1) What are background checks? Background checks involve the verification of information that a candidate has provided in his or her MBA applications. Although the process varies from school to school, it usually includes checking that an applicant attended the undergraduate (or graduate) school(s) that he or she claims to have attended, received the grades indicated and earned the GMAT score reported. It also involves the verification of the candidate’s employment history, job titles, starting and ending dates and salary/bonus information. Finally, some background checks involve contacting recommenders to verify their support and confirming applicant involvement in community activities.
2) Do all schools conduct background checks? When do they do this? How do they have time? Many of the leading MBA programs like to verify the information that has been provided by applicants. This is typically done only for those applicants who are admitted, since there is no sense in expending resources to verify information for applicants who do not make the cut. Most background checks occur in the spring – after decisions for most rounds have been released and students begin sending in their deposits. In many cases, the schools outsource this function to a professional risk consulting firm like Kroll.
3) Why bother with background checks? Don’t the schools trust me? The purpose of background checking is to protect all stakeholders of the MBA program (students, faculty, staff, alumni) from those who would falsify their backgrounds to gain an unfair advantage in the admissions process. Some schools opt to investigate the backgrounds of a relatively small sample of randomly selected admits, hoping that the mere possibility of a check will give applicants incentive to be as honest as possible. In a way, this measure therefore serves to increase the adcom’s trust in its applicants.
4) What about very minor discrepancies? It’s natural for admitted applicants to get anxious at this point in the process, wondering whether their offer of admission might be rescinded if, for instance, the “start date” for an old job is one week earlier than the start date that HR reports during the background check. The good news is that most schools report any discrepancies back to the applicant and give them a chance to explain a plausible mistake. Having said that, it of course makes sense to do your best to verify all of your information before applying to school, so that you can be certain that the data you report is accurate. Should any potential issues come to mind after submitting, you might consider preemptively contacting the adcom if the error is serious enough.
5) Won’t the background checking process alert my employer to the fact that I am applying to b-school? Since the process typically takes place long after you’ve been admitted, this ideally won’t be an issue, as most applicants give their employers ample notice and take some time off before school. Having said that, the schools still try to conduct the checks in a discrete fashion, consulting with your HR department to verify your dates of employment and salary – but not necessarily revealing that you are heading to business school.
6) How can I ensure a smooth background check? While the obvious answer is to be honest in your applications, it’s also important that you don’t fudge anything out of laziness (a common occurrence). Dig up those old W-2 forms or check with former employers in order to present the committee with the most accurate information you can.
Good luck to everyone anxiously awaiting word from their R1 schools and, of course, those targeting R2 as well!