The Unlucky 13 MBA Essay Pitfalls to Avoid

If you want your application essays to succeed, make sure to avoid the following mistakes:

  1. Don’t mess with the truth
    Don’t stretch, twist, or otherwise change the facts. Admissions officers and essay readers are paid to sniff out overblown claims and unconvincing use of evidence.
  2. Don’t suck up
    Don’t talk about the reputation of the university, wisdom of the faculty, beauty of grounds, size of endowment, power of alumni network, etc. Talk about the benefit you add.
  3. Don’t make excuses
    Don’t excuse weak grades, poor GMAT, lack of volunteering, job-hopping, etc. It focuses the eye where you don’t want it. If you have a fix, state it. Otherwise just move on.
  4. Don’t try be someone else, or the typical candidate
    It’s natural to want to fit in with the business school type, but business schools seek a broad mix of backgrounds and experiences and opinions. Just be yourself. It’s enough.
  5. Don’t be generic
    You must differentiate yourself in a valuable way. When is a statement generic? If it could come up in the next person’s file. If it could only have been said by you, it’s specific.
  6. Don’t stereotype yourself
    Force the reader to go beyond the stereotypes of background, ethnicity and job definition that may be associated with your profile, to reach the layer where you are unique.
  7. Don’t try to be over-competent
    Not only is nobody perfect, but as an MBA student-to-be, you are by definition still a work in progress. Be upfront about what you still need to learn.
  8. Don’t repeat material presented elsewhere
    The reader will have your complete file, so any repetition of its contents in the essays is a waste. If you want to highlight a point, take care to reframe or cast a new light on it.
  9. Don’t try to say too much
    It is better to focus on a small piece of your story and chew it thoroughly than to bite off too much and choke on it. Narrow your horizons but deepen your analysis.
  10. Don’t make prose lists
    A prose list summary of your activities and accomplishments bores the reader. It also says you have no idea what’s important in your profile, or you can’t be bothered to extract it.
  11. Don’t add stray facts and events
    Facts not interpreted or integrated into the story are just frustrating “noise” the reader has to filter out. Stay on message. Don’t make the reader work harder than s/he has to.
  12. Don’t blame or point fingers
    If you say anything negative about anyone, or any group, or nationality, or company, or anything at all, the only one who will be hurt is you. Extract the learning and move on.
  13. Don’t get onto controversial topics
    Stay clear of religion, politics, abortion, the war on drugs, 9/11, the Middle East, or social or ideological opinions of any kind. Your reader may hold the opposite view.

What should you do?

Find and highlight the key interesting, attractive, relevant things about yourself and describe them clearly in a unified message with purpose and passion, while taking care to answer the questions exactly as stated. Need help? Professional writers at The MBA Admissions Studio can work with you to develop your profile, organize your material around key themes, and compellingly communicate your value.

Back to MBA Applicant Essay Help section


A.V. Gordon is author of one of the top MBA admissions books MBA Admissions Strategy: From Profile Building to Essay Writing as well as available for expert MBA admissions consultations through The MBA Admissions Studio.

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