You already know that having a criminal record, failing grades and erratic work experience can make it harder to get into business school. However, you might not realize that there are subtle (and more common!) issues that also alarm MBA programs. Do you have any of these surprising red flags on your MBA application?

  • Overly modest goals

Many people who go back to business school are “career enhancers” – people who are already employed in their field of choice, but need the credential to get promoted and excel long-term. As long as you articulate all of this clearly, that trajectory won’t raise any eyebrows.

However, think twice about telling schools that you want a post-MBA job that you are already qualified for.  (A job that you could plausibly get right now, and excel at.) If you do so, especially without identifying a long-term need for the MBA, they might worry that you don’t really understand the degree. Or that you don’t have a strong sense of your own qualifications, which might make it hard for you to sell yourself to an employer.

  • Quitting your job to apply to business school

Yes, it’s a ton of work to study for the GMAT or GRE, visit schools, network and write thoughtful essays. It can be especially hard to juggle all of this along with a demanding full-time job. However, business school is equally demanding! The first year, especially, is often described as “drinking from a fire hose.” So, if you can’t handle all of this now the committee will worry about your ability to balance academics, recruiting and community involvement. Also, the majority of applicants are employed when they apply, so you put yourself at a competitive disadvantage by choosing to leave your job to work on applications.

  • Degree collection

One of the most surprising red flags on your MBA application can be prior graduate degrees. Describe your trajectory coherently, or risk being labeled a “degree collector”, which means that the committee is worried about your professional and personal focus. If you are in this situation be sure to explain why you need the MBA, specifically, on top of your previous education. Also, if this is a super radical shift (like from being a prosecutor to retail, or from medicine to oil and gas investing) you should consider reassuring them that you aren’t going to change your mind again. Business schools want to make sure that you are going to leverage their degree.

 

None of these surprising red flags on your MBA application will keep you out of business school, as long as you can get in front of any potential questions. So, if these situations apply to you understand that the committee might have concerns, and be sure to mitigate them proactively.