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The Ultimate MBA Essay Mistake

I recently assisted an MBA Game Plan client who is applying to a handful of top finance-oriented business schools. In her “Why an MBA? Why this school?” essay, she did a good job of explaining her passion for finance, why she’s so interested in the subject, and what she sees herself doing in ten years. She made a very convincing case for why, although she didn’t have previous finance experience, that was the path she wanted to pursue.

Then, about 850 words into a 1,000-word essay, it came: She tacked on a half-hearted nod to philanthropy. It literally read like, “Oh yeah, and I want to use the money I make to wipe out (enter world affliction here). That’s important to me.” No reason why! No other evidence that this was something she truly cared about! It felt like she was merely checking a “community service” box as she prepared her application. I cringed.

While this example probably sounds extreme and transparent to you (it was real, by the way!), be careful… Falling into this trap is easier than you may think. Don’t inject half-hearted hobbies and interests into your MBA essays just to show that you’re a well-rounded application. Doing what that applicant did won’t just not help you, but it will actually hurt you. MBA admissions officers can smell B.S. like this from a mile away, and nothing turns them off more. Focus on what really matters to you, even if it means that you’ll end up leaving one or two holes in your overall business school application.

While you’re creating your MBA applications, you may start to worry that your background lacks certain important things, such as a track record of philanthropy or a history of taking on leadership roles. If you feel that way, then it may be true that you’re weak in those areas. But don’t tack on a half-hearted nod to those things in your MBA essays. Look for other ways to demonstrate the same traits in your application. If you feel that you’re really lacking in certain areas, then consider waiting another year and gaining more experience before you apply. Just don’t – under any circumstances – do what that applicant did! Keep it real in your applications, and you’ll be better for it in the long run.