Essays get the lion’s share of the attention when it comes to business school applications.   They’re the scariest beast to tackle, and they take the most time.  You might even believe that they hold the most weight, though they actually do not.  An MBA application is truly a package deal:  resume, data form, essays, recommendations, transcripts, test scores, interviews—the admissions committee has it all in front of them, and it all matters.  Your grand vision should be the combined impact of all of those items, not just the essays.


With plenty of blog posts to choose from about writing strong essays, here are a few thoughts on the rest of the application:


First, the resume.  Take the time to make it the strongest possible reflection of all of your professional and academic accomplishments.  Use this opportunity to highlight your extracurricular activities, community involvement, certifications and memberships, special skills, and even your personal interests.  Feel free to read our earlier blog post on what makes a strong MBA resume.  The point is, you’ve got valuable real estate in the resume to communicate items that you can’t otherwise fit into your essays.  For schools like HBS, which allow for only a couple of brief essay responses, a smart applicant will use the resume to its fullest potential.

Data Form

Next, the data form (“Part I”).  Don’t gloss over this component.  Leave yourself a couple of days to give it the attention it deserves.  You’ll have some redundancy with your resume, and that’s to be expected.  But again, view it as a critical chance to summarize your many engagements, accomplishments, leadership experiences, and interests—some of the most insightful glimpses into the type of person you are.  The admissions committee loves candidates who are active and involved, wherever your passions may lie.


While this component may seem out of your control, you can actually do a great deal to impact the quality of your recommendations.  Our recent blog post on choosing the right recommenders is the first important step.  From there, you’ll want to provide them with some information on your background, reasons for attending business school, and some of the things you’d like them to emphasize.  The most effective recommendations, though, are those that add a new perspective to your candidacy—so be careful not to restrict your recommenders into restating what you’ve already written.

Transcripts/Test Scores

Request your transcripts and test scores early.  If you submit them after the deadline, you are out of luck.  And don’t forget any continuing education coursework you may have taken.  Did you happen to take statistics course for work (from an accredited institution) and get an A?   By all means, send that off to the admissions committee!   Any demonstration of your academic aptitude, and a desire to further your education (particularly business-related), is seen in a positive light.


If you’re one of the lucky few who is invited to interview at the schools of your choice, the interview is arguably the most important aspect of the application process.  It’s where the admissions committee validates what they’ve read about you, probes for additional information, assesses your professionalism, gauges your passion for their program, and determines whether you’ll be a fit.  And while it is always a good sign to be invited to interview, it is definitely not a done deal.   At many schools, only roughly half of those interviewed are accepted.  So when it’s your turn, remember everything you already know about interviewing well (you got hired by a great company, didn’t you?), do your homework, have a natural conversation, and speak passionately about your greatest asset: you!


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© Hillary Schubach August 14, 2012  10:56am MT