The Biographical Information section generally covers basic personal information. Despite the personal nature of some of the questions, this section should be fairly straightforward.
We have two tips that certain candidates can take advantage of to differentiate their candidacy in this section of the form:
There is typically an optional section to self report your ethnicity. This is usually optional, but given that schools make great efforts to diversify their classes, reporting a minority status, when applicable, is generally beneficial.
Another question schools sometimes ask in this section relates to whether or not your immediate family or other family members are alumni of the school. So-called “legacy” status with a school is an advantage; therefore, if your siblings, parents, or other relatives have already attended the school you are applying to, be sure to list them accurately where indicated.
You will be asked to provide information about your educational background, including listing your degree or degrees, where you studied, your major concentration, and grades.
Reporting your grade point average (“GPA”) is straightforward unless you studied outside of the United States and/or the grading system at your university was different than the standard U.S. four-point system. If so, some schools will require you to use a translation service, like the World Education Service, to translate your grades onto the four-point scale. You will be able to find these service providers via the internet. If you do need to translate your grades, then you should note this in an optional essay.
Many schools will ask you to upload scanned copies of your transcripts. Some others will offer the option of “self-reporting” your transcript scores via an online template they will provide. Check the policies of the schools you are applying to, but typically, “official transcripts” must only be submitted by accepted applicants. If you input your transcripts, ensure that you are 100% accurate. Even a minor discrepancy could result in your acceptance offer being rescinded.
Awards and Honors
Some schools will provide a separate section for reporting academic honors and prizes, such as graduating Cum Laude or winning a merit scholarship. It may have been a few years since college so be sure to research your records and identify any honors or academic achievements you received.
Schools tend to also ask if you worked part-time in college and how many hours per week you worked during those years. This is important information to provide, particularly if you have a lower than average GPA that needs some explaining. In terms of listing summer internships, list your most significant internship experiences, particularly if they contain leadership stories and provide additional evidence of “career readiness.”
You are almost sure to be asked about your extracurricular activities in college. List your most substantial activities first, focusing on those where you played a leadership role. Including your student leadership achievements is an important step in building the Leadership Portfolio you present in your application. In terms of activities, feature the substantive ones. Don’t dilute the impact by listing every club you were remotely involved in – focus attention on the major activities.
In the Work Experience section of the forms, you will be asked a variety of questions about your career history.
Application Forms versus the Resume
When creating this section, don’t just cut and paste from your resume. Instead, take the time to summarize your roles and responsibilities, write concise company descriptions, and provide evidence of your most important skills and achievements. Remember that admissions officers may be reviewing this information before they read your resume; so you want to ensure that you have provided persuasive evidence about your general management potential, career readiness, and leadership capabilities.
Industry Classifications of Your Employers
Keep in mind that every information element on the forms represents an opportunity to bolster your candidacy. Even something as straightforward as industry classifications of your employers can advance your case. If your past employers could legitimately be classified in more than one industry, choose the one that provides the best evidence that you are prepared for your future career goals.
You will also be asked to describe your job responsibilities and the number of people you supervised. This is an important opportunity to convince admissions officers that you have distinguished yourself in your career. The same advice and guidelines we gave you about your career story and resume apply here as well. Use solid action verbs, quantify results, and demonstrate the scope of your role and the degree of responsibility you held. This is particularly important if your employer is not a household name.
Significant Challenges and Achievements
You may also be asked about the most significant challenges you faced and your proudest accomplishments in each job. The best accomplishments and challenges to feature here are the same ones that emerged at the top of your list when you analyzed your resume building blocks. Reviewing the work you did in that MBA Prep Step™ is recommended.
Salary and Bonus Statistics
You may be asked for salary and bonus information. Schools use this data to gauge how you have 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 usually not optional and should be filled out accurately.
