Applying to Business School with a Blemish in Your Application

MBA Admissions
Today’s issue of The Daily Pennsylvanian, U. Penn’s student-run newspaper, featured an article about applying top business schools with a blemish or “black mark” in one’s background. The article was mostly written with Wharton in mind, but the article’s main takeaways are applicable for anyone applying to any top business school.

The message? Having a serious blemish in your past will create more work for you as you try to create the perfect application, but it won’t automatically keep you out of a top MBA program. Incidents such as low undergraduate grades, academic disciplinary action, and legal troubles can all be overcome by an otherwise strong applicant, as long as the applicant addresses the blemish head-on in the application.


“The worst thing for a student to do is to ignore something they have noticed about their application that they regard as an issue or weakness and hope we won’t notice,” says Associate Director of Wharton MBA Admissions Kathryn Bezella in the article. “A hundred percent of the time, we will notice — it’s our job to notice.”

This has especially become true in the past decade as more and more top business schools (including Wharton) have formalized the post-admission fact-checking process, using third-party firms to audit applications to make sure that everything is as you say it is in your application. While this IRS-like auditing might seem scary to some, it’s actually quite liberating. If an applicant ever faces the moral dilemma of “Should I disclose this blemish in my application?” his job is made easier by knowing that the school most likely will find out about one way or another. And, just like the dynamic between parents and children, it’s much better for the admissions office to hear it from you, not from an investigation agency.

Also, these application audits let an applicant know that the playing field is indeed level. If the auditors do their jobs well, they will find other applicants’ past mistakes, too, so any given applicant can know that he’s not putting himself at an unfair advantage by “playing by the rules” and disclosing something negative from his past.

Then, the question becomes how to address these problems in one’s background. Here the advice (including Veritas Prep’s own advice) is unanimous: Address the issue head-on, succinctly explain what happened, describe what you learned from it and how you grew as a result of the problem, and (ideally) point to more recent instances where you put that learning to use. You should avoid the temptation to lay litany of excuses at the admissions committee’s feet… They’re only hearing your side of the story, and while they truly are open minded about your explanation, by going on and on about the blemish you could actually begin to create new questions in their minds.

“It’s all about how you handle it and what evidence you have to back up your claims,” adds Associate Director Bezella. They know you’re not perfect, and admitting failure or a mistake — and showing how you took action to not let it happen again — is more impressive than providing ten reasons why the blemish wasn’t your fault.

If you’re interested in Wharton or any other top business school, take a look at our Veritas Prep Annual Reports, 15 completely free guides to the world’s top MBA programs.If you’re ready to start building your own MBA application, call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today!

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