Submitting a strong application package goes hand-in-hand with solid preparation. MBA essays and interviews are vital components of this package, so they deserve a fair amount of your attention.

In this webinar, Dr. Don Martin, who has vast experience in the admissions field, shares some valuable tips on writing good essays and mastering the interviews. For over 28 years, Dr. Martin served as Admissions Dean and/or Dean of Students at Columbia University (Teachers College), the University of Chicago (Booth School of Business), Northwestern University (Medill School of Journalism) and Wheaton College. Currently, he is founder and CEO of Grad School Road Map, a boutique graduate school admissions resource comprising former graduate admissions deans and directors.

The biggest mistake applicants make

Dr. Martin discussed one of the biggest mistakes aspirants make before choosing a program or school: not doing enough research before applying. There are so many schools today and you owe it to yourself to research these schools well before deciding where you want to study, he says. Here are few considerations:

Spread a wide net

Dr Martin’s advice is to start with 20-25 options and not to obsess over rankings, because they are often misleading.

Create a spreadsheet

Create a list of institutions and areas that you want to compare. You could include items like reputation of the school among current students and alumni. You may also want to go on a virtual campus tour. You may be pleasantly surprised at some of the beautiful facilities on campuses. After all, you will spend a lot of time on the campus.

Do some comparison shopping

Then, after thinking carefully about the important factors, you should narrow the list of desired programs down to four or five. Dr. Martin points out that the decision where to study is your own. Not somebody who does rankings, not somebody who went to these schools. Not somebody who tells you about them. You can use this information, but your perception is yours and comes after you do your research.

Preparing your essays

Dr. Martin also gave the following seven tips for the essays:

#1. The admissions committee wants to hear your voice.

Oscar Wilde said it best: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” Present the information you are asked to present in your own voice.

#2. Make sure you answer the question.

It may appear strange, but many applicants do not answer the question. If you do not answer the question, it will undermine your application.

#3. Start with a detailed outline (bullet points).

One way to help yourself and make sure you answer the question is to set out some bullet points detailing what you want to say.

#4. Write the first draft carefully and slowly.

Obviously you do not want to do these essays two weeks before the deadline.

#5. Check content, grammar and spelling.

Check these things after you finish the first draft. Does the text answer the question? Does it follow the bullet points from tip #3?

#6. Have someone you trust read the essay.

You may want it seen through another pair of eyes and an external opinion on the text.

#7. A word about word limits.

Of course you want to be sure your text meets the word count requirements, but when you prepare your draft, do not pay too much attention to that. You can always add or cut later.

Navigating the interview

Here are a few tips for the interview:

#1. Prepare.

Obviously. You do not know what question will be asked, but you need to prepare at least some answers.

#2. Practice your responses.

…but do not memorize them. Record yourself and then watch yourself. It can be very helpful in terms of posture, eye contact, etc. You will only be given one chance.

#3. Do a mock interview.

A great opportunity to get immediate feedback.

#4. Arrive 10-15 minutes ahead of time.

Don’t be late.

#5. Have a breath-freshening mint ready.

#6. Don’t panic if something goes wrong.

Is you are asked a question you cannot answer, just be honest and calm. Just say your forgot or you do not know. Or just ask for a few seconds before answering.

#7. Send a hand-written thank-you note.

Listen to the whole webinar to hear a more detailed explanation of these tips and also hear Dr. Martin answer questions from participants.

Get 50% off Dr. Martin’s book Road Map for Graduate Study: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students: Second Edition by using the code GSRM.