One of the biggest mistakes applicants make is presuming that they are purely consumers in the application procedure. In fact, I would argue a better analogy is that applicants are like a product vying for brand recognition with their chosen business school: a successful application involves proper personal marketing, and that begins with self-examination.

First, and perhaps most importantly, applicants must know both why they want the MBA and what they plan to do with it in the future. Every business school wants to be convinced that applicants have a solid idea of their place in the market, and that the education that an applicant will get with his or her MBA is really necessary.

Read: What can you do after obtaining an MBA degree?

Too often, I hear applicants founder when asked why they actually want the MBA. The answer to this question usually involves being honest with oneself. Maybe the applicant is stalled in his or her current position and wants a career boost. If this is so, then the idea is to express how the knowledge from the MBA will help the applicant become unstuck. Maybe the applicant wants to change career paths.

The obvious answer here is to express the current goal and how the MBA will help the applicant get there. All of these points lead to one of the main criteria that business schools use to evaluate applicants: where will this person be in five to ten years? If an applicant considers him or herself as a product arguing for brand recognition, then the business school’s perspective becomes obvious.

Business schools get their payoff when their graduates succeed after graduation. If the business school is bestowing a brand on its applicants, the school’s value lies in seeing this brand reach elevated places some years later. What does this mean for the applicant? Regardless of his or her reasons for getting an MBA, he or she must have a clear focus (or at least a coherent idea) of where he or she wants to be five to ten years after graduation. The applicant need not guarantee this but he or she must have an “idea”.

Check out: 9 Steps to Prepare a Winning MBA Application

Again, this involves some realistic self study: what are the applicant’s real goals here? The idea is to pick a goal that the business school will find “sexy” and which will be obtainable with (but not without) the MBA. Picking this goal involves the applicant understanding his or her real abilities, the mentality of the business school, and the real job market.

Obviously, none of this is possible if the applicant cannot market his or her present abilities. Again, doing this properly involves the applicant examining his or her CV, experience and strengths. The idea here is for the applicant to properly understand him or herself so that he or she can actually sell the “idea” of, well, him or herself.

  • Who is the applicant?
  • How did he or she get into this position?
  • What has he or she achieved?
  • Can these successes be measured in numbers?
  • If so, how to quantify them?

All of these questions must be addressed and answered, and this begins by the applicant revising his or her CV to portray the applicant in the best possible light from the business school’s perspective.

Check out: MBA Resume or a CV is Better for Admission

This means understanding what the school wants from its applicants. Not all business schools are created equal, and the applicant must be able to express him or herself, on paper and in person, as the type of student that this business school is actually interested in admitting.

So, finally, applicants need to seriously consider where they want to study. Part of making a successful application portfolio involves making realistic choices about where to apply. If, for example, the applicant has spent his or her entire professional career as an IT manager, applying to a hard finance business school would probably not be the easiest “sell”. Beyond anything else, the application process begins with research and self-branding, and most importantly a process of self-study and introspection that will give the applicant a good idea of his or her real abilities and strengths, how to promote them, and which business schools will be most attracted to an applicant with those qualities.

Check out MBA Application Timeline for Fall 2016 – Part 1