Ensuring Success: Avoid Common Weaknesses Found in MBA Applications


Ensuring Success: Avoid Common Weaknesses Found in MBA Applications

January 22 2024 By The MBA Exchange
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Every business school applicant has some aspect of their candidacy that’s imperfect. It might be a “C” in college calculus, a four-month gap between jobs, the absence of international experience, or zero involvement in non-profits. These bumps in the road may not seem significant until it’s time to assess your chances for admission to top MBA programs. To address these imperfections, you need a thorough analysis and strategic planning.

Paths to Address Flaws in Your MBA Application

1. Ignore:

When presenting your candidacy, it’s important to avoid T.M.I. (too much information). Raising irrelevant or unimportant issues can reveal a lack of self-confidence that will instantly turn off the admissions committee. Make a judgment call on whether mentioning a certain aspect of your background is necessary. Professional admissions consultants can provide invaluable guidance on this.

2. Explain:

Assume that the admissions committee won’t intuitively understand the circumstances surrounding a weakness without a clear explanation from you. Don’t make them play guessing games, as that will only irritate them. Sometimes, simply describing the factors that led to the vulnerability and expressing appropriate remorse is enough to put it behind you. The key is to convey the facts thoughtfully and strategically in your application.

3. Fix:

When possible, mitigating a flaw and explaining how you fixed it can send a very positive message. Examples include earning an “A” in an extension course, proposing a major initiative at work, or helping a non-profit exceed its fundraising goals. Prioritizing and focusing on fixing these issues with the help of an admissions consultant can help reverse some weaknesses and turn them into strengths.

Attributes to Avoid in Your MBA Application

There’s general consensus today about the characteristics of successful business school applicants. However, what you avoid in your applications can be just as important as what you include. Here are five key attributes to shun:

1. Arrogance:

While it’s important to highlight your successes, avoid coming off as a braggart. Present your achievements in a clear, factual manner. Admissions committees are looking for natural leaders who are also team players.

2. Vagueness:

Make it easy for the admissions committee to understand who you are and what you’ve done. Avoid using heavy jargon or assuming the reader will understand complex scenarios.

3. Uncertainty:

Clearly convey why you want an MBA and why you’re applying to their school. Show your vision and motivation to help the school understand your mission and desire to support you.

4. Passivity:

Show that you are proactive and have a bias towards action. Admissions committees look for applicants who initiate and make things happen, rather than those who wait for things to happen to them.

5. Procrastination:

Avoid remaining in a job that is no longer challenging or postponing viable solutions. Demonstrating a sense of urgency sends a powerful message that you will add value to the MBA program from day one.

Addressing Common Challenges Before Applying

1. No evidence of solid quantitative abilities.

If your undergrad education was heavily “qualitative” or if your GPA, GMAT or GRE quant scores are well below average, then the adcom will wonder if you’re sufficiently competent for the MBA curriculum. If that’s your situation, then working with a top tutor and achieving a strong test score is probably your best move.

2. Recommenders don’t know you professionally AND personally.

MBA adcoms want to see a complete picture of your candidacy from a third-party perspective. So, getting a recommendation from a supervisor who can address only your work performance or from a friend who can attest to only your personality and character will not help you get admitted. Invest the time to cultivate recommenders who can endorse all aspects of your candidacy with solid examples.

3. Resume that excludes tangible — ideally quantified — results.

Even if you have the most demanding, complex job in the world, describing your daily responsibilities is not enough to impress a selective business school. You also need to convey the outcome and impact of your efforts. This can be difficult for some applicants (e.g., management consultants, analysts) but stating even “estimated” or “projected” results will help.

4. No direct interaction with MBA students and alumni.

You can’t convince an admissions committee that you know and love their campus culture unless you’ve engaged directly with members of the school community. Featuring relevant snippets from relevant conversations with those who know the school best will inject sincerity and authenticity into your applications and interviews.

So, which of these challenges resonate with you? Are you focused and motivated enough to confront and resolve them? If not, engaging the services of an experienced MBA grad or former admissions officer could prove extremely valuable. In any case, by examining your underlying candidacy and taking actions that will leverage your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses, you’ll maximize your chances for success.

5. No active involvement in a nonprofit

B-schools want well-rounded candidates who do more than just “work hard, play hard.” Applicants who can show that they truly care about others and give back to the community and world around them — ideally through a leadership role – will score valuable points with the adcoms. (Besides that, it feels good to help others!) So, reach out and make a positive difference through a civic, community, charitable, arts, cultural, etc., organization.

6. Exposure to only your own culture.

Every top MBA program places emphasis on diversity, inclusiveness and globality when building a cohort. If your personal, professional and academic background is limited to one culture and demographic, then your application may convey that you have a narrow perspective on the world and may even have difficulty engaging with MBA classmates from different backgrounds. Even if your job is local, and even if you don’t have the time or budget for international travel, there are events, organizations and individuals in your city that offer the chance to interact, learn and grow from others.

7. Post-MBA career goal that is vague and disconnected.

Although business schools know that most applicants are uncertain about what they will do following graduation, you need to present a credible, hypothetical goal that helps explain why you want an MBA. Otherwise, the adcom may fear that, if admitted, you will vacillate when choosing elective classes, selecting student clubs, signing up for recruiter presentations, pursuing a summer internship or, worst of all, getting hired after graduation. So, take a step back, dream big, and describe what you see.


No MBA applicant is truly perfect, and business schools continue to emphasize the importance of authenticity. By considering if, when, and how to deal with flaws, you can enhance your application and maximize your chances of success. Be real, be smart, and take proactive steps to address any imperfections in your candidacy.

From helping thousands of past MBA applicants overcome these hurdles and achieve admission, The MBA Exchange knows that resolving such issues is important… and essential. If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed right now, consider how working with an experienced MBA grad or former admissions officer could be beneficial.