As deadlines approach, some friendly admissions advice

The priority application deadline for spring 2011 admission into the Evening MBA program is only one week away, and the first Full-time MBA application deadline for fall is coming up on December 15.  With this in mind, I thought it would be a great time to remind our prospective students of "best practices" as far as the application process is concerned.

Having worked in admissions at four universities throughout my career, I've seen my fair share of outstanding applications as well as some...not so outstanding ones.  Over the years, I've found that a surprising number of applicants fall into two extreme categories:  those who try way too hard, and those who put in almost no effort whatsoever.

I advise students to follow the application instructions when applying to a graduate program:  submit the required documents, adhere to word limits, complete the application by the deadline.

Calling the office to ask, "Is it OK if my essay is more than 500 words?" is not appropriate.  Also, there is no reason to submit extra letters of recommendation beyond the required two.  Keep in mind, more does not necessarily mean better.  A well-written essay within the word limit is superior to a long-winded essay that exceeds the word limit.  Two insightful letters of recommendation from colleagues who know you well are better than four letters from people with impressive titles who barely know you.

On the flip side, some applications make it clear that the applicant waited until the last minute (or in some cases, until after the posted deadline) and didn't take the time to review the submitted materials thoroughly.  There is no excuse for spelling or grammatical errors, or for copying and pasting text from one university's essay into another essay.  We know that most students apply to more than one program (and you should apply to more than one!), but please ensure that you send the correct materials to each program.  "School X" may be great, but I'm much more interested in hearing why you want to attend St. Thomas than why you want to attend School X.

Business Week recently ran a great article about the mistakes you want to avoid during the admissions process entitled "How to Sink an MBA Application."  If you're currently applying or planning to apply to the MBA program, I encourage you to read it for helpful tips...and a few laughs.