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As a former Harvard interviewer and Harvard graduate, I see applicants repeatedly making the same mistakes on their MBA essays and applications, which result in them NOT getting in to their top schools.

Here are the “Top 3” MBA Application Mistakes — for best results,  try to avoid them at all costs:

MISTAKE #1: Assuming Your Reader Has Your Resume Right In Front Of Them

This is the number 1 mistake I come across, year after year:  You can never assume your reader is looking at your resume while they read.  For this reason, you must always orient your reader as to who you are (i.e. your current position and industry), just very briefly at the start of each essay, so there is at least an immediate and clear understanding of who you are professionally.  To not do this leaves your reader lost, and a lost reader could mean you’re dinged.

MISTAKE #2: Sounding Like A College Student Versus An MBA Applicant

Kids applying to college talk about their past achievements and activities in their essays, and what makes them “well-rounded.”  MBA applicants should be talking about their current position, their professional goals, and their career, using past experiences as examples, not the main attraction.

The ad com, especially at the top schools like HBS, Wharton, and Kellogg are most interested in seeing how you frame your own experiences in the context of your longer term goals and career.  Unlike college applicants, you’re not just showcasing achievements, or telling about an experience.  You’re showing that you UNDERSTAND them.

MISTAKE #3: Not Following the Rules

This last one is extremely frequent: MBA essays and their word requirements.  Some schools (i.e. HBS) have done away with all word requirements, but most schools still have them.  Think you can just ignore them, and go 50, 75, 200 words over the limit on your essays because you need more space to make your point?

Think again.

How can you claim to be a strong future leader and manager when you have just demonstrated you can easily step over authority? How can you prove that you are capable of paying attention to important details on a trade or a deal, when you have just disregarded the details here in full view?  The rules are there for more reasons than one – stick to them, as well as the tips above and your overall results this year will be that much stronger!


[I currently run the MBA admissions firm: MBA IVY out of New York, and have an excellent success rate getting clients in to the most highly competitive MBA & EMBA programs: ]

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