In this second article in our 2-part series on MBA Application Forms, we will answer two more frequently asked questions about the forms and offer some tips that will help you to make the most of this element of your MBA application.
Our main advice is to be sure to devote enough time and attention to your MBA application forms to ensure that they become an additional selling point for your MBA candidacy.
One important caveat: in this article, we discuss general policies and guidelines based on past experience. However, you need to follow the exact “letter of the law” for each school’s application form. Be sure that you fully understand each school’s specific policies and application form instructions before you begin filling out the forms.
Q: The form asks for number of people supervised, but I don’t have any direct reports? How do I answer this?
Many application forms will ask you for the number of people you supervised in each role. Even if you don’t have formal direct reports, you may be able to input a number if you have played a supervisory role over the course of your employment history. For example, a management consultant who leads teams of two or three analysts on typical assignments could include the average number of people he or she directs on such projects. This figure obviously needs to stand up to scrutiny. Never stretch the truth, but if you frequently oversee the work of others in your job, you should make it clear via the forms.
Q: Do I need to write anything in the MBA form’s optional essay?
Many business schools will offer you an opportunity to write an optional essay to discuss any information that you feel is relevant to your candidacy that you have not been able to discuss elsewhere in the application. Sometimes you will be asked an open-ended question that permits you to write about an element that will further strengthen your candidacy, such as community service leadership. More often, however, the MBA admissions committee expects you to use this optional essay to address any significant weaknesses in your application.
There are generally strict word limits for optional essays. Use this word real estate wisely to address topics such as a poor undergraduate GPA, an unusual choice of references, and/or gaps in your work history. If you feel there are extenuating circumstances of which the admissions committee should be aware, you should definitely use the optional essay to address them. If you choose to include an optional essay, avoid making excuses or deflecting blame; instead, offer reasonable explanations for poor performance, if there are any, and provide evidence that might persuade the admissions committee that your shortcomings have been being actively addressed.
We encourage you to invest time and care in the MBA application forms. The forms may be the first glimpse the admissions committee will have of you and, therefore, represent a great opportunity to advance your candidacy. Think carefully about each question on the application forms to be sure that you understand the reason that it is being asked and how the admissions committee will use the information in its assessment of your MBA candidacy. If you are unsure about the question, it is always best to put-in a brief call to the admissions office to clear up any confusion.
One final tip, be sure to have a couple of trustworthy people proof your forms before submitting them. Typos can easily slip through because there is no built-in spell check for most on-line forms.