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Your MBA Application Puzzle: What Do Business School Admissions Want To Know?

An MBA application requires a holistic approach


Mon Apr 4 2022

Polina Artemenko is an MBA Strategy application consultant. MBA Strategy possesses in-depth expertise in helping applicants to get into top business schools around in the USA, Europe, and Asia, and it is proven by over 2,000 successful stories.

You have probably tried to do a jigsaw puzzle, at least when you were a child. The more pieces you have, the more challenging the task is, but it gets much easier once you put the outer pieces together into a framework

Now, imagine that your application package is also a puzzle, where the number of pieces—your personal traits—are endless. The good news is that MBA admissions committees have already helped you with a framework, building it from a set of eligibility criteria and values.

To become the right fit, you need to pick specific pieces from your kit, which match the given framework. If you do not have even one necessary component (for instance, proven leadership experience), the image will be incomplete.

However, the rest of the picture depends on your creativity. If you prefer to outline your professional achievements only, your application package will look like a jigsaw puzzle that depicts an image of the sky.

As most parts of the picture look the same, people get tired and bored while trying to do a puzzle, and this is the last thing you should do with admissions officers.

The winning strategy is to provide a comprehensive view of your personality, taking the most of your set of ‘pieces’ and available tools—application documents:

Here’s what business school admissions want to know:


A good resume is a well-structured snapshot of your academic and professional path, which highlights your measurable achievements, demonstrates your career growth and tells about the most significant extracurricular activities. Stick to one page and avoid listing all your responsibilities—your job title typically speaks for itself.

Transcript and Test Scores

These are the must components that demonstrate your academic capacity and hence your ability to tackle with MBA curriculum. Getting back to the previous application piece, do not put your test scores or GPA in your resume—trust me, there is no chance that admissions will miss your official reports.


These pieces should match, or, in other words, support your resume, adding an alternative vision of your professional potential. Although you must not draft recommendations yourself, you may discuss with referees, which representative cases they could include and which strengths you are going to highlight in the whole application. You can also assume what will be described in the “constructive feedback” part and therefore the areas of growth the referees will note.

Remember the whole picture: tiny flaws mentioned by recommenders cannot be described as your ultimate strengths in other application documents. Such contradictions will destroy admissions trust, so they will cast doubt on every statement you make.

Application Form

One of the biggest mistakes applicants make is filling in an application form a few hours before the deadline. This is not just a questionnaire: sometimes forms hide a lot of questions that require thoughtful answers.

For instance, Stanford’s application form invites you to share the most significant achievement, challenge, responsibilities, and reasons for leaving for EACH of your job positions. Next, you will be asked to talk about your activities (What is your role? Why did you start to do that?), awards (What were the selection criteria?), or career goals.

Yale SOM, which is thought to have only one 500-words essay question, grants you additional 250 words to describe your post-MBA interests, and you will not know about it until you open the form.


The ‘express yourself’ part; an essential piece of your puzzle. Think about your key personal traits that are not covered anywhere in your application, and make you stand out from others.

Most business schools formulate essay questions in a way that allows you to go beyond professional qualifications and experiences. This works especially with open-ended questions, the most illustrious example of which is the Harvard essay: ‘As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?’

Another tip is to review the whole package again and address the given ‘frame,’ or the school’s selection criteria. Did you provide a convincing proof of your leadership skills? Natural curiosity? Teamwork abilities? If not, essays are your only chance—use it wisely.

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