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Avoid Seven Deadly Sins of Business School Applicants

Avoid Seven Deadly Sins of Business School Applicants

By Dr. Don Martin, Former Dean of Admissions at Chicago Booth

During my 11 years as Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, I reviewed and made the final decision on every completed MBA application each year.  That amounts to some 80,000 applications.  I believed that if an MBA candidate invested the time to apply we had a responsibility to give her/his application a thorough assessment.

Through this process common MBA applicant tendencies emerged, both positive and negative. Over the years it became apparent that the more negative traits were a kiss of death for MBA hopefuls, presented here as the “seven deadly sins.”

  1. Misrepresenting the facts. Here is what I believe: MBA applicants who are less than honest in the application process are not necessarily dishonest people. Because business school admissions is especially competitive, candidates yield to pressure that results from believing what they bring to the admissions committee is not as impressive as what others may offer.  So they take certain “liberties” with the facts. While suspicious embellishment of your application will certainly weaken your chances, fabrication will kill it. I recall one MBA applicant who said he was a Navy Seal, a piano virtuoso, and had won a national humanitarian award. Naturally, I was very impressed. Unfortunately, none of it was true. As the saying goes, “just say no” when tempted to exaggerate or misrepresent facts in your application. And never, ever lie. Believe me, you will be found out.
  2. Rude or arrogant behavior. Business schools have high expectations for students they accept into their programs. There is never an excuse for less-than-polite or immature behavior. Yes, we all have bad days. But when interacting with the MBA admissions office in any capacity, it is imperative to be professional, courteous and accommodating. Business schools and MBA programs highly value personal character and confidence. But confidence can easily be interpreted by others as arrogance, so be careful. Demonstrate confidence but avoid conceit. A splash of humility doesn’t hurt. In fact, it may show authentic confidence.  
  1. Too much contact. If you have a legitimate question, by all means, ask the admissions office. But don’t overdo it. Avoid excessive contact or weekly e-mails to the admissions committee reminding them of your “strong interest,” and remember to avoid the above sin of rude or arrogant behavior. Business schools are charged with preparing future leaders, and value applicants who can successfully walk the line between persistence and annoyance. The latter is often interpreted as desperation and truly hurts your appeal.
  2. Not following directions. If you are asked to submit a 750-word essay, don’t submit one with 1,000 words. If you are asked for two letters of recommendation, don’t send six. This behavior begs the question: If you cannot follow simple directions on the application, how will you follow directions and procedures as a student?
  3. Sending wrong or non-proofed information. There is no excuse for sending application essays containing numerous misspelled words or grammatical errors. Let spellcheck be your friend. And always have someone review your work. Moreover, be sure to double-check the mailing address before sending in your application. Let’s say you’re applying to one b-school in the Northeast and to another b-school in the Southeast. If you send an essay that you wrote for the Northeast application to the Southeast admissions office, you may as well remove the Northeast b-school from your list, because they will most likely remove you as an applicant.
  4. Asking questions you can answer yourself. Do your homework and take the time to know the basics. Steer clear of asking questions you can easily find answers to on your own, such as “What are your application deadlines?” or “Do you offer financial aid?” When an applicant asked me these questions, I made a note for future reference, and it was not because I was impressed. However, if there are aspects of a program that are of particular interest to you, such as a study aboard program, it’s perfectly appropriate to ask for more details. This shows that you are taking the time to look deeper into the program’s offerings and considering a variety of elements that make that b-school special.
  1. Leaving something unaddressed or making excuses. If there is something about your application that you believe needs explaining (a gap in employment, a low undergraduate GPA), be sure to address it head on. Otherwise, the admissions committee may think you are hiding something. But when you do address it, don’t make excuses. Provide an explanation and offer to provide more information if needed.  

Do you have questions about what you’ve just read?  Please feel to reach out to me via email at  And stay tuned for my next MBA Tour blog in December:  “The Critical Importance of Essays.”

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