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3 MBA Essay Mistakes That Cost You Admission To Your Dream School

Posted by Chioma Isiadinso

Many of the top MBA programs have recently released their admissions decisions. If you were one of the lucky ones to get admitted, congratulations! Getting into business school is no small feat and you should feel proud of this achievement.

I also recognize that some of you may have been placed on the waiting list, a frustrating place to be. Hang in there,there is still hope. I’ll share admissions tips for getting off the B-School waitlist in another blog.

Today, I’m going to focus on those whose applications were rejected. There are three mistakes that applicants make in their application essay that makes it easy for the admissions board to reject their application.


These mistakes fall into one of these three categories:

– Being defensive

– Writing your essays without a strategy

– Trying too hard to be creative

Being Defensive

Beware the temptation to over-explain every single aspect of your story. You must make tradeoffs when deciding on what you should explain to the adcom and what you need to leave out of your essay.

Being worried about something in your profile doesn’t mean it must be addressed in your essay. Sometimes the thing you are worried about is less of a problem and flagging it in your essay makes it into a bigger deal.

Also, when you approach your essay defensively, you leave the admissions board with a negative impression of you; in a process where 8 out of 10 applicants are rejected, defensive essays give the admissions board a reason to say no to you.

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If there are legitimate issues that need to be addressed, such as much lower GPA or GMAT, or job inconsistencies, then use the optional essay, NOT your main essay(s), to tackle those issues. And do keep it short and to the point.

The other place where I’ve seen applicants make a major error when being defensive in their essay is when trying to explain everything about their story.

Our client James nearly made this mistake. He had worked in three different industries and was worried that he needed to explain his moves from one position to the next. When he wrote his HBS essay, for example, his essay felt very mechanical and didn’t offer much insight about who he is as a person.

Instead the essay was all about his decision points from one job to the next. Once we pointed this out, and after he let go of his fears about having worked at too many jobs, he wrote a compelling essay about himself and his motivations. He just found out he was admitted to HBS!

Writing your essays without a strategy

Writing MBA essays can be very stressful, especially when you have limited time and looming deadlines.

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But that doesn’t mean you should jump into writing your essays without first defining what your message is and WHY you are choosing that message to share with the adcom.

This is by far the most common MBA essay mistake that applicants make. And it usually leads to an application rejection.

We have a common saying at EXPARTUS: first ensure that you are in the “right” forest before you start focusing on the trees. What is it that you want the admissions committee to know about you?

We emphasize having a clear personal brand. Having a clear personal brand message will make you stand out from your competition and will make writing the essay(s) much easier because you have already mapped out the path you intend to take and that clarity saves you a great deal of time since you will end up doing fewer drafts of your essays in the long run.

Trying too hard to be creative

There is a place for creativity and capturing the adcom’s mindshare with a great intro or overall entertaining essay.

But I caution you to proceed with care when it comes to writing creatively.

I recently read an applicant’s essay who signed up for our Application Assessment service. He wrote an entire optional essay for his Chicago application and after reading the long essay I was left still wondering why he had written this essay and why anyone on the admissions board would care about it.

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The essay was well written and very creative. It started with a moment in time and drilled down into the details of the experience. But in the pursuit of writing a creative essay he lost sight of what the message should be and the reader is left not understanding you, the candidate, and it makes it easy to push your application to the reject pile.

While I’m not advocating ditching all creative elements in MBA essays, it is important to not get too hung up on finding the best creative spin to the story that you lose sight of what’s important which is helping the adcom to know who you are as a person.

In fact, you will find that it is more powerful to write essays that are somewhat bland but they get at the heart of the matter—You.


If you are considering reapplying next year or applying round two this cycle, it may be worth finding out whether you made one of these essay mistakes. Sign up for EXPARTUS Application Assessment to identify your mistakes and proactively address them so you can get admitted to your MBA target schools.


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