Non-Obvious Ways to Improve Your Applications

Business schools look at thousands of applications every year. With so many people competing for the limited number of spaces available, you need to make sure that your applications are as strong as they can be. Some of the ways to write an effective application are obvious: your applications should be error-free, your recommendations should be compelling, and your essays should demonstrate the time and care that you put into them. Not everything is so obvious, however. The following are a few of the lesser-known ways that you can enhance your business school applications.

1. Tailor your résumé

Including a résumé with your application is a good idea even when it isn’t required (which it often is). But using your current résumé, the one that you would use for a job application, is a mistake. You’re not applying for a job, you’re applying for a professional degree. Technical details that would matter to people in your field may not matter (or even be comprehensible) to the admissions committee. You’re not trying to convince the admissions committee that you can perform a job, so don’t merely list your job accomplishments. You need to write about your accomplishments in a way that lets the admissions committee see career progression and management potential.

In particular, you need to highlight your accomplishments working as a member and a leader of a team. The hallmark of business school education is group work. There are ordinary lectures in a classroom too, but a big part of the business school experience is working on group projects with your classmates. Whatever relevant experience you’ve had in that area needs to be emphasized.

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Another thing to remember is that business school is school. You will be learning academic subjects and the admissions committee will look for your intellectual potential to handle the work. So if you have mastered any difficult topics or challenging material in your career, be sure to bring it to their attention.

The résumé is your opportunity to give the the members of the admissions committee a one-page snapshot of who you are. Many of them look at your résumé before any other part of the application and form their first impression of you based on it. Make sure you present yourself advantageously.

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2. Use addenda if necessary

If there’s some part of your application that could use an explanation, don’t be afraid to write an addendum that explains it. Maybe there’s a gap in your work history because you were laid off and decided to take some time to travel. Perhaps you had one bad, anomalous semester in college because of a sickness in your family. Maybe there’s some odd thing about how you had to answer one of the application questions that won’t make sense and will raise an eyebrow if you don’t provide an explanation. These are situations that call for explanatory addenda.

The guidelines for writing addenda are simple: Make them brief, make them to-the-point, and never whine or beg. Do not write an addendum to say that you were never good at standardized tests but have always succeeded nonetheless in hard classwork at school. If it’s true, your transcript will already show it, and you aren’t doing yourself any favors by drawing attention to your GMAT score if it’s not the strongest part of your application. When considering whether to write an addendum you have to look at it from the perspective of a member of the admissions committee. If you were evaluating the application, would you be glad to know this information? Would it help you properly evaluate the candidate? If yes, then write it simply and directly. If not, leave it out. The goal is not to evoke pity in the reader, it’s to help the reader understand the situation.

3. Make sure to come across as a real person

You’re going to spend a lot of time putting forward the strongest case you can that you’re good management material. You’ve got the hands-on experience, you know the theory, you’re creative, you’re practical, you’re decisive, you’ve led teams, you’ve been on teams, you’ve got the work ethic, you’ve got the intellect, you’ve worked independently, you’ve worked collaboratively, you’ve delegated, you’ve done the work yourself, you’re strategic, you’re visionary — but as you craft this legend of Business Leadership Potential that is You, don’t forget that readers of your application are looking for a human connection with you. They want to feel as though there’s a real person on the other side of the application. So let them in on something in your life beyond your work credentials. Write in normal English, not business jargon. Use the first person in your essays. Work with your recommenders so that they talk about you as a human being, and don’t merely discuss projects you’ve done. Admission committees are made up of real people and they want real people at their schools.

The big stuff is still crucial, but some of these less obvious points can be the difference between your application landing the good pile or the bad pile.

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