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Exaggeration, lying and hiding facts in MBA applications

Lying in MBA ApplicationsDishonesty in the MBA application process isn’t a new phenomenon. Whether it’s exaggeration, lies or plagiarism, applicants across the world have been doing it for years, in the hope that it’ll give them an edge in the race.

While the top business schools like UCLA Anderson have been rejecting applicants for unethical MBA essay writing practices, it doesn’t seem to have had much of a dent on the practice.

Why do candidates cheat and lie in their applications?

It’s a temptation that can be hard to resist, specially for applicants who are competing in over-represented application pools. Some folks who’ve had a break from work (due to an illness or layoff) may also feel the pressure to cover up the gap.

In American business schools, the proportion of international candidates in the class is around 30-40%. That makes it increasingly tougher for non-American applicants to get into the top programs.

Exaggeration is a little more common than outright plagiarism and lies.

If an applicant were tempted to cheat via plagiarism or exaggeration, here’s what we tell them about the consequences of deceit in an MBA application.

Honesty is a non-negotiable ingredient in the application, even if business schools do not explicitly spell it out in their application guidelines.

Apart from being ethically unacceptable, we also make them understand the long term implications of lying in their applications. Many top MBA graduates are likely to be in senior level roles, where the visibility and scrutiny is higher. Building their new career on a lie is an extremely risky (and stupid) strategy.

That brings up a pertinent question.

How can applicants explain mistakes or challenges in their past in an honest and compelling way, without crossing the line?

We tell applicants to not only be upfront about the challenges they’ve faced in their careers, but also explain how they dealt with the situation.

What may, on the surface, appear to be a drawback may actually turn out to be an excellent opportunity to highlight their character and personality traits.

Read how to handle gaps in your education and career in MBA applications.

Here’s another challenge faced by applicants, business schools and admission consultants. Many applicants get feedback from others throughout the application process.

How can you ensure that the application retains a sense of your personality and that it is a fair representation of who you are when you integrate the feedback of other mentors?

Here’s the analogy we share with applicants to help them understand where to draw the line.

Whether it’s a sportsperson competing in the Olympics, or an international applicant contesting for a seat at a top business school, having a coach or mentor can really help. But expecting the coach to do the athlete’s job isn’t acceptable.

You have to do go through the learning curve – introspection, building a storyline and writing the essays. Do not expect others to write the essays. Get perspectives from a few folks you trust (friends, colleagues, family, consultants) and who can give you objective inputs.

But ultimately you will be facing the Adcoms during the interview, and not your mentors. So it’s extremely important to have a story you believe in, and not what others think will work.

How can applicants overcome the temptation to brag and convey humility in their MBA applications and still sell themselves well?

While humility is important, being too modest in the application could be counter-productive since everyone is trying to put their best foot forward.

There is no single formula that’ll work for everyone, because each applicant’s personality is different. And so is their communication style.

That’s precisely the reason why admission officers say – ‘Be yourself’.
[That strategy taken too far can backfire. Read these examples of honest MBA essay.]

If someone who is inherently not humble, resorts to a lot of window dressing (to project an ‘ideal candidate’ image) in the essays, the facade will crumble during the interview. Admission officers have seen enough number of applicants to separate the wheat from the chaff.

This is where external, unbiased and objective feedback can help in achieving a balance.

Forget about the fate of others who still think lying, exaggeration or hiding facts will get them into their dream universities. Honesty and application success aren’t mutually exclusive ideas. Make the combination work for you.
Read these related posts:
Background verification checks on college applicants
Problems a below average student can face in a top MBA classroom

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Sameer Kamat
About Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Follow me on: Instagram | Linkedin | Youtube

7 thoughts on “Exaggeration, lying and hiding facts in MBA applications”

  1. Hi sameer,

    I am 32year old married guy, I have my B.Tech and in electrical engineering and around 5 years of teaching experience. I wanted to switch my career from teaching to corporate. i am planning to give GMAT in december. Kindly suggest should i go for proper 2 years of MBA or an executive MBA. Is this teaching experience will my accountable or this be hurdle in getting job after MBA.
    should i go for an indian institutes or abroad?

  2. Hi Sameer,

    I have a regular MBA degree from India (not one of the top tiers), and a work experience of about 7 years with diverse industries. In order to re-learn, I want to pursue a course with Oxford.

    Can you highlight the major differences between the online, short term and regular MBA courses.
    Also if I take a break to pursue a course, does it always ensure a good assignment when I return back to India?

    Look forward to hear from you.

    Best Regards,

  3. @Chandrakant: The one-year format is generally preferred by folks who are older than the typical 2-year MBA applicant. It could be a tough ride to transition from pure teaching to unrelated corporate work. Don’t rush in assuming an MBA will sort out things. Think through the risks and how you’ll convince recruiters that you can deliver what they expect. Then take a call.

    Btw, I see that the numbers don’t seem to be adding up. At 32, with a post grad degree, I’d assume you’d have more years of work experience under your belt. Is there any other (non-teaching) experience that you’ve not mentioned about?

    @Shailja: The primary difference between online, short term and regular MBA courses is the credibility of the degree. Since you already have a full-time MBA, I’m not sure how the first two formats would add any value. A full-time second MBA may work, but it has significant inherent risks as well.

    To answer your last query, no there are absolutely no guarantees or assurances that you will get a good assignment (or any assignment for that matter) after completing an international MBA.

  4. Hi Sameer,

    I have pursued BE with IT in 2009 and got placed in MNC 2013 ; I have worked for 2.6 years for the same company Because the job was not giving me any satisfaction and it was support job and more over i used to do work in shift I have left the job last year to go for CAT-2016 but it turn out to be disaster and could not convert any college. Now I dont have a job nor a college to get into; I faced difficulties in interviews because the work i have done in company is zero level without any skill building. shall i get some certification course and get a job or countinue the dream for MBA. i am 25 year old now is it too late to think about the MBA for the next year 2017. PLEASE HELP.

  5. hi sameer,
    Reading so many comments i came across many talented people who have worked hard in there academics as well as job , so what i am going to ask u is kinda awkward but still i want to know, i got 50% in 10 and 40% in 12 and 47%in Bsc CS, i know my academics is worst and have worked for 9 months in customer care, when i had to clear my backlogs while working i studied hardware and networking and learned a lot of new things about computer, im a board member of a NGO group and i have organized fest and functions in my college, now do teach blind students computer and make new friends most often and do have started a hardware and network shop along with my friend, its going good, now planning to expand it and go to next level and i think if i start doing my MBA from USA i will expand my bussiness in USA as well along with studies, so basically i want to know if i score around 730 in Gmat and clear TOFEL will i get a seat for MBA from USA

  6. Hi,
    I am a science graduate and currently working as a technical assistant(technical administration) for a construction industry, please suggest which specialization in MBA (MBA HR or MBA Project Management) would be best for me.
    Thanks and best regards,

  7. @Raina: You may be expecting too much from an MBA degree. Might be better for you to hunt for a job and build the skills you want, instead of assuming that sitting in a class for 2 years will automatically give you those skills.

    @Harish: You could skip the MBA and focus on growing your business in India. I’m sure there’s a lot of potential here that you haven’t tapped into fully.

    @Sajeev: Read more about MBA specialisations:


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