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MBA Preparation

Background Verification: The Final Hurdle in the MBA Admissions Process

May 26 2023 By The MBA Exchange
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When it comes to getting into a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program, you should know that even after you receive an official offer of admission, the screening process continues and enrollment is not guaranteed. You’ve got one last hurdle to clear before you can start your MBA studies.

What is the MBA background check?

Background verification checks are used in most top full-time, part-time, and executive MBA (EMBA) programs as the final step in the admissions process. MBA background checks look for mismatches between your application materials and your personal background. Business school admissions are competitive, and top programs want to make sure that admitted students haven’t exaggerated claims related to skills or experiences. Programs like NYU Stern work with companies like Re Vera or Kroll to complete background checks on accepted b-school candidates, though some business programs run the program in-house.

What do schools look for in background checks?

MBA admissions success demands a lot of documentation of your past achievements and experiences. Candidates typically have to submit an MBA resume with lots of exact information, standardized test scores, graduate and undergraduate transcripts, letters of recommendation, and detailed personal essay responses. You should have provided accurate documentation of your background in your submitted application materials.

MBA background checks follow up on your professional background, educational credentials, and even anecdotes you’ve included in essays. The schools review your submitted application materials with a fine-toothed comb to look for potential inconsistencies, minor or major discrepancies, exaggerations, or falsehoods.

Even completely innocently, it’s easy to lose track of the exact details in your background. Here are some examples:

  • How do you add up your starting salary with Company A, do the stock options count toward salary, do other forms of compensation count? 
  • What’s the most accurate and honest way to describe your early months with your startup, and are you consistent in always giving the same beginning dates for your work there? 
  • What’s the right way to convert the GPA you received in that unusual summer program a few years back? 
  • When should you disclose that you’ve worked with family members?

The background checks find out the real story about the person behind the profile and ensure that MBA programs are getting for-real excellent candidates—not just good bluffers who can exaggerate a resume into an approximation of impressiveness. Background checks can also catch sloppiness and bad record-keeping, causing need for revision and more accurate re-reporting. 

Who could experience problems with the background check?

Who could experience problems with the background check
 Audiences and most common challenges in verificationEntityOwnership / EquitySelf-employ-mentCompensationDatesEmployerTitleOther Issues
Startup founders xxx     
Small business owners xxx     
Company founders/ owners in jurisdictions abroad with different filing, incorporation or tax requirements (E.g. a startup in Dubai that doesn’t meet their min revenue threshold for tax liability and therefore has not incorporated) x  xx   
Early stage startup employees  x xx   
Independent contractors (1099) working full-time for a single company who aren’t sure whether to consider the company a client or employer      xx 
Self-employed consultants and freelancers  x     
People receiving their paycheck from an entity other than their employer (E.g. an employment agency, umbrella corporation, or sister company of actual employer)    x xx 
NGO or non-profits employees abroad (E.g. if org doesn’t have paperwork in order)    x x  
People who included value of non-standard comp in their salary: stock options/equity, deferred comp, in-kind services, credit card spending allocations, perks, cash, etc.    x   x
People paid any portion of their compensation in cash, in the US or abroad    x    
People with one or more previous employers that are no longer in business x   xx x
People from employers without an HR department or team handling verification requests    xx x 
People with a present or past employer that has a privacy policy preventing them from verifying employment details with a third-party agency    xx x 
People with unexplained employment gaps or extended leaves or absence   xxxx 
People with senior leadership or C-suite roles in family-owned businesses       x

Should I be worried about the background check?

Unless you recklessly lied in your application, you really don’t need to be scared about MBA background verification, but like every part of the application process, the background check can easily become nerve-wracking for prospective students.

One of the most frequent questions we are asked is: “Are offers of MBA admission actually rescinded during the background verification process for applicants who have not intentionally misrepresented themselves?” Sadly, the answer to that one’s a “yes.” Each year, some admitted candidates are informed by their dream business school that they’ve failed to pass the background screening. For example, not disclosing past criminal convictions is for sure going to get your admission offer rescinded. Students have even been forced to leave after beginning classes due to issues discovered during background verification checks. So the stakes are very real.

You can make the whole background check deal a lot easier on yourself by carefully documenting everything you present as part of your application materials and disclosing any past lapses, firings, or other issues upfront to show that you’ve changed and improved since that time.

Handling Discrepancies in Background Checks

While you cannot “cheat” a background check, you can certainly be sure to have explanations for discrepancies, and paperwork prepared to document unusual activity. Gaps or inconsistencies will flag a candidate for further probing. Even applicants who have been completely accurate in their apps but have unusual work experience without complete documentation may have to answer some questions. If your background check reveals discrepancies, you’ll be expected to reconcile them or face termination of your admissions offer. 

Some issues that might turn up in the best background checks include:

  • Discrepancies between official employment dates and when you claim you started working 
  • Compensation and salary claims that can vary based on whether your employer’s HR officially “counts” things like stock options and discretionary budgets as part of your salary
  • GPA variances depending on calculation with weighted or unweighted grades
  • Disclosure of family-owned businesses and family relationships with recommenders
  • Disclosures of firings or past ethical lapses

Background checks sometimes get hung up on genuine but unusual circumstances. If you have a unique personal story, it’s worth taking the time to make sure you’ve added up all the details accurately and consistently throughout your candidacy.

When are background verification checks done?

If you’re going to have to deal with a background check as part of your application, acceptance, and matriculation process, the actual background verification will typically be done in the spring, after you’ve applied and received your acceptance. Background verification occurs after all application rounds are over when admitted candidates are starting to submit deposits.

Not all MBA programs use background verification checks. Top programs like Harvard definitely will, though! And, if your dream program asks for background verification, you want to be positioned to pull off the best background check possible and lock in your seat.

The best background check support around

Having an expert advisor with a proven process and track record can make all the difference. Developed exclusively by The MBA Exchange in 2010, our CounterCheck™ service can help you navigate this confusing and often intimidating process. Don’t wait until you’re contacted by an agency with questions! Your readiness to work through the verification process will not only safeguard your enrollment but can help you avoid sleepless nights when your credentials and credibility are reviewed.

Contact info@mbaexchange.com to learn more about CounterCheck and how we can help!