Last Minute MBA Application Advice: Before You Hit the Submit Button

Updated for the 2015/2016 Application Year

I've updated Amerasia's list of best tips and best practices for submitting your MBA application online. So hopefully this prevents many of you from not getting caught with your pants down just hours to go before the application deadline! 

In fact, I always tell my clients to start their online MBA application at the very beginning of the application process because it can help you understand what you are in for.  Most people think that HBS does not have a "goals" essay. Technically, they are correct.  But they do have a 500 character goal statement on the actual online form.  They also want you to rank your extracurricular equities in order of importance.  And if you read the language on the application carefully, it seems as though they only want you to fill out activities that occur during your undergraduate career. To make it that much more difficult, Harvard only provides you a few hundred characters (not words) of precious application UI to do so.  By the way, this does include characters like spaces. Surprise!  But not a good surprise if you waited until the 11th hour to open up and start reviewing the online application. There are many other instances of these types of requirements – MBA app hoops you have to jump through – when you were least expecting.

But since this blog post is about what you can and should do before finally pressing "submit", I do not want to revisit what you should have done.  Let us focus on what you can do right now.

Based on what I have seen over the past few years:

1. Some online applications won't take scanned transcripts bigger than 700kb.

You can shrink your transcripts (online) here -  And yes, unless otherwise directed, you need to scan all pages of your official transcript - front and back. 

2 . Submit at least two or three hours before the exact time the application deadline.

I wouldn't push the limits of good judgment when submitting close to the deadline. Why? Because servers and other technical infrastructure tends to slow down and possibly crash.  I am not making this up. In years past, the schools that have acknowledged this problem, have also extended their deadlines by a few hours.  But do not rely on their good judgment.  Instead use yours by submitting your MBA application a few hours early.

Keep this in mind please, the actual hour and minute of the deadline is usually stated in that MBA program's local time zone.  Not necessarily in yours.

3 . Depending what version of Google Chrome you are using, you can't cut and paste short answers onto the online app fields when using Google Chrome.

Instead, you have to use Firefox. No one uses Internet Explorer or whatever Microsoft is going to call it in Windows 10 ... joking, but I have not tested cut/paste with Explorer.

You might want to tell you recommenders us as well. Recommenders tend to fill out their answers in Microsoft Word and transfer them over to the online app. They are to be happy if they have to retype it all out – especially when they do not have to.

4. Most schools include short essays - not just short answers - on their app.

Tuck has their international experience essays (250 words), Yale has a professional statement, HBS does ask you for your goals and Darden does a good job of hitting you up with an elevator pitch essay. 

5. Also know that all schools have a short answers on their app that will ask you for employment history, significant awards, extracurriculars.

Do not simply cut and paste from your resume. Instead, Start with what you have on your resume and dress them up a little - for example – try to make your answers complete sentences. I often have clients ask me, "should not I put something different on here than what is on my resume?"  And "why would they have me put the same information on here?"  

It is pretty simple really.  Yes, you should be putting (approximately) the same information on both the resume in the online application. Admissions committees do not know what they are going to get when it comes to resumes and formats, and the whole lot.  In order to standardize this and make their jobs easier, they want uniform applications.  So everyone can stop thinking they want something different, and start thinking about how arduous and time-consuming the job of reviewing a poorly constructed application must be.

6. Short answers on the app will most likely have character limits, not word limits.

There is a difference. Also note - that characters includes spaces. You do not have to fill out the max, just because you think you need to fill a blank space completely.  However, and I see this more often, do not just punch in three or four words, when they are asking you for 250 characters.  It looks like you are not even trying.  For that matter, answer with their asking as succinctly as possible.  No need to bring up something that happened we were five years old, or preface your answer with anything other than a direct answer.

7. In general, don't "phone it in" (i.e. do a half-assed job) on your online app answers.

This "data sheet" is the first thing the admissions committee will see. Do not get off on the wrong foot by being sloppy or incomplete. Grammar counts.

8. Some schools ask you what other schools you are applying to - this has a purpose.

It's like being on a date and getting asked how many other people you have dated recently. Think about this answer carefully. Perhaps, think of it in terms of movie titles. You don't want to be the "40-Year-Old Virgin", but you also don't want to be "Boogie Nights".

9. Columbia Business School asks you what "current students" you have spoken to - they want first and last names on the online app.

Other schools simply ask you what student or alums you have talked to. My advice here is to fill out both student names or any alumni names (yes, even at CBS).

Harvard Business School wants to know what relatives have attended their esteemed program in years past. They give you several options – mother, father, aunt, uncle, brother, sister.  They might even allow you to provide the names of your grandparents.  I cannot recall exactly.  But what I do know is that they will not allow you to list the name of a first cousin.  My advice in the situation would be to list the name of the first cousin (in the freeform field the online application provides) and indicate that he or she is a first cousin.  It is a bit of a gray area, but if that is all you have, I would run with it.

