Timeout with Trav: Starting a Business in College

Send your admissions questions to timeout@veritasprep.com!

Dear Trav,

I started my own business in college, but it didn’t pan out.  Should I mention this  in my application?


College Company Collapse

Dear Collapse,

In their quest to be seen as the “ideal MBA candidate,” many B-school applicants are loath to reveal any kind of weakness whatsoever. To the contrary, MBA admissions officers are looking for real people who have learned from real experiences, not people who have somehow succeeded by virtue of their charmed lives. For example, I’ve met a number of Stanford GSB grads who wrote about something that went completely down in flames and then spoke to the takeaways and learning experiences they gained from it. We call this “Professional Maturity,” and it’s one of our Four Dimensions of a Perfect Applicant. Don’t be afraid to speak frankly about events that have not gone as planned in your life, how you reacted at the time, how you should have reacted, and what you have gained from the experience.

If starting your own business in college—even though it failed—pointed you on a path that has affected the way you have charted your professional career, or had a significant impact on your post-MBA goals, then it’s certainly worth mentioning. In fact, it might be the linchpin in connecting the dots of your professional career today and your more entrepreneurial goals of the future.

That said, it’s not vital that you include every failure you’ve ever had in life. Overall, your application needs to show how you’ve excelled in your chosen path, particularly compared to your peers in similar roles. Everyone makes mistakes, and the best of candidates learn from their mistakes and show how they improved. The key is to honestly and genuinely “own up” to your past mistakes and show how they’ve made you into the (better) person you are today.

Not all companies are created equal. When I was a paperboy for the Seattle Times, I was technically an independent contractor. This means that I owned my own Sole Proprietorship at age 11 (leadership potential!). However, I didn’t mention it in my B-school applications, despite the great success I showed in expanding my route from 22 to 46 homes (quantifiable results!). If your business in college was legitimate, fits into your overall story as a candidate, and provided interesting lessons about business and life, then it may be worthwhile to include. If it was a sidewalk carwash you started with your roommate, then you can probably feel at ease leaving it out.

One of the key responsibilities of our team of professional Admissions Consultants is to work with you on your profile strengths and weaknesses, hone your post-MBA career goals, and advise you on the elements of your profile to emphasize in your applications. Cases like this are the perfect question to bring to your consultant in a Comprehensive School Package or Hourly Package through Veritas Prep! We’ll be happy to brainstorm ideas of how to weave this experience into your application narrative—or leave it out completely!

Very Best,


If you’re thinking about applying to business school, call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today. And, as always, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Travis Morgan is the Director of Admissions Consulting for Veritas Prep and earned his MBA with distinction from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He served in the Kellogg Student Admissions Office, Alumni Admissions Organization and Diversity & Inclusion Council, among several other posts. Travis joined Veritas Prep as an admissions consultant and GMAT instructor, and he was named Worldwide Instructor of the Year in 2011.