There are plenty of myths surrounding the business school application process. The problem with myths, however, is that they are not true. Yet many applicants rely on them and set themselves up for failure as a result.
Here are some of the popular myths on applying to top MBA programs:
Myth 1: You can’t get into a top school if you are past the average age
With business schools publishing data on the average age of their incoming class, there is a lot of pressure on applicants to compare themselves to the school’s statistics. What you have to also consider is your unique circumstances. Everyone is different. There are always exceptions to the rule. While the average age for many schools is 27-28 (for US MBA programs) and 28-29 (for international MBA programs) there are many candidates who are older than the average age and are still admitted. What you must focus on is to explain why now is the ideal time for you instead of a few years ago. Candidates who can show that they are still progressing in their career, and that they have not plateaued, can be attractive candidates despite being older than the average entering class. You should sell your story and communicate what you will bring to the program.
Myth 2: It’s impossible to overcome a low GPA
Your university GPA and academic performance is important. But there are situations where applicants underperformed to their ability due to a variety of factors. You have to be honest when addressing your situation. Make no excuses and take ownership of your mistakes. If your academic performance is below average then you must do everything in your power to attain a strong GMAT score. This will help you offset some of the concerns the adcom will have about your ability to handle a rigorous academic environment. We have worked with many applicants, over the years, who have successfully overcome weak GPAs and gained admission to their top MBA program. Demonstrating maturity in your application, quantitative and analytical rigor from your work, and solid GMAT/GRE scores can go a long way to help you overcome a low GPA. I’ve also seen cases where having a masters degree with excellent academic record has been helpful in yielding a favorable admissions outcome.
Myth 3: You need to have at least five years of work experience before business school
Many MBA programs report that their admitted students have significant work experience. I’ve even heard applicants ask whether they would be at a disadvantage if they applied with three years or less of work experience. There are many applicants who have gained admission with only three years of work experience. There are even MBA programs that admit students who don’t have any work experience. Instead of focusing on the exact number of years of experience you should consider the quality of your work experience and the opportunities you have had to make a tangible contribution at your firm. The more evidence of leadership impact you have, regardless of the number of years of experience, the more likely you are to be attractive to the admissions board.
Myth 4: Round one is the optimal round to apply in
I’ve seen plenty of instances where applicants tossed their application in the hat solely with the goal to meet the first round deadline because of the belief that they don’t want to be disadvantaged by applying in later rounds. The reality is that you want to apply when you have the strongest application. For some folks, that could mean applying in round 1. For many applicants, round two would be the better option since their application needs additional work. So instead of thinking that you must apply in the first round, you should ask yourself how much stronger your application could become if you were to push to round two. If the answer to this question is that there is still room for much improvement, then round one is absolutely not in your best interest to apply then.
Myth 5: You need recommenders who are alumni of the business school
I’m not sure exactly how this particular myth was created. Maybe it comes from many alumni who boast that they can get a candidate into their alma mater. Or from statements where alumni brag that they have recommended X number of applicants and all of them have been admitted.
Alumni can have an overinflated sense of their own power and abilities when it comes to the application process. So before you approach an alum to write your recommendation letter, stop to consider what he/she would say about you. How well do they really know you and will they have concrete examples that will paint a vivid picture of your work, growth, and potential? There may be others at your firm who can do an incredible job recommending you even though they are not alumni of the school to which you are applying.
Myth 6: Visiting the MBA programs or attending information sessions hosted by the schools is a waste of time
Not true. It’s true that some applicants gain admission to business school without visiting or engaging with the school. However, there are enough examples that I have witnessed where a candidate visited a school or attended an information session in their city of residence and because of this engagement, they were better informed about the program, enabling them to make a compelling case for how they are a great fit for the program.
Myth 7: You can’t get in if you have a gap in your work history
Short gaps can be overcome. Life happens. Entire divisions can get closed. How you address this can make a significant difference to the adcom. Be honest. Address the gap. Don’t dwell on it. Focus your attention on what you are currently doing and show that it will be an asset to the school.
Myth 8: You must have community service involvement to get admitted
When I wrote my book, The Best Business Schools’ Admissions Secrets, I addressed what I called the three Cs of Leadership (College, Career, and Community). What I’ve observed recently is that there is artificial checking the box that applicants engage in which makes the adcom question their true motivation. You don’t want to join clubs or volunteer simply to build your resume. You want to be true to your reality. There are applicants who don’t have time to engage in community service but who still invest in people through their involvement with work projects that go beyond their job description. Showing how you have done this within your work environment can differentiate you from some of your competition. Remember that admissions folks are looking for authenticity so be real when sharing your own involvement and commitments. And don’t view your lack of formal extracurricular outside of work as a major disadvantage.