Posted on January 29, 2012

Application Essays – Mistakes You should Avoid

Application essay writing has been one of the most challenging experiences for even the most brilliant candidates. A great 3+ GPA, a stellar GMAT score, and an impressive work experience combined together are not enough to get you into your dream B-school if your essays are poorly written and fail to position your candidacy in the right manner. Essays are a critical part of your application package, yet some candidates approach them casually. The following are the common mistakes made by some of the B-school aspirants.

Common Mistakes:

1. Insufficient Time:

Some applicants start writing their application essays a couple of days before the deadline which doesn’t leave with them enough time to strategize and think through their essays. Writing admission essays is a demanding and time-consuming job, so you need to go through multiple revisions to perfect it. You cannot do justice to it with the Damocles sword of the deadline hanging over your heads. I have seen applicants who began writing their essays 5-6 days before the deadline, and during that short period also they are at work for long hours, working on their essays only at night when they were already exhausted from work. Thus, the lack of enough time prevents them from crafting compelling essays that could showcase their candidacy well. Evidently, the result is often rejection.

2. Lack of Stories/real-life experiences:

A major concern with most admission essays is– lack of stories or examples from real life. Most applicants just expand their resumes and rewrite them in a language filled with technical jargon, while others compose an objective statement of purpose somewhat like a newspaper article that completely fails to distinguish them from other applicants. For example, most applicants begin their Goals essay somewhat like this:

“My career interest is in blending analytical thinking with business acumen to solve challenging problems.”

Beginning your essay like this is a killer and will put off the Ad Com. at the outset.

On the contrary, you will make the reader want to read your story if you weave your life story around your goals as shown in the example below,

I grew up helping my dad, who is an Electronics engineer, repair television, radios, or anything that needed to be fixed around the house as I was naturally drawn to applying analytical knowledge to solve problems.”

3. Failure to comprehend the essay prompt:

When writing their essays, some applicants do not go deep into the essay topic to comprehend what is being asked. The result is that the essay goes off track and completely lacks the underlying theme/ the main point of the essay. For example, if the question is about the contribution to the XYZ School, you cannot discuss why you have chosen that school (sometimes applicants confuse between the two.) They are not asking you about their resources that interest you; rather they want to know in what ways they are going to be benefitted by your presence at their campus. Thus, you need to think through the essay prompt and dig deeper before beginning to answer the question.

4. Failure to answer essay question completely:

Sometimes applicants inadvertently skip one or two parts of the essay prompt. If the essay prompt asks them ‘to define their short term and long term goals and why they want to do MBA from XXX B-school at this stage,’ they sometimes forget to answer the ‘at this stage’ part without which their essays end up missing one significant piece that the Ad com are looking for. For example, question no. 4 in the Personal Statement of MiF LBS has seven parts, and it is a possibility that the applicant may miss 1-2 parts of it. To avoid that, I recommend numbering all the parts of the question and then keep answering them one by one. After making sure to satisfactorily answer all the questions, they can always delete the numbers and restructure their answers in paragraph format. Also, remember, while it is important to explain what you have accomplished, it's equally important to describe how you have accomplished it.

5. Failure to show the impact:

Most applicants find it hard to show what contribution they would make to their target school or what impact they would leave. Regardless of the essay topic, the lessons learned or the takeaways serve to demonstrate your value which is key to distinguish you from other candidates. While elaborating what value you will add to your target school, make sure you connect your skill set, your professional (e.g., professionalism, leadership potential, team working experience, and innovative ideas,) and personal attributes (e.g., integrity, accountability, humorous disposition, etc.) and experience to the specific activities and resources (clubs, organizations, team groups, etc.) of the target school.

6. Grammar and Sentence Structure Errors:

Some applicants struggle with sentence structure and compose exceptionally lengthy sentences stretching 4-5 lines, while some compose awkwardly phrased and grammatically incorrect sentences. The most common error I have noticed is -missing articles ('the,' 'a,' and 'an')

Example: I was taken to a hospital, where an MRI revealed that I had broken my bone.

In the above sentence, the articles are missing.

7. Failure to adhere to word limit:

Undoubtedly, following stringent word limits is an arduous task and often becomes one of the biggest challenges for almost all applicants. They find it hard to figure out how to prune their writing and end up producing a 700 words essay when the required word limit is 400 words. The fact that Schools provide you specifics about word limit means they expect you to stick to it. So, try to follow the principle of ‘less is more’ and be as precise as you can.


To sum up, some of the primary mistakes that applicants inadvertently make are an insufficient time to revise and edit essays, lack of real-life examples to answer essay questions, failure to comprehend the intent of the essay prompt, the omission of 1-2 parts of the essay question, making sentence structure errors, and exceeding the allowed word limit. One or more of these reasons may lead to not getting the coveted acceptance letter, which we don't want.

I will discuss different ways to address the above-mentioned issues in my next article, “How to write compelling admission essays?”

Do you have questions about your application? E-mail Poonam at or sign up here for a free consultation.