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From Our Consultants: Overcoming Application Obstacles

September 05, 2011 :: Admissionado Team

We’ve got quite a team of MBA admissions experts here at PE, full to the brim with helpful advice for applicants. Rather than keep it to themselves (that wouldn’t be very fair, would it?), they are going to share their tips and tricks right here, every month. This month they’re talking about pitfalls, obstacles and hurdles in MBA applications…and what you need to do to overcome them.

So, what are those obstacles? And how can you get past them?

Any obstacle can be overcome if you know about it; but if you don’t, that’s when you get into deep trouble. I had a client once, who, unbeknownst to him, used the same unusual verb in five consecutive sentences. He couldn’t see it, but it was jumping out at me, and not in a good way. This is what will sink a candidate’s chances. The solution is simple … get an extra pair of eyes to look through your essays. Not just a cursory glance, but a deep review.

The most difficult obstacle to overcome is to transform your past, your achievements, your jobs, your hobbies and values into a PERSON. You start off with a bunch of pieces of paper, of words on a page, of ideas and stories, and ultimately, on the reader end, you ned all of this to jump off the page and become a person in the mind’s eye of the reader. Not just a person, but a passionate, motivated, experienced one with a clear vision for their future.

When it comes to personal shortcomings, the optional essay is your friend. So use it. How?

1. Explain any personal hardships that caused you to underperform in undergrad.
2. Highlight your extracurricular activities to show that you were busy and did more than just struggle in your classes.
3. Offer to augment your undergrad experience. If your low grades were in math, take the initiative and enroll in calculus classes at your local community college to show that you will make sure you will be able to handle the quantitive parts of your MBA. That shows initiative, and initiative is quite appealing on a b-school application.

The hardest obstacle to overcome is a lack of work experience. Work experience provides the substance and content that are important in writing quality essays.  Work experience is also one of the more powerful venues for leadership.

To overcome this obstacle, it’s all about the essays. A candidate should frame his essays around those instances in his work career when he has made the greatest impact. Candidates should also focus on experiences outside of work during which they’ve exhibited strong leadership.

As long as you don’t have too many strikes against you, almost any deficiency in your profile can be dealt with if you frame it well.  Among my friends and clients who went to HBS, I can name a former journalist with a 530 GMAT, a military guy with a 2.8 GPA and a consultant with a drunk driving conviction.  However, each of these guys had some other, positive aspect of their application that stood out – a high-profile recommendation, unique leadership experiences or an inspiring, well-articulated vision.  We’ll help you mitigate the bad stuff and accentuate the good stuff.  Just be honest and open with us about the touchy subjects in your app – we’re not the ones you need to impress!

The top obstacle in my eyes are candidates who suffer from a case of “Single Dimensionality.” The default standard application for the Top 10 programs are from brilliant applicants with top academics, solid impact stories, and definable leadership traits.  But, accomplishments in the workplace are not the only things adcoms look for!  It’s important to be well rounded and have other interests — like volunteering, organizing events, teaching, or making life-size animals out of paperclips.  MBA programs want multi-faceted individuals, not cookie cutter bankers!