I have written previously about unusual MBA application mistakes, as well as interview and essay errors. However, it’s worth pointing out these common pitfalls, which are easy to avoid with the right planning.

  • Leaving your testing until the last minute.

Every year, I see promising candidates procrastinate when it comes to testing, severely damaging their chances of admission. It is virtually impossible to shape a coherent application strategy, and to pick the right mix of target schools, if you don’t know what your test scores are going to look like. Plus, most people take the GMAT or GRE at least twice, and some decide to take both. Get the testing out of the way early, it can mean the difference between success and failure.

  • Underestimating your marketability.

If you don’t apply to top schools you won’t get in. That is not to say that you should irrationally reach for programs that are clearly not a fit. However, I strongly encourage you to identify your strengths, understand what makes you unusual in the pool and leverage those qualities to apply to at least a few reach schools that are looking for what you have to offer.

  • Overestimating your marketability.

On the other hand, please don’t get overconfident. People with 4.0’s and perfect test scores are regularly rejected. I have worked with many re-applicants who were initially certain that their connections, grades, scores or diversity status would guarantee admission, and who sought help after they were surprised to learn that they still needed outstanding essays, recommendations and interview skills to get in. Please submit the best possible applications, no matter what else you bring to the table – this is a very competitive process.

  • Crowdsourcing your application strategy. 

The fastest way to dilute your candidacy is to ask everyone you know for advice. It’s human nature for people to offer critical feedback when you solicit their opinion – almost no one is going to tell you that your essay is perfect, and to leave it alone. However, it’s extremely important to make sure that your written materials reflect your voice, and are genuine. Even graduates from your target programs may not know why they were admitted – it could very well be despite their essays, not because of them!

  • Failing to visit schools.

I know that visiting different programs is expensive and inconvenient, and I also understand that there are a lot of resources out there that make it very easy to feel that you know what a school is like. However, there really is no substitute for setting foot on campus and interacting with students. This specific perspective is also critical if you want to write persuasive school specific essays. In addition, the schools where you feel most comfortable are often the ones that are most likely to admit you – and your perfect fit program may well be one that was not originally at the top of your list.

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Karen Marks

Karen has more than 12 years of experience evaluating candidates for admission to Dartmouth College and to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Since founding North Star Admissions Consulting in 2012, she has helped applicants gain admission to the nation’s top schools, including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Wharton, MIT, Tuck, Columbia, Kellogg, Booth, Haas, Duke, Johnson, Ross, NYU, UNC, UCLA, Georgetown and more. Clients have been awarded more than $70 million dollars in scholarships, and more than 98% have gotten into one of their top choice schools.
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