Do’s and Don’ts of the MBA Application Process (Part One)

Posted by TheMBATour on 22 June 2011 / 1 Comment

By Donald Martin, Author of Road Map for Graduate Study

Applying to Graduate School is quite an undertaking. If you have taken the time to do your research, you have arrived at a short list of MBA programs you believe would meet your educational and career goals. Now you are ready to make application for admission.

Having worked in the field of enrollment management for 28 years, and having been the decision maker on applications for some very selective graduate programs, including 11 years at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, I have witnessed quite an array of behaviors on the part of applicants. Based on that experience, here are the first five of ten important do’s and don’ts for applying to business school:

1. Do your research!!!!

So many prospective MBA students rely on two sources in deciding where they will apply: 1) word of mouth and 2) rankings. And that is it - they go no further! This is extremely dangerous. Just because someone else thinks a certain MBA program is great doesn’t make that program right for YOU. Just because a program is listed in the “top five” or “top ten” doesn’t mean that it's the best option for YOU. This is YOUR graduate experience and no one else’s. There are literally hundreds of excellent MBA programs out there – do you homework and check them out. Browse websites. Read. Visit the campus via cyberspace or in real time. Then talk with current students and recent graduates. Then take a look at ranking. All of these criteria TOGETHER should be part of narrowing your “list” down to the business schools to which you will make application. Remember: Your success in life is not ultimately dependent on where you attended business school. It’s about who you are, your level of integrity, and your willingness to do what you need to do to succeed.

2. Do read instructions carefully and don’t rush.

This can make or break an application. Not following directions, whether intentional or not, does not a good first impression make. The admissions committee will assume one of several possibilities, none of which is in your favor: You are deliberately not doing what was asked of you (which could be interpreted as your trying to hide something); you are not very thorough in reading and responding to instructions; you are not able to understand what you read; you are not that interested in their institution.

3. Do apply when you are ready and don’t sacrifice quality for speed.

Most prospective graduate students complete more than one application. This is time consuming and requires a considerable amount of organization, patience, time, and attention to detail. Most admissions offices utilize application deadlines or rolling admissions with one final deadline. Be sure you allow yourself enough time to complete your application(s) with a degree of calm, as opposed to waiting to the last minute, rushing to meet a deadline, and risking missing something or making mistakes.

4. Do evaluate customer service but don’t forget that you too are being evaluated.

The application process is really a two-way evaluation: You are sizing up the institution and they are doing the same with you. How you are treated as a prospective student and applicant is a good indicator of how you will be treated should you enroll. Likewise, your behavior is being observed, believe me. At one of the institutions where I served, we had an inner office policy known as the “orange sheet.” Any staff member could record her/her impressions of an interaction they’d had with an applicant. This information was written on a bright orange sheet and placed in front of the applicant’s file. When it came time to make a decision on this application, the first part I saw was the orange sheet(s). If the information recorded was negative, that applicant was waitlisted at best.

5. Do be assertive but don’t be arrogant or argumentative.

It is one thing to be sure of yourself and to speak up if necessary. It is quite another thing to act is if you are the expert, or to start an argument with a member of the admissions staff. It is possible that something in your application file will be accidentally misplaced or lost entirely. It is possible that a mistake will be made in recording information about you. It is possible that the admissions office will be late in notifying you of a decision on your application. The way to handle any of these situations is to be assertive, and calmly state what you believe to be the truth. Raising your voice, becoming angry and accusatory, and berating a member of the admissions staff does not solve anything. It makes matters worse, and greatly lessens your chances of being admitted even if you are in the right.

Stay tuned for the next installment of five do’s and don’ts in the MBA application process!

For 7 ways to get positively noticed as an applicant, 7 deadly sins for applicants, responding to the notification decision, and much more, go to Dr. Martin’s website and review his book Road Map for Graduate Study: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students. The website address is

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