBA application essay isn’t as simple as piecing together a string of keywords. Many applicants think that if they include industry buzzwords in their essays, then they’ll come off sounding like experts in the field. Recipe for success? More like recipe for disaster. Buzzwords don’t make you look smart; they make you look unoriginal. (Of course, you can use a few buzzwords when absolutely necessary. Just make sure they clarify and inform as opposed to confuse and obscure.)

2. Grandiose Statements

Don’t merely discuss a value or belief; illustrate it. “I want to give back to my community.” Okay, thanks for the info…now tell me something else: HOW? Or WHY? When have you lived this value in the past? How do you plan on focusing your energy on helping your community in the future? Furthermore, why do you feel a calling to contribute to your community? Give me some details here!

Maybe this is what you meant: “When I was suddenly orphaned at 16 years old, my local church bent over backwards to help revive me and my twin brother after the paralyzing tragedy. The community members went beyond simply feeding and clothing us, by caring for us and loving us in the absence of our parents. Their boundless kindness inspired me to found my not-for-profit organization; it helps teenage orphans keep their heads above water after tragedy strikes by supplying material as well as emotional support.”

3. Whining

Complaining about your application blemishes only draws attention to them. If you aren’t happy with your GPA, then take responsibility for your low grades, and if relevant, provide context that explains why you did poorly…and then move on. If possible, portray your liabilities as assets by discussing the ways in which you’ve grown from your experiences, or  point to times when you excelled in similar circumstances. But please, keep the tone mature. Nobody likes a crybaby.

4. Typos

This is one of the most common MBA essay mistakes, and yet is also one of the easiest errors to fix. Rule of thumb: Don’t hit “Submit” until you’ve edited and proofread your application essays. For the best results, read your essay aloud so you can identify errors with your eyes, as well as your ears. And remember, the only thing better than one set of eyes and ears, are multiple sets. Have your mom, best friend, neighbor, co-worker, or editor help you identify and then fix all spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, and stylistic blunders.

The Book of All Books, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools, will lead you through the MBA admissions process beginning to end and includes lots of advice on how to approach the MBA essay writing process with examples. The book, written by founder and CEO, Linda Abraham, is succinct, but more in-depth than our short tips can ever be. Available on Kindle and in paperback.

Download MBA Admissions A-Z: 26 Great Tips!

MBA Admissions A-Z: U is for Undergrad Grades

U_is_for_undergrad_grades3 Steps for Handling a Low Undergraduate GPA

Grades show whether you previously performed well in an academic setting. If your college GPA is low, then you need to provide evidence that even though you may have faltered back then, now you’ve got you’re A-game and are capable of academic excellence.

But how?

The following 3 steps will help you overcome a low GPA and present a solid case to the admissions board that you mean academic business:

1.  Identify.

First, identify the cause of your low GPA.

Is it low because you partied a little too hard your first two semesters, but then buckled down after that and worked to pull up your low freshman GPA? Or did you start out high and then get really lazy and bored with school your senior year and let things spiral out of control? Or is it possible that your low GPA is truly an indication that your workload was too challenging and that you’re not school material? Or perhaps you were dealing with a serious illness or family problems? Or maybe back then you just weren’t motivated to succeed?

Once you understand why you have a less-than-impressive GPA, you’ll have an easier time figuring out what to do next (Step 2) and how to explain the situation (Step 3).

2.  Ameliorate.

Once you determine that you are motivated this time around and are capable and competent academically, then it’s time to take action to improve your profile. (And if after deep introspection you decide that school is just not for you, then consider yourself lucky that you figured that out now and not after you’ve paid $100,000+ on even more schooling.)

Obviously, you can’t go back and raise your undergraduate GPA, but there are steps you can take NOW to show the adcom that your undergrad GPA doesn’t define your current academic abilities:

• Take a few business-related, college-level courses and earn A’s in them.

• Ace the GMAT.

3.  Explain.

There are three places in your MBA application where you may want to address a low GPA: the optional essay, the required portions of the application, and your letters of recommendation.

In a non-whiny, non-defensive tone, you can clearly and straightforwardly explain why your GPA is lower than it should be in the optional essay. Perhaps there was a death in the family one semester or maybe you had emergency surgery that left you on bed rest for three weeks mid-semester. Or maybe you just didn’t realize the importance of grades until halfway through your sophomore year and by then your GPA had taken a serious hit. Or maybe you worked thirty hours a week to support yourself. Let the reader know the context of your grades. Write honestly and write well.

In other parts of the application, show the skills that your transcript hides without drawing attention to the grades. For example, if you did not do well in Econ 101 or college math classes, but now are do some really heavy lifting in terms of financial modeling, then either in your resume or in a required essay, write about a quantitative challenge that you handled with elan.

Regarding letters of recommendation – getting a supervisor to vouch for your maturity and abilities is probably one of the best things you can do to bolster your case. Again, if you had poor grades in classes requiring a lot of writing, ask your boss if she can comment positively on your communications skills. If you had poor quant grades, ask if she can praise your quantitative analysis of a complex project. In either case, your boss doesn’t have to reference the negative you are trying to overcome – just the positives you want to bring out.

Please see Overcoming Weaknesses in Your MBA Profile for more advice on how to identify and ameliorate flaws in your profile.


Related Resources:

• MBA Admissions Tip: Dealing with a Low GPA
• How to Handle a Low GMAT Quant Score
• How to Handle a Low GMAT Verbal Score

MBA Admissions A-Z: Z is for ZZZZZZ – Don’t Put the Adcom to Sleep!

