With MBA programs’ Round 2 deadlines coming thick and fast over the next two weeks, we wanted to offer some words of advice about an often overlooked element of one’s file: the application data forms. All too often, candidates leave these online application forms for the last minute, even rushing to enter all the required information from work on “deadline day.” The truth is that a weak effort on these forms can do serious harm to one’s candidacy, as it might reflect poorly on the applicant’s professional polish or commitment to the application process. This being the case, here are a few tips for those who are in the midst of completing this component of the application:
1) Don’t be lazy.
We know that many applicants feel “burned out” from their essays and that it’s tempting to zip through the application forms and provide a bare minimum of information. While it’s fine to use your résumé as a starting point, make sure that you think beyond this ready-made content and consider other information that might be of interest. In many cases, the forms are a great opportunity for you to list outside activities in depth, offer a quick explanation of a bad semester, share the significance of some professional awards you’ve received, and so on. In fact, your application forms will often be the starting point for the admissions officer’s review of your file, so it’s important to put your best foot forward.
2) Follow instructions.
If a school asks you to list activities in order of importance to you, then do not list them chronologically (as you may have done for another school). If the school asks for a contact person, title or the number of hours/week, do not leave these fields blank. As attention to detail is very important, spell-checking is another important step in this process. In fact, many admissions officers have stated that they use the application forms as a way to see whether or not candidates have the ability to follow instructions and show attention to detail.
3) Word and character limits.
Many schools are now asking short questions that form “mini-essay” answers. Often these answers come with very specific word and character limits. Consider these limits carefully; some online applications will simply truncate answers that go too long.
4) Make everything clear.
The last thing you want is for your reader to have to play detective in understanding your career progression, making sense of gaps in employment, or evaluating your undergraduate performance. If your listings are not clear, the reader may assume you are hiding something – a conclusion that could seriously damage your chances. By the same token, you should avoid using industry jargon and be sure that all of your statements will make sense to a reader who is not familiar with your industry or function. Given the level of competition in the applicant pool, the admissions office can afford to dismiss files that are confusing or difficult to follow.
5) Don’t go overboard.
Admissions officers typically review several files in one sitting – devoting much less time than you might imagine to each file. With this in mind, avoid listing 18 activities, 22 awards and 17 publications – especially if some of those items date back to high school (or are more than 10 years old). Stay focused on the elements of your background that are most relevant, while following the instructions that have been outlined. Remember that the application process is an exercise in marketing, and that the schools appreciate applicants who are discerning about what details to share and know how to present themselves most effectively.
As always, best of luck to those of you who are applying!