Worried About Weaknesses? Offer Explanations (Not Excuses) In Your MBA Application

Admissions officers perceive excuses as an attempt to sidestep responsibility for your actions. Of the utmost importance is providing an explanation, not an excuse.

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A handful of candidates to top tier MBA programs seem to have all the qualities to write their own ticketfast-track career progression at a Fortune 500 company (or co-founder of an innovative tech firm), magna cum laude from a prestigious university, with perhaps an Olympic medal and impressive charitable work to boot. Most of us, however, have something in our background we imagine having to compensate for, or explain away. 

Of the utmost importance is providing an explanation, not an excuse.

As former directors of admissions at INSEAD, Wharton and other top business schools, our team at Fortuna Admissions has heard all the excuses:

  • “My GMAT doesn’t reflect my true academic ability.”
  • “I don’t have any extracurriculars because I work too hard.”
  • “I didn’t ask my boss for a recommendation because she wouldn’t have time to write it.”

If all you can muster is a predictable excuse, it is better not to mention it at all.

Admissions officers perceive excuses as an attempt to sidestep responsibility for your actions. An explanation, on the other hand, affirms you have a past from which you’ve learned and evolved, and the explanation can be followed up with what you have done since to put it right. In our conversations with MBA candidates, we discuss issues such as an awkward career gap, a less-than-stellar GPA, or a complex relationship with your boss. Here’s some advice related to many of the most frequent concerns we hear:

  • Respect the intelligence of your audience. Don’t show your arrogance by thinking you can conceal the issue, but at the same time don’t get too intimidated, which leads to being needlessly defensive. Sincere and straightforward works best.
  • Don’t make a big song and dance about it If it’s a small thing. Use the optional essay for anything you think an admissions committee needs to know, but don’t squander valuable real estate in your essays elaborating on why binge drinking in college was a bad idea. The optional essay is a good place to explain, but use it for significant issues and demonstrate your learning.

If all you can muster is a predictable excuse, it is better not to mention it at all.

  • Don’t sweep it under the carpet. If there is a gap in your resume, it’ll be obvious to your file reader. Any gaps could be interpreted in the worst possible way if you don’t explain yourself. So be direct and convey how you put that time to good use.
  • If you were ill when you took the GMAT, please don’t go into details. Focus on how you are going to boost your score between now and the admissions deadline.
  • One B minus or C in your college career will not deny you admission to business school, so there’s no need to write an optional essay. If your overall GPA is below par, you can compensate with a strong GMAT or GRE score, or take a course to prove your quant ability. If there was an abiding reason your grades suffered—a demanding part-time job that paid your school expenses, a family issue—provide a brief, no-nonsense explanation, ideally underscoring your academic potential when you were able to focus on academics.
  • If you sense that soliciting a recommendation from your direct supervisor will jeopardize your job situation, you may want to include a sentence citing this in your optional essay. Admissions officers are familiar with such situations but prefer to know why you made the decision rather than deducing it for themselves.

And finally, don’t over-worry about the one aspect of your application that falls short—we’ve all encountered setbacks along the way. Remember that admissions committees are looking for the whole picture. Give them the opportunity to place a weak point within the context of your other achievements and demonstrated potential.

Author: Caroline Diarte Edwards. Caroline is a director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former Director of MBA Admissions at INSEAD.

Related Topics:

Presenting Your Academic Record In The MBA Application: GPA, GMAT & GRE

Self-Reflection And How To Position Your MBA Candidacy

Going To Business School With A Family

How To Convey A Powerful Career Vision In Your MBA Application

Noodle Pros GRE And GMAT Specialists

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