Avoiding Arrogance in MBA Admissions - Expartus

arrogance-clipart-gg60802608The MBA admissions process requires applicants to achieve a fine balance of arrogance and humility. On the one hand, top MBA programs are very sensitive to accusations of arrogance, and quick to dismiss MBA applicants that seem overly prideful. On the other hand, however, the MBA application is essentially and necessarily an exercise in talking about yourself. It is certainly not the place for excessive humility, as you are trying to stand out from a pool of incredibly qualified applicants to earn admission to that top MBA program. So, how do you walk that fine line?

Show, Don’t Tell

As a former MBA admissions board member and current MBA admissions consultant, I can tell you that the MBA applicants who walk this line most effectively are the ones who have plenty of action-focused examples to share. It’s the old adage of “show, don’t tell”. In that spirit, I’m going to give you an example. Compare these two sentences.

  • “I have a long history of successful leadership in my organization and have been responsible for many projects that have increased both profit margins and client goodwill.”
  • “I have been responsible for building relationships with one of our top-grossing clients and, over the past two years, have led a four-person team in developing reports for this client, resulting in a 20% increase in the client’s profitability, and a new contract for my own firm.”

Do you see how the second sentence communicates the same ideas in a more concrete manner? The first sentence, while not overtly arrogant, does not give any specifics and could be taken as an empty or even boastful statement. The second sentence eliminates that risk by providing a more specific example and letting that example speak for itself. Let’s look at another one, this time involving charitable contributions.

  • “I am involved with a number of charitable organizations, such as United Way, and am glad to donate my skills to such worthy programs.”
  • “I became involved with United Way five years ago, when I was visiting a local school with my company and talked to a child who did not have some of the most basic school supplies. I was struck by how fortunate I was to grow up with my basic educational needs fulfilled, and began organizing school supply drives and fundraisers so that children in my community could have that same privilege.”

Again, the second sentence is more moving and powerful because it provides an example. The first, though a perfectly good sentence, risks being seen as merely checking off a box, without real dedication or passion. Providing a more narrative example- even a very brief one- is so much more compelling than simply telling someone you are passionate about a cause.


Top MBA programs are looking for genuinely impactful candidates, and they are well-practiced at spotting empty boasts. Make a conscious effort to introduce more action and narrative into your MBA admissions essays and interviews so that you come across as passionate and engaged without seeming arrogant.