1. You’re starting too late.
The more time you give yourself to put together a stellar application, the better. A longer application period gives you time to improve work performance, take any necessary supplementary courses, beef up your community service, study (rather than frantically cram) for the GRE/GMAT/LSAT, and write and revise your essays until they sparkle. Most of us struggle with procrastination, but if you know you want to apply to grad school within the next 18 months, go ahead and get started while you still have plenty of time to make the best impression as possible on the AdCom. The ideal timeline for someone who wants to apply to graduate school in September and October is to start their test prep ASAP as well as reach out to admissions consultants to learn more about the process of working with them. If you want to apply to graduate school by November and December, a great time to reach out would be around between January and May. It’s never too early to start asking questions and start planning your process.
2. You aren’t considering all your options.
If you’re applying to policy school but want to go into a management position in the nonprofit sector, you should strongly consider going to business school in addition to—or perhaps even instead of—policy school. Most top management positions in the nonprofit sector are advertised as wanting people who have business skills. Sometimes, they come right out and say they want someone with an MBA. With an MBA, you’ll command more money for doing the same job. Even if you don’t have a background in business, if you plan to go into the business world in some capacity—or into the nonprofit world where you’ll have significant financial and management responsibilities—you should definitely do your research and consider getting an MBA. Another example of people not considering their options is how few (U.S.) people know about and take advantage of the benefits of applying to business school through the Consortium. The Consortium is a group of business schools dedicated to increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in management and management education. However, any U.S. citizen regardless of his or her race can apply to business school through the Consortium and be eligible for the generous scholarships they provide. So far, I have helped three Asian-Americans and three White Americans gain entry to business school through the Consortium, garnering $80,000 in fellowships among them.
3. You’re taking advice from the wrong people.
Just because your Uncle’s friend went to Wharton twenty years ago doesn’t mean he knows what he’s talking about—or that the advice he gives is right for you. The skills required to get in, attend, and graduate from a top business school are not the same skills needed to help other people apply to and get admitted to a top business school. Alumni young and old are great sources of information on the experience of attending business school. However, for advice on getting into your dream school, you should rely on official correspondence from admissions offices and only the most trusted admissions consultants that have proven their results (look for very helpful blog posts, forum replies, and a ton of testimonials on and off their site). Other fishy places for taking advice are from anonymous posters in forums, third-party hearsay, and the voice of doubt in your head. I answer questions fairly regularly in admissions forums, and I am regularly appalled at the misinformation being tossed around willy-nilly by people who may be well-meaning but aren’t doing their fellow applicants any favors by offering somewhat helpful advice. Whether you’re on the right track with your applications or if you’ve been making all three of these mistakes, now is the time to get it together and get moving on your applications. Now that you know better, you can do better!