Published: May 7, 2019

When applying to an MBA program, it’s easy to overthink the process and unintentionally undersell yourself and your accomplishments. Often, it’s the stress of completing the application itself, which can result in typos or grammatical errors, affect its cohesiveness or cause total writer’s block. Knowing what to avoid at the outset is the best way to create a successful application. Below, we compiled six of the most common MBA application mistakes to use as a checklist for your application and help you feel confident when you hit “submit.”

  1. You leave who you are out of the essay

Your application essay is the most essential place to demonstrate to MBA admissions that you are the right candidate for their program. This is best conveyed when you’ve done careful research about the program(s) you are applying to and determined which one(s) are the best fit for you and them. Discuss how you would contribute to the program and the community and why you want to attend the school.

According to Forbes, the most engaging candidates are those who don’t try to be the “perfect” MBA candidate. So, don’t become bogged down by what you think your application should say, and focus more on how to present yourself in the best light possible. Ideally you should be articulating how your goals, interests and vision align with their values and mission. Talk about your strengths and limitations and how they will inform your studies—understanding how they impact you and your work shows confidence and self-awareness. Just make sure that you don’t cross the line into arrogance. Chances are the application reviewers will appreciate your self-efficacy.

  1. Your application is inconsistent

A common MBA application mistake that applicants face is not tying all the pieces of the application together, from the essay(s) to the resume. For example, if you make a case that you’re passionate about marketing, but there is no evidence of this in your resume or in your recommendations, the Admissions team may not be convinced you are what you say. Poets and Quants suggests focusing on connecting the dots and showing how your past experiences connect to and will be amplified by a successful future in the MBA program. In short, all of your documents should paint a cohesive picture of what you wish to convey about yourself and how the MBA is part of your plan.

  1. You’re probably overthinking the GMAT

Most everyone has some level of anxiety or apprehension about taking the GMAT, typically if you haven’t taken a test in a while. Even though test scores can play a huge part in decisions and presenting yourself, you don’t want to overthink it—the preparation, the test questions, your answers, all of it. Yes, do make sure to take adequate time in preparing and studying for the GMAT exam. Take whatever time you need to ready yourself, but then, just do it. If you don’t do well, it may not be the end to your chances. The GMAT is important, but it’s also only one factor in the admissions decision. Reviewers look at the whole application, so don’t let a test hold you back from pursuing this dream.

  1. You’ve left typos and errors in your materials

Read and reread your application materials to ensure that there are no typos or grammar errors, and have people you know also run through them to ensure that no mistakes go unnoticed. Make sure that your essay, resume, etc. all demonstrate who you are (see #1 and #2 above) and what makes you a great candidate. According to The Economist, the top two mistakes on application essays are mimicking the applications of friends and focusing too much on generic business projects. Therefore, don’t be afraid to incorporate your own unique experiences as they relate to the topic/prompt to make your essays shine.

  1. Your recommendations don’t align with your story

As mentioned in #2, you want all of your application to tell a cohesive story. You want your recommenders to really know you, so you can trust their letters will make a compelling case for your candidacy. Ask those people who can speak to your strengths the most and with whom you work (or have worked) directly. You also do not want to try to skew your recommender’s writing by prompting them with exactly what or how to speak about you. However, do give them an idea of what the school is looking for specifically and provide them with any information, such as a resume, they need to write a thorough letter.

  1. You miss the opportunity to showcase both autonomy and collaboration

Lastly, make sure there is a balance between showcasing your individual achievements and highlighting your capacity to work in teams throughout the application. One of the most common examples of a poor balance is someone who primarily writes about themselves and all of the items they completed on their own. Conversely, applicants who only play up team accomplishments end up missing the opportunity to showcase their own work. In an MBA program, there will be a fair amount of both individual and group projects, so it’s important to show you can be successful in collaboration and independently. Shoot to highlight a balance of examples of your best team experiences and independent accomplishments.


Assistant Director of MBA Admissions at the Leeds School of Business Nate Holt offers his advice for MBA applicants: “The best advice I can give is to not overthink the process. We see applicants put too much pressure on themselves throughout the process all the time. If you have concerns about your MBA application, whether it be your GPA, test scores, essay questions or something else, ask the admissions department. Applicants can take a lot of pressure off of themselves by simply asking for insight or help on their application.”

MBA programs can help to excel your career in the right direction, but it all starts with the application. As long as you employ best practices, you’ll easily avoid these common application mistakes. Overall, what’s most important is to gather all the materials required and meeting the deadline. Although, we hope you can enjoy the process—you’re about to embark on an exciting life-changing experience after all.

If you’d like to learn more about the Leeds MBA programs, please request more information here.