In this video, we survey the kinds of information that is asked for on the Application Forms. Then, we offer some tips and address the questions most applicants have concerning each aspect of the application forms.
Most applicants leave this part of the application for last, at times working feverishly right up until the deadline. Why is that? Well, it seems that these forms should be the easiest part of the application and shouldn't require much critical thinking or effort at all. However, this is not entirely true. There are definitely some portions of the Data Forms that require your best attention.
In fact, the data forms are the very first part of the application that is read by the Admissions Committee. So if they are incomplete, rushed, full of errors, or below the quality level of the other parts of your application, well, you might be risking your candidacy from the very start.
In this lecture, we will first run through the kinds of information that is asked for on these forms. And then, we will cover some tips and frequently asked questions concerning this important part of the application process.
One important caveat. We are going to cover some general policies and guidelines based on our experience dealing with numerous candidates applying to many of the top schools. However, you must be sure to follow the exact "letter of the law" as outlined by each school. A school's specific requirements can change from year-to-year and are often unique to that school. So please, be sure to read the policy and submission requirements carefully for each school that you are applying to.
With that out of the way, let's first turn to the topics generally covered in the data forms.
There are eight major categories of information commonly asked for in the data forms section. These are listed on your screen.
It's important to understand the major data form categories, so you can get all of your required materials ready. You don't want to get caught off guard when a school asks how many hours you worked part-time in college, or how many semesters you were on the Dean's list. It's important to have all your research done before starting to complete your forms.
Now we are not going to go through the forms line by line. Nor is our list meant to be fully comprehensive. Rather, we are going to cover the major sections and potential issues around each. Remember to read instructions carefully and put great energy into being accurate and thorough.
So let's start with Biographical Information.
The biographical section generally covers basic personal information you see listed on the screen. Despite the personal nature of some of the questions, this section should be pretty straightforward.
Three tips to help differentiate yourself in this area:
First, there is typically an optional section to self report your ethnic background. This is completely optional, but given schools make great efforts to diversify their classes, reporting a minority status is generally beneficial!
Second, another question often asked relates to whether your immediate family or other family members are alumni of the school. So-called "legacy" relationships are given careful attention by the admissions committees, so if your siblings, parents, or other relatives have already attended the school you're applying to, be sure to list them accurately where indicated.
Finally, be careful to be accurate and not make any typos.
Next, let's look at the Education section of the data forms.
You will be asked to provide information about your undergraduate and any post graduate education.---listing your degree or degrees, where you studied, your concentration, dates, etcetera. In this section, they will also ask for your GPA. This should be very straightforward, unless you have studied outside of the US and the grading system was different or not really comparable to the US system. Any commentary or translation of your grades into a GPA equivalent should also be addressed in the optional essay.
Many schools are now asking that you upload scanned copies of your transcripts. Alternatively, they might offer you the option of "self-reporting" your transcript scores via an online template they will provide. It is essential that you are 100% accurate here because you will be required to provide official transcripts if you are accepted into a particular school. Any major discrepancy could likely result in your acceptance offer being rescinded.
They may also ask here separately about academic honors or prizes — like graduating Cum Laude or winning a merit scholarship. Of course list all of these types of achievements and honors.
Next, schools tend to also ask if you worked part time in college and how many hours per week you worked during your various years. This is important information to fill out, particularly if you have a lower than average GPA that needs some explaining. Some of my clients ask about how to treat summer internships. I advise them to list only the most significant summer internships, particularly if they contain leadership stories and are related to your longer-term career goals.
Last in the education section, you will be asked to list your extracurricular activities. List your most substantial activities first, particularly those where you had a leadership role, and then list your other major activities. Remember, the application is a marketing exercise, so don't list everything you have done, especially if your time, for example, in the Chess Club was short-lived.
The next section we'll consider covers your work experience.
In the work experience section, you will be asked a variety of questions about your prior roles. Don't just cut and paste from your resume – take the time to summarize your roles and responsibilities, include concise company descriptions, and be sure to feature your most important skills.
Keep in mind that every information request is an opportunity to sell yourself and be strategic. Even with something as seemingly simple as industry classifications, look for the linkages to your future career goals. If your past employers could validly be classified in more than one industry, choose the one closest to your future career goals.
You will also be asked to describe your job responsibilities and the number of people supervised. Don't be fooled here. Do not just give a quick, boring summary of your basic job description. Add numbers and other information that demonstrate the size and scale of your firm and your responsibilities. This is particularly important if your company is not a household name.
You may also be asked about the most significant accomplishments and the most significant challenges you faced in each job. The best accomplishments and challenges to feature here are related to your longer-term career goals and will help give the admissions committee a sense of the skills and knowledge you've acquired along your career thus far.
