7 Deadly Sins of MBA Applicants
By Kaneisha Grayson
My favorite part of being an admissions consultant is helping turn a good applicant into a great applicant—bringing out the best in people. An essential part of that is being able to shine a light on the worst traits that can emerge during the application season so that my clients can avoid those pitfalls. Whether you’re in the middle of applying or just getting started, keep these seven deadly sins in mind so that you can make it to the heavenly destination of your dream school.
Envy: Envy rears its ugly green head in many realms of b-school applications. The first place I see it most often is in client essays that do not state clear and compe lling reasons for why they want to go to business school. They aren’t sure which skills they want to develop, what experiences they hope to have, or how business school will advance their goals. Rather, they are driven by their envy of someone else’s job, income, status or power. Because that guy got one is not a convincing reason to admit someone to business school—nor is it an effective motivator when it comes to executing your career vision. Having mentors and people whom you aspire to be like is a great way to first learn about and be drawn to applying to business school; raw envy is not. I was inspired and excited when I learned that one of my summer camp counselors had just graduated from HBS, and it made the idea of attending business school that much more of an attainable goal for me.
Gluttony: Once you’ve decided to attend business school, you then have to decide how many schools to apply to. I o nly applied to two business schools and two non-business programs (Ed.D. at Stanford; MPA at Harvard). I advise my clients to apply to between four and eight schools, depending on their applicant profile, urgency of being admitted this year, and time available to dedicate to their applications. I had one client who wanted to apply to 20 schools. She meticulously categorized them using the bond credit ratings system. But she did not have nearly enough time to dedicate to submitting high quality applications to all of these schools. I urged her to decrease the number of schools she was applying to. She refused, and our coaching progress stymied. I ended up refunding her money and ending the coaching arrangement. I have no idea how many schools she ended up applying to, but it was clear to me that her gluttonous approach was not going to result in high quality applications to most of her schools.
Rather than gorge yourself at the b-school buffet table, fill your plate with a mix of schools, some that are your “dream schools” and may be a reach, some where your applicant profile is a solid match, and a few where you would be one of the top applicants and would be more easily admitted. Just because you might have a nontraditional applicant profile does not mean you should apply to as many schools as possible. It just means you have to do the extra work of figuring out which schools are the right fit for you.
Greed: Greed manifests in business school applications when an applicant already has e xcellent options or credentials, but still craves more. An example: Your GMAT score is 720 or higher, but you insist on taking it again to snatch those last few points. Greed clouds your judgment and is stealing away precious time that could be better spent on improving your essays. Here’s another example that I’ve encountered: One of my clients seeks admission to a highly rated (but not top-five) school and anticipates deferring for a year while attempting to get admitted to one of the top-five schools. One of my favorite clients told me this was his strategy. I urged him to only apply to schools that he would actually be happy and able to attend. While wanting to attend the best school you can get into is completely understandable, deferring to give yourself another year to apply is unethical and unnecessarily greedy.
I was relieved when my client told me that if admitted, he would attend one of the schools he had originally applied to. After his visit, he realized how amazing the schools were, despite not being in the top 5. Often, clients let their doubts and insecurities turn them into hoarders, but hoarding, gluttony, and greed are not necessary in the business school application. With the right research, planning, preparation, coaching and timing, you will end up at the best school for you.
Sloth: Applying to business school is time consuming and a lot of work. You have to study for the GMAT or GRE after work and on weekends, write dozens of drafts of essays and find time to research and visit schools. It can all be extremely overwhelming, especially if you don’t know many people who have been through the process. One of the worst things you can do when applying to business school is let the process overwhelm and discourage you so much that you slack off or avoid the tasks altogether. I have had several clients pay me thousands of dollars for coaching and then go missing for weeks at a time with no explanation, notification or demonstrated progress on their applications. Few people applying to business school are just plain lazy. Procrastination is usually the culprit. Whether procrastination or plain-old sloth, both are useless and wasteful. The more inertia you build up, the harder it will be to get started. So try to do application-related tasks consistently to keep yourself in the habit of being action-oriented.
Wrath: The most angry I’ve ever seen clients is when they feel wrongfully rejected or when they see someone they know with “less impressive” credentials get admitted. There is no “magic formula” for being admitted to business school. AdComs are curating a cohort of people who will teach, energize, challenge, inspire one another. You may be qualified, or even overqualified, for a particular school, but you just did not fit with what they were looking for. It will never be helpful to look at one of your friends with a lower GMAT score, worse grades or fewer extracurricular activities and compare yourself to that person. Your wrath at being wrongfully rejected or overlooked for a “lesser” candidate will only cause you unnecessary stress and block your creative energies from where they are needed—getting admitted to a school where you are what they are looking for.
Pride: Facing rejection is very hard, and for many of my clients, who are primarily nontraditional candidates, it is the first time they have encountered multiple rejections for something that they have put their best effort toward. When I work with a very challenging client (e.g. low GMAT score, fine grades, out-of-target age range and no private-sector work experience), I manage their expectations by telling them that we are working to get them into one great school that they would be excited to attend. Sometimes, even that doesn’t happen. That’s when their pride can be really hurt. I urge anyone applying to business school not to let your pride sabotage your process. While it is challenging, there is no shame in reapplying to a school or having to go through the process another year. The mistake would be to be too proud to tell your coworkers, friends, mentors and other people who might be able to help you about your situation. You don’t have to broadcast your challenges to the world, but you shouldn’t hide them either. Never be too proud to ask for help or to try again.
Lust: Lust is one of the most powerful and destructive application sins I’ve seen. It usually happens after clients have been admitted to one of their dream schools. They feel like they are untouchable. Lustful behavior ensues: Drinking, partying, getting into business-school-social-scene mode. There are several problems with letting lust take over during your MBA applications. First, your partying and celebrating may actually be premature. Many business schools have pre-matriculation requirements for students such as online modules that must be completed by a certain date. When I was entering HBS, there were several people who did not end up coming because their fun started a little too early, so much so that they didn’t end up finishing the pre-matriculation requirements in time. Second, you don’t want to behave with wanton abandon just because you got into one of your dream schools. You are going to be with these people full-time for the next two years, know each other as friends, colleagues and business partners for the rest of your life. The last thing you want to do is let lust get the better of you, so you end up being “that guy” before school has even started.
Kaneisha Grayson graduated from Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School in May 2010. She is the founder and owner of The Art of Applying, an admissions and career-coaching company focused on serving nontraditional applicants. Read more of her advice at http://theartofapplying.com.
Photo Credits Via Wikimedia Commons:
-Jessica Flavin from London area, England (Anger Controlls Him)
-Gabriel S. Delgado C. from Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela (Sentir / Feel)
-loki11 (l'illustration Européenne 1871 no.38 page 300)
-Soffie Hicks from Wales (Gluttony)
-Jessica Flavin from London area, England (Anger Controlls Him)