MBA Admissions: Don't Put the Adcom to Sleep!You want to create a compelling, memorable, colorful MBA essay. One that excites the adcom readers, not puts them to sleep. Use the following five MBA essay writing techniques to help you keep the adcom as far away from dreamland as possible:

  1. Start with a story or anecdote. Launching your essay with brief story or anecdote will do wonders to draw your readers in and propels them to read on. Never start an essay with something drab like, “I was born in a small town” or “My name is X” or “I want to go to Top B-School X because.” These will make your readers snooze; and if they snooze, you’ll certainly lose. Jumping right into a story is a much more engaging way to start.
  2. Don’t rehash your resume. You may be tempted to talk about your extensive job history, but your essay is really not the spot for that; your MBA resume is. In general, don’t waste precious essay space on material that’s located elsewhere in your application. Use your essays to describe and analyze important activities, interests and events that you want the admissions committee to know about.
  3. Use fresh material for each essay. Choose different experiences to highlight in each of your application essays. Overlapping experiences are a) a waste of space and b) really boring.
  4. Let your personality shine. Take your warm and witty personality and infuse it into your essay. Your essay is your vehicle to introduce yourself to your readers. Make sure they’re getting to know the very best of the authentic YOU possible.
  5. Use vivid language. Your essays should use sensory language that will transport your reader through your story. Use details that help your readers see, hear, smell, taste, or touch what you experienced.

Need more tips on how to keep the adcom engaged and excited while reading your essays? See How to Write and Edit MBA Essays 101 now! ~ Helping You Write Your Best


MBA Admissions A-Z: Y is for You

MBA Application Tip: Keep the Focus on YOUMBA Application Tip: Keep the Focus on YOU

Your MBA application is intended to introduce the adcom to YOU. It highlights what’s special and unique about you as a professional, as a community member, as an individual, and as a future business leader.

Here we’re going to talk about how to keep the focus on YOU in your MBA application essays, but instead of talking about who you are, we are going to talk about what you are NOT.

You are not:

1. Your family, boss, colleagues, or professors. Make sure that if you’re telling a story, that the focus of the story is on you and not on somebody else. For example, if you’re writing about how somebody influenced you (say, your mom), or about a sticky situation that you overcame that involved another person (say, your boss), make sure that you keep the focus on how YOU acted or reacted. How YOU were influenced. What YOU did in this sticky situation. Otherwise, your essay will turn into a story about the great virtues of your inspirational mother or about the horrors of your treacherous boss. Interesting, maybe. Application material, definitely not.

2. The universal you, we, or one. Your MBA application essay is not a philosophy paper. Drop the didactic tone, and instead talk about the YOU that is really I. Do not write your essay about humankind. Do not make any broad or sweeping statements about life or people in general. It shouldn’t be about you, the reader, or we, the people, or one, some theoretical person.

3. Your team or department. You may have led your team and you may be a potent force in your department, but those groups do not define you. While acknowledging the contribution of others, concentrate on your role within those groups and what you specifically did to contribute to the whole.

4. Just a [name profession]. You are a multifaceted human being with diverse interests, skills, and talents. Make sure your application introduces the adcom to your multidimensionality.

5. The guy that hangs out with his buddies and has one too many beers after the game. Or maybe you are, but that’s not the YOU to highlight in your MBA application. Instead, highlight the professional, the innovative, the fun (but not drunk), the self-aware, and the community service YOU. Present the YOU that you are most proud of.

Please see our MBA sample essays for examples of how to best introduce yourself to the admissions readers.

MBA Admissions A-Z: 26 Great Tips ~ Helping You Write Your Best

MBA Admissions A-Z: X is for XXX – Keeping it Clean

MBA Admissions: Clean Up Your Social MediaTop 6 Ways to Clean Up Your Social Media Accounts

Back in the olden days (like 15+ years ago), the adcom saw your MBA application…and that was it. Now, with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the popularity of blogging (especially among MBA applicants), the adcoms have access to a whole lot more than the professional file that you carefully present to them.

Which is why you need to be careful. Very careful.

Here are 6 things that admissions members could tag with a red flag:

  1. Pictures or videos of you doing stupid stuff – you know what it is.
  2. Inappropriate email addresses.
  3. Blog posts/status updates/Tweets using inappropriate language or curse words.
  4. Blog posts/status updates/Tweets written in poor English.
  5. Blog posts/status updates/Tweets that are slanderous or mean.
  6. Anything that indicates that you’re involved in illegal activity.

Please go through each and every one of your social media accounts and CLEAN THEM UP. Delete anything that may make you look bad, untag yourself in your friends’ photos and videos if you need to, and last, but certainly not least, make sure that your privacy settings are set at the very highest possible standards. These platforms are constantly changing their privacy rules; stay on top of them to insure that only those people that you WANT to see your activity are the ones who have access to it.

Going forward, realize that anything in digital format is pretty hard to keep private. And every move you make does not need to be recorded for posterity, especially those that will make you cringe in the future.

Note: An increasing percentage of top b-school adcom (and potential employers) DO use Google as a resource when trying to learn more about applicants. Your professional reputation is at stake here!

Learn more about the do’s and don’ts of creating the right MBA application image when you view’s tip-filled resource A Winning MBA Application Strategy 101. ~ Helping You Write Your Best