You may get asked about your current salary and bonus. Though this sounds very personal, it is a good way for schools to tell how you've progressed at your firm and how you compare to other applicants in similar roles. Schools know that different firms in different cities pay on different scales. This information is not optional and should be filled out accurately.
When you give reasons for leaving a company, try to bridge to your next experience. So if you left one web start up to work for another, you might explain that you got the opportunity to manage direct reports in a business that had more revenues and product lines. Don't just say you left for another job.
Next, let's talk about other activities you are involved with.
You will be asked about your current activities and involvements, and this is meant to get at any volunteer, personal or business activities that you are doing or have done outside of your full time job.
This is a critical section, as top MBA programs are looking for all around contributors who don't just work – they are looking for well-rounded individuals. You will cover some of these activities in your essays, but may not get to talk about all of them, so go ahead and list the more important ones you've put consistent time towards, preferably in a leadership role, where you can point to meaningful achievements.
Part of being "well-rounded" includes exposure to and appreciation for international/cross-cultural experiences, which is the next category we'll look at.
Admissions committees are looking for candidates who have a global perspective and will be capable of one-day leading businesses that are global in nature. Similarly, cross-cultural experiences include those times you've ventured outside your comfort zone and relied on your adaptability, empathy and communication skills to navigate those differences effectively.
Therefore, many schools will ask you to identify cross-cultural experiences, times you've lived abroad, significant travel experiences, and proficiency in languages other than English.
Some clients ask whether to include short travel experiences or language studies that haven't related in significant mastery of a language. I always encourage them to include these experiences because they represent important cultural learnings and also demonstrate a willingness to go outside of one's comfort zone. These experiences, however minor, make you more impressive than people who have not traveled or even attempted to master other languages.
The next important section we'll consider are your test scores.
You will be asked to self report your GMAT score. As always, read the instructions carefully, as some schools will require you to list all your historical scores and some will not. Every year I get asked if you can report your unofficial GMAT scores. You should check for every school on their website, but generally speaking, you can take the GMAT up until the day before your application is due. Of course, we don't recommend that, but the point is that as soon as the test is over with, you will get an unofficial score which rarely changes when your official scores come out about 20 days later. You can list your unofficial scores on your Application Data Forms, and then just make sure you have arranged for official scores to be sent to all of your schools.
Another note, some schools have also started accepting the GRE in lieu of the GMAT. Check the policies of the particular schools you are applying to if you have already taken the GRE or feel the test is a better reflection of your abilities.
If you were not educated in an English speaking country like the United States, you may be required to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). For example, some schools require all applicants educated in India to complete and submit a valid TOEFL score, regardless of the language of instruction used in their undergraduate education.
The final category we'll look at is the Optional Essay.
The last section we want to mention is the optional essay. Schools will give you an opportunity to discuss any information that you feel is relevant to your candidacy but you have not been able to discuss. Sometimes this is open-ended and allows you to include subjects that might further strengthen your candidacy. More often, this optional essay is limited to addressing any significant weaknesses in your application.
There are generally strict word limits to this section and it is meant to explain topics such as a poor undergraduate GPA, a learning disability, medical problems that may have caused gaps in work history and so forth. If you feel there are extenuating circumstances of which the Committee should be aware, you should definitely use the optional essay to address them. Be brief, avoid making excuses or deflecting blame, offer reasonable explanations for poor performance if there are any, and, if possible, provide evidence that might persuade the admissions committee that this issue has already been addressed.
Before we conclude this lecture, I'd like to leave you with some final thoughts regarding the Application Data Forms.
First, don't be one of those applicants who leaves the data forms to the last hour and gets the horrible shock that there are a few mini essays. The Data Forms are your first impression so give them ample time.
Second, this is a marketing effort, so make sure you are communicating your key themes clearly and consistently without overloading them with endless lists of activities.
Honesty is critical. Don't play games stretching the truth. Your admission and even degree can be revoked.
Proof read your work and get an outsider to do so as well as there is likely going to be no spell check option. Sloppy errors give the message that you are not thorough and don't really care about their school.
Next, you may be asked to indicate your future course areas of MBA focus. If you have argued you want to work in corporate M&A, don't choose operations management. Always try to be consistent in messaging.
Last, word limits are important and excess sentences may be cut off. So, as always, edit, edit, edit.
Well, you are now ready to ensure that your Application Forms help support the key elements and messaging from the rest of your application. While most other applicants will rush this critical "first impression" application element, you will carefully build your Application Forms to be the same level of quality and consistency of messaging needed to maximize your changes of winning a place in a top tier MBA program.
MBA Prep School is here to support you every step of the way. Our Admissions Consultants can work with you in private, one-on-one tutorials that will guide every element of your application, and will help set you apart from the competition.
So good luck in completing your Application Forms and PREPARE TO BE ACCEPTED!
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Reference: Lecture Slides and Speaker Notes