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Filling In Application Form: Hard Questions

Preventing the “surprise”

So, you’ve found your dream university and program? Our first advice is to create your application as soon as possible and study the form. Do not be “the last-minute applicant”! Create an application well in advance and carefully evaluate what you are asked for.

If you are facing this process for the first time, do not make the mistake of thinking you will be able to complete an application quickly. It is not as easy as you might think, and you are likely to be overwhelmed with all the questions, wondering what to include and how best to present the information.

Types of Questions

Going through the application form, you will encounter different types of questions. Whereas some of them will be straightforward and seem clear to you, others may not. We can divide these more problematic questions into 3 categories: unexpected questions, unclear questions, and awkward questions. While some application forms might include questions from each group, others will feature only one or two of these elements.

“Unexpected Questions”

We call these “unexpected” because often, when you scan the application checklist, you learn that you need to prepare only one essay: the statement of motivation. However, when you scroll down through the application form, you might find several short questions that are essentially mini-essays that also need to be prepared – a potentially unpleasant surprise if you haven’t left yourself enough time! These questions are usually strictly limited in length; the usual maximum is 150 words or 1200 characters, and your responses are truncated if they exceeds these limits.

Short questions might include “List your recent major achievements”, “Tell us about our post-graduate plans”, or “Discuss your involvement in extracurricular activities”, etc., where you need to provide brief answers. When answering, avoid redundancy and long words (especially if the size is limited by characters), synonymous adjectives, and complex phrases.

“Unclear Questions”

This group comprises those questions where you literally have no clue what to type. For example, you have already attached your CV, perfectly polished, but you are now asked to “please detail any work experience that you have not highlighted already on your CV.” You might feel frustrated; you worked on CV for hours, and now they want something more?

The answer is “everything is possible”. This small question forms a part of a bigger picture where each and every component helps the Admissions Committee to understand who you are and whether you are a perfect candidate. Even if it does not seem directly important or relevant, confess that once you worked as a tutor for freshmen or that during the summer holidays, you spent some free time working as a bartender.

Other examples of “unclear questions” that crop up include “What do you plan to do if you are not admitted?” and “What do you plan to do prior to the start of the program?”

In these cases, the best answer is to tell the truth. Do not try to impress the Admissions Office; say it as it is. Do you plan to travel and reflect upon your life? Great! Explain why you need that, and how it will help you. Do you plan to keep working at your current company? That is also a perfect answer. Mention what projects you might participate in and what achievements you are targeting.

“Awkward Questions”

This last group of confusing questions usually includes questions about culture, gender, nationality and finance – sensitive topics that some people might find uncomfortable. These questions do not require you to write mini-essays; you will usually just need to select the right option and, in some cases, explain your choice. What the Admissions Office require here is just information collected for statistical purposes. The answers here do not affect their decision to accept or reject your application. Your prior background, nationality and ethnicity, orientation, any disability – all of these are used to create statistical data on the diversity within the university and/or class that can later be used to attract potential candidates.

The financial questions in particular might strike you as suspicious. Asking “What is your family annual income?” is quite strange, isn’t it? However, rest assured that your financial status also does not affect the decision of the Admissions Committee (your personal statement, GPA, and references do, of course!). Financial information is usually considered for matters of granting scholarships/ financial aid, or it might prompt them to suggest a fellowship. You might be also asked how you plan to pay for your studies. Here, the answer is simple: with your own savings, loans, company finances, etc. This information is also used to profile the economic diversity of the class.

Keep in mind that any such “awkward questions” are just part of standard procedure. Some universities include them at the early stages of the application process, while others might wait until after they give you a conditional offer.

Final words

Aas you can see, some questions might present some difficulties for you while you are filling in application forms, as they require some time to give proper answers. Do not neglect to start your application form as early as possible – try to do it at least a few weeks before your planned document submission date. If you have any trouble answering some questions and cannot find the right answer, you always can consult with the Admissions Office. In this case, having some extra time is a major benefit, as due to a huge number of inquiries, Admissions Officers are often unable to respond immediately, so you need to wait a few days.

MBA Strategy is an admissions consulting company with over 15 years of experience assisting talented candidates to become students of the world’s top business schools. Our achievements:

  • 1,000 customers with 700+ GMAT scores

  • Over 500 students admitted to top US and European business schools

Anna Tokarieva is an MBA Strategy consultant. She is an expert in school selection, profile assessment, brainstorming, and polishing application essays.


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Author: Victoria Dudka, MBA Strategy Consultants Team Lead

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