People make mistakes all the time.
Making a mistake is not an ethical issue.
A pattern of mistakes can raise questions about character, and judgment, and maturity, but that in and of itself is not automatically some ethical violation.
For example, say you were out of control for a time during your college years, intoxicated with the newfound freedom of being on your own at school and away from your parents and all their downer rules. You were living large, and maybe you weren’t placing a priority on your grades. You were partying. Having fun. And maybe somewhere in the mix you got a DUI.
Getting a DUI is not an ethical issue.
We’re not saying that this type of thing is unimportant in the context of your apps to business school. Many adcoms ask you to disclose any arrests or convictions when you submit your app. You will need to let them know what happened, usually in a separate explanation within the app or sometimes in a formal optional essay. We frequently work with BSers who made mistakes like this in their past, which don’t prevent them from getting into a good MBA program. From the adcom’s perspective, it’s not that you made a mistake, it’s what you can say about it now and how you present it to them.
They want to see maturity in who you are today.
Now, there are times when issues like this mount up. If you have a series of incidents where you exhibited poor judgment – or if you intentionally tried to get one over on the system and got busted, like from shoplifting, or if the tussle with the law was due to bar fights or some type of assault charge – then yeah, these things may matter a lot more in the adcom’s eyes.
If you were laid off from multiple jobs in a row… Again, not an ethical violation per se, but certainly something that the adcom will notice, and will need a reasonable explanation for.
The MBA admissions committees are excellent readers of behavior. What we mean by that is, they’re able to look at a pile of papers representing who you are – academically, professionally, your written statements – and make interpretations from them. No applicant is perfect.
If you have a significant blemish in your background, like a layoff (or two), or an arrest, then you MUST handle it carefully in your application. If you’re wondering about how to handle a tricky one-off situation like this, our Private Consult service is a great option.
Don’t assume that the adcoms won’t notice stuff. They will. They’re eagle-eyed that way. They’re excellent at identifying patterns and making inferences. It is their JOB to read between the lines. If you don’t explain things, then they’ll make assumptions – and those are unlikely to be in your favor.
Oh, and by the way: Not disclosing such an issue is completely playing it the wrong way. That, in and of itself, would be an ethical issue. When the application asks, “Have you ever…”, then you must answer truthfully. Own up to it, and offer an explanation. Be mature about it. That’s really what the adcoms are looking for.
Making a mistake is just that: A mistake.
Not learning from a mistake – or making the same mistake over and over – that’s when you could get yourself in trouble.
This post is part of an informal series on ethics that we ran in early 2016 – first post, “What are ethics”, is here.