Applying to MBA programs at different universities requires plenty of work, but there’s one big component that’s extremely important: your personal essay. All MBA candidates have to write an essay discussing who they are and what they’re hoping to achieve.

But tackling that essay is no easy task – and if you don’t know what to write, you might wind up making a mistake. Before you begin writing your personal essays for your MBA applications, make sure you avoid the following common mistakes.

1. Failing to Highlight What’s Unique About You

MBA applications keep the essay prompt pretty open-ended and vague. Applicants can write about nearly anything – but the overall goal is to help the admissions team at a university understand who you are. And that’s why it’s so important so make sure you highlight your most unique qualities.

The admissions offices at MBA programs read countless essays every year that all blend together. Because the prompts are open-ended and finding something unique to write about is difficult, many students make the mistake of opting for bland and boring essay topics. They write about their interest in finance, describe business projects they’ve worked on, or devote the entire essay to their parents’ inspiring businesses.

However, what admissions offices really want to read is something different. Something that shows who you are and allows them to get to know you as a person. Instead of focusing on generic topics and experiences, find something different to write about. Consider ideas outside of business, like your family, the languages you speak, your undergrad sports career, or anything at all that makes you different.

2. Focusing Too Much On What You Think Schools Want to Read

While some MBA applicants struggle to think of an essay topic, others know exactly what they want to write about. And unfortunately, that can also be a big mistake.

Many MBA applicants think that business programs want to read essays that show how well a student knows the university or program. It’s common for applicants to fill their essays with facts about MBA programs, about what differentiates an MBA program at one school from others, and how the program will help them become a business leader. But, as admissions experts told Poets and Quants, that’s information the schools already know.

Talking about why the school you’re applying to is so great is a serious mistake. Instead of learning more about you, the admissions team will merely be reading information they already know. And essays like these make readers think you’re doing nothing more than regurgitating information from the university’s website.

Instead of focusing on the school, focus on yourself. As mentioned above, what makes you unique will help your MBA application stand out. The more interesting of a person you are, and the more an admissions staff can learn about you, the more they’ll be interested in you as a potential student.

3. Trying Too Hard to Sound Polished and Knowledgeable

In order to get into an MBA program, you need to know your stuff. After all, MBA students are smart people – and showing off your skills and intelligence is something that could help you appear qualified for even the most rigorous MBA programs.

However, there is a wrong way to make yourself sound smart. And that’s filling your essay with jargon, buzzwords, and overly complicated language.

Many people believe that in order to sound smart, you need to make your writing complicated. It’s common for MBA applicants to stuff their essays full of business jargon, current buzzwords, and other technical language in an effort to sound knowledgeable. But using business language often isn’t necessary, and it doesn’t do anything except sound nonsensical and over the top.

Stuffing your essay full of “smart” business speak can hurt your application. That’s because MBA admissions teams don’t want to know how well you know jargon – they want to see if you can write well. Do you have a command of writing? Are you able to express ideas clearly, communicate your thoughts, and express your own style? Communicating in writing is a key piece of working in business, and you’ll be writing a lot in your MBA program.

4. Being Defensive

When applying to an MBA program, it’s normal to be worried about any flaws you have. Maybe your undergraduate GPA wasn’t so great. Maybe you’ve had a bit of a complicated work history. Maybe your GMAT score isn’t the best. Or maybe you earned a poor grade you didn’t deserve.

Issues like these are things you likely want to explain on your application. But it’s important to be very careful when discussing them, especially if you need to mention them in any essays. It’s very easy to get defensive when trying to explain any flaws or less-than-desirable application elements, and that’s exactly what MBA admissions teams don’t want to see.

When addressing issues or any problem areas in your essays, avoid over-explaining. Keep your statements and stories straightforward, to the point, and brief. Mistakes happen when applicants over-explain. This makes small issues, like a single bad grade, seem like a much bigger problem. Essentially, you’ll draw more attention to problem areas if you become defensive and too focused on them.

Getting defensive in your essay is a huge mistake that could cost you admission. As Expartus explains, eight out of every 10 MBA applicants are rejected normally, and a defensive essay gives an admissions committee a reason to decide against you. Make sure you keep any defensiveness and problems out of your main essay.

5. Telling an Inconsistent Story

According to Tina Mabley, Assistant Dean of the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, Austin, a common big mistake made on MBA applications is inconsistency. And inconsistency can happen within the essay and spread to all other parts of your application.

For example, if you mention wanting to study marketing on your application, but then write an essay about your finance experiences, your stories won’t match up. If you discuss working in consulting in your essay but in your interview you mention finance, the MBA admissions committee will be concerned. It’s a red flag – one that makes it hard for others to understand who you are and what your goals are.

You want to make sure your application as a whole paints a clear picture of who you are, what you want to do, and why earning an MBA is the right choice for you. This means you need to keep your application consistent, from your essays to your recommendation letters to your chosen major. Stick to one story, or one focus, in your essay, and let that guide the rest of your application.

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