Reasons for Leaving a Company
When you give reasons for leaving a company, focus on the positives and provide a logical bridge to your next job. For example, if you left one web start up to work for another, you might explain that you left because you were offered the opportunity to manage a team and to work for a company that had more marketing resources and a product line that fascinated you. Don’t dwell on the negatives of the old job. Instead, communicate the positive aspects of the new role you were moving to.
Current Activities & Involvement
Most schools want to know the kinds of things you are involved in outside of work. This is a chance to share any volunteer, personal or professionally oriented activities outside of your full time job.
Leadership Outside of Work
Summarizing your leadership outside of work is a critical aspect of convincing admissions officers of your leadership potential. Admissions officers are looking for individuals who make an impact in their areas of passion. In this section, you want to summarize the ways that you have made a difference in the causes that you care about.
Hobbies and Interests
Top MBA programs are looking for interesting, well-rounded individuals. This section of the forms is a chance to share some of the top Points of Difference you identified in the Discover Your Strengths MBA Prep Step™. You may not have an opportunity to share all of your PODs in the essay or resume so take the opportunity to do so in the forms.
As we have mentioned in previous units, admissions committees are looking for candidates who have a global worldview. Cross-cultural experiences include those times you have ventured outside your comfort zone and relied on your adaptability, empathy and communication skills to navigate those unfamiliar settings effectively.
Therefore, if given the chance in the application forms, you should summarize significant travel experiences and proficiency in languages other than English. Feature experiences that taught you important lessons about other cultures and the times you learned about people who are different than yourself.
You will be asked to self-report your GMAT or GRE scores in your application forms. As always, read the instructions carefully, as some schools will require you to list all your historical scores while others only want the highest score.
Every year we are asked if you can report your unofficial GMAT or GRE scores. You should verify each school’s policy, but some schools will permit you to take the GMAT or GRE up until the day before your application is due and self-report the score you leave the test center with. If you list your unofficial scores on your Application Data Forms, be sure to have your official scores sent to all of the schools you are applying to.
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 that test is a better reflection of your abilities.
If you were not born in an English speaking country and did not attend an English-only university, you will probably be required to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam. For example, some schools require Indian citizens who attended university in India to complete and submit a valid TOEFL score, regardless of the language of instruction used in their undergraduate education.
Many schools will offer you an opportunity to discuss any information that you feel is relevant to your candidacy that you have not been able to discuss elsewhere in the application. This open-ended question sometimes permits you to write about an element that will further strengthen your candidacy, such as leadership achievements with a community service organization. More often, however, this optional essay is limited to addressing any significant weaknesses in your application.
There are generally strict word limits for optional essays, and they are meant to address topics such as a poor undergraduate GPA, choice of recommenders, a learning disability, and gaps in 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 already been addressed. Under ideal circumstances, you identified potential red flags early in the MBA Prep Steps™ process, and are now in a position to summarize the actions you have taken to address your weakness as part of the Optional Essay. In all cases, be very concise and to the point.
Unit Review: Complete the Application Forms
- The application forms are often the first glimpse the admissions committee gets of you and represent another opportunity to advance your candidacy.
- Refresh your memory about academic honors and awards and ensure that the grade data you report is accurate.
- Your extracurricular activities in college are an important component of your Leadership Portfolio.
- Your goals in the Work Experience section are similar to your goals for creating an outstanding resume; however, you need to be thoughtful about how to best use this space to prove your general management potential, career readiness, and leadership capabilities.
- If asked your reasons for leaving an employer, focus on the positives of the new role, not the negatives of the job you left.
- Proving you are a leader outside of work is your primary objective in the section on Current Activities and Other Involvement.
- The Hobbies and Interests section is a good place to share your Points of Difference.
- Admissions officers value cross-cultural experiences and a global worldview; so share achievements and life experiences that provide evidence of your global perspective.
- Don’t try to sweep concerns about your candidacy under the carpet, address them head-on in the Optional Essay. Provide concise explanations – not excuses – and supply counterbalancing evidence for any red flags.