Must-Read Advice Before Submitting Your MBA Application

By Vincent Ho-Tin-Noe (last updated: September 4, 2016)

Just a few weeks (or even days) before the first round application deadlines for most top MBA programs, including Harvard Business School, MIT, Stanford, Booth, Kellogg, LBS, and Wharton, we thought that MBA applicants could use a checklist for items to review before hitting the “Submit” button.

View of Harvard University and the Charles River

View of Harvard University and the Charles River

1. Thoughts About Harvard’s Essay

In the past, Dee Leopold, former director of admissions at HBS, tried to offer comforting words to its MBA applicants. She insisted that the essay should not be considered a hit or miss exercise. It is really just meant to add color to your application package. More recently, HBS’ new dean of admissions, Chad Losee, wrote the following: “(…) As in years past, we will read (and re-read) and consider the application in its entirety —application, resume, essay, recommendations, transcripts, interview, post-interview reflection, GMAT or GRE scores, etc. Said another way, no one thing will get you admitted or “released” from our admissions process.” Therefore, do not feel that you have to cover any particular topic in this optional essay. You set the rules here, depending on what you believe will allow the admissions committee to better understand what makes you unique. Interestingly, this year’s essay prompt is similar to the one HBS used just a couple of years ago: “As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?”. In 2014, Kyle Watkins had provided advice about  a very similar HBS essay. We also wrote about the overall HBS application process in several posts. Make sure to check them out.

2. Completing The Application Form

Most business schools have a lengthy online application form. You should allocate at least 3 hours to go through it and fill it out properly. You will be asked about past job titles, exact employment dates, and compensation data. You will have to describe your employer, explain why you left the company, detail your key accomplishments and most significant challenges. You already should have some of this on your resume, but in a different format. Although Harvard’s admissions team is telling you not to obsess, you’ll notice that it’s easy to spend 20 to 30 minutes writing a meaningful job description in the space allotted to your answer. And then you will go through the same excruciating process for your extra curricular activities, awards and recognition, and academic experience. Some candidates tend to describe the online form as a collection of mini-essays, and approach the form’s questions as such. Don’t fall into that trap. Do your best, but be ready to settle for good enough, unless you are willing to spend 10 hours filling that form.

In any case, do not panic if the options from a specific drop down menu do not match perfectly your personal situation, and do not sweat over the limited space allocated to describe your work experiences. Filling this form properly is important, but keep in mind that the admissions committee will largely rely on your resume to assess your pre-MBA experience.

3. Have Your Letters of Recommendation Been Received By The School?

Another important piece of news for anxious applicants is that recommenders will often be given a tiny bit of slack by most schools (including HBS) to submit their letters of recommendation. Do not however expect to be given a lot of extra time, and try to make sure that your referrers submit their work a day or two before the deadline. Why not send them a courtesy email on the weekend right before the deadline in order to make sure that they are on top of things, and offer to help should they face unexpected technical difficulties (most schools provide contact information in case your recommenders run into technical trouble)?

4. Gather your transcripts and score reports

Before submitting your application, you’ll need to upload copies of your score reports (GMAT / GRE and, if relevant, TOEFL), along with your university transcripts (for international applicants transcripts need to be translated into English, although at this stage of your application unofficial translations should be fine with most schools – make sure you double check this point).

Put all these documents in a well identified folder on your computer, and make sure that they comply with the school’s requirements (size, format). The last thing you want to do is have to search for these documents, or worse have to scan them, right before the submission deadline.

5. Record your video essay

Several schools are still asking candidates to upload video essays (MIT Sloan Fellows joined that pack this year). In past posts, we wrote about the Yale and Kellogg video essays. Review these articles before recording yours.

6. Perform Consistency Checks

At Harvard Business School, only 20% of applicants will ultimately receive an invitation to interview. Although you should not spend an unreasonable amount of time reviewing your application over and over again, do try your very best not to appear unprofessional. Get rid of typos and grammatical errors. Make sure that your resume and online form are telling consistent stories. Too many applicants recycle resumes, or engage in frantic copy / pasting behaviors close to the MBA application deadline, and forget to update a thing or two. Make sure to save some time to verify all start and end dates, locations, or job titles you list.

Once you are done, print your application and read it one last time. If you can, get someone to read it as well and provide you feedback. Having a fresh pair of eyes to review your work is definitely a plus. After weeks working on your application, you may no longer be able to spot obvious errors or inconsistencies in your application. Do not underestimate the importance of this last consistency check, and do not review your work after hitting the submit button. Because if you spot an error then, you won’t be able to sleep for several weeks. MBA Admissions Advisors offers to review full application packages before submission. Please do not hesitate to contact us should you be interested.

7. Anticipate Background Checks (e.g. with Kroll and ReVera)

On a final note, although I’m sure this goes without saying, do not lie or embellish anything on your application. If your job title differs from your HR title, mention it. There is enough space in the online form to do so. Do not artificially fill gaps in your employment history. If you are converting your grades to a 4.0 GPA, do so rigorously (WES offers great tools to convert international grades). Or, for HBS, follow the school’s advice and just list 0.0 to let the admissions team know that you did not get a GPA on a 4.0 scale. Everything in your application can be checked after you receive an admission offer. Kroll and ReVera will report any inconstencies to the school. And admissions offer can be rescinded if inconsistencies cannot be explained. Do not try your luck. It’s not worth it. If you are not sure what to select between different options, pick the one that can be easily verified.

We hope this is helpful. Feel free to reach out should you need a last minute review of your application file. We can no longer offer free consultations until late September, but we might have a few spots left for last-minute hourly consultations. Good luck!

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