As you finalize your MBA applications for Round 1 or start putting your thoughts together for Round 2, don’t let the focus on the longer essays take away your attention from the short answer application boxes.
The application boxes aren’t merely the fields of your online application that ask you for your personal and professional information, reason for leaving jobs, extra-curricular activities, and so forth. They should be much, much more and provide context, an overview, and valuable information about your achievements and successes.
My 9 tips for answering these -very important- questions follow:
1. Don’t approach these boxes as an afterthought. More often than not, these are the first items the adcoms will read (along with your resume), and will shape their first impression of you. Make them count.
2. Don’t repeat what’s on your resume. You can use the same accomplishments if you really have to, but explain them in a different way whenever possible.
3. Don’t repeat what’s said on your essays either. Don’t waste precious – and limited — space in the boxes to say what you already said somewhere else.
4. Your company description shouldn’t be a copy and paste from the company’s website. Describe, clearly and succinctly, what the company does without repeating word for word.
5. Your role and responsibilities shouldn’t be a summarized job description. Make it more interesting, highlighting when possible any supervisory or managerial role you have.
6. A challenge is a problem you faced and handled. Don’t just talk about the problem, rather, focus on how you solved it and the result that came from your solution.
7. For extra-curricular activities, don’t just limit yourself to listing your title or even a description of your role. Describe your most impressive contributions.
8. Be clear and succinct. B-schools set a word or character limit for a reason. Use the minimum number of words you can possibly use. For example, instead of saying “Spearheaded a team of four members” you can say “Led a 4-member team”; right there you’ve reduced your character count from 34 to 19 without changing your message.
9. On the other hand, concise doesn’t mean ungrammatical. When you strive to make your message fit in the box, don’t write in “Twitter- or text- style.”
In this attention-deficient era, business schools look at application boxes to get the answers to basic but very important questions. Answer each one to the best of your ability because each and every box counts. Be succinct, write clearly, and avoid verbosity. View the boxes as your first introduction to the adcom, and make it a good one!
By Esmeralda Cardenal, previously the Associate Director of Admissions at Yale SOM, Director of MBA Admissions at MSU Broad, and consultant at Cardiff Business School in the UK. She is happy to help you showcase your achievements in your MBA application.