Most Common Mistakes on Round 1 MBA Essays

I just saw a whole lot of MBA essays over the past few months and now that Round 1 is (mostly) finished, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to jot down the most common mistake I saw for each of the most common essays I worked on with clients.  Round 2 clients can get a leg up by simply avoiding these traps.  



Most common mistake:

Trying to dazzle the reader, rather than engage the reader.  This essay is a golden chance to draw a reader in, build on an impressive resume, and make them fall in love with you as a complete person.  Far too many candidates follow their intuition to the wrong place, trying to prove how smart or impressive they are. 

Stanford GSB Essay 1

What matters most to you and why?  

Most common mistake:

This one is an either/or situation, where the candidate fails to either be generous in attributing where their values come from (a stunning number of people fell into this camp this year) or they fail to pivot towards making an impact at some point in the essay.  Anything that matters most to you should offer both the chance to praise others (for teaching this to you) and also show how you impact the world.  Otherwise you have picked the wrong topic. 

GBS Essay 2

Why Stanford?

Most common mistake:  

Candidates writing about themselves (or their business ideas, industries, societal problems, etc.) instead of Stanford.  Yes, you want to quickly state your goals for context, but be sure to really identify Why GSB.  If you just write more about yourself in this essay - after they gave you a whole 750-word essay for that - you will miss the mark completely. 

Wharton Essay 1

What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? 

Most common mistake:

Overreaching on the short-term goal and/or not hedging with an alternative path.  Shooting the moon on your immediate post-graduation goal is not the play at Wharton, where a career services professional runs the admissions office now.  

Wharton Essay 2

Teamwork is at the core of the Wharton MBA experience with each student contributing unique elements to our collaborative culture. How will you contribute to the Wharton community? 

Most common mistake: 

Failing to "prove" a specific perspective.  Many candidates fall into the trap of just rattling off things they will get involved in at Wharton and/or saying they are a great teammate.  What Wharton is looking for is: "what specific angle or insight you bring to this place where we value knowledge?"  A great Wharton 2 not only articulates some interesting angles that you can bring to campus, but shows how you came about those insights.  

Booth Photo Essay

View this collection of shared Booth moments. Choose the moment that best resonates with you and tell us why. 

Most common mistake:

Failure to create a comprehensive theme.  The "respond to one of these moments" thing is causing people to fall way short of what a real, quality presentation needs to be and what it needs to convey.   You can't just put the photo on top and then have a few slides why you like it - use the photo to be creative in coming up with a theme that works off that, creates structure, and then moves through critical messages.  (Bonus: if you choose a photo of an individual, don't put the "Booth moment" on the title slide - put a photo of YOU and then introduce the photo.  Otherwise, the reader can't help but have the picture of the GrubHub guy or the Giving a Presentation guy in their mind the whole time.) 

MIT Cover Letter

Prepare a cover letter seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA Program. Your letter should conform to standard business correspondence and be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Senior Director of MBA Admissions. 

Most common mistake:

Writing about your goals.  MIT doesn't care about your goals, so to use any of your precious 250 words on that is a massive wasted opportunity.  Probably no coming back from it, honestly. 

Columbia Essay 1

Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date.  What are your career goals going forward, and how will the Columbia MBA help you achieve them?  

Most common mistake:

Talking about what you can do, rather than why you want to do it.  Most people understand that they have to articulate WHAT their goals are and WHERE they want to pursue them (at Columbia), but in the middle, it is crucial to explain WHY you hold the goals you do - what motivates you, what inspires you, what gets you out of bed every morning and makes you want to pursue this as your life's work.  This is essential in any goals essay, but especially when they tell you point blank that they have a "clear sense of your professional path to date."  Yet so many candidates want to re-prove that case of "here is what I can do," even when the school is explicitly saying don't do that. 

Columbia Essay 2

Columbia Business School’s students participate in industry focused New York Immersion Seminars; in project based Master Classes; and in school year internships.  Most importantly, our students are taught by a combination of distinguished research faculty and accomplished practitioners.  How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business.”  

Most common mistake:

I see a lot of errors on this one, but the most common is to misfire on the examples they give right in the question.  Some people simply parrot back Immersion Seminar,s Master Classes, in-year internships, and blended faculty (both academics and practitioners).  Others fail to cover those things at all.  Ideally, you can build at least part of your case for "Why I want to go to Columbia and have NYC as my classroom" around the things they are proudly mentioning - but in doing so, you have to go deeper and more specific.  Name a Master Class.  Highlight some faculty members.  Show some passion and spark.  

Columbia Essay 3

CBS Matters, a key element of the School’s culture, allows the people in your Cluster to learn more about you on a personal level.  What will people in your Cluster be pleasantly surprised to learn about you?  

Most common mistake:

Forgetting to address "pleasantly."  There needs to be some benefit to the people in your Cluster; some value to CBS.  If you just talk about something surprising, but fail to share how you will bring this with you and benefit others, you are only handling half the question.  

If time allows, I will try to hit a few more schools and run down other common mistakes in the essays.  For now, good luck with your Round 1 results and to Round 2 clients, give us a call soon if you want to work with us on your apps. 

If you are interesting in working with us for Round 2, we are offering some promos through October, so email us at  


Common Round 1 Essay Mistakes | By Adam Hoff | MBA Admissions Consultant | Amerasia Consulting Group