In your business school application, the essays are a forum to provide an explanation for aspects of your background that need clarification. Although it will be up to you to decide which parts of your candidacy need an explanation, you should never assume that an admissions committee will ignore some aspect of your background, or that other strengths will mediate for a weak spot. If there is clearly a weakness in your application, an admissions team will find it.
As you provide explanations in your personal essays, you should think about why an admissions committee cares about a certain aspect of your application. For example, there are very good reasons why your undergraduate record is of importance. Your GPA shows that you can handle rigorous academics, and it provides insight into your work ethic and track record of success. Consider how you can address these issues through your essays.
Low GPA: To address this issue, you may want to take a class to demonstrate that you can handle a challenging curriculum, and you can also provide some context in your essays for why your grades suffered during your undergraduate studies. In this situation it is important to be very clear on the difference between providing background and making excuses. An example of providing background is you may be able to explain that your grades dropped due to some personal challenges or a family emergency. If the reason for low grades is lack of focus or immaturity, own up to it and show how you have changed. As an important note, one slightly low grade probably does not necessitate an explanation.
Taking extra time to graduate college: There are many reasons why one may have taken extra time to graduate from college. Often, these reasons and explanations can be very interesting reflections of your interests and allow the admissions committee to learn more about what you were interested in at that time in your life. It can certainly be okay to take that extra time, especially if you have a strong reason for doing so.
Switching majors: Some candidates want to explain a shift in majors and this can be the right decision. While changing majors is not necessarily a weakness, it can raise questions about your focus. An honest depiction of why you decided to change is called for, such as an example where there may be an interesting event that led to the change or just a gradual shift in interests. College is a time for discovery and learning about oneself. Being honest about your evolution can be an interesting way for an admissions committee to learn more about your interests.
Low GMAT: This is one of the most difficult areas to discuss. Since all applicants take the same test and you are allowed to retake the test as often as one would like, it is difficult to come up with a good reason for why you cannot score a 700 on the test. Hopefully you have a strong undergraduate GPA, which can erase some of the concerns.
Limited outside activities: Even if you have no clear candidates for this category, dig deep and really think about how you have spent your time. Many applicants think that they have done nothing worth mentioning but do not see how fascinating an interest in karate, a trip to Asia, or organizing a non-profit can be. If you truly have nothing to speak of outside of work, you are going to have to strive that much harder to reveal your personality through work or personal interactions.
Lots of career changes: If you have a high volume of job changes on your resume, you may appear to lack commitment or be unfocused. You will probably need to explain the reason for your changes and help the admissions committee to understand the motivation behind your decisions. It’s important in this situation to refrain from merely chronicling your resume. You will want to explain the “WHY?” behind the “WHAT you did.” There is no right number of jobs, or right number of years at a company. What is most important is that you explain why each step is a logical one in your path to the MBA and longer term goals.
Lacking obvious career progression: Some candidates find it hard to illustrate professional growth when they have not received a promotion in a number of years. However, a promotion is just one way to demonstrate that you have developed and grown. In this situation, you and your recommenders will have to work even harder to show that your abilities and responsibilities have grown within the context of your same position.
Being fired or laid off: A candidate may be outright fired from a job for poor performance. More frequently, however, we see applicants who are laid off due to downsizing. This often happens very early on in a job, before the applicant even has a chance to prove his- or herself in the position. As with other difficult situations, this is a time for honesty. If you have made a mistake, this is the right time to own up to what happened and to take responsibility for a poor decision.
We hope the above is of help in addressing sensitive issues in your business school application.
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