Will Knowing Too Much Hurt Your Business School Application?

by Vault Education Editors | October 12, 2010

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How much is too much? Is it possible to know too much about the MBA admissions process? About a particular school? At first, my gut said no. "Of course you should know as much as you can about each school you're considering and each one's application processes. This is the information age, after all." But then I realized that, in reality, knowing too much can actually hurt your application.

MBA applicant studying top business schools too muchIn a recent interview with PoetsandQuants.com, Stanford GSB's Director of Admissions Derek Bolton said, "There is a lot of information that applicants want that has no value to them in the process." And not only does some information have no value, but it can also be harmful to your application. For example, some applicants ask a lot of questions about Bolton, himself, to try to figure out what he likes/dislikes in an applicant. "The more people try to get into my head," says Bolton. "The more of a disservice they do to themselves."

Applicants should focus on their own achievements and experiences, not on what they think the admissions team is looking for. If you think they're looking for a student with an engineering background but you've been working at an arts nonprofit, don't try to squeeze yourself into the science box. Be yourself. Believe me: the admissions team will see right through you. Moreover, you'll show them that you don't really know why you want to go to their school, and that you didn't think your real personality would be accepted. Everyone goes back to their real selves some time, so why would you want to be accepted as someone else?

Another pitfall of too much information: focusing so much on rankings and other publications that you limit yourself. Rankings have power. Everyone at a top school gets a job; they love their classes and professors; and everyone has an amazing experience regardless of academic interest, personality or life situation (e.g., age, marital status). Right? Not necessarily. You may be better suited to a school farther down the rankings totem pole. Perhaps the school specializes in your field; perhaps it offers support programs for your family; or perhaps it has strong contacts in the area you plan to settle in. Whatever the reason, it's not smart to rule out schools simply because of their average test scores or any of the other elements that make up a ranking.

On the flip side, just because a school is ranked at the top doesn't mean you won't in without perfect scores, perfect essays and perfect work experience. Bolton uses himself as an example. If he believed the rankings, he couldn't have gotten into his alma mater, Stanford, with his undergrad GPA, GMAT and work experience. What if he had taken that to heart and not applied? His life would have been very different. Don't sell yourself short. If you really want to go to a top school because it is the best school for you, apply. You can't be rejected or accepted if you don't.

And with that, I'm on vacation for two weeks. See you in the last week in October!

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