Don’t: Write Generic Essays

If you apply to several MBA programs with a one-size-fits-all essay, “I can smell it a mile away,” McCampbell says. Sentences such as “I would like to attend your school” instead of naming a specific university are a dead giveaway that a student is saving time and effort by sending the same essay to several schools.

And avoid causing needless irritation by naming the wrong school in the essay. “Make sure that . . . the letter [you] send in has the right university on it,” Nowakowski says. “Do a find and replace, people.”

However, changing the school’s name in the essay, but not revising the content to match the school’s essay questions, is apparent, too. Program directors are well aware of the other MBA programs in Minnesota (and the questions they ask for their admissions essays). Show you really care by customizing the essay for each application.


Don’t: Get Too Personal

All the MBA admissions directors we spoke with have received essays with too much personal detail in them—and all were turned off by them. Admissions officers want to know you as an individual, but keep personal details to a minimum. “If it’s not something you wouldn’t talk about with your boss, [it’s] probably not for an MBA [essay],” Nowakowski says. Bursch recalls stories about overcoming divorce and medical issues. One would-be student even divulged how much alimony he pays.

Bursch says that’s definitely too much information. It’s okay to talk about how running a marathon was a big accomplishment, Bursch advises, but don’t go on about it for three paragraphs. Too much personal information leaves little space for business-related accomplishments. “I can’t get an idea of if you’re going to be successful here professionally,” he says.