The Five Most Common Mistakes Grad School Applicants Make

As different as applicants are from one another, it’s amazing how often we see them make the same mistakes over and over. We recently asked our team of admissions consultants, “What mistakes do you see applicants make most often?” and we frequently heard the same themes: not highlighting extracurricular activities in the right way, using the same applications for multiple schools, and not answering honestly when asked for a personal weakness.

Admissions officers want to get to know applicants and gain an insight into their goals, motivations, values and other personal attributes — what makes them tick and how they might fit into the program. Unfortunately, many applicants lack the self-awareness to give admissions officers what they want.

The five most common mistakes our admissions consultants see are:

  • Brushing over a lack of extracurricular involvement
  • Using the same application for multiple schools
  • Passing off a positive trait when asked for a weakness
  • Coming across as boastful
  • Lack of self-awareness, including post-degree goals, reason for wanting to pursue an advanced degree, personal values, etc.

Every Veritas Prep consultant agreed that downplaying a lack of extracurricular activities is an obvious omission to admissions committees. Traditional graduate school applicants have been focused on career development and may have not spent enough time developing their community involvement, the consultants said. They suggest explaining a lack of volunteer history or even highlighting any activity enjoyed outside of work can fill in that gap and make for a more well-rounded application.

Of course, most applicants will apply to more than one school. But, many consultants said they have noticed an application that was clearly copied and pasted. Neglecting to address the unique requirements of each program is a missed opportunity and an easy way for admissions directors to pass up your application, many said.

Another common theme that emerged was that many applicants tend to incorrectly answer the “What is your greatest weakness?” question. Many consultants said that a real answer needs to be given, not a strength worded in a negative way.

A related mistake applicants often make is they come across as boastful. While there is nothing wrong with being proud of your accomplishments and conveying what you bring to the table, arrogance is unattractive. Consultants instead advise applicants to let their letters of recommendation speak on their behalf — let someone else gush about you. It’ll be more authentic.

So, how do you avoid these mistakes? First and foremost, be yourself. Every Veritas Prep admissions consultant agreed that there is one major way to get a graduate school application noticed: originality. A far cry from decades ago when a high test score and fancy title would get you in the door, today’s market is incredibly competitive. And more potential students not only have the common attributes for grad school success, but also other skills that make them desirable to the top schools in the nation. According to the experts, admissions committees are ready to see something different — and that could be a candidate’s ticket to their first choice school.

We’ve put all of our findings in a new report titled Behind the Curtain of Graduate School Admissions, available free for download on our site!

Plan on applying to business, law, or medical school soon? Call us at 800-925-7737 and speak with an admissions expert today. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

2 Responses

  1. ac says:

    The part about extracurriculars is BS.

    If you are applying for PhD programs, statements of purpose should focus on research experiences and interests. If you are applying to professional master’s programs, you should focus on your past accomplishments and your future career goals. Sure, being a member of the college Glee Club might make you look interesting, but what does that have to do with getting a PhD in linguistics or an MBA? Add those extracurriculars at the bottom of your CV and call it a day. You definitely should not be spending valuable space in your SOP explaining why you DIDN’T join the film club.

  2. VeritasPrep says:

    AC, you make a good point, at least when it comes to graduate programs outside of business school. This piece was mainly written with business school applicants in mind, and for MBA programs these extracurricular absolutely matter. We agree that a PhD program will care about your outside activities much less than it will your competence and accomplishments in your given area of study.

    For admission to top MBA programs, however, we know from experience that these things can definitely be the difference between admission and rejection.

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