10. Don't put down that you have attended an event if you have not.

They do try and keep track - and they will check. This is Probably the dumbest way to ruin your credibility in the eyes of the admissions committee. And honestly, how hard is it to attend an admissions committee event? There are plenty of online event options - i.e. virtual fairs.  Do not be lame or lazy, show up, even if it's online. Better yet, put on some clothes and visit the school.  After all you are going to drop a few hundred thousand dollars on the experience.  Go kick the tires.

11. Resumes should be traditional/conservative - no color, pictures of you, weird fonts.

Leave off things like marital status, sex (gender), sexual preferences, salaries, affiliations with fringe groups, disabilities.  Keep it as neutral as possible because you do not know who is going to be looking at this.  If you do feel strongly about adding some of the stuff, you could let the admissions committee know by virtue of an organization you may be a part of (listed under the activities section of the resume).

Beyond that, don't take a big data dump on your resume. The resume is supposed to be a sales document - so it has to be aesthetically pleasing. Think like this - would a recruiter hire me for a consulting job if they saw my rainbow colored, alphabet soup looking resume?

12. Columbia Business School asks for a photo of you - use a picture that is professional, not gangsta or gangnam.

So don't Photoshop, fake bake, pucker your lips or wear anything with sequins or too much flair.

Chicago Booth wants a presentation essay (most applicants submit a slide show) - definitely provide them pictures of you, but no grainy Motorola Star-tac quality pics, or pics with your shirt off at the beach (yes, guys and gals).

13. If you're cutting it close on the word counts or if you are filling up all the short answer boxes on the online form, it is okay to use acronyms.

Just don't go crazy using them if it's a very industry-specific term. If you think the adcom won't have a clue as to what the acronym is, then don't use it. Instead use your judgement, else you will be marked as a poor communicator. Yes, I'm specifically speaking to all the engineers and techy types out there.

However, if it's a common acronym - business terms like SOP or SOW, or a company name like SAP, IBM, HTC - you do not have to spell it out.

For numbers - on the resume - don't spell them out. Just use numbers (i.e. 1, 2, 3 ... what's next?). Also, use "1st" instead of "first". BTW, on the essays, you want to spell out one through ten. You can use number for numbers beyond 10. 

For million or billion, you can simply use "M" or "B". I know it's not technically correct for all you accounting and finance types out there, but it works on the resume because it's succinct. 

If applying to a business school in America, use dollars (after performing the exchange rate).

14. Don't be a d-bag and submit your recommendation on behalf of your recommender. If he or she is too busy find another recommender or dress up as a clown to get their attention.

A good reason is that the writing will probably sound like your style of writing. A better reason is that some schools do record your IP address. It really looks un-kosher to have your app, your rec 1 and rec 2, coming from the same IP and just minutes apart. Don't believe me? Technolutions (maker of MBA application applications) used to advertise their application fraud technology and they cited IP addresses as how they did that. I'm not sure if its still on their website anymore, but it used to be here (See linky - Perhaps Google cache can be your friend in this case.

15. If your recommenders are going to be late with your recommendations, call the office and see what you should do.

In year's past, HBS has granted applicants more time (to get on their boss's behind about submitting) - about a week in the cases I have seen. 

16. Need to check your grammar and want something better than your semi-literate friends or Microsoft Word's native grammar/spell checker? 

Download Ginger Software - It's a free online proofreader as well as a downloadable executable file and chrome extension. It's not 100% fool-proof, but it is good to catch most errors. In fact, I think it's remarkably good at catching most errors. It's an especially useful tool for ESL applicants.

Also, for those of you who need a basic grammar refresher look here -

16. Finally, if you are reading this, and it is the 11th hour before submitting, stop reading this and finish your application!

But if you're reading this with time to spare, go create your online application ASAP. It's not too late to do that today (as long as the app is not due today of course) for your schools (granted the school has released their app). Trust me please, do it early and do it now. I mentioned this earlier but I feel strongly about this, so here I go again.

Why should you start your online application right this minute? Because an individual program may have a few additional areas (also, essays as I noted in number 4 above) they would like you to address, such as short answers regarding when you visited the school, why you did not use your current boss as a recommender, gaps in employment, awards/involvement and other general background information they want to know about you.

17. Make sure you send your recommendations to your boss's work email address - and not your boss's personal email account. Gmail, Yahoo and email addresses are red flags.

If your boss has moved onto a new job at a new company, use their new work email and contact information. 

18. Related to number 6 above - Need to count the characters on the online app? Tired of cutting and pasting from MS Word into the free form text boxes on Have 10 mins until the deadline?

Install the Google Chrome extension "Text Statistics." Once installed, highlight the text you want to count (in the Chrome window) and right-click. In the menu, select "Text Statistics." This gives you both the word count and the character count. Bam!

Download Text Statistics